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In Loving Memory of Loretta R. Sparks - 1924 to 2013

My mother passed away on Friday November 1, 2013.  The priest, who came to the nursing home to deliver Last Rites, advised us that that it was All Saints Day.  You are never prepared to let go of a loved one, especially a parent, but as a Catholic my mom left the earthly plane on a fitting day.I know that my life changed on that day. 

I will never be the same. The mother who gave me life, held me in her arms, dried my childhood tears and always believed in me is gone. I can’t see her, call her on the phone or go visit her at Shady Lane Nursing Home. There is a pain in my heart that only the grief process and the support of family and friends will help relieve.

The night before her passing my mom whispered to me “I am always here for you.” I truly believe that my mom’s spirit is watching over me, and I have the best guardian angel ever. I wrote the following as a tribute to my mother to be read at her funeral service. 

I share it here on my blog to provide a lasting remembrance and never ending love.

Loretta Reilley Sparks, how do you summarize eighty-nine years of a person’s life?You begin by letting everyone know who she was to her family. She was a daughter, a sister, a loving wife, mother, aunt and friend. Loretta was definitely a Jersey girl. She was born and raised in the Garden State, and never traveled far from the surroundings of her home or her neighborhood.  She was born and raised in Laurelton, NJ, which was a rural area in the 1920’s.Leaving the country life, Loretta moved to Penns Grove with her two older brothers and younger sister. She became a small town girl content with family life, trips to library, and the movies and hanging out with friends. Loretta left high school before graduation to take a job with Bell Telephone as a Switchboard Operator. She spent her short career busy plugging and unplugging phone jacks like Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine. 
She met the love of her life in Penns Grove. Vincent W. Sparks - a solider on leave from the Air Force who was introduced to her though mutual friends. On their first date Vincent was smitten with Loretta. In later years, Loretta would recall her first meeting and say that he was the perfect gentleman and asked for permission to kiss her at the end of their date.
More kisses were to follow, and they were married in 1948. They had the typical American dream of a white picket fence, children and the dependable family car. They started their family in 1949 with the arrival of a daughter – Gail.
Loretta took on the role of wife, mother and telephone operator with great skill. She was a homemaker at heart, and she wanted nothing more than taking care of her husband and daughter. She became civic minded and joined the Ladies Auxiliary of Elks with her mother.
This gave Loretta a chance to share her love of cooking and baking with the citizens of Penns Grove on Election Day dinners or any other functions the Elks provided. Loretta was perfecting all the culinary skills her mother had taught her, especially her love of baking.
As Elvis Presley was gyrating his hips and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” was being published, a new addition was added to the Sparks’ family – a son. Eight years after her first child was born, Loretta gave birth to – Vincent.With the difference in age and the spotlight being taken from the older sister, it was strongly recommended by Gail that baby Vince be returned to the hospital – pronto. Luckily, Loretta had a no return policy and Vince was allowed to stay.The typical American family of mother, father, sister, and brother lived on Franklin Street in Penns Grove.  It was there that Loretta set-up her domain as the protector of her family. She ruled with an iron fist, but wore a velvet glove. From high atop Mount La-Z-Boy, Loretta provided a loving household for her family. There was nothing she cared for more than her husband and two children.
An avid reader herself, Loretta instilled the love of literature to her son and daughter. She also helped stir their creativity and artistic talents by her interest in arts and crafts.  There definitely was an artistic flair in the Reilly bloodline.Loretta could have been the 60’s and 70’s version of Martha Stewart if she had that drive to go public with her talent. Everyone in the neighborhood and her family knew of Loretta’s baking talent. Whenever there was a special occasion, people would call to ask her to bake them a cake.  Her special pound cake with a powdered sugar topping became known as “Loretta’s Funeral Cake”, because everyone would call to ask her to make one for someone’s wake. In the summer she was the “Queen of Potato Salad” and she also deserves special recognition for her Jewish Apple Cake.
She was also known for a while as the “Apple Taffy Lady” when she started making and selling Candied Apples to the neighborhood children around Halloween. Trays of apples glistening in their sugary goodness would be lined up on trays like a Willie Wonka assembly line.Holidays brought cookies, candy, fudge all with Loretta’s special touch. Her food was always baked with lots of butter and love. Coming home from school, Gail and Vince always knew where to look for mom, she was either in the kitchen cooking or watching General Hospital in the recliner.  Loretta could bake a cake, knit an afghan and decoupage a plaque, and still have time for Luke and Laura. She had a simple routine. She wasn’t out burning her bra, or selling Avon door to door, she was providing a nurturing, loving household for her family. Like June Cleaver, Carol Brady or Olivia Walton, every mother with a family has adversity, drama and tears. It is how you handle the bad times, and provide comfort and compassion that keeps a family going. Loretta had just the right amount of fortitude mixed with caring to keep her family together.Loretta loved her brothers James and Francis and she had a special bond with her sister Lorraine. My happy occasions were spent with Lorraine and her family. The sisters talked almost daily on the phone, as they shared their lives.
Loretta loved her nephews and nieces, and was like a second mother to them if they came to stay and visit the Sparks’ household. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy a comfort food meal of chicken potpie followed by chocolate pound cake?Loretta and her husband Vincent were inseparable. Married for 54 years in 2002, Vincent died suddenly and Loretta was left alone and broken hearted from the death of her lifetime partner. No one was sure how she would survive the grief of his passing, but her strength of character and the love of her family kept her going.
When Loretta began to have health issues and eventually moved into Shady Lane for long-term care, it was always about the relationship with her family and the two children she loved that kept her going.She had to hang up her apron, but she never lost that craving for desserts and all things sweet. From Milano cookies, York Peppermint Patties to the all-important Hershey’s Kisses, Loretta became the “Candy Lady at Shady Lane. Just like she loved to share with her family, she was constantly passing out candy to both staff and residents.If you were to play back Loretta’s life as a film it would reveal a story filled with romance, family life, tears, struggles and laughter just like most popular Hollywood movies. You would most importantly see the depth of the love she had for her husband and her two children.  That the relationships she shared were strong and true.
You always knew where you stood with Loretta, because she held nothing back. You never wanted to be in the crosshairs because she was a good shot. She had an Irish temper, but a heart of gold.
As her film flickered to its ending, Loretta was surrounded by the thing she always wanted to share – LOVE and FAMILY.  

She will be in our hearts and memories forever.


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