Mary Balog (1942-2022)

My mother passed away after a short illness. This is what I said at her memorial service.

Mary Balog

Aujourd’hui, maman est morte.

That sentence is usually translated as “Mother died today”. It is the first line in the story “The Stranger” by the French author Albert Camus.

I hate to admit it, but I’ve never read “The Stranger”. Perhaps I was out the day it was taught. And I most definitely didn’t bring it up to show off my French skills, because I had to spend several minutes with my friend Bob to work on the pronunciation, and am still not sure I got it right.

The real reason I mention it is that I recently read an article about that sentence the The New Yorker in an article entitled “Lost in Translation”. The point of the article was that the French word for “mother” is actually “mère” and “maman” is something between “mommy” and “mom”. It goes on to examine how that might affect the reader’s feelings for the main character in the story when read in translation.

But that’s not important. What’s important is that my mother was most definitely a “mom”.

Looking out at the people here today I’m sure many of you understand what I mean.

Why does it matter? “Mother” to me seems very formal, whereas my relationship with Mom was closer to friendship, but even more so. Not only did she do all the “mom stuff” like care and nurture me, she was also interested in my life as a whole and loved to share things with me.

My sister and I have been blessed with two amazing parents. My father, well Dad, is kinda of like my left brain. He taught me how to reason and to love discovery and science and math and all that stuff.

My Mom was my right brain. She taught me how to be creative, and how to feel and get the most out of life. From her I get my love of cooking. Mom loved to cook . Even in the past year, when her health wasn’t the best, she would still try out new recipes.

But in fact I think that the act of cooking was secondary to the pleasure she took in feeding others. I can remember that during the “high holidays”, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, our house would often be filled with people outside the family, friends and neighbors, who she loved to have over. She never met a stranger.

Together my parents formed a whole that was stronger than its parts.

When I was working on my four year college degree, which actually took me seven years and spanned three schools, I spent one summer working alongside Mom at Mid-State Plastics in Seagrove. We’d commute together, have lunch together if our breaks coincided, and often go to the store afterward.

When I lived in California I developed a taste for Granny Smith Apples, those firm, green apples with the slightly sour flavor. We were at the store and I picked up a few of them to eat. Mom was like “Put those back. Thems pie apples”. No, I said, they are really good. You can just eat them. She repeated that, no, those were for pies, and me, being stubborn, said that I was going to eat them.

This went back and forth for a little while and she looked me right in the eye and loud enough for most of the store to hear said “You’re not too big for me to spank your ass”.

A celebrity once said “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying.” While that is a noble goal, it seems very hard to achieve, and I think the closest we can come to it is by living on in the hearts and minds of people’s lives we’ve touched. We are still alive as long as people remember us (and if you don’t believe me you can check out a documentary on the subject by Pixar called “Coco”).

Mom touched a lot of people, and I ask you to honor her by continuing to be kind to one another and the people you encounter. Thank you for coming to this celebration of her life.