I was lucky to be asked to write the eulogy for my mom’s funeral on December 30th — exactly 51 years to the day after my dad’s funeral. But it wasn’t my work – rather it was the collective work of many people, whose help I appreciate. In case you’re interested, here it is…
There’s an expression, “You only die if no one remembers you.” Based on the many heartfelt stories we’ve received, it’s clear that if ever there is someone who will be remembered, it is Eileen.
Today, let’s remember Eileen with numbers.
As many of you know, Eileen was always good with numbers. Well into her 97th year mom could still rattle off all sorts of numbers such as the World War II dog tags of our dad and her brother. Right out of high school, Eileen became a master at running one of the precursors to the modern computer, a machine called a Comptometer. She was so good at it the bosses gave her some of the toughest calculations to do, often with businessmen in suits and smoking cigarettes hovering over her shoulder waiting until Eileen’s machine spit out the anticipated number. And Eileen insisted on knowing the number of every Red Sox player, even if he was up from Pawtucket just for the day.
So let’s remember Eileen today with numbers – five numbers – starting with the number 72.
72 years ago this month Eileen and Ormond were married. Due to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the wedding planned for the following spring was held in less than two weeks. This is probably the earliest example of Eileen’s ability to figure out how to “just get on with it” under difficult circumstances.
Ormond was Italian and Eileen Irish, an unheard of combination back then. She often called him “Pete,” maybe as a disguise so her family wouldn’t know dad was Italian. What first attracted Eileen to Pete was the fact that, of all the guys around, he had the best car, a long sleek Pontiac. Eileen’s mother, Dessi, was a bit ahead of her time and told her she could not get married until she was 25 years old. Eileen got married the day after turning 25!
And then Ormond, her Pete, went off to war for more than four years. She was proud of his becoming a well-decorated WW II vet, receiving the Purple Heart among other medals for his participation in campaigns in France, Luxembourg, and Germany. While Ormond was away on the battlefields – where his Jeep set off an enemy mine, causing serious injury that would plague him for the rest of his life – she raised her first son, Gerry.
At one point Eileen did not receive any mail from Ormond for weeks and she began to think he had been killed. Then one day there was a picture of Ormond on the front of The Boston Transcript, in uniform and on crutches, showing dad and a few other wounded soldiers attending a show back in England where they had been sent to recover.
Eileen loved her Pete dearly, as he did her. Last week, when going through the small box in which she kept her last worldly possessions, we discovered the card daddy sent from the war on their first wedding anniversary. In it he wrote, “To the sweetest girl in the world. Yours forever, Pete.”
But, as we know, the time they had together was much shorter than ‘forever’.
Which sadly brings us to the second number for remembering Eileen, 51.
51 years ago – exactly 51 years ago, today – Eileen buried her husband. He had died suddenly two days after Christmas in 1962 and Eileen was left with five boys to raise – the oldest Gerry off at Notre Dame, the youngest Bill in third grade at St. Catherine’s.
Ormond’s godson, our cousin Bill Desmond, sent a note last week, remembering that day;
“I had the honor of being a pall bearer at Ormond’s funeral. I was standing by the door of the funeral home and Eileen was walking out on Gerry’s arm. She was crying and saying, ‘What am I going to do?’ Even though I was just a kid, I remember being very moved by her sorrow.”
Bill’s note went on, “As we all know, Eileen figured out what to do. And she did it very well. Eileen was a great person and great aunt.”
Later, when she felt sorry for herself her brother the priest said to her, “Eileen this is your lot. Just get on with it.”
And so she did.
She raised five boys with minimal resources, sending each to a good high school and college. There was no life insurance money because my dad had been in and out of hospitals since the war. He sold cars strictly on commission, which was actually a good living back then. But during those many times when he was back in the VA hospital, there were no commission checks coming in. A couple of weeks before he died – so we would have money for Christmas – Eileen took out a small loan at the local Household Finance Corporation branch. Smartly she paid the few extra bucks to add on the life insurance, so the loan was paid off when dad died.
She taught us much along the way, not just in words but also in actions. As my brother Bob said last week,
“Mom taught us how to survive; How to work hard; How to take care of ourselves, and how to take care of those close to us; How to be good to the good people, and how not to take guff from the bad people.”
And, although Eileen was a strong Catholic, she taught us that it didn’t matter if one of those bad people happened to be, say, a sister of Saint Joseph. My brother Ted remembered mom’s experience with the most dreaded nun at St. Catherine’s, Sr. Alvira – someone so dreaded that today there is actually a Facebook page for people who were mistreated by her. Ted recalled,
“Sr. Alvira had boxed Bill’s ears in first grade. Eileen charged down to the school, pulled Sr. Alvira out of her class in front of 52 wide-eyed first graders, and told her that if she ever hit any of the kids in that class again, Eileen would return to give the nun the same treatment in front of all the kids.”
But Eileen was not one of today’s helicopter parents. She often taught us by her being tough. Case in point: When she dropped Bill off at college. The last thing she said to Bill was, “College separates the men from the boys.” Then she turned and walked away. Bill said he was so scared by Eileen’s comment it caused him to make the dean’s list the first term – a list he says he had not seen very often during his high school years.
After she sent her last son off to college, she sold the house in Norwood and moved to Marshfield, where for over two decades she got much joy from running trips for the sixty-plus club.
Bob recalls that anytime Eileen organized a trip to a place like Williamsburg or Washington DC, she always had the last night in Atlantic City because, as she said, “You know how much those old people like to gamble.”
There was the time Eileen fell in the middle of the night on the eve of one of her bus trips to Atlantic City. She said to herself, “I can’t go; I can’t raise my right arm to pull the one-arm bandits. Wait – maybe I can use my left arm.” She practiced a few times, felt it should be ok, and off she went. Only after the trip did Eileen discover she had actually torn her right rotator cuff.
And there was the bus trip with 42 women and one man where Eileen put on a movie that had some colorful language and the one guy started complaining. Eileen marched to the back of the bus and told him, “There are 43 people on this bus and 42 of them are having fun. You can start having fun or you can be dropped off at the next Greyhound station to buy yourself a ticket home.” The guy’s wife didn’t let him say a word the rest of the trip.
That last story is an example of how – although Eileen taught us to voice our opinions – she also taught us – mostly through her bad example – that there are times when some opinions are better left unsaid. Eileen could not stand having her opinion left unsaid.
Case in point, in 2012 Eileen and Bill were at Haddad’s for dinner and a good friend came over to tell Eileen he had won a bridge tournament! The look on Eileen’s face told Bill mom was about to say something that would be better left unsaid. Rather than congratulating her friend, Eileen said, “You? You won a bridge tournament?” Then, after a brief pause Eileen added, “Who did you have as a partner?”
Then there was the time Eileen was at Logan checking in for a flight to Dublin and was asked the standard security questions, “Did anyone other than you pack your bags?” “Did you leave your bags unattended in public?” Etc. She answered, “No” to each question. But when asked, “Do you have any weapons or explosives in your luggage?” she answered, “Not this trip!” Guess who got pulled out of line for a full search?
And there was the time she was stopped by a State Trooper for getting into the breakdown lane too early before the Hingham exit. Eileen told him that she “had to get past these slow pokes” to not be late for her grandson Trevor’s hockey game. After checking mom’s papers, the trooper said he was giving her just a warning, and asked if she knew why. Her reply: “Because you know that I am right?” To which he said, “No. Because you and I have the same birthday.”
Gerry recalls how Eileen had a number of expressions that often got her in hot water, such as:
• “Anyone with half a brain knows…”
• If she didn’t like something, she would say, “That’s different.” If she wanted a softer approach she might use, “That’s swell, dear.”
Eileen had many non-offensive expressions, including:
• “That’s worth a buck.”
• And there was the way mom said, “1, 2, 3” standing up.
• If you dropped by her house even for a few minutes, when you left mom said, “I’m sorry you didn’t eat anything”.
• And everyone who left her house was sent off with, “Goodbye, good luck, God bless you.”
The next number for remembering Eileen is “dozens” – for the dozens of comments about Eileen on Facebook and in emails from around the US and abroad. Some people commented on the positive impact Eileen obviously had on her sons.
But what was most striking were the comments from a number of women. Many of these women first met Eileen when they were just girls or teenagers. And some of them only met Eileen on a few occasions.
These women talked about how much of an inspiration Eileen was to them. They talked about how Eileen’s decisiveness, strength, and confidence impacted them and caused them to strive to be more. One commented, “Eileen was a gift to me…a guide.” Two women said, “If Eileen was born in a later time, she’d be running a company today.”
The second-to-last number for remembering Eileen is three.
Given all Eileen did for us it would have been easy for her to sit back and demand a lot in her later years. She did not do that, instead remaining independent, and staying in her own home until age 95. But she was able to remain independent only because of three people.
While watching a Sox game in 2012, Eileen told me she was worried because she was not able to adequately express to these three people how much she appreciated all that they did for her.
Then and there, she made me promise I would thank the three of them today.
1. To Eileen’s neighbor and good friend Gerry Eaniri: Eileen always called you “Gerry-from-across-the-street” so as not to be confused with our own Gerry. “Gerry-from-across-the-street,” you were there for Eileen every single day. Because of all that you did – which was probably far more than we ever knew – you were a Godsend for Eileen and for all of us. You became Eileen’s best friend – really the daughter she never had. Gerry, we can never adequately thank you for all that you did for Eileen, and all that you meant to Eileen.
2. To brother Bob. You lived further away than any of us. But when you saw how the rest of our lives were getting caught up in child-related things, you became the person the rest of us relied on to worry about mom for the holidays, graduations, and other occasions. It comforted Eileen knowing she always had you looking out for her interests. And she lived each day with the joy of knowing you would be calling her later that night before she went to bed. Bob the rest of us thank you for all that you have done.
3. And brother Bill. The amount of time and energy that you spent for Eileen for a number of years is remarkable. You handled so many details, so many house-related, medical-related, and finance-related action items – so many “things” that the rest of us never had to address. And you handled them quietly, never complaining, never asking for thanks. You simply got done whatever Eileen needed done. You made life so much easier for the rest of us. Thank you, Bill for always handling everything.
So…Gerry-from-across-the-street, Bob, and Bill, for all that you did for Eileen, all of us here today thank you and applaud you.
The last number for remembering Eileen is 50.
As my brother Ted and wife Lauren wrote last week, “It is fitting of Eileen to take a tour of heaven on Christmas Eve.” For many years – both in Norwood and later in Marshfield – Christmas Eve was when the Pieri boys would celebrate the holiday with their mom.
Lauren recalled how the first thing Eileen said when introduced to Lauren’s mom was, “I do Christmas Eve.”
So why do we remember Eileen with the number 50?
There were exactly 50 Christmas Eves where Eileen and Ormond were apart. I believe that – after Eileen passed the milestone of her 97th birthday, and having no intention of getting to her 98th – Eileen once again decided to “just get on with it.”
She decided she was spending this Christmas Eve with her Pete.
It’s as though she said to us, “Boys, after Ormond died, I did not know what I was going to do. But I figured out what to do. And I did it. And along the way we had 50 Christmas Eves together. But now I’ve made up my mind – starting this Christmas Eve, I’m again spending them with my husband.”
And so she did.