Mom was steadfast and dependable and all those qualities that are positive – to be sure—but not all that exciting. She woke up early and stayed up late, making sure the house and the bills and the cooking and the cleaning were taken care of, efficiently. She was the one who never missed a teacher’s meeting, who organized the games and the snacks when friends came over.

Dad was the handsome swashbuckler who worked several jobs and brought home the bacon. He had a sharp wit and a crooked smile that showed he understood the hopes and dreams of his brood of five. I was the baby, the daddy’s girl, who adored dad and took mom for granted, I’m ashamed to admit.

Though I probably thought I knew it all, of one thing I was sure: Mom would never surprise me.

But she did, on my 16th birthday. She asked what I wanted, and this West Baltimore girl who loved the Broadway theater she read about but lived far from in more ways than you can imagine, told her: “I want to go to New York and see a show.”

She didn’t laugh. Instead she said, “That sounds like a good idea.”

So we got on a train, without a theater ticket or hotel room, and made our way from one Penn station to another. We saw her choice, “Hello, Dolly!” with Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway, and mine, “Play It Again, Sam,” with Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. And though I had to explain a few of the jokes, we had a grand time. She got us a steak dinner and a room for the night, and the next day, on the trip home, I couldn’t stop smiling.

I should have known. For a woman who raised five kids, returned to college and made a later-in-life career as an elementary school teacher, a last-minute trip to New York was a piece of cake.

I never underestimated Evelyn Thomas Curtis again. The year before she died, she fulfilled a life’s dream–a pilgrimage to Rome to see the Pope. I have the rosary he blessed that she brought home as a souvenir.

Mom and I shared something special after that adventure. Now that she’s been gone for more than 25 years, it’s a memory and a lesson I return to all the time: It’s never too late to have fun–and to surprise the people who think they know you best. Just ask my often embarrassed son.

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