I covered a high school football game on Friday night and then went to the neighborhood Denny’s as I generally do to file my story on the game from the restaurant. This stay warranted a little extra time because I also had to file a gallery of photos and then after that some photos of top individuals from the game. So, after leaving my house at 5:45 p.m. and not getting home until nearly 2 a.m. It was a long day, to put it mildly.
About an hour later, I was told that the Coral Springs Police Department had been banging on my door, ringing the bell, and calling my house and cell. I was out like a light in my master bedroom. The commotion must have woken me, and I saw that I had a voicemail from the police department. It asked me to call them, so I did. I asked if they knew what it was about, the dispatcher said yes and that an officer would need to speak with me. While I waited, all I could think of was that it can never be a good thing when the police come to your house at 3:30 a.m.
When the police officer arrived, I thought I had fallen back asleep and was in the middle of a nightmare. Some of you know that my mom’s health has deteriorated rapidly over the past three years. More than a dozen trips to the hospital for a myriad of reasons, a half dozen stays in rehab facilities, and a move from her independent living apartment to an assisted living apartment.
He told me that on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2:48 a.m. my mom had passed in her sleep. Gut-wrenching. My best friend, adviser, consultant, mentor, kindred spirit, leader, and biggest cheerleader was gone. My soccer community of coaches, players, and colleagues were all understanding as I shared my mom's time with them. She was the person who gave me my drive to coach children because maybe they didn’t have as great a support system at home. I was tackling each case just trying to make a small impact in their lives. I would brag about former players making a college team or even going as far as the World Cup. Not because of anything I did, but because I wasn’t that last player’s coach. It was always my goal to instill a love and passion for the sport and each other.
The minute he said, “Your mother lived in Park Summit?” I knew. Even though she had struggled with dementia and Alzheimer’s the past few months at a rapid pace, I was prepared but kept the officer in the driveway for an hour just talking about some good times – even with a total stranger.
My mom gave me that trait. There were times years ago when my soccer team would be playing in Melbourne, and she would drive up the day of the game (3 hours) just to hand out homemade turkey sandwiches and their choice of potato salad or Cole slaw to the players. She would come to the soccer camps just to watch me coach, even when she was pushing her walker. She came to my team’s games, and she would always ask if they had fun playing. She also supported me in the years that I did my standup comedy on the side, and she literally saved every article I ever appeared in or wrote. Lately, she would pull out the sports section and leave it in her walker for me to pick up.
I was in denial somewhat. On Saturday morning I covered a soccer tournament, went home, and took a nap. My neighbor, who has been a rock for me and my mom, brought by dinner and we talked. The denial ended when I went to the funeral home Sunday morning to discuss arrangements. With each portion, it got increasingly real and emotional, especially in selecting the passage for the cards. As I was reading each one, I could hear my mom saying I picked the best cards. I hope I did it right on this one.
I am hopeful that she is in a better place and not suffering anymore. I know my urging her to eat and drink more for the past year was difficult, even for her, and I know that her not being able to remember simple things like the fact that I was going to be at camp for 10 straight weeks this summer or I was covering a game for the Sun Sentinel would eat at her. She would always tell me she felt sooo stupid.
It was instilled in me earlier, that the fact that she would volunteer and go cut hair at a nearby nursing home when we lived in Miami (she was a hair stylist in her early years) said a lot about her. I would go into the lobby where they had a piano and play “Heart and Soul” but put my own lyrics to it. When we moved to Sunrise, she got a job at Broward County Voter’s Registration that was only supposed to last three months and she was so well-liked, and so efficient that she was able to carve out a 27-year career as a public servant out of it.
It also provided me with my most favorite memory of what to do for her 50th birthday celebration. Of course, I opted for the Ronald Reagan strip-o-gram. The dude came in dressed like a cowboy, with a Reagan mask, a boombox playing “Hail to the Chief” and well let’s just say his voice impression of Reagan wasn’t that good. It was a lot of laughs, and my mom liked the lap dance I think. I was a managing editor of a host of weekly newspapers at the time and wrote a story about it, complete with a series of humorous photos.
Fast forward to last Wednesday, her 90th birthday where she was surrounded by some family and close friends for a home-made rib dinner. It was delicious, although the next day she didn’t remember any of it until I was able to gently prod it out of her. I said don’t you remember celebrating your birthday? And as I identified people who were there she said yes it was very nice. I told her that her next goal would be to shoot for the front of the Smucker’s jar for her 100th. Thursdays for the past 10 years were our extended day together. We’d go for her hair appointment and maybe lunch and then the following week it would be the same with her nail appointment which followed.
I told her after the last one she looked ravishing as ever. We spoke Friday on the phone and told her of my full day, that I would see her on Saturday and maybe we could have breakfast on Sunday at her favorite breakfast place. Like always, I told her that I loved her, and she responded she loved me too. I will miss the fun times we had. I will miss the daily phone calls where we would talk about each other’s day. She is what I hope every child’s mom should be like. I love you, mom!
She is survived by her son, Gary Curreri, her nephews Jim (and wife Laurie) Benvenga, Ed (and wife Barbara) Benvenga, and her niece Theresa (and husband Dave) Picconi. Predeceased by her brother Pascal Benvenga and sister Marie Benvenga.