In Memory

 

Sally Sue Sassano Aaron

April 10, 1946 – March 2, 2020

A worthy question to ask yourself is this: “What impact will my life have two generations from now?”

This is what I contemplated as I stood stretched between two generations in transition last week as it brought both the loss of my mother and the 21st birthday of my daughter.

My mom was a one-of-a kind woman and a unique mother. A feisty, bold Italian girl from the south side of Chicago, she had big dreams and a restless spirit.

Many of her dreams were thwarted and the full potential of her talents unrealized. She met my father right out of high school the night JFK was shot in Dallas, at a party that instead, turned into a night of friends mourning together. Three years later, now married and told they were unable to have children, at 22 years old she adopted a five-week old baby and life took its course.

Insatiably curious and wanting to learn, Mom worked my entire childhood and until her body wouldn’t let her anymore. Nothing was beneath her. She did stints at a small dispatch bus service near a waste treatment facility, a book publishing company, managing farmers at a county extension, for Sears corporate, Levi’s and, on the floor of a literal… sausage factory. She’d come home each day with funny stories and lessons learned. She was self-taught in many skills including using a computer long before they were common. Later, when she ran the office for an industrial automation company, she convinced them to upgrade their systems to this thing she was learning called “Windows”.

Mom in her Eliza-Dolittle Dress

My mother gave color and flavor to everything around her. She sewed her own clothes using patterns that she always modified to make them unique. As an Italian, her cooking was never taken lightly. She had a commercial grade meat slicer on our small kitchen counter, canned home-grown tomatoes for sauce and, mid-boil, spaghetti was flung on the cabinet to ensure it had reached the perfect al dente. Our pets were many, a bulldog named Brutus Rocko St. George, a cockapoo named Jose Feliciano, turtles, cats and a bird named Gonzo. She insisted I give her a red headed grandchild.

She used every opportunity as an inspiration to learn and she refused to buy anything that could be much more interesting if she made it herself. This ranged from furniture and art to beauty supplies and tree ornaments. On the roof of a barn ornament she painted “See Rock City”. There was a strict “no store bought” rule for Halloween costumes and she preferred gypsies to princesses. She didn’t carve pumpkins, she elaborately painted them. She made my clothes, always with a special touch, like a heart patch for a boy I was crushing on, or by making dozens of Hawaiian style shorts for my friends and I during the “Jams” trend. The bathroom décor was the factor by which an entire restaurant would be judged. If we left without seeing it, she’d drive back.

Mom channeled her dreams of exploring through everyday adventures taking me and later, my sister, to museums and ethnic festivals, underground cave tours, river boat rides, national geographic subscriptions and Jacque Cousteau and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom television. She commandeered her Ford Van on massively long road trips that we’d often go on spontaneously.

She never traveled by airplane, mostly due to some irrational fear that she faced by learning to fly one herself. I watched her in the sky on her first solo flight when I was a little girl, but the rest of her life she still refused to get on an airplane, preferring to drive.

Rarely without a Salem in her hand, she spoke her mind boldly, challenged with whys and why nots, then got busy getting things done. She always jumped fully in, taking adult lessons when I was learning to ice skate, hand beading my competition dresses, designing show costumes, including a pink Eliza Do-little dress for her adult ladies’ number and a Starfish dress that still allowed me to do an axel. She was a master problem solver and was always seeking tools to do things more efficiently, a characteristic that led to my father nicknaming her the “Ronco Queen”.

Mom was clever, funny and unrestrained. The piped in woman’s voice in elevators that gave direction, she consistently called “dirty” (just think about it…). Notes to excuse my school absences she’d sign “Epstein’s mother”.

My mother rarely went the traditional route, and often complained if she had to. She had little tolerance for arrogance, injustice and inequity and vehemently opposed the posturing as a victim. She was a fighter, she survived polio as a child, countless surgeries and disabling health issues without ever losing her sense of humor and determination.

She taught me to push boundaries and question convention. She allowed and put me in situations to find my own way and she didn’t ask me to be like her. She took me to church and showed me to serve but encouraged me to explore other faiths and find my own relationship with God. She never taught me to cook or sew and insisted that I not waste elective school hours on typing or any traditional skills (many of which I learned later, tend to be pretty handy).

She fed me a steady diet of strong women with careers that met their intellect, spoke their mind and had fun, wherever she could find them, from Laverne and Shirley to Barbara Walters. With her encouragement I played a season on a boy’s hockey team at the local rink to inspire other girls to play, and a girl’s league soon formed. She championed my college quest, knowing it meant I’d likely never live near home again. When I recently found my birth family, she was delighted.

Her days often started with a 4am wakeup to strong coffee and dropping me for a 5:30am ice session before school and then heading to work, where she would finish in time to pick me up and drive an hour to another state so I could train with the ice skating coaches there.

She was tough and relentless, dedicated to my father, loved work and poured into me. Later she and dad were able to have a child together and she went on to be a rock to my sister and her family. She lost my dad too soon.

Mom didn’t go to college. As an accomplished clarinet player, an opportunity at Juilliard was crushed by cultural norms. But she lived life fully – nothing was ever “can’t” just “can” with modifications.

When I saw her a few weeks ago she barked about waiting like a grumpy person in a slow line. I asked her what she was waiting for and her signature snark and big smile replied, “uh..Jesus!!!”

My mother passed at home last week in her sleep the morning after my daughter was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa in Dallas, where she’ll soon graduate from college, a year early, and prepare to go to law school. This, but a glimpse of the ripple effect of the impact of mom’s life that I know will continue on from the many people she touched in her own way.

Stubbornly, she didn’t want a service so I’m finding my own way to honor her.

Display:
By Year Deceased Alphabetically Yearbook Photo


Susan Adams (Deceased 2008)  
Lawrence Alsbrook (Deceased 2021)  
William Caldwell (Deceased 1966)  
Robert Caramell (Deceased Year Unknown)  
Steven Carman (Deceased 1964)  
David Carty (Deceased Year Unknown)  
Rodney Davies (Deceased 1967)
Neil Donahue (Deceased 2015)  
Patricia Doorley (Helfrich) (Deceased 2019)  
Bernard Duckworth (Deceased 1995)
William Eagleson (Deceased Year Unknown)
Mary Fisher (Deceased 2010)
Laurel Furman (Deceased Year Unknown)
Robert Gibson (Deceased 2014)  
James Glennon (Deceased 1998)  
James Himley (Deceased 2009)  
Charles Johnson (Deceased Year Unknown)  
Donna Kent (Deceased 1972)  
Robert Kimes (Deceased Year Unknown)
Terrence King (Deceased 1967)  
James Koepke (Deceased 2005)  
Helen Kruse (Deceased 2011)  
Carole Musengo (Deceased 2012)  
Jeanne Mussen (Karson) (Deceased 2015)  
Shirley Overbey (Deceased 2012)
Nancy Reed (Mason) (Deceased 2021)  
Sally Sassano (Aaron) (Deceased 2020)  
Anthony G. Scariano (Deceased 2012)  
John Skrable (Deceased 2010)
James Stevens (Deceased 2013)  
Craig Thompson (Deceased Year Unknown)  
Charles Trayser (Deceased Year Unknown)  
Judith Vanderploeg (Deceased Year Unknown)
Nancy Watson (Allen) (Deceased 2019)  
Charles Watts (Deceased 2001)  
Matthew Wray (Deceased Year Unknown)  

If you are aware of a Classmate who should be added to this page please let us know.



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