The Incalculable Value of Mom
by Nell Merlino
Tulips, violets and forget-me-nots – they all remind me of my mother. She loved spring and taught me to love it with her artistic appreciation for flowers, budding trees and robins.
The Friends of the New Jersey State Museum, where my mother served as President in the 1970’s, invited me to speak at their annual luncheon this Friday in Trenton. I plan to share a few of my favorite photos of her and my thoughts on how the opportunities and challenges confronting leaders, caregivers and breadwinners has evolved for women in just a few generations.
My favorite photo is from 1961 when Molly was 36 and I was 8 years old. It is a professional head shot, the first I’d ever seen of my mother in the newspaper. I knew it was a big deal. The Jr. League had accepted my mother into the Trenton Chapter. I remember my grandmother, a retired school teacher, sitting in our kitchen looking at the newspaper marveling about how the daughter of an Irish maid could end up having time to help others.
And help other people is what my mother did her entire life. (Today, the average mother spends the equivalent of 10 full time years doing nothing but household chores.) Raising five children, keeping up with a very busy husband and caring for her own mother who suffered with manic depression, my mother taught me just how much a busy woman could do in a day and in a life time.
A prolific artist, Molly donated her work to help friends and neighbors suffering with M.S. (like a card she created for the M.S. Society to sell at holiday time to raise money). Painting scenery for the Jr League children’s theater productions, murals for inside hospitals, out on the street or teaching at Blessed Sacrament School, Molly patiently shared her gifts and brought the talent out in other people.
A dedicated citizen, she registered voters for years, served as a West Ward Democratic Committee woman,and even ran for office herself. A promoter of the arts she lead many arts organizations including as President of The Friends of the New Jersey State Museum, President of the Trenton City Museum, President of The Mill Hill Playhouse, Manager of the Museum Shop at the NJ State Museum, Manager of the shop of the Trenton City Museum (named “Molly’s” in her honor) and, appointed by the Governor, member of the NJ Council on the Arts. She was also a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1984 when the ticket included Geraldine Ferraro as the first female vice-presidential nominee.
Her final years spent in New York City, the day she moved in she said, “I want to be in the middle of everything” and indeed she was. Going to galleries, museums and shows , falling in love again and entertaining her new granddaughters she was surrounded by love and art.
My mother lived her life to the absolute fullest. She worked at Lenox China during World War II, happily went home to marry and raise children, was always painting, organizing and caring for family and neighbors. I get my boundless energy from her, my appreciation of art and politic skills and most importantly the willingness to act on what I think, see and say – and that is the incalculable value of Mom.