This is the house in Pittsburgh where I grew up; Mom and Dad, one sister, two brothers, multiple stray cats, lots of friends, occasional relatives or kids who needed a place to stay, and one bathroom. It worked. Our home was exactly that, a home. It hummed, probably on the edge of chaos, but it was always filled with love. That’s where Mom came in. She was tough, strict, had the ears of a bat, never slept (at least not that we knew about) and most of all she was always there. I can’t remember a time in my childhood that I needed my mom that she wasn’t there.
Back to the house, the reason it was able to contain everything I described above and remain clean and orderly most of the time, was the basement. (If you grew up in the Northeast you already knew that, but if you did not, the basement is the real epicenter of family life in that part of the world.) Our basement was pretty cool. It contained the requisite pool table, bar, wall murals, black and gold shrines to the Steelers and Pirates, an orange couch my sister built in “shop”, astroturf carpet, and paneled walls.
Our basement also had a feature most other houses I have ever known did not; a food pantry. This is where Mom comes in again. My earliest memories of fighting hunger were forged in a tiny social justice center that Mom was running out of our basement. She and my Aunt Dody collected and distributed food constantly; most to poor neighborhoods on the north side of Pittsburgh, but in retrospect I am certain that she helped some of our own neighbors too. This all seemed completely reasonable to us. Under her sometimes tough exterior, Susie Thomas was wired to care and to give. Hungry kids were her soft spot.
We moved out of that house years ago, but Mom didn’t change much no matter where she lived. She never missed a food drive, never went to Mass without a can or two for the local pantry, sent a donation every week to the food bank, and many donations throughout the years to Share Our Strength. (Mom admired their work so much, and of course Bill and Deb Shore are from Pittsburgh.) When she couldn’t drive anymore, or see very well, she would enlist our help to make sure that she was doing her part to help the hungry. Mom died last week, and though she was ready to go, we were not ready for the moment that she was no longer with us. The tears still stream easily, and the need to honor her memory is intense.
So today I am going to fill up the bag that the Boy Scouts left on her doorstep for the Saint Michaels food drive, and then I am going to help blow up the #NoKidHungry hash tag for Giving Tuesday, and help us raise $50,000.00 in the next eighteen hours.
One of Mom’s greatest gifts was proving by example the power of one person to make a difference in the lives of others. She may not have used the expression “taking action”, but she took it every day. There are 46 million kids in this country that she wants us to help. Let’s do this. I can hear her say, “I’m proud of you” already.