Friday, September 14, 2012

On my mind....

Today my mom is on my mind. I will tell you Kleenex might be needed if you read this post. If you don't need a good, soul-refreshing tear jerker crying session, SKIP THIS POST. That's your final warning because I need to talk about her tonight.
I would like to share our last Christmas together with you and  tell you what made her so amazing to me. This layout is very special. All the photos were taken in December 2005.
 The first photo you see on the upper left of the page is my mom, Franca Redini Bridges, and my brother-in-law, Mark Skorupa (Jenny's husband). Sadly both are now deceased.
The bottom left photo is of mom and Laura Jill Hill (Jenny's daughter). The bottom right photo is of my brother, Bruno, my mom, and Cody Brandon Bridges (Bruno's son).

Top left is my sister, Jenny Skorupa and our mom. Top left is of my brother, Bruno Bridges and our Mom. Bottom left is of me with my mom. Notice all the red cardinals? It was my mom's favorite bird -- she collected them. When we see a cardinal, we always say Mom is looking out for us.

My mom was born on March 12, 1930 in Parma, Italy to Elsa Bussolati Redini and Guiseppe Redini. She grew up in Tuscany in the city of Pisa. She was the oldest of 8 children (5 girls and 3 boys). She was working at Camp Darby, an US Army Base (it is outside of Pisa) when she met my father, Joseph Kindell Bridges, III of Holly Springs, Mississippi. In October 1958, when I was only 7 months old, we moved from Italy to Fort Hood, Texas. That Christmas,  Mom found out she was expecting my sister Jenny.

In February 1959, my father was killed in a head on collison near Fort Hood. My mother decided to stay in the USA and raise the 3 of us children (Bruno 5, me 11 months, and Jenny who was not born yet). She did not speak English at that time. She sacrificed herself not returning home to her parents, brothers and sisters. (In fact, she only went back to Italy once -- it was in 1985). I just cannot imagine not returning to my family.

We moved to Helena, Arkansas, a riverboat town along the Mississippi River about 75 miles south of Memphis. Mom struggled to learn English, which she did learn via the use of encyclopedias and an Italian-English dictionary. It was her 3rd language. She spoke Italian, French and English.

I remember Helena being a melting pot of different nationalities when I was a child. My mother and her friends had a group. They called themselves the Heyena Club. There were so many wonderful ladies in that group: Isabel (Brazil); Anna (Belgium); Mimi (France); Lisa (Germany); Zee Zee (Yugoslavia); and Clara (Egypt). There were many more! Sadly all have passed away with the exception of our dearest Isabel, who now lives in Leesburg, Florida.

Mom's  first job was at Bobbie Brooks Garment Factory, where she worked from about 1960 to 1973. Funny thing, as a child in Italy, she was sent home from the sewing school and her grandmother was told never to send her back. She was incapable of learning to sew. For someone incapable, she made her living on that skill.

When I was in high school, she went to work doing alterations at C.E. Mayer and Co. in Helena. Later she opened her own alterations business. First, she rented space in New Way Cleaners with Pat and Lee Williams. Then a few years later, she and her friend Barbara got together. Barbara owned antique store called On the Levee Antiques and she did not want to be alone in the store. So a portion of the store was designed for mom to have her own business, Franca's Alterations. They were good friends. Barbara was like another daughter to my mom. When Mom died, we had Barbara sit with us in the family section.

My mother and I did things together. She learned to finally drive when I was 15, and got her license and first car. I have to say all thanks go to Lisa Mathis, who taught Mom how to drive! Mom learned to swim the summer I was 17.

She was just a hoot. She spoke English with an Italian accent and a Southern drawl on top. LOL She never conquered the English "th" sounds because it does not occur in Italian and the fact she had scarlet fever as a child and it damaged her hearing.

In the fall of 2005, she quietly went to the doctor and had tests ran for a couple of months before she said a word to anyone (and she was living with me at that time). One Wednesday evening in early November, she asked me to take off work the next morning because she needed me. That was super rare. She instilled a strong work ethic in her kids -- you went to work unless you were in bed sick --- no taking mental health days or fun days. And if you did not go to work (or when we were school age,go to school), you did not go anywhere else. Tough luck if you got better later that day. You were staying home.

Anyway I got the day off and inquired why she needed me. I was shocked when she told me I needed to take her to the hospital for a lung biopsy the following morning. Then she proceeded to tell me not to tell my brother and sister. OMG -- not tell them? Thankfully sis called and knew something was up and Mom fessed up.

The doctor told me after the biopsy it was lung cancer. But at the time we did not know how far along it was. That was November. We went to his office Thanksgiving week to get the results. I remember leaving thinking all was well; she would get some treatment and it would be okay. He was sending us to Little Rock to see an oncologist. The appointment came in mid December. It was a Friday afternoon around 4 p.m. They explained what a port was and what the treatment would be for her lung cancer. They told us the staging. Then I asked how long would we do treatment before recovery. Then the shock -- they explained she was Stage 4 and terminal. I remember just crying so hard while driving Mom to my sister's house. I could not believe I was going to lose my mom, my mentor and my best friend.

I simply begged this poor woman to take the chemotherapy to give us more time together. The doctors stated she would live only 6 months without it and live 12 -18 months with the chemotherapy. Bless her soul, she took the treatment for me. She started in January 2006. She passed away June 2006. Six months -- that is all I had her for--- I had her take this terrible treatment to gain months and we gained nothing. Her quality of life exchanged for quanity --- when she got neither.

Poor little Mom. She was 4'10" and 90 pounds on her final day on Earth. She had just gotten hair back on her little head. Looked like a black buzz cut. Mom did not have any gray hairs at all. That final weekend, I remember telling her how much she looked like my brother, Bruno. She informed me, that NO, she did not look like Bruno. Instead it was Bruno that looked like her. The treatments caused her to lose 30 pounds in those 6 months.

I miss my mom. After 6 years, I still reach for the phone to call her and tell her a story or an event that happened. Every once in a while, I have one of these tear jerker sessions missing her so badly.

Tonight's came because I went to see a friend whose daughter is in ICU. I know that triggered it. Life is simply so fragile.

My favorite photo of Mom. I took this at On the Levee Antiques in June 2005. A year later I would be saying goodbye to her.

These are some of the beautiful black and white photos of my Mom in the 1950's. I have this layout hanging on the wall in my living room. I have one wall that is nothing but family photos and layouts. I walk past this everyday and THANK GOD for her.

The Bridges Family circa 1977. Front row: Bruno and Franca. Back row: Arlene, Charlotte (Bruno's wife) and Jenny. Taken in Helena, Arkansas.

Thank you for letting me introduce you to my mom.


  1. Arlene - this is an amazingly warm and beautiful post. This gives me a touch of understanding a bit more about where you learned to be so resilient and bright and kind. Your mom sounds like a gem - thanks for telling us about her. I love ya Arlene!

  2. wow, nice to learn more about you and your Mom, thank you for sharing!

    I miss you my friend.....

  3. I'm not sure why I stumbled across your blog, it could be because my mother in laws birthday would have been a week from today, call it fate! Even though she was only my "Mother-in-Law", I loved her very much.....Thank you for sharing your family pics, they are beautiful!!