Today would have been my mom's 80th birthday. This fact is, in its very self, hard to fathom, since she died when she was 54 years old. To imagine her at 80 is hard, especially when you consider the fact that she didn't look a day over 35 when she died.
Vaceila Helen Loukos Rich. Born in Lima, Ohio and raised there with her brothers and sisters until she met and married my dad. Pictures and notes from her school days show a girl who was popular....probably always the life of the party....and most definitely smart. She was pretty, too, and always dressed in something lovely. She had, as my dad used to say "a great set of legs" and wore a 9 AAAA shoe.
When she was 17, she went to work as a secretary to the President of the City Loan. She always said that she lied on the application to make them think she was already 18, and this caused her to screw up her birth year for the rest of her life. She was born in 1933, NOT 1932, thankyouverymuch.
She was Sig to everybody who knew her. Not Vaceila. Not Miss Loukos. Not Mrs. Rich. She was Sig. I didn't know the origin of that name until a few years ago when my Uncle Connie explained that he couldn't pronounce Vaceila when he was a kid, and what came out was "Sig", so "Sig" it was. I always thought it was a name given to her by a neighbor lady who saw her as a tomboy that liked to hang upside down in the apple trees munching a snack.
Mom was beautiful, it's true, but what was even more remarkable about her was that she connected with people the moment she met them. She could walk into a room and make everybody in it feel like it was exactly where they were supposed to be at that moment and that they were the most interesting and perfectly realized version of themselves...all because this nice lady named Sig took a minute to look them in the eye and then ask them about their life. It didn't matter if they were a CEO or the kid putting the butter pat on the dish....they meant something and she wasn't going to let a second pass without them knowing that.
She was an artist and a needlewoman....loved needlepoint, and used to stitch the most beautiful canvases on Penelope canvas...all in tent stitch...starting from the bottom of a column and working up using the sewing method...and all while holding the canvas rolled up in her hand. Technically, we've been told that her pieces should have been warped so badly that they would have required serious blocking, but not one thing that she stitched was ever out of kilter. Don't ask me how she did that.
Funny..witty..smart..elegant...kind....generous...ornery...no matter how hard I try I can't come up with anything that adequately explains her. She was our everything and we were hers. Fr. Hesburgh said that the greatest gift a man can give his children is to love their mother. Well, that worked in spades in our family....especially when it came to love that Dad had for her and she for him. If I learn nothing else, at least I know what a perfect union looks like thanks to the example that she set.
I tried to describe my mom to my Jersey boy once, and all I could come up with was "She was a killer combination....1950's style housewife who could hit a golf ball 250 yards off the tee...who knew how to keep a gorgeous home and how to tell a joke, and who had the ability to tell somebody to go to Hell and they'd look forward to the trip." Boy...was that ever inadequate.
All I know is that Aunt Chrissy and I hope that we might find something within ourselves that reminds us of mom. Will it be our love of stitching? Maybe a hope that we'll be remembered as kind or generous? I'd settle for funny or smart, but would be thrilled if the only thing people knew or thought of was.....she's Sig's daughter.