I said "goodbye" to my Mama tonight, this Feb. 10. She passed away on Feb. 6, 2019, at the age of 95 ... 95, y'all. Not many people live that long, but she did. She was ready to go, though. She was tired, and Mama rarely got tired ever.
Born in New York City back in 1923, the first people she ever loved were her mother and father, John and Emily Fink Colligan, who were former Vaudeville entertainers. My grandfather was every bit as good a dancer as Fred Astaire, and Grandma Colligan, who was dancer with Zeigfield Follies, was every bit as good as Ginger Rogers. In case you don't know who they were, Fred and Ginger were great performers of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s.
She loved her brothers and sisters. Her family was a large Irish Catholic family who loved music, dancing, telling stories and laughing. Mom was the last of her family. All the original Colligans are gone now. She was the youngest to be born and the last to go. That seems pretty fitting.
In 1943, she followed in her brother's footsteps and left college to join the Marines. This was back during World War II and she wanted to serve her country. One story she told me was that when they were giving shots, one for each arm, so many girls were falling out. She was determined that she would not faint and she didn't. She earned the nickname of "Rusty" for her red hair.
Mom loved the Marines, but on her way to a USO dance with some friends, a young lieutenant in the Army offered to escort the girls. He felt it was inappropriate for them to go unescorted. Later, Daddy told me he had immediately noticed the flame-haired, green-eyed lass and had to meet her.
At the dance, the MC noticed the young soldier was not dancing. He challenged the young girls that whoever got the shy, young lieutenant to dance would win $5. Well, the rest is history. They were married three weeks later in Jackson, Mississippi. Waking a Baptist preacher up to perform the ceremony, he declared that it was a war marriage and wouldn't last.
How wrong he was! Their wonderful love story and marriage lasted 67 years when Daddy passed away with cancer in 2010. They truly had a wonderful love story. Daddy would chase her around the rose bushes, Mom giggling like crazy and Daddy laughing with his big guffaw of a laugh, clapping his hands and daring her to let him catch her. I was 15 and appalled that two adults could be so silly, but when I think on it now, I just have to smile. Not that many people have a love affair for 67 years.
When we were talking about Mom at their dining room table here in Calhoun where they had moved in 2008, Daddy got the softest look in his eyes when he spoke of her.
"Oh, she was such a pretty little thing.” He looked me squarely in the eyes and said, "By golly, she's still a pretty little thing."
And she was.
I always remember my mom as always being pretty, but more than anything, I remember my mom's musical laugh. It always reminded me of tiny bells that rang true. It was not raucous like mine. It was a pure and sweet sound. It was a lovely sound. This will be a sound I will miss, her wonderful laugh.
She had a great sense of humor and loved a good joke that made her laugh. When Daddy passed away, I worried that she would pine away for him, but she did not. She loved him with all her heart and soul, but she moved forward, a bit sadder, but strong.
She did lose some of her independence when she had to give up driving. That was hard for her. She moved in with us and had her own little apartment. It was an adjustment for all of us, but we prevailed and had a wonderful six years together before dementia brought her to Morning Pointe Assisted Living. The staff there was marvelous to her and she came to love them very much. They made the last months of her long life worth living.
So I say goodbye to my precious Mama, this flame-haired, green-eyed Irish lass. She taught me the true meaning of living, laughing, loving like you mean it, and kindness. She was the most perfect mother ever. She was the best woman I ever knew and I will miss her terribly, but as my Daddy said when he realized his life was almost ending, "By golly, didn't we have a fun time!"
And by golly, we did.