There was something magical about my mom. She cast a spell over all who met her and once anyone met her, they never forgot her. Certainly she stayed in the spotlight for all of us. Sometimes the talk was about the entertaining unique ideas she had about life, other times we talked about her ability to get under our skin. Today, I want to talk about those characteristics that I hold in my heart and will live on in my memory.
My mother was my ally against the larger world. As a child she came to my aid against anyone who dared harm me or threatened harm. She battled lots of fears throughout her life, but in her defense of me, there was no fear. She would face any enemy-no matter how daunting. She often would say in a deep jocular voice, “If they hurt you, I’ll kill them”. And even though I knew she was joking, there was also an intensity in that statement that packed a powerful message for me. I knew that I was very important to her.
And there were many times she came to my aid without consideration of herself (a tricky feat for a narcissist). I remember the day that Alex was circumcised. I made many mistakes that day. I fed the baby moments before, brought my 2 year-old Kate in to see the procedure and had no idea what was ahead and how I would respond to it. Of course, everything went wrong-I could not look while he was circumcised (even though by that time I was a nurse), and Alex proceeded to projectile vomit and Kate crouched in the corner. My squeamish mother rose to the occasion and helped hold Alex and clean him up, and then put Kate to sleep while comforting me.
There are many other examples, but perhaps the most poignant was when Bruce died. Of course, I was in shock since it occurred so suddenly. My mother called me every night for years, even though at times, I was so non-communicative. But she did not stop calling. She chatted with me about her day, her random thoughts on life, and told me in so many ways how much she loved me. She even tried to get me to “come through my grief” by informing me about the pain it was causing her that her daughter was so bereft. And if I was not answering the phone or not at home, she would leave a message:
“Hi Jill, I know that you are out and I hope that you are having a wonderful time, whatever you are doing”. This message was consistent-and usually, if truth be told-I was not having a wonderful time or out having fun. But those messages also had some hidden reassurance. I was not alone-there was someone watching out for me-keeping track of what and how I was doing.
And keeping track of me, was a skill she practiced religiously. I used to joke that she never knew where I was or what I was doing when I was an adolescent, but when I was an adult-she was like a FBI agent on a special reconnaissance mission to find me. Although we never spoke of it, we were very much connected because of that.
She was not a phone person-she proclaimed, but we seemed to find lots to discuss and sometimes argue about. Our political discussions were usually heated-and I would often challenge her foundation for the beliefs that she held. She was full of contradictions: she belonged to the National Organization for Women, but would cut Irving’s meat for him. She watched both Bill O’Reilly and Bill Maher. She loved books-but I rarely saw her read one. She spoke with authority even when she had no knowledge of the subject matter. She was the entertainment editor for the Kingsborough Community College paper, but often made up the information she wrote-not having time to read the book or see the movie. I remember driving in the car to Kingsborough and my sister-in-law and niece were in the car with us. The security guard looked in the car and assumed that my niece was the student. My mother proudly displayed her press pass and student ID. The look on his face was priceless.
My mother loved to write and often contemplated the meaning of words. Sometimes this was annoying if you were trying to have a serious conversation with her and she picked apart every word. “What does it mean to have “fun”? Her high school education did not fit her intellectual acumen (she would have loved that I used that word). And she loved dialogue, so conversations with her could take unexpected turns as long as she had a captive audience. She also wrote poetry-it was often profane and always rhymed. But she was very proud of her verse and would send it to everyone. She so wanted to be published but never had the follow-through, a trait that she easily admitted.
She had a computer early on but never quite understood how to use it. A few years ago, when she complained that her computer was slow, I attempted to clean up her files. She had many videos that people sent her-and none really were worth saving. I remember one of a cat smoking…… She could never understand what a search engine was or what AOL had to do with the internet. She would call my aunt or I and we would explain again how to attach a file or save something to a flash drive. Bruce used to tell me to advise her to turn off and unplug the computer, pick it up, put it in a box and seal it and send it back.
She was enthusiastic to a fault. Amazed by the world as if she came from another planet. And although I often thought that she should have been exposed to whatever caught her attention at the time-I could not help being amazed along with her. She delighted in little things. She commented after she moved to New Jersey – that you could actually find a parking spot. And Jersey had such great stores! By the way, her shopping habits were legendary-she was the original Loehmann’s shopper-probably the first one through the door when it opened. In Jersey, her favorite store was Home Goods. Irving would drop her off and when he came back 6 hours later – she was still walking through the aisles.
I could go on……. But I will stop here. I believe that when people die, it is important to remember the gifts that they gave us. A few of my mother’s gifts to me were her sense of wonder and enthusiasm, her quick wit, her devotion to my happiness, her love of shopping.