She set the bar incredibly high.

I often wondered where her mothering skills came from. Her own mother was so busy raising seven children, so she had little time to mentor her own daughters.

She was a skinny teenager when I met her, wearing a long Pendleton skirt, rolled up bobby sox and penny loafers. Her cooking skills fell somewhere between making PB&J sandwiches and unwrapping packages of Twinkies. She thought a check book was about life in a Slavic country. To her, a thimble and a flat iron were game pieces on a Monopoly Board.

She dropped out of college after a couple of semesters in order to go to work. She went to her interview at General Motors wearing a beige suit with matching hat and gloves. A savvy employment manager recognized something special in her, and put her to work on a computer that was big enough to fill the infield at Brigg’s Stadium. She learned programming, and soon became an instructor teaching others how to program, while she wrote script in a language called COBAL, as foreign to me as Urdu.

She was Ginger Rogers on the dance floor, but I was Fred Despair, who could trip over the painted white lines on a parking lot surface. One day she dragged me onto the dance floor. She was as light and feathery as an apparition; she knew where I was going before I knew where I was going. We glided through life with her making me believe I was leading. She thought I was the funniest person she had ever met, so when we married in 1958, I set out to make her laugh as often as I could.

We hadn’t heard of feng shui, but without the aid of an accurate Chinese compass she turned our upper flat into heaven on earth. Then I proceeded to drag her all over the country for the next four decades. No matter where we ended up, in a matter or weeks she had the place looking like we were the original owners. Twice I bought homes she had never seen until we met the moving van there. She swept the front walk, talking to passers-by until she befriended the entire neighborhood. She made curtains and drapes and made clothes for the kids and for herself. If she put her mind to it, I swear she could weave straw into gold.

Once I plunked her down on 10 rural acres in the middle of nowhere, with a house half the size of the one we left. She bought a huge freezer, planned meals for a month, and then shopped so efficiently that I only had to bring home milk and bread once in a while — and then just milk because she began baking bread.

On Mother’s Day in 1975, I bought her a 10 horsepower gas-operated rototiller. You would have thought I had emptied out Tiffany’s for her. She tilled the land into a garden overflowing with enough healthful food to make a heart specialist smile.

And she learned to cook, too. She became so good that she created a cookbook she gave to close friends as Christmas gifts. It remains the one book that keeps me from slipping into fast-food purgatory.

She never gave up on her education, and during the same week our youngest daughter graduated from high school, and our son graduated from college, she earned her AA degree from a community college — with honors.

At her memorial service, a cousin confided in me that my wife told him I made her laugh every day. I doubt that’s true. The philosopher Plato said: “In everyone’s life no matter how good their intent there are people they made suffer.” But if I unintentionally made her suffer, she suffered silently — remaining at my side, but like the dancing, always a step ahead of me.

She set the bar incredibly high for our two daughters, giving them her best so that they could be their best. It is no surprise they are loving mothers. And I never have to wonder where their mothering skills come from.

This weekend, I will be joining my children to honor her memory by participating in the Revlon Run/Walk 5K in Los Angeles. If you’ve lost a mom or any woman who was important in your life to breast cancer consider making a contribution to fight this dreaded disease. Happy Mother’s day to all the best moms out there.

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  1. norm says:

    Hey Jerry,
    Wonderful, warm and fantastic article on Helen.
    Looking forward to seeing you some time this week-end!
    Home # 310-545-8964
    Cell # 310-720-4525

    4603 Bindewald Road
    Torrance, Ca 90505

    • Jerry Gervase says:

      Norm, I’m in late Friday then out again Monday morning but I’ll call you to see if we can connect. I”m sure we can make it happen.

  2. Hi Jerry,
    Oh, what a nice column! I still have tears in my eyes. Mike and I were married in 1959, too! That was a good year. Thanks for sharing yout thoughts and ideas.


    What a wonderful tribute for a wonderful lady… I always remember stopping by her desk at the bank to talk to her… She loved to talk about her family and granddaughters…She was always so cheerful and truly amazing woman..Thanks for telling such a great story..Best wishes for all of you in Southern California.. my sister-in-law has had several bouts with it…it is truly kind to walk for the cure.

    • Jerry Gervase says:

      Joanne, I didn’t know you knew her. Thanks for letting me know.

      • JOANNE WAYLETT says:

        well, Jerry, I probably talked to her at least twice a week for years. I am still at that bank and I still think of her, everytime I go there.. She was just so sweet and had a knack for making people feel comfortable and like family…I missed her after you both moved and I often think of her.. I loved your tribute and I am sure she loves it too.. such a sweet made me cry.

  4. Don Gervase says:

    Hey Jer,
    I’m sitting here laughing my butt off remembering that knife throwing routine you and Helen improvised using a drain plunger instead of a knife. I can still see her with her back against the wall, arms stretched out, head limp and toes pointed to affect a raggedy Ann pose. She was the best “straight man” you ever had.


    • Jerry Gervase says:

      Don, I”m sure that story has been embellished over the years, but I do remember it. I also remember a ventriloquist routine we did with something about the “tip top lady” bread. I don’ thing my kids would believe me if I told them.

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