My Mother, My Foundation

This past December as I pondered blogging again, I heard my mother’s voice in my head joking that it took me six months to write a tribute to my father after his death but it’s been over a year since hers – so “what was I waiting for?” (Maybe she’ll be pleased that her tribute is much longer than my father’s!)  At the same time, I saw a notice of another “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. I participated in 2015’s version and was doing well until May, but I only completed 21 of the 52 weeks. That challenge not only forced me to organize my facts about many of my ancestors and relatives, but it also provided a creative writing challenge to find the right story to fit the prompt.

With these two thoughts in mind, I was happy to see that the Week 1 theme for 2022 is “Foundations” – my mother was the foundation of my life, so how appropriate to start of this new year of blogging with a tribute to her.

My mother died the day I was born; she told me all about it years later. ~ Donna

Childhood photos
Left: The Pater Family in 1937 Right: Joan and Anita Pater, circa 1939

Anita Jane Pater was born on December 28, 1935, the second child of Henry and Mae (Zawodny) Pater. Both of her parents were first generation Americans born in Philadelphia to Polish immigrants. Henry and Mae lived a few houses apart on Indiana Avenue in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia when they married in 1930. Their first child, Joan Delores, was born on August 30, 1932. 

By Anita’s own account, her childhood was not happy. Although the sisters were close, they had different personalities and interests and always fought with each other. While Henry earned a good wage at a hosiery factory, he had a habit of losing his paycheck at the racetrack, so the family struggled financially. Many things that Anita wanted, like piano or dance lessons, her parents could not afford. But the things that she loved most about childhood were going to school, going to the movies, and designing dresses. 

One of Anita’s first jobs was as an “elevator girl” at Strawbridge & Clothier’s, a large department store at 8th & Market in Philadelphia. The girls operated the large elevators for customers and the minimum age was 18. Anita, 17, lied about her age and got the job. She loved wearing the uniform, and she became friends with three other gals: Ruth, Rita, and Jane. Later she worked in administrative and bookkeeping positions, and years later became a bank teller.

WE’RE FOOLS WHETHER WE DANCE OR NOT, SO WE MIGHT AS WELL DANCE. ~JAPANESE PROVERB

Anita loved to dance! She attended neighborhood dances, mostly held in church and school gyms. Each dance focused on a particular age group from pre-teen to older teens, to almost-adult and beyond. My mother and her girlfriends practiced dancing on the sidewalk in front of their houses.

Dancing played a role in my parents’ marriage – and my existence – because it all started at a dance!  On Sunday, March 13, 1955, my mother was 19 years old. She had “outgrown” the fun dances at St. Matt’s, so she and some girlfriends decided to try the Sunday night dance at St. Boniface. It was her first and only visit there. 

My father, James Albert Pointkouski, also liked neighborhood dances, and St. Boniface was close to where he lived at the time. The boys danced as a way to meet girls, and they learned by watching others dance. He was 20 years old, lived with his parents, and made $1 per hour hanging garage doors for a company two doors away from his home.

Neither remembers what music was played that night, but a live band performed. When Jim asked Anita to dance, he remembers being glad he had his “little black book” and a pen with him. He asked for her phone number; she gave it to him.

Their first official date was to see a movie (neither remembered which one). Afterward, they went to the Mayfair Diner. During their meal, Jim proclaimed that he really wanted to get married. Surprised that a young guy would want marriage, my mother asked why. “Well,” he said, “it sure would be nice to have someone cook dinner and iron my shirts.” My mother replied, “You don’t need a wife, you need a maid.”

“It’s Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White when you’re in love” ~ Pérez Prado

Left: Anita and Jimmy dating in 1955 Right: Still dancing in 1992

When Jim asked Anita out again, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to go. She didn’t know what to say, so she pretended she was too sick to go out. That night, he sent her two dozen roses as a get well wish, which made her feel even more guilty about lying. They did go out again, and again, and they were married a little more than one year later on April 7, 1956.

Before their marriage, my father got a job with IBM, and in October, 1956 he had to attend a training class for a few weeks in Endicott, NY. The young newlyweds exchanged letters while they were apart. I’m grateful those letters were saved, because they show how much they loved each other.

March 13, 1955 was the most wonderful day of my life, just as you are the most wonderful person in my life. Jimmy love, I like to think that our love for each other is something special that no one else in this whole entire world could ever possibly share the same feelings. I have given so much of my love to you, that there is only the right amount left over for our children. Leaving very little for anyone or anything else, with the exception of God. I know it’s only because of Him that we have each other.

From Anita to Jim on 10-12-1956

I don’t ever remember anything that ever happened before March 13, 1955. Since then life has had its ups & downs but because of your warmth, companionship & devotion, I’ve never experienced a really sad day – you’ve always been my one lil’ ray of sunshine on which I’ve based all my hopes & plans for the future. …They taught me a long time ago, that the husband is the head of the house but the wife is the heart – and like the body, they must function together to sustain. Baby, that’s how I feel – like half of me is missing. I have your picture, your letters, your phone calls, but I don’t have you. 

From Jim to Anita on 10-17-1956 (the day she would die many years later)

Jimmy every night when I go to bed or in work I day dream. I make plans for our future. I think about our children. I can really picture them. They’re adorable. ~ Anita, 10/10/1956

Anita’s babies – whether in 1959. 1967, or 2019

Jim had been in the Navy Reserves since high school, and in February, 1957, he was called to active duty for two years. He spent part of that time at the naval base in Norfolk, VA, and he occasionally could travel home for leave. The couple had their first child, a stillborn daughter, in May, 1958. Anita experienced toxemia with the pregnancy, but they desperately wanted children so she was soon pregnant again. Their son, James Drew, was born in 1959. 

At the time of Drew’s birth, the family was renting a house on Knorr Street in the Mayfair section of Philadelphia. In 1960, they purchase a home, or rather a “pile of dirt” as my mother called it, that was still being built. It was on Kirby Drive in the “Far Northeast” part of the city that was still largely undeveloped. They would remain in that house until each had to move into a care facility decades later.

My parents tried to have another child for years, and my mother prayed that she would have a daughter. It took many years before her prayers were answered, and I arrived in 1967. Mom was once again very sick with toxemia, as she was with her other pregnancies. This time, she coded on the table after giving birth to me. Long before anyone wrote about “near death experiences,” she had one. Fortunately for me, it wasn’t her day to die.

A dancer and a lover of musicals!

In the early 1970s, my mother’s love for dancing and my father’s love of making people laugh collided when they became involved with the annual parents’ show at my brother’s high school, Archbishop Ryan. Many of the parents involved in the shows were quite talented, and they performed to a packed house for a weekend every November. Not only did the shows bring great joy to my parents, but they made some life-long friends from this experience.

In the late 70s, two things happened that had a big impact on Anita, and each event is the impetus of the two main areas in which my mother influenced my life: faith and health.

            “Christmas was a few short days away. I wasn’t prepared to celebrate this holy day. I wasn’t going to celebrate anything. I was going to die.” ~ Anita, 10/20/1989 about 1983

Anita always believed in God – despite her upbringing. When she was about four years old, her father told her that there was no Santa Claus. Then he told her there was once a God who created the world and everything in it, then He disappeared forever. My mother once wrote about this moment:

I felt such a sense of despair and helplessness. If there was no one to pray to, who could I turn to? Who would listen to my lonely cries? I thought God was supposed to help us – what would happen to me now? I walked out the back door and looked up at the darkening sky and saw one beautiful, shining star just starting to peek through. ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star, I wish there is a God afar. I don’t care what my father says or thinks, I know you’ll take care of me because without God life stinks.’ I felt better after that. I made my decision that I would believe there is a God even if there wasn’t a Santa Claus.

undated writing by anita

As a child, my mom’s family did not go to church very often, but she was baptized Catholic at the age of three or four (with her older sister), likely at the prompting of her maternal grandfather with whom they lived at the time. My father, on the other hand, had been more of a regular church-goer in his youth. But once they had a family of their own, we only went sporadically despite the fact that my brother and I went to Catholic school.

Around 1977, a friend of my mother’s invited her to a Catholic Charismatic renewal prayer meeting – and it changed her life. She had a reawakening of her faith and rather quickly became more interested in prayer, the Bible, and Mass. I believe that it was her prayers that led my father, my brother, and myself to find our own personal relationships with God. My father and I found our way back to the faith within the next few years, and my parents and I both became active members of Our Lady of Calvary parish. This happened while my brother was in the Marine Corps, and when he returned home, we were a different family. Soon, mostly from our mother’s influence, he also rediscovered the faith.

My mother led many others to Christ with her testimony and was a woman of powerful prayer. Many people have told me that she helped or influenced them. My parents and several of their friends began a weekly rosary group that flourished for years, and she was always willing to pray with others.

Mom’s powerful faith is intertwined in the second way influenced me – how to take care of your body to be healthy.  She was definitely a survivor! I already mentioned how she died when I was born, but she came very close to death again in 1978 with an intestinal perforation and peritonitis. She had multiple surgeries and it took her many months to recover, but her faith helped her get through it.

In 1983, she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and began chemotherapy. She felt even more sick from the treatment. But she believed that she would be well. When she refused to have another round of treatments, the doctor told her that she only had six months to live. Through prayer, a positive attitude, and a complete change of her diet and nutrition, the cancer eventually went into remission – and never returned for the rest of her life. It became a pivotal moment in my own life – not just because of how different my life would have been without her, but because I saw the positive – or negative – impact that food, supplements, and even your thoughts could have on your body.  I encouraged her to write about her healing about four years later. After describing the stress and fear caused by the diagnosis as well as her physical pain and fatigue, she wrote:

I accepted the bad experience I was going through and believed that good would come from it. One can’t help but marvel at God’s ability to work through us when we encounter a negative experience and make us stronger for it. There is nothing in our lives that God does not allow but it is never His will that we suffer. He allows it so good can come from it. I have found that giving praise and thanks for all things helps you understand how futile stress and worry are and I began to willingly accept trials and tribulations without struggle and more importantly without fear. Negativity is a destructive force that hampers spiritual growth and denies the pleasure of life Being open to God’s will brings us new life and joy. Time on earth is too short to waste.

Anita’s account of her healing from cancer written in 1989

I may be lucky enough to have you for about seventy-five years – all of which would be inestimably happy. ~ Jim to anita, 10/8/1956

Anita was a wonderful cook and loved entertaining friends. She also loved taking day trips to play the penny slot machines at the casinos in Atlantic City. Her other favorite hobbies were watching old movies, especially musicals, and seeing shows downtown. 

While she wasn’t as interested in her family’s history as I was, she was fascinated by some of the things I discovered along the way. She told me everything she remembered hearing from her parents, aunts, and uncles, and slowly I took those fragments of memories and found the facts. We even went out for a few meals with cousins she hadn’t seen in decades as well as cousins she’d never even met. 

One of her most favorite things was being a grandmother. She became a grandmother for the first time in 1995 with the birth of her first granddaughter, Natalie. Eventually she would have four grandchildren with the addition of Ava in 2005, Nicholas in 2007, and Luke in 2009.

Natalie, Ava, Nicholas, and Luke

Jim developed Parkinson’s that was manageable for over a decade, but in September, 2013, he moved into Wesley Enhanced Living retirement home in Philadelphia. Anita visited almost every day until his death on June 27, 2016. They had been married for sixty years.

I received a beautiful note on the day of her funeral from her parish priest. He wrote that he really got to know my parents due to illness; he used to visit my father in the nursing home and see my mother making her daily visits. He wrote:

I was seeing two people suffering individually and at the same time saw the ways they reached out to each other. They made marriage vows real – ‘I take you for better, for worse, in sickness and in health, I will love and honor you all the days of my life.’ We are blessed being a part of their lives.

Fr. James Kirk, 10/22/2020

In the years after Jim’s death, Anita suffered several transient ischemic attacks (TIAs). She always bounced back and continued to live at home until January of 2020 when she moved into assisted living at Riverview Estates in Riverton, NJ. After March, a difficult period of isolation began due to pandemic restrictions. But she continued to touch people with her faith – several of the caregivers admitted how much they loved conversations with her about faith or praying with her. Anita passed away from a stroke on October 17, 2020.

Anita was a wife, mother, grandmother, and friend. She was a dreamer and a survivor. She was a woman of strong faith. Thank you, Mom, for being the foundation of my life and of my faith – and for teaching me how to love.

The Light

When we remember Who we came from we will know why we are here. When we remember Who the light of the world is, we can let it shine from within. You can be the one who brings someone out of the darkness. You can be the one who shows the way. We need to show the people of this time that God is with us. We need to make them aware of His presence. Do you believe? If so, show others His light. Make a difference! Show them the true light of the world.The light of Jesus. How well do you know Him? How well do you know His word? How willing are you to let His light shine through you?

anita pointkouski 2/7/2014

ETERNAL REST GRANT UNTO HER, O LORD, AND LET PERPETUAL LIGHT SHINE UPON HER. MAY SHE REST IN PEACE. AMEN.

6 thoughts on “My Mother, My Foundation

  1. So beautiful Donna. I just loved reading your blog. Your brother Drew was in my class at OLC . II met your parents years later when my parents joined the rosary group. They had a lifetime bond with their OLC friends. Their strong faith helped me also develop a personal relationship with God and the Blessed Mother. I didn’t realize how much our parents had in common. My parents also met at the St. Boniface dance. My Dad was from St Matt’s Parish too. I remember attending a charismatic meeting with my best friend Bonnie and your mom placed her hands on me and told me I would have the gift of healing. I did become a nurse and hopefully helped others in my long career. You are an amazing daughter and the miracle little girl your mom prayed for. Thankyou for sharing your parents beautiful love story. We were truly blessed to have such faith filled parents and experience the OLC family.

  2. Thank you, Pattiann! We really were both blessed with wonderful parents. I have many memories of laughing and praying with your parents at our house or yours or at OLC. Thank you for sharing!

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