Lu Mininni-Totin

My Mum turned 71 today. Even though we celebrated her birthday while she and Dad were visiting us, I thought I would do a little tribute to the wonderful woman who brings so much joy to our lives.

Mum was born in Steubenville, Ohio, on July 13, 1935, in a small house in the downtown area. Her father, Frank, was one of the local barbers (he once worked with Dean Martin's father, who was also a barber.) Her mother, Lily, was a homemaker. For a time, her parents lived with family members, but Mum was their "lucky baby". My grandfather started his own barber shop, and purchased a home for his wife and three daughters shortly after my mother's birth.

Lillian, or Lu (as she likes to be called) grew up in Steubenville, and attended the Catholic schools out here. She was born with a healthy dose of faith, and her passion was God. She has always been a deeply spiritual woman, not in the sense that you think - someone who prays everyday and then goes about their lives - my mother has a true walk with the Lord.

When she was in her mid teens, she and her parents and one sister had to relocate to Arizona. At the time, Steubenville had heavy pollution due to the steel mills, and my grandfather's heart and lungs couldn't handle it. Sadly, her father passed away just a year after moving. My Mum stayed with her mother, helping her as best she could, but Mum's other passion is theatre.

Mum relocated for a short time to California, and then went, alone, to New York to pursue her dreams. Believe me, my mother has talent! But, she also has morals and ethics - she has principles - and those things don't often go hand-in-hand with the entertainment industry. Mum is no prude! She worked as a singer in nightclubs, as well as starred in various musicals. She was in a television series titled "The Nurses", as well as in other programs. She also belly danced to stay trim. (To this day, her sisters lament that they didn't have her knock-out body!) But, she would not to anything that would go against her morals; in other words, she avoided the pitfalls common to many 'starving actresses' back in the day. She did not believe in "couch casting". She would not take a role that placed her in a compromising position as far as her body went. She would not play the games. Yet, she was successful. She studied under a variety of famous names. She knew the movers and shakers of that time. She was a ball of energy, with a four-octave range, and incredible talent.

She met my father in New York, while working Summerstock. They fell in love, married, and after several years, they moved back to California. After my birth, my mother vowed to offer her talents up the God, and worked as an instructor, often without pay, to help other actors learn the trade. To this day, she is active in theatre! She had written several incredible plays and musicals based on scripture (as she puts it, she is only the Holy Spirit's typist.) You would be surprised to learn which very well-known Hollywood heart-throbs studied under her (Patrick Swayze is one of them.)

My mother is remarkably intelligent, although technology is not something she takes to. She enjoys science, and literature. She can spot talent a mile away. She still has her love of God. My parents have seen many hardships in life, and have had times of great struggle (my father, also 71, still works to pay the bills!), yet she has always been able to find joy in the world around her. Truth be told, Mum is what makes joy happen... it is part of her make-up, a tangible feeling. She is a conversationalist, able to speak to anyone about any thing. She is just incredible.

Every child can say they have had days where their mother drives them insane. Mum and I have had plenty of those, although looking back on them, I grin at all the foolishness I pulled just to ruffle her feathers. Children just can't appreciate their parents until they, the child, grow up enough to understand that their parents are human. Likewise, I am sure there were days when, despite her love for me, my mother wanted to drop me into a pillowcase and leave me on the neighbor's doorstep. I really was a stubborn, selfish child.

From my mother, I learned my morals and ethics. I learned to see both sides of the coin. I saw the world through her eyes, because she was always open enough to share it with me. I learned theatre, all aspects (living in a family like mine, it's a given), and she helped me develop my own talents. Two years ago, my mother even sat down with me to strengthen my voice for a (paid) production I was involved with (that kind of instruction does not come cheap in the real world, and really, I could not have had a better teacher!) When my family is involved with a production, we are not 'mum' and 'dad' and 'daughter'. We call each other by our first names, and work as a well-oiled team. (Yes, I miss that, Mum!!!) We know each other so well that words don't need to be said to express pride or frustration.

So, today, I honor her with an entry into my journal. Truly, words really can never say fully what is in my heart. To say "I love you" just seems too simple as a means of expressing how much she means to me. I can say "I miss you", and that in itself almost touches upon how my heart grieves that she lives so far away from us. I can say "Mum, happy birthday" and she knows that the phrase is more than just a greeting. Instead, I leave her with a bit of inspiration. You see, the Aldonzas of the world have never understood her. Even though they would spit on her for her dreams and her ministry, she has always seen the inner beauty they posses, and has always patiently reached out to them. Much like the musical from which the following lyrics are taken, in the end, the Aldonzas understand and embrace the message given. Mum, never stop bringing that message to the world!

Why do you do these things?

DON QUIXOTE: What things?

ALDONZA: These ridiculous... the things you do!

DON QUIXOTE: I hope to add some measure of grace to the world.

ALDONZA: The world's a dung heap and we are maggots that crawl on it!

DON QUIXOTE: My Lady knows better in her heart.

ALDONZA: What's in my heart will get me halfway to hell. And you, Senior Don Quixote-you're going to take such a beating!

DON QUIXOTE: Whether I win or lose does not matter.

ALDONZA: What does?

DON QUIXOTE: Only that I follow the quest.

ALDONZA: (spits) That for your Quest! (turns, marches away; stops, turns back and asks, awkwardly) What does that mean... quest?

DON QUIXOTE: It is the mission of each true knight... His duty... nay, his privilege!...

To dream the impossible dream,
To fight the unbeatable foe,
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go;

To right the unrightable wrong.
To love, pure and chaste, from afar,
To try, when your arms are too weary,
To reach the unreachable star!

This is my Quest to follow that star,
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far,
To fight for the right
Without question or pause,
To be willing to march into hell
For a heavenly cause!

And I know, if I'll only be true
To this glorious Quest,
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest.

And the world will be better for this,
That one man, scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,
To reach the unreachable stars!

We love you, Mum!

2 responded with...:

Annie Jeffries said...

Wow, Autrice. Your mom is one amazing woman. My mom turns 86 next week. She was born in New York and like your mom, went to NYC in her early 20's. She work in theatre for a while and live in a hotel for young women. But her life took a very different turn when she joined the Navy during WWII. She met my dad then and life changed totally.

TMTW said...

Mom's are wonderful! I wonder if your mother stayed at the Y... women's dorms. I had no idea your mother is a Vet...God bless her for the sacrifices she gave from her own life to help defend the freedoms we have today.