I could always count on my mother to deliver me the news, good or bad.
Whenever I called my parents in North Carolina, it was Mom who gave me the scoop on what was going on with my family and friends.
I will miss those updates from my mother, who died in early December. She was a genuinely unpretentious soul who held our family firmly together with grit, grace and gumption.
Mom saw it as her duty to seek out information and impart the most important details. It was her example that inspired me to become a news reporter.
When I was growing up, Mom was the eyes and ears of our neighborhood. She was the equivalent of The New York Times or Walter Cronkite in our little corner of Western North Carolina.
Although my mom occasionally held jobs outside of the home, for most of my childhood she was what was once euphemistically called a “homemaker.” The neighborhood was her beat and she covered it with the dedication of such contemporaries as Jimmy Breslin of the New York Daily News and Mike Royko from the Chicago Tribune.
She was the first to know when a prison “chain gang” was working in our community. I’m not sure the inmates were still wearing leg irons in the early 1970s, but mom treated their presence as if they were characters from “Cool Hand Luke.”
I was engrossed in a Spiderman comic book one hot August day in the summer of 1977 when my mother notified me that Elvis had died.
When the nuclear power plant at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania malfunctioned in 1979, it was Mom who advised me that I should seek shelter indoors. Even though the crippled nuclear plant was at least 500 miles from our neighborhood, my mom was convinced Duke Energy’s McGuire Nuclear Plant (located just 35 miles down the road) could fall victim to a similar catastrophe.
It was Mom who informed me that same summer of the untimely death of my No. 1 sports hero, New York Yankees catcher Thurman Munson in a plane crash. She broke the news to me as gently as she could.
How did my mom get the scoop on all these big stories? Simple: She never missed an afternoon TV news break or “Special Report.” It helped that Mom was a devotee of “As the World Turns” and “The Guiding Light,” two afternoon soap operas that were broadcast for generations on CBS before being taken off the air more than a decade ago.
Like all good journalists, Mom had her reporting called into question at times. I often bristled when she told people that as a child, I cried uncontrollably while having my photograph taken on the knee of a department store Santa.
It wasn’t me and I have the incriminating Polaroids of my younger brother with the tears in his eyes (and hugging the Teddy Bear the photographer gave him to stop his bawling) to prove it.
Nonetheless, Mom stood by her story. I would have expected no less from such a consummate journalist.