About Ma By Louie
By Lucien X. Lombardo
Elizabeth Lombardo was a women of stories, stories which told much about her as a person. Even as she was very sick in the hospital during the past few months, I would often arrive in her room, seeing her surrounded by nurses and aides learning the lessons her stories conveyed. Let me recount a few I have heard many times.
She loved to tell stories about her childhood.
She loved the time of prohibition and letting her father know when the revenue men were coming. He ran a saloon which is another story all by itself.
She often told how her mother would put bows in her and her sister Irene’s hair. My mother said Irene’s bows always stayed up and were always pretty. My mother’s, on the other hand, would always droop to the side.
She often told how she was one Saturday she was supposed to watch Irene at a wedding when they were both dressed up in their pretty white dresses. Trying to gather up some coins the adults would throw for the kids to collect, my mother lost track of Irene, who had gotten all dirty having crawled under a car trying to retrieve a ball. My mother got it good that day. But she always said she never let it hurt because she thought it was unfair for her to get spanked for something Irene did.
My mother’s brother Peter was also the source of some of her troubles, when he’d surprise her by tossing a cup her way. When she missed and it broke at her feet, guess who got in trouble. Pete’s swinging on the china cabinet door also led her to difficulties with her parents.
I remember the day in Norfolk, Virginia when my mother and brother John were visiting and we went to lunch at a local restaurant and happened upon the Old Dominion Women’s Basketball team having a pre-game meal. I knew the coaches and the players and introduced my mom to them. Here’s Betty with Anne Donovan a 6’8″ All American and Hall of Fame player and Wendy Larry National coach of the year, telling them stories about how she played semi-pro basketball in the 1930’s. Not only played, but played against Stella Walsh a nationally recognized, Olympic athlete. Being the honest person that she is Betty went on to say that when she was sent into this particular game, the coach told her to bend down to tie her shoe, so the game would be stopped and her team could get a rest.
Fairness and honesty were two traits that governed my mother’s life and traits that filled her stories. She often recounted when she put her first car up for sale. She set a price of $250. She got a willing buyer who said he’s be able to get the money in a couple of days and she accepted. The next day, someone offered her $300 and offered to pay her on the spot. But she had given her word to the first buyer and declined the higher offer. When she told people about it at the time, they all said she should have taken the
higher offer. But as she said, “I gave my word and I stuck by it.”
In another story she recalls her days working at International Harvester during World War II. This particular day she was assigned to check the ID’s of everyone coming into the plant. Well, when she asks one particular distinguished looking gentleman, he replies, “Do you know who I am?” Betty replies “No.” He states his name. She says, “That’s fine, but I still have to see your ID.” He says, “I’m the President of the Company.” Betty says, “That’s also fine, but I still have to see your ID.” With that he finally shows his ID and complements Betty on a job well done.
When I was in the 5th grade at St. Hyacinth’s my mother provided me with one of my own stories. Sister Sebastian, who some of you will recall, had decided to ensure that we did our homework by making us take all of our books home every night whether we need them or not. We were small and had plenty of books. I didn’t think this was such a good idea and left some of my books behind day. Sister promptly collected all of the books. So the next day when I has an assignment to do from that book, it was missing. I was surely in trouble. I went home and told my mother. Rather than say I deserved what I got and that I should listen to sister and do what she said, My mother pondered the situation for a while and thought I was right. She took me to the school, told sister Sebastian what she thought of the idea of having to take all books home every night. Magically the sister changed her mind. I learned something of the power of my mother. Getting Sister Sebastian to change her mind was something unheard of. I learned another valuable lesson that day about how you should defend what’s right, even in the face of authority.
One of her favorite stories demonstrates Betty’s deeply spiritual nature. She often recounted how, when she was working as a lay volunteer at a Navajo Mission in New Mexico in 1976, Father Jose, the priest with whom she worked, took her and two other volunteers to a remote settlement to carry supplies to a group of families. While there, Father Jose took them into a hogan, a single room Navajo home, to meet an elderly shaman or medicine man. This man was laying on his mat as the priest said, “I’d like you to meet Mary, one of our volunteers.” The medicine man quietly acknowledged. Then the priest said, “I’d like you to meet Bonnie.” Again, a quiet acknowledgment. Finally Father Jose said, “This is Betty.” The medicine man looks up and says to my mother, “I know you. I’ve met you before.” My mother could not figure out where this could have been. Later, she asked Father Jose what the man meant. His reply, “Betty, out here, you don’t ask questions.”
Elizabeth lived life full of curiosity, joy, fun, excitement and enjoyment. Even when times were tough, she would see humor and hope and translate her experiences into wonderful stories with which she filled our lives.
I will end my words as we always ended every phone call and letter for the past 40 years, “Vaya con Dios, Ma!. “Go with God.” I’m sure God will love to listen to your stories.