Anne Horrigan Geary: Nurturer of plants, people

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DALTON — Each year the pages of the calendar seem to flip a little faster. Big events — like Christmas and birthdays — follow each other in rapid succession. We have scarcely finished putting the tree trimmings away when it's time to bake a birthday cake. Each year there are more dates of remembrance added to the little squares on the monthly cat calendar hanging on the wall. Not all of them are happy.

This month marks the sixth anniversary of my Mom's passing. She lived a long life, 98 years. The last two were spent in a nursing facility, so she had her bags packed for the glory train. When asked how she wanted to celebrate her hundredth birthday, she replied matter-of-factly: dead. She wasn't a pessimistic person, just a realist. She had a tomato plant growing on the patio and looked forward to each new day, waiting for the first ripe fruit.

Her constant companions were the Red Sox. She never missed a televised game, so woe to the person who came to visit when she was offering her vocal support to the team.

Her rosary beads were always at hand. She was deeply devoted to her faith, steadfast to the end. She was equally devoted to her family, and as the last surviving sibling from a large family, she was the repository of family facts and fables. I always marveled at her recall of each extended family member's birthday, anniversary, and children's name and age. When I was cleaning out her desk, I found her little secret.

Tucked in a small drawer was a little black book. In her precise handwriting, were names and dates of all her siblings and all their children and grandchildren. In addition to the dates, were little details. The cover and pages of the little book were well-worn from constant thumbing. I can picture her on the phone, being asked a question, and flipping the book open to the needed answer.

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My Mom was a keen observer of faces, clothing, and everyday events. When she would share an anecdote about a person whom you might not know well, she would remind you of interactions you had with him or her. She often chided my husband on this topic with a comment like: "Of course you met Louise; she was at your wedding and she wore a pink hat."

She loved following fashion trends. She trained as a dressmaker when she was young, and her ambition was to design costumes for Broadway or Hollywood. Instead, when the Depression hit and ladies were no longer able to pay for custom-made clothing, she went to work in a shoe factory. Hard work was wired into her DNA; resilience and determination too.

When my Pop died of cancer in his 50s, she went to work in a school cafeteria, learned to drive, and grieved in private. She went weekly to the cemetery, visiting not only Pop's grave, but the graves of other relatives and friends. For her, this was not a sad trip, but a way of remembering important people and happier times. Since she loved flowers, she always took special care with the cemetery plantings. There were never marigolds in my father's pot because she said he hated them.

I put a pot of pansies on her grave for Mother's Day, with a few pussy willow branches placed among the flowers. She loved them both. Now that the weather is too warm for the pansies, she has a bigger pot with a selection of plants which will grow and thrive in the heat. When I check them weekly for water, I remember all her flower gardens and how she loved to nurture both plants and people.

Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.


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