Florence Dorothy Couto. My wonderful mother-in-law. Flo passed away this afternoon, and I already cannot imagine life without this marvel of a woman. This bigger-than-life persona. This dynamo of energy.
If ever anyone has left this world with big shoes to fill, it is Flo. My mind is a wandering stream of memories, laughter, great food, parties, celebrations… and love, love, love.
I see Mom (I have called her “Mom” since we met) in the kitchen. She is whipping up a special treat for each person there. If you enjoyed something she made once, then you would have that special treat each time you came. She remembered things like that. My most special treat was her cucumber and sour cream salad. Mom would fuss over the cucumbers being sliced “nice and thin” for a better taste. You didn’t ask her why the “thin” factor was important… you just understood that it was and knew enough not to question it.
Mom had special serving trays, dishes, bowls, forks & spoons and utensils for each and every treat. You would never find a tossed salad in anything but the tossed salad bowl, or her meatballs in anything but the meatball bowl. Mom was almost 100% Portuguese (she maintained that she was 1/4 Spanish)… and her cuisine reflected her ancestry. I will never forget the first time she placed a steaming platter of chourico and peppers before me, and I asked her what it was. Mom tried to maintain her patience with this young woman of Irish and Polish descent… and said, “Just try it.” I did. I didn’t dare not to. And I LOVED it. I think my love of her cooking sealed the deal with me as her son’s girlfriend. And, oh yeah… I already loved seafood. That didn’t hurt either. But I had never known anyone in real life who cooked seafood like Mom. She knew how to stuff shrimp with her special homemade stuffing. She knew how to roll her scrumptious stuffing into sole fillets. She knew how to make calamari and fried smelts. Mom never quite got over the fact the I took the bones out of the smelts before eating them… a little disagreement that reminds me of the last time my husband and I took Mom out to dinner…
It was only 3 weeks ago. Mom had been in the hospital with an asthma problem, and then sent to a nursing/rehab facility. Well, she got sick of the rehab place pretty quickly (hated the food)… and insisted that we take her out to her favorite Portuguese restaurant, Jack’s, in Warren, Rhode Island. Barry and I acquiesced. It involved permission from the facility. A wheelchair, which she fought. And then the air-conditioning was not working in the restaurant… But we settled in. We ordered each and every one of Mom’s favorite foods. King crab legs… HUGE ones. Steamers with butter (or as she said, “steamahs with buttah”). Antipasto… with anchovies, please. Little necks, with extra horseradish. White clam spaghetti. A couple of beers. And, of course, fried smelts. Yes, I took the bones out… and Mom still insisted, after decades of fighting about it, that it’s ridiculous to think you’re going to choke on such tiny bones.
I took out the bones!
Mom, Barry and I had the best night ever. We laughed. We ate. Drank. Laughed some more. We were in seafood heaven. I thank God that I have this most recent beautiful and wonderful memory, because the next day she was in the hospital again… and she never left.
Mom loved her family. I don’t think I have ever met any woman in my life who cherished her family as much. Everyone who knew her… knew to NEVER criticize one of her children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren. Oh, SHE could do it. But not you. Never. Ever. Ever. I am sure that she is in heaven at this very moment bragging to all her angel friends and relatives all the amazing things that are going on down here with her family!
And opinions? Mom had plenty of them. 1) You never wear “dungarees” outside the house. Mom was never quite able to catch the new wave of designer jeans. Just wasn’t gonna do it. 2) You never go to someone’s house empty-handed. This past Christmas Eve, at 88 years old, Mom didn’t bring 1 or 2 homemade pies to my home for dessert… she brought 4 homemade pies. Blueberry for Barry. Pecan for me. Apple for Jane. Pumpkin for my mother. And homemade cookies. Snickerdoodles. Cinnamon. Butter Balls. Again. Special treats for special people. 3) Tablecloths. Cloth napkins. Even for ordinary days. 4) Tuck in your shirt. Wear a belt. Men look like gentlemen in hats. Don’t dress like a vagabond. Etc. Etc. Etc.
Ah, Mom. I am smiling at all the discussions we had about fashion. At least, MY version of fashion!
Mom was always up for a party. Or, as she said, “pahty.” Mom was the first one there and the last one to leave. She would offer to set up. She would serve. She helped with the clean-up. The last few months were the hardest for her because she no longer had the strength or energy to help the way she wanted to. But I will never forget this phone call to my husband a few days before his birthday, on June 11. She told him that she couldn’t get out to buy him anything this year, but she had an even better idea. She was going to cook all the food for his party… as her gift to him. All she needed was for someone to take her to the market. When Barry explained that we were having a cookout… and all the food was taken care of… the disappointment was palpable. Even at 89 years old… her gift was a giving one. Mom did, of course, bring some of her “treats”… and that was the most special gift of all.
There are some big shoes to fill down here…
I will try, Mom. I will try. You have given me everything I need… so I will try my hardest to live up to your perfection. Because that’s what you are to me… perfect.
Mom died peacefully surrounded by two sons, Barry and Rick, two grandsons, Keith and Adam… and me. We each held her hands, whispered just how much we love her, told her stories, talked of angels… and loved her, loved her, loved her.
This is one of the saddest days of my life. The other is the day my Dad died… on August 8, 1975. Yes, 33 years ago today. Both on a Friday.
My Dad and Flo never met. But today they now share a day of celebration of life. I know my Dad was holding Flo’s hands as she let go of us. He guided her to heaven, and she brought to him all the stories of the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren that he never got to hold. Or kiss. Or hug.
But my Dad knows the great and beautiful ways that my mother-in-law embraced me here on this earth.
Thank you, Mom. I will always cherish you. I will always love you. Now… you and my Dad… go toast an ice-cold beer to life and happiness and family and joy and a great feast! We are smiling through this river of tears.