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Ruminations is where I share works in progress. Please follow the pointers below to learn more about me and the stories you’ll find on these pages. Thank you for visiting. Please return and tell a friend.

Who is Tom Abate and what does he write about?

Eclectic notions arising from my experiences and observations.

Stories and commentary based on research, interviews, and observations.

Satire, fiction, humor, and advice from the Dead Blogger’s Society.

Experiences and events that formed my character and inform my work and beliefs.

When Mom gave me a gift on her birthday

A word to the wise: never forget the woman who gave you every opportunity in life.

Feb. 3, 2024 — My mother would have been 89 today had she lived. I was at her side five years ago when she breathed her last. Of all my memories of Mom, my fondest is the birthday visit I paid her 50 years ago that changed my life.

I was 19 and had progressed mechanically through grammar and high school and had gotten through my first year at New York University before I lost momentum and dropped out. I was living in an apartment, supporting myself by working weekends at a restaurant in Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay neighborhood. I figured I’d work full-time and save some money while I sorted out my life. Instead, in the Fall of 1973, I got laid off. 

Years later, as a newspaper reporter covering economics, I realized I’d been downsized in a recession, but all I knew at the time was that I couldn’t find a job. By January of 1974, I was unable to make the rent.  Friends were astonished when I talked about enlisting. The United States had only recently pulled out of Vietnam and military service was unpopular. But it was also the beginning of the All-Volunteer Force and Uncle Sam was offering good bennies for a four-year hitch. I fancied myself a Marine but my dad said I didn’t have that much discipline. My rent was a week overdue before I spent my last 35 cents on a subway token to the Navy recruiting office in Coney Island.

There, Petty Officer First Class Hall gave me an aptitude test, and when I aced it, handed me a glossy book listing every rating, or occupational specialty, the Navy offered. I liked the one that described the Navy Journalist. But Petty Officer Hall frowned when I shared my choice. That rating had a waiting list. What about becoming a yeoman like Radar, the character in the TV show M*A*S*H?

But I’d already learned that no matter what rating I chose, the Navy wasn’t going to take me away that very day to relieve my worry about the overdue rent. If I were to sign away the next four years of my life, I wanted to imagine that I was following in the footsteps of the Watergate reporters. So, Petty Officer Hall put my name on a waiting list and asked for a number to call should a training billet open up. I didn’t have a phone so I gave him mom’s number.

I had to hop the turnstile to catch the train home where, honest to God, I found a check for $1,500 in my mailbox. It was for the one and only student loan I ever took out. I used it to cover my January rent and pay for a ski trip with the girlfriend who would Dear John me in Boot Camp.

By February I had enough to keep my apartment for 30 more days but not enough for a gift or card for my mom’s 40th birthday, so I visited her instead. I was sitting opposite her at the kitchen table, eating the sandwich she had prepared when the phone on the wall next to her rang. She answered it, then handed me the receiver. It was Petty Officer Hall.

I uncoiled the long wire that attached the receiver to the wall and walked far enough away to listen in privacy as he told me that a training school billet had opened up, but to take that spot I would have to report to boot camp in early March. Do you want it, he said? You have to tell me now. I was silent for one, two, three heartbeats before I gave him the yes that changed my life. 

Fifty years later I can’t imagine my fate had I not embarked on that adventure. It would not be the last time I changed course on an impulse, and not everything worked out as well as my enlistment. So, the only life advice I would give is to visit your mother on her birthday, or at least call or write, because there will come a day when she’ll be gone and you’ll wish you still could.

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