Life at 90
A special conversation with my mom
By Marianne Aleardi

In June, my mom turned 90. We threw a party to celebrate, and over 100 friends and relatives we hadn’t seen in decades turned up to celebrate my mom and the truly wonderful life she has lived. We ended the night with my brother, my sister and our immediate families standing in a circle and doing a shot of Jameson’s – my mom’s suggestion. None of us were surprised when she raised her glass.

Last month, I asked my mom if she would join me for an interview where I would ask her questions people don’t usually ask. She didn’t hesitate, and we ended up speaking for a few hours. She shared feelings and thoughts I didn’t know. A lot of the talk was about loss – my dad died 12 years ago…next month, they will have been married for 70 years. But we also talked about the fullness of life, and how good it all can be.

Q: Are you surprised you’re 90? Do you feel old?

Of course I’m surprised. I can start from my toe, go up my body and tell you about all the operations I’ve had. And yet here I am.

But the only way I know I’m old is by the number. Being old doesn’t really mean anything to me. I know I’m not at the beginning of my life. I’m more at the end of my life. But that’s just something you accept. I’m still the same as I was yesterday, and the same as when I was 80, 70, even 20. Not physically, but mentally that’s how I feel. But if I wasn’t 90, I would have missed so much of my life.

I am so fortunate that I can remember as much as I do. I know I bore people to death, but I love talking about things that happened years ago. I live on my memories.

Q: Is there an age you would go back to? 

16. That’s where I would like to start. Because I still had my parents and my siblings, and I met your father then. I would want to relive my life just the way it happened. 

Q: You don’t have any regrets? 

Just one. When my mother was in the hospital, I went to see her every day – and she was in for a long time. Your dad had a business trip to New Orleans, and I was going with him. When I said goodbye to her, I told her I would see her in a week – because she was doing so well. She said, “Oh no, of all people, you won’t be here. I’ll miss you.” And I said, “I’ll miss you too. But I’ll see you when I get back.”

I called my sister every day to see how Mom was, and she was doing great. But then she took a turn, and they called to tell me she had died. It was horrible. I was there every day. And the one time I should have been there, I wasn’t.

Q: You were married for 58 years when Daddy died. What made your marriage work?

It’s strange to say, but we liked each other. We became friends, and the friendship developed into much more. And then it just stuck. We enjoyed being together. What we had was very, very rare.

Q: The year daddy had cancer, did you realize he was going to die? 

I knew it was going to kill him eventually because it’s cancer, but he wasn’t one to let you know how bad he was. When the doctor told us he should go on hospice, Daddy looked at me and said, “We knew that didn’t we?” And I said, “I guess,” but I really didn’t. I didn’t expect it at all. And then daddy apologized. That poor soul. He was so good. He said, “I’m so sorry I’m leaving you.” But we didn’t talk about it after that. That isn’t something he would talk about.

Q: What’s it like to live without him?

Hell. Someone told me you shouldn’t look in the rearview mirror, you should look out the windshield. I will never stop looking in the rearview mirror. I look out the windshield too – I have no choice. I get up every day and I do enjoy life, there’s just always something missing. That’s how it’s been for 12 years.

Q: What’s it like to see so many of your friends die?

We treasured our friends. Without personal relationships, you have nothing. And trust me, I know, because most of them are gone. And that’s been hard. Those people who, for years, I would call and say, “What’s happening today?” – they’re all gone. I miss them terribly. 

I’m fortunate because I have new friends who always want to do things, even if it’s just going to lunch. But I always have the television or radio on, always. That makes me feel like somebody is there.  I guess the loneliness is just something you get used to. It’s not easy though.

Q: What kind of mother do you think you were?

I didn’t try to be a specific kind of mother. I was just a mother who wanted her kids to do as much as they could to see their dreams fulfilled and be happy. That was my goal from the day they were born. Did I succeed? You’d have to ask them.  

Q: You went to work full time when I was in high school. What was that like?

I remember my very first day of work. I came home and said, “If anyone wants to eat, they better go take care of themselves. There’s no way I’m doing anything.” And I just sat in the chair. I was so tired. But most of my friends had gone to work, so it was pretty normal for me to go. 

Photography by Dana Romano Photography

Did it change how much you did around the house?

Not at all. I still did everything I did before I worked. I felt taking care of the house and children was what I was supposed to do. It’s what I did from the day I got married, so why would I change that? It never, ever crossed my mind.

Q: What was it like when you became an empty nester?

Believe it or not, the first time it hit me was when you went to kindergarten. It was horrible, because I wasn’t used to not having anyone around. That’s why I started volunteering at school, so I could have something to do and be near my children. Then when you got married, we went away during your honeymoon so we put off facing the house without you there. 

Think of a pie. Each time one of you left the house, a wedge from the pie went away. And it got harder with each one. I remember sitting in the kitchen with Daddy and seeing him do something with his coffee and telling him I didn’t know he did that. And he said, “What do you mean? I always do that.” But I had never noticed. We paid so much attention to our kids, we hadn’t noticed simple things about each other. It was bittersweet, but we did realize it was time for us now.  

Q: What’s the most beautiful place you’ve been to? 

Tahiti. The restaurant at our resort in Moorea had 3 tables at the top of a mountain, and we watched the sun set during dinner. It was just gorgeous. I wish I had a picture of that dinner. It was perfect.

Q: What’s the greatest invention you’ve seen?

A washer and dryer. No – the gas-powered lawn mower. I used to push a lawn mower on the lawn in our rowhome in Philly. It was a hill, and it was so hard to mow.

Q: What’s your earliest memory?

I remember when I was about 7, I had pneumonia and was in bed for over a month. The doctor would come to the house to see me, and one time he brought me a Charlie McCarthy doll to help me feel better. I remember when I was finally allowed to go downstairs, my dad carried me down because I couldn’t walk.

I have so many memories. I also remember when my twin brother Michael was in the Marines, and we hadn’t heard from him. I told my mother I would see if I could get any information. I don’t even know who I called, but they told me he was sent to Vietnam. I can remember telling my mother and how upset she was. He was sent to Vietnam, and we didn’t know.

Q: What’s the secret to having a good life?

I don’t know the answer to that. I just lived. There were fabulous times and there were difficult times. You can’t be happy all the time. But you can still have a good life.

Q: Do you like social media?

I look at it and wonder why people are wasting their time. But then I’m wasting my time too because I’m looking at it. So we’re all crazy.

Q: What are some of life’s lessons?

If you love, you will be loved. If anyone has a problem, you should help them. With whatever you do in life, keep growing. Enjoy your life. That’s what we tried to do.

Q: Do you think you’ll live to be 100?

I don’t know. I don’t want to be a burden to anyone.

Q: Last question: I’m your favorite, right? 

Marianne, I have no favorites.

September 2023
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