This will be an extra special Christmas celebration for my family this year.
My 86-year-old mother is visiting with us for almost a week. She will stay for our family Christmas gathering this year—always a crazy, fun, wild day when you consider we will have three of our four children here, as well as six of the seven grandchildren. Add my mom and brother Larry and it will be a kick.
Many of you know my mother since she was a news reporter for many years in St. Tammany. But then some years into her reporter career she garnered more notoriety for another reason—animals.
I’m not quite sure what got her into a very public spotlight in defense of local animals, but I do know that it happened. She always loved animals—heck, she let my two brothers and I have dozens of them during our years growing up.
We definitely had a lot of dogs—with Labrador Retrievers leading the way—and then a handful of strays my mom got here or there.
Larry was the young entrepreneur when he became a teenager and wanted to have hamsters, starting to breed them with cages seemingly everywhere in his room to keep the fathers from the babies. It was no surprise he needed a lot of cages since hamsters actually have babies 22 days after conception! Geez, no wonder little rodents like mice, hamsters and others seem to multiply so fast.
Even though we lived in a Central Florida subdivision we also had ducks, if you can believe that. I think my dad must have liked them or something. Nobody ever answered that question—my dad just made sure we hosed off the patio, morning and evening, at the house. Need I say why?
But as I became a young adult I remember my mother running the newspaper beat, and then getting very involved in the defense of animals. Even today I get quite a kick out of listening to her voicemail message: “This is Pat Chiri reminding you to be kind to animals everywhere.” It makes me laugh every time even though that was the most sincere voicemail greeting anyone ever made.
She was the founder of the Animal Assistance League of Slidell and started her own pet sitting business that grew-and-grew. I remember helping her at times with all the pet sitting jobs when the holidays came since, naturally, everyone was going on vacation and needed her to take care of their cats and dogs. Sometimes she had a dozen pets to take care of.
Now my daughter Vicky Chiri has re-started Chiri Critter Care, the name my mom came up with for the business, and I believe it is going to grow in the same way my mother’s business did since Vicky is clearly the animal lover in the family. For that matter, my mom couldn’t be more proud of sharing the Chiri Critter Care name.
She and I have always had the newspaper thing to share. She got me started in 1973 and nobody could have ever guessed in a million years that somehow, someway God was going to open a door after Hurricane Katrina that would allow my family to own this newspaper.
Just today she told me how proud she was of the newspaper we have created and I must say it’s nice that she tells me that—something she has said dozens of times. I think she feels that a piece of her started this paper and I would agree with that thought 100 percent. Without her giving me a push into my first newspaper job this paper might not be here at all today.
So, like many families, we will have a crazy Christmastime. We laugh, eat and open presents for hours with somewhere near 13 people expected to be here. (And that doesn’t include my son, daughter-in-law and grandson from Oklahoma.)
My mom will sit quietly taking it all in. She has told my wife and I many times since her arrival that she feels so happy being here with us—a home that is full of family activity seemingly without stop.
But I have to say it all started with her. She has always been a wonderful mother-in-law to my wife—they were good friends from the beginning and they still are today. She is a woman that my wife and I describe as “easy to get along with.” She never holds a grudge and rolls with whatever happens. It seems like she doesn’t have a mean bone in her body.
I know that leaving this time will be hard for her. She admits that at age 86 she might not be able to make the trip again. She lives on the Gulf Coast in Central Florida and that’s a tough run to make.
But we’re not going to think about that now. We are having a great time this visit, and will enjoy every day she is here by simply chatting it up, drinking some coffee and laughing with all the kids and grandkids.
I think that’s what this life is supposed to be about and my mom helped us have our little part of it. Thanks Mom.
Kevin Chiri can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.