Mother's impact celebrated every day

Daughter remembers Toby Footer's inspiring tenacity on Mother's Day -- and throughout life

Mother's impact celebrated every day

My favorite story about my ancestry involves my great-grandmother, Ellis Island, a paper towel and some serious chutzpah.

My great-grandmother, Libby -- better known in my family circles as Bubby Goldman -- traveled to America from Russia with her husband, Charles, in search of, as was the case with everyone who showed up to Ellis Island, a better life.

The entry lines were long, the screening process difficult. If you were healthy, you got in one line and, for the most part, were granted entry into the country. If you were sickly, however, they marked you on a piece of your clothing, in chalk, with the first letter of your illness. More times than not, the sickly were denied entry and sent back.

Bubby was approved and directed to the healthy line. Charles, who had bad kidneys, was marked on the lapel of his coat with a "K," put in the sick line and, seemingly, was destined to be sent back to Russia.

But Bubby had other ideas. She went into the bathroom, wet a paper towel, walked back to her husband and quietly wiped the "K" off his lapel. She pulled him into the healthy line with her, unnoticed.

The rest, as they say, is history.

So when I tell people that I come from a long line of strong and independent (and directionally challenged) women, the first person I think of is Bubby Goldman, a headstrong, savvy redhead. Bubby passed a lot of her tenacity on to my grandmother, Naomi, who then passed it on to my mother, Toby.

And I'd like to think my mom passed it on to me.

Those are the things that have kept me going, and will continue to, as I navigate through the rest of my life without my mom. We lost her 2 1/2 years ago to a long, painful and mind-numbingly cruel illness. When it happened, I vowed to spend the rest of my life celebrating hers. I'd like to think I've held up my end of the bargain.

So, when I was asked to write this essay as part of MLB.com's celebration of Mother's Day, I needed no time to think about it. Of course I'll talk about my mother. I always talk about my mother. Why should this weekend be any different?

First, a few things about Toby Footer. She had lots of bushy blonde hair. She called me Sweetie Pie. She loved the smell of glue and gasoline (though not together). She said "oh poo" when something went awry. She sneezed in increments of seven. She ordered her water the same every time -- no ice, right from the tap, so it's not cold.

She spent her entire life trying to lose five pounds. She loved Rocky Road ice cream and plain cooked pasta, right out of the strainer. She was a writer, too, and had a column in a small, weekly neighborhood paper in Dayton, Ohio, titled "Footnotes."

My mom made no noise when she laughed. When she really got going, her shoulders shook up and down, in absolute silence.

She loved family. The more, the better. She loved it when family members got married, because that meant one more person was now related to her. She was extremely kind, very wise and, even though she always denied it, hilariously funny.

My mom was pretty straight-laced when it came to outside indulgences. She hated foul language and rarely drank. On the rare occasion that she did take a few sips, she'd immediately report, "My arms feel heavy." She got daring on a cruise one year and tried something she'd never heard of before. "Have you ever had Jell-O shots?" she asked me over the phone during one of her sojourns. "They're just delicious!"

Humor was a constant in our family, and it helped get us through the really awful stuff that happened when she was in the final stages of her life. When the doctor told us things weren't likely to end well, my mom and I looked at each other, and I blurted out, "But I never even learned how to cook."

We aren't terribly spiritual people, but I asked her to just check in on me from time to time if there was indeed an afterlife. "But not when I'm pooping, please," I said.

"For sure," she responded. "Not when you're pooping."

I spent the majority of the last eight months of my mom's life at her side and moved home to Ohio for the final four months, thanks to the kindness and understanding of my current employer in ways that I could never repay, even if I spent the rest of my existence trying to do so. My mother felt I was giving up way too much of my life to take care of hers, even with my 100 or so insistences that I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

In her final days, I promised her I'd move back to Houston, see my friends, work really hard, laugh a lot, eat delicious food, sip tasty wine and not continue the cycle of suffering that had become our new normal and that had left us all broken. I also promised, "I will always keep my hair red."

Some people may roll their eyes when they hear, "You're just like your mother." For me, it was always a source of comfort. She didn't live long enough, but as I told her in our final conversation, "That was a heck of a way to spend 70 years."

I can only try to do the same.

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.