This is not the kind of post I’d like to be writing. Early this morning I received the news that our mom had passed away. We suspected she had been ill for some time but she refused to see a doctor. Her mantra was that they will always find something wrong with you. Mom had been smoking as far back as I can remember. I guess it caught up with her. It’s hard to lose a mom, even when you’re old enough to have grand-kids. Here are some of my memories of Mom, a tribute to her if you will.
It has only been a few years since we lost our dad and just last year that I lost my wife. It seems that we haven’t had much time between losses to really be prepared for another but life is full of unexpected twists and turns.
Mom was only 19 years older than me. The difference in age is little enough where she could have been my older sister. All of use, me, my siblings and Mom and Dad were born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. She was not unlike other native New Yorkers, saying whatever was on her mind, not thinking she was ever being rude or abrupt, just honest. These last last few years I did not see her as often as we both would have liked but several states lie between us. Time and money kept trips to a minimum as it does for most people. I did get to visit with her a couple of months ago and glad I took the opportunity. You can read about it in my earlier post.
I do not wish to dwell on her loss. Even though it as only been a few hours I’ve already started to think about some of her ways. She reminded me of a female version of Jerry Lewis. She wasn’t funny like him but it seems to me that she had many of his mannerisms and even looked a bit like him. You would have to know my mom and also be a Lewis fan to appreciate the similarities. I don’t know if my siblings would agree.
Mom, or Mommy as we always called her, even in our adulthood, never learned to drive. I can remember sitting in the back seat of our car as my dad tried to teach her on more than one occasion. We would drive down to a somewhat vacant area of the city, down where the freight trains would run and the streets were still unpaved cobblestone, which made for a rough ride. Mom and Dad would switch seats and he would start giving her instructions. “pull up to the next street and make a left turn” he would say. She was a nervous wreck and it is fortunate we were in a low traffic area. The lessons were brief and unproductive.
You really could go without driving in Brooklyn if you wanted to so the ability to drive was somewhat of a luxury. It was one my mother determined she could do without. Any traveling we did without Dad was in a cab, bus or train. There was no where we could not go even without benefit of a car.
I remember my mom telling me that when she was young she looked very much like Ingrid Bergman. Seeing Ingrid in films and then seeing a photo of Mom in her younger days I could see the resemblance. She also told me that she is cousin to actress Susan Strasberg which would make me a distant relative of her even more famous actor dad Lee Strasberg. I’m cool with the idea although I’ve never been able to verify it.
During the the summer while my dad worked there were trips to the beach. Mom would save a little bit of money to pay for the train fare for her, me and my brother (before my sister existed) and we would take the subway to Coney Island or Brighton Beach.
She would make us tuna sandwiches without dressing (because she said the heat would spoil the dressing?) or scrambled egg sandwiches. Boy, I really hated cold scrambled egg sandwiches and tuna without miracle whip. The sandwiches were more sand than food and I can still feel the sensation of beach sand in my teeth. We never got all the sand off our hands before eating.
Mom had a leopard print swimsuit and was an excellent swimmer. Once a lady hit her thinking she was some kind of shark. I still laugh thinking about that one.
Mom was Russian Jew, and Dad, Italian Catholic but they raised us Catholic. They decided that would be best. My mom was not a practicing Jew as far as I could tell and although she did not practice Christianity either, she loved Christmas and you would never have known she wasn’t of the faith. She loved to knit and crochet. One year she crocheted dozens of snowflakes. Then she hung several rows of string across the entire length of the ceiling in our third floor brownstone apartment. She had me hang the snowflakes from the string so that it appeared to be snowing in our living room. She said she wanted it to be a Winter Wonderland. To take up space between the snowflakes we draped silver tinsel. It all looked amazing….for a few minutes. Then little by little the tinsel would fall and the snowflakes would curl. Not enough starch I guess. It was a valiant effort on her part. Wish I had a picture.
Since Mom didn’t drive, she always walked to the grocery store often with those old fashioned fold up wagons that you hooked on to the front of the grocery cart. Later on, the big box stores like Pathmark arrived on the scene but early on all the shopping was done at local stores. My mother never met a stranger and a 10 minute run down the street for bread or milk often turned into an hour long venture as she would stop and talk with every friend she encountered along the way. Every store owner knew her. That’s how it was back then. She knew every neighbor within a one block radius.
Once, my dad, who worked for an electronics manufacturer, now defunct, built her a police scanner. She would have it on all the time. Back then, in my neighborhood there were rival gangs, divided by ethnicity. It was not uncommon, during the heat of summer, when temperatures and tempers flared, for there to be inter-gang warfare, she called them riots, just down the street from where we lived. She would hear the police dispatch officers and run to the window, leaning out, and watch the action. It was not the best form of entertainment but we lived in what was then, a rough neighborhood.
When me and my brother were a little older, Mom took a part time job in downtown Brooklyn at the A&S (Abraham & Strauss) department store. She only worked a few hours a day so that she would be home to feed us lunch during the school lunch break. This gave her some money so we could do more things. We went to the 1964 World Fair. She also took us to the Statue of Liberty, the Museum of Natural History, Bear Mountain and lots of other places that felt so far from home but really not as far as they seemed.
Once our family went to a fair where there was a little prop airplane giving rides for not much money. She talked me and my brother into going up with her (Dad was afraid to fly) and so the three of us went into the wild blue yonder in a 5 or seven seat aircraft. I loved the flight, my brother, not so much. It was the first time any of us flew. Probably not the best way to get our feet wet.
When I was very little Mom was invited to a couple of weddings on her side of the family. My dad was not very social and did not care for such events so she took me as her “date”. Maybe I was 5 or 6 or 7. I’m not sure. They were very Jewish weddings. All the males were given Yarmulkes to wear. I can still see the guests lifting the bride and groom up on chairs and my mom trying to teach me to dance the alley cat. To this day I do not dance.
Back in the day, the easiest way to clean windows in the upper story apartments was to sit on the windowsill facing into the room and pulling the window closed to your lap. This is how she would clean them. She used newspaper and foam spray. I was always scared that she would fall and hated watching her clean the windows.
Mom was a pretty decent cook despite my pickiness. She introduced me to spare ribs, eggplant parmigiana and strufolis. She was more Italian at heart than Jew I think.
I won’t pretend that every moment with Mom was a bunch of kicks-and-giggles. We had plenty of rough times. I think, especially after you lose someone it’s better to remember the fun and happy times. I hope you agree.