Birthday Wish for Mom: Staying Home with My ‘Fair’ Lady

“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with! Is that right?” ~ Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz

For the love of home and a Fair Haven mom … that’s right.

Sometimes a birthday without her is about lighting the candles, making the wish, sustaining the simple legacy of going home, staying home with my mom, Sally Van Develde.

Yesterday would have been her 98th birthday. If she had lived to blow out all those candles on her cake, I wondered what she would have done. What her wish would have been.

I realized I already knew. It was pretty simple. It was the same as always. The same all these years later, after the birthdays stopped, 26 of them 25 years after her unfair death to pancreatic cancer in January of 1996. She was only 72, a few weeks shy of her 73rd birthday. I hadn’t paid nearly enough attention to her birthdays … to celebrating her. A drawer full of homemade cards and a few regrets left behind, her home gone, I wished for a wish and left the candle burning, thinking of her … and her wish. Not just her birthday wish. Her everyday wish.

I saw it. Her party. Her forever wish. I couldn’t stop seeing it in the posthumous birthday candle’s flame on my coffee table, our old piano bench, saved from heartless wreckage. Couldn’t stop missing her. Couldn’t stop wishing my own wish for her birthday instead. Selfish? Maybe.

It would have been her wish, too, though. A wish that I knew was hers fulfilled. Better having come true, though, with a longer lifespan, a bit more celebration — a parade. A tiara, perhaps. She was modest with a secret show girl heart. Yeah, a tiara to top it off, shine on her smile of that wish granted. 

It was a wish that she was home. We were home. A wish that she woke up and had some coffee and crumb cake with me. A wish that good neighbors, her friends, popped in for a visit. A wish that we sat on the front porch, the first sight of a winter’s sun warming each worry and smile crease on her content near-centenarian face. A wish that her grandson, forever her Little Boy Blue with the toy garbage truck, stopped by and introduced her to his new dog, maybe plucked her a rose from the bush out front. A wish that she embarrassed him with a hug, a smiley stare, a pinch on the cheek and some bragging. 

A wish that my sister, her baby girl, stopped by for lunch with some broccoli rabe and rolls to make sandwiches. A wish to hear her gush, with her usual gratitude over the smallest of things, “Ohhhh, I’ve just been craving that!” A wish that she rounded up the day with her usual, “I’m going to the Acme” to lallygag.

A wish that she wandered back down the street hours later after getting her dose of daily visit and townie talk. That’s what I kept seeing. All day. Her, content, coming home from the store. Coming home. As usual. Something I always took for granted. That she would come home. That I would be home.

A wish that nutty Petey pup was there, his head popping up in the upstairs window with a woof and a wag as he saw her walk home with her Acme bag full of “a little something sweet” for the candy dish. That wish that we were home. That wish of having that feeling that everything would be OK because she came home. We were home again — together.

It was a birthday wish that had come true for her long ago, yet cheating her of time. Time to see her grandson growing into a man. Time with a crazy dog she would have loved to love and understand. Time to see her daughters grow a little older. Time for us to understand her better — her and her appreciation of that walk from the Acme and the sweet morsel of it all — the love of those little things. Savored.

If only for one wish … Home. It was all that mattered. It was all she needed.  It was all there in the heart of the birthday candle flame — flickering. Back and forth. Over and over again. It had become my selfish wish. But I would share. So would she. We always need our mother. We always need home. I guess she had gotten her wish — albeit lived out in its lopped lifespan.  

She and her husband Bill moved themselves and their two girls to Fair Haven in 1964, made it their home and quickly fell in love with the tiny peninsula borough, its people and a lot of unpretentious volunteer organizations — like the Fair Haven Fire Department, Girl Scouts, Brownies, and just plain helping out whoever wherever and whenever they could.

They passed on that simple love of community and all that’s home to their children, their grandson. That is why this site, Rumson-Fair Haven Retrospect, is dedicated to them. 

Chatting and catching up  in the Acme was one of Sally Van Develde’s favorite things to do. Everyone knew her. Hearing “You’ll never guess who I saw in the Acme today …” was about as comforting as the smell of a good cup of coffee wafting upstairs with the sound of chatter and laughter in the kitchen when friends stopped by to see her. She reached out to everyone, anyone, never judging, always interested in their story. It was hers, too.

President of the Fair Haven Fire Department’s Ladies Auxiliary many times over, she later became known as the Grab Bag Booth balloon lady. Aunt Sally to many. Mom to all.

Thank you for the gift of raising us in Fair Haven — your fair haven, our fair haven, Mom, our fair lady. Happy Birthday. You are celebrated every single day with every key stroke, camera focus, interview, reunion and wish for one more walk to the Acme. 

The walk is done. The house is gone. No bulldozer or snooty sneerers can demolish the memories of the home that Sally and Bill built. Neither knew them or the invaluable memories made within the crumbled, worn walls that made the heartless smile over a razing, rising property value, crushing souls.

Their ghosts wagged their fingers furiously, full hearts broken over the emptiness. There’s no bulldozing a legacy upheld. There’s a ferocity of love in the strength of such spirits — the breath held, candle blown, eyes closed, then open. The flicker of legacy enduring, holding steady. She’s been gone for 25 years, he for 38 in August. No one ever eulogized a property value. But they’re still eulogizing Sally and Bill. After all, they’ve never left home. Neither have I.

Wish granted, Mom. The candle is still lit. The encyclopedias I used to construct my own Yellow Brick Road in the Parker living room are gone. But I can still click my purple boot heels and go home to you, stay home with you.

“No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home.” ~ Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz

John Caroli
BCS Wealth Management

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