Elaine Margarite Gima was born on March 15th, 1934.
On August 29th, 1953, she married a skinny little soldier and became Elaine Badnarik.
For most of her life, almost everyone knew her as Mom.
It is easy for me to imagine why my father was attracted to her. She was absolutely vivacious. Easily the life of the party. Her smile would light up the room, and she gave each person her individual attention. She loved everyone, especially her children. Especially at Christmas. She loved getting us wound up because “Santa Claus is coming!” We were never bad children, but we were on our best behavior for two months even before we had finished our halloween candy. Birthdays were also important to her, requiring a custom baked cake depicting your favorite hobby, and crowds of aunts and uncles to make you feel special. She would have organized a ticker-tape parade if she had thought of it. She was the “glue” that held our family together.
Growing up, I didn’t know we were poor. Mom needed a new pair of shoes, but by the time Dad’s paycheck was done paying the bills, there was nothing left. He would always promise her that “next month” she could get new shoes. I have no idea how they managed to feed three growing boys. Mom said we ate like locusts. She would cook all morning, but fifteen minutes after we got home from school there was nothing left. I was sixteen before I learned what left-overs were. Mom was an excellent cook! All of our friends from school would hang out in our back yard until the last possible moment, hoping for an invitation to dinner. Whenever I returned to college after a visit home, my friends would trail me back to my dorm like hyenas, knowing that Mom always sent me back with a huge “care package” of goodies.
Her greatest satisfaction in life was being a mom. She made Harriet Nelson, June Cleaver, and Donna Reed look downright negligent by comparison. For several years I acted as caregiver for my parents, and we often went out for dinner. As we walked through the restaurant, small children in highchairs would twist in their seats to stare at my mother, who was typically oblivious of the attention. My father would ask, “What are you DOING to these children?!” She had the most nurturing personality of any woman I’ve ever met.
When my brothers and I left home, she suffered an empty nest syndrome that temporarily immobilized her. We encouraged her to get an office job that she didn’t think she was qualified for. However, being an obvious over-achiever, she was quickly hired as the executive secretary to the manager of a local steel refinery. Finally, Mom and Dad had money to spend, so Mom bought herself a powder-blue car so she could drive to the office in style. She told me more than once that the picture of her along side that car was her absolute favorite.
Her favorite hobby, more like an obsession, was geneology. She spent hours collecting data on our ancestors, and she was very proud of our Slovak heritage. After taking a short vacation to Slovakia, she came home and made a traditional Slovak blouse that she wore when she gave lectures on Slovak customs.
I was lucky enough to have my parents attend the convention in Atlanta when I was nominated for president. Mom was immediately recruited to run for Lieutenant Governor in Indiana, which she did. Based on our research, she and I were the first Mother/Son combination on the same ballot. She was hesitant to debate politics with candidates who had more impressive credentials, but she was always the audience favorite after each presentation. Of course, she had to buy new clothes so she looked good on the campaign trail. A fact that caused my father to give me the “evil eye” until the election was over.
My brothers and I couldn’t have had better parents if we were able to pick them from the world population. Mom and Dad shared what could only be described as a “storybook romance”, literally until death tore them apart. When my brothers and I, and our significant others, joined them for dinner to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary, they were flirting so blatantly with each other that I said, “Dad! Get a room!”. I was joking, of course, but rarely do children have such a great example of what a relationship can look like.
My mother passed away on April 29th, 2015, just a few weeks after her 81st birthday.
She was a unique phenomenon that can never be replaced.