In the mid nineteen-fifties, before Dr. King had his dream, when America’s Camelot was just having its foundation poured, Colette Pelletier the daughter of a prominent Massachusetts physician met, Antonio Rueda the immigrant son of one of Colombia’s preeminent psychologists. They fell in love, married and settled down in a town in New Jersey so small their street wasn’t even paved yet. They had six children in that small house. All of us had everything we could ever need, a warm home, enough to eat, more love than any child could ever hope for.
Throughout the tumultuous sixties, when the nightly news was filled with reports of the assassinations of great men and the daily body count of brave soldiers, we lived the American dream. As a family we had Christmas trees that we would plant in the yard come spring. So many birthday parties, they averaged every other month. We went to church every Sunday drive in movies and zoos. We even traveled to our father’s home to see where he grew up and to experience a culture that was so different than the one he chose for us to grow up in. We had every opportunity that any child could ever want for a bright future.
At the beginning of the next decade, one that would determine our destinies as young adults, Papa passed away leaving our mother alone. She was left with six children far from any family from either side. The oldest son was entering his teenage years; the youngest was just into grammar school. I can’t speak for any of my siblings but to me I don’t think I missed out on any of those things that I could have wanted. We still had Christmas and birthdays, still went to church on Sundays. We had food, shelter, and we always felt the love of our mother. A woman who had to handle six children who as we grew, learned that having one parent meant that we had more freedom to get into trouble and that sometimes didn’t appreciate the things we had or how difficult it really must have been for her. Through those years Mom still found the time to provide opportunities for us to be exposed to new things.
She wasn’t the kind of mother who would just send us off to keep us occupied; she was involved with us. She was a scout mother, she taught CCD and French in the school. She got us involved in the Monarchs, and volunteered to help and travel with the corp. She became known as Ma to everyone, not just her six children. She had so much love not just for us but for everyone she met. We had kids from the Fresh Air Fund come stay with us so they could experience another way of life. We had wayward friends of ours stay with us because they had nowhere else to go. She adopted a skinny 16 year old kid from the Monarchs so he could have a safe place to live. His brother and his crazy dog even lived with us for awhile. Through all this time, the family fights that teenage children get into, the crashing of the family cars and unending trips to the supermarket to keep us fed, we knew she was there to take care of us.
To me it seemed a normal way to live; I never felt I was missing anything or deprived of a family life. I was so young when Papa passed away that I didn’t miss him being there. What I do remember of him was that he was either working or in his recliner watching TV, he wasn’t a dad who played catch or went fishing with us. Mom was always there for anything we needed so when he was gone I still had her, so nothing was really that different. My brothers and sisters probably have different feelings about this time but at my age and where I was as a person, that’s the way it was.
I know there were times when Mom didn’t have time for us individually so some of us may have felt deprived of something, but I knew it wasn’t because she didn’t want to be there; she had to be strong for all of us collectively. It helped me become independent and to make do with what I was able to get. By the time I entered my teenage years she was working as a nurse in a retirement home and in our high school. We always knew when she was at the school because our friends would ask for permission to see the nurse so they could go see Ma. She was even loved by kids who had no idea who our family was.
In my senior year of High School, she met John. All I knew about him was he had been a Marine Drill Instructor, worked for AT&T, and had two children of his own. Mom and Big John were married and he and his children became part of our pseudo Brady Bunch of a family. They then had a child of their own to bring the total up to ten. Although the oldest of Mom’s seven were now technically adults, we all still were there as a group living together and counting on Mom’s love and support for us whatever we decided to do. Some of us continued our educations, some went on adventures and traveled, a couple stayed home until they started families of their own. I’m sure we all made some mistakes, some small that are funny now in hindsight, some that changed the course of our lives at the time and brought us where we are now. No matter what we did, we all knew we had Mom at home even if it was just to do our laundry and raid the fridge for some leftovers. Mom would always be there for us. We could tell her what we were up to and she’d be proud and supportive no matter what the dilemma or situation.
When we started having children of our own, we knew we had to be there for them. To show them new things and to let them be involved in whatever they wanted to try. For even if they failed, they knew we were there for them just like Mom was. To let us try something else, to find our way.
When our little brother died it was hard on all of us. Even though Annmarie was the youngest, Ton was the baby. He left a wife and young son, even in Mom’s grief she never left us feeling that we were loved any less. I hope she knew that we were there for her, that we loved Ton and even though we all had lost a little piece of our family, we were still there for each other and would never forget him.
Now our kids are having kids, they are being given chances to experience things we could never have dreamed of. I hope they’re told about their Great-Grandmother, that they know their mothers and fathers learned from the children of a Mom who was there for them. A woman whose heart was so big she had to go out and find more children to look out for. When others may have curled up and quit, or moved back to more familiar surroundings, she cared for and loved her children to make them the best people they could be. She showed us to take what you’re given and make the most of it. I hope she’s was as proud of us as her children, as we are to have had her as our Mom.
We’ll miss your presence in our lives but will never forget what you meant to us and the way you loved us and touched the lives of everyone you met.