Audrey Joanne Thomas……Audrey Thomas Reardon……69……the mother of 14 children……died Tuesday in her Oak Lawn home.
Mrs. Reardon, who was born and raised in the Austin neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side, graduated from Providence High School. During World War II, she was a singer in USO shows for American troops in the city, and later worked as an executive secretary at the Loop headquarters of the Quaker Oats Co.
On October 16, 1948, she married David J. Reardon, a postal worker who later served more than three decades as a Chicago police officer.
The couple, who moved to the Ashburn neighborhood on the city’s Southwest Side in 1969 and to Oak Lawn last August, raised fourteen children, all of whom still live in the Chicago area: Rita, Jeanne, Geralyn, Teri, Kathy, Marie, Laura, Rosemary, John, Tim, Eileen, Mary Beth, David and Patrick. She is also survived by 30 grandchildren.
I want to tell you about my mother……about our mother……about the wife of our father……about the woman who touched—directly or indirectly—the lives of everyone here today……and many, many more.
Do you remember how bright and crisp and clear the days were over the last three or four weeks, almost without exception? These were the weeks in which my mother was dying, and it was as if, even as God was taking her away from us, he was bestowing on us the wonder of a perfect fall.
It was a time of great sadness and great beauty.
On Tuesday morning, as we stood watch around my mother’s bed and throughout the rest of the Oak Lawn condo, there were many tears. And many embraces. And much laughter, too, as the old family stories were re-told yet another time.
My mother died at 6:30, and, a short time later, the dawn sky clouded up, and a light rain began to fall, accompanied by thunder.
“That’s Mom re-arranging the furniture,” one of us said.
“No, it’s Mom butting heads with God,” someone else said.
“No,” said Mike Kennedy, “it’s everyone in heaven applauding her arrival.”
When we were growing up, my mother re-arranged the furniture in our home every three months or so. She’d get bored when things would stay the same too long. It was also a way for her to exercise her formidable talent for organization.
Of course, she was exercising that talent all the time, keeping her ever-growing family running smoothly. We knew how much work and skill that took, and we often joked that, if Mom hadn’t had us kids, she’d have been running General Motors by now. (And doing a much better job of it than the guys who actually had the job.)
And, while she re-arranged the furniture, she’d be singing.
All of us remember Mom singing show tunes and standards—and, in season, Christmas carols.
A couple days before she died, Mom was slipping in and out of a coma, and Laura brought a boom box to her sickroom. She put on a C.D. of the Christmas songs Mom loved.
“Can you hear that, Mom?”
Yes, my mother nodded, and seemed almost to sing along, if only inside her head.
I remember, in particular, as a small boy of about seven, sitting in the kitchen of the apartment on Leamington and listening and watching Mom sing along to the radio. She was, in my eyes, the most beautiful girl in the world.
And, in fact, that was one of the songs she sang—that and another upbeat one called “Come Back to Me” that Frank Sinatra had recorded.
It’s an intense, frantic, hungry, insistent, ultimately joyful song, and, as stands of trumpets would wail and bleat in wild exhuberance, Frank would sing (and my mother with him):
What on earth must I do?
Scream and yell ’til I’m blue?
Curse your soul, when will you
Come on back to me?…..
In a crate, in a trunk,
On a horse, on a drunk,
In a Rolls or a van,
Wrapped in mink or Saran,
Any way that you can,
Come back to me….come back to me…come back to me.
And, each afternoon, her lover would come back to her. Dad, dressed in his police uniform, would walk into the kitchen, wrap Mom in his arms, bend down—his eyes locked with hers—and give her a big, full kiss of greeting.
We learned early that theirs was an intense, full love. We were one proof of that, of course, all fourteen of us. But even more telling was the way they were with each other—their words, their looks, their gestures.
Two weeks before she died, Mom was in the hospital, and everyone had gathered, knowing that the end was near. There had been months of pain and operations and medications and radiation and worry and fear.
And now Dad sat at her bedside and told Mom that it was okay to let go. We were all together. We would take care of each other. There was no need for her to endure any longer.
Gently patting her hand, Dad said to Mom, “You’ve had a lot of bad nights.”
And Mom, without missing a beat, locked eyes again with her lover and said, “We had a lot of good nights.”
When my mother died, I stood at the foot of her bed and couldn’t believe it. I mean, I knew her heart had stopped. But I couldn’t feel that she was gone. She was too vital. Too powerful. Too strong.
And, of course, in many ways, she isn’t gone.
Look around: She’s here, now—in Jeanne’s bright eyes, in Tim’s gift of gab, in David Barrows’s songs, in Tom Naughton’s gentle touch.
If you never met my mother, you know her through her husband and her children. They are good people. She was a good woman.
This is a time of sadness, but also a time of celebration. Mom lives on in us. Her flame still burns brightly.
So, to end, I want to think back to when it all began—when the intense love of two young people was just blossoming, when the richness of a long life together and the wonder of many children were still in the future.
I want to think back to October 16, 1948 when Audrey Thomas and David Reardon were married.
In my mind, I imagine it as a fall day very much like the bright and clear and crisp fall days that preceeded Mom’s death.
Picture, if you will, this young couple, all smiles, turning around at the altar and starting to walk down the aisle to leave the church……newly married……full of hope, full of dreams……full of love.
And still up at the altar is a reader who, as the couple processes down the aisle, recites this poem:
We exult at the joining of young lives.
We dance the dance of joy.
This is a time of merriment.
This is a time of wonder.
Who will argue at a time like this?
Who will find fault?
Fear is exiled. Jealousy is banished.
We are in the land of milk and honey.
We are in a rich and fertile land.
We are annointed in these vows.
In these promises, we are blessed.
This rite is our consecration.
This joining is our union.
This is the time of the Spirit.
This is the time of bright visions.
Let us dance.
Let us sing our songs.
Let us smile and laugh together.
We are in the Promised Land.
We are on our soil.
We are where we belong.
Patrick T. Reardon