Monday, October 21, 2013

Who She Was

G'ma reconnected with her oldest friend this year.  It's been a mixed blessing.

Reconnected is really more than can be said, at least from G'ma's piece of the equation. Her face lit up when I told her that Gladys had written her a letter, but there were no follow up questions.  No wondering about her children, one of whom had been my idol ever since I spied and envied her ruffled underpants as we hid beneath someone's dining room table when we were barely more than toddlers. She didn't wonder about Marty, Daddooooo's friend who introduced my parents to one another after he and Gladys had become a couple.  I spared her the knowledge that he'd died last year; no reason to add another sorrow to a dwindling brain, I decided.

The whole thing made me sad.

Gladys is, among many other things, a sculptor in stone and wood.
I saw this without sound... and didn't miss the noise.
She finds beauty and depth and love in each piece.
Her letter shared that with my mom.

"To my dear dear friend," she began, and I began to cry.  G'ma never had many friends. I never came home to women sitting around the kitchen table, laughing and sharing stories children were not privileged to hear.  She was solitary, enjoying her own company, keeping the chaos that was living with Daddooooo safely tucked away behind the doors of our house. As I became a parent myself, I wondered how she did it without the company of others; I know that I didn't raise the Cuters on my own.

How lonely she must have been.  Or, was she?  There's too little left of her to ask.

Gladys wasted no time with "what if's" Her note plunged into reminiscences of bike rides along the Belt Parkway, horse rides in California, skiing in Vermont and Quebec.  "You gave me the courage to try all those things," she wrote, and I marveled at a vision of my mother, the risk taker.

It was a new perspective. The stories she told me were not those of adventures, but rather the cautionary tale of she and Gladys losing their trunks on a cross-country train trip and looking for them in a baggage room filled with other lost items, most, like theirs, with red ribbons tied around them so that they would be recognizable among the crowd.  I'm not sure what lesson I was supposed to learn from that story.  I know what I did learn - the odder the better if you want to find something.  Perhaps that's why Little Cuter laughs when she sees me in full Mom-mode?

"I never heard a vengeful or hostile remark from you," rattles around in my brain like a broken wheel sprocket.  I see my mother as judgmental and thrifty, always hiding a satchel of rage behind a demure frontispiece.  To imagine her as interpersonally generous is a stretch. Her standards were high, and woe to those who did not measure up.... especially if you were in her immediate family.  

Where did Gladys's friend go? What happened to the brave risk taker who owned an English Austin before her friends learned to drive? Perhaps the answer is hidden in this piece from Gladys's Rosh HaShonah card:
I remember growing jp on East 93rd St, Brooklyn, with our families believing in "Der Menschkeit" - never attending synagogue.  But, when you married, your spiritual (religious) life changed.  
I don't think that it did.  I thought in my childhood and I remain convinced today that my mother's religious devotion went as deep as her devotion to my father.  It was something to which she was committed and she would not go back on her word, no matter how dysfunctional her situation might be. She was in it for the long haul.  She'd known that his family were observant Jews, known that was important, known that a Kosher home and attendance at religious services would be part of her married life.  It never seemed to be a deeply felt belief, though.  She was going through the motions.

Would she have been happier if, like Gladys, her relationship to religion had been less orthodox?
We remained "cultural Jews" (Gladys went on), celebrating all the food holidays with great relish and little conviction.
I think my mom would have enjoyed that more.  She attended synagogue, but never with enthusiasm. She made latkes and noodle soup and haroseth and maror and dairy for Yom Kippur's break fast meal with much more joy than I ever saw on her face in shul.  

Why did she give up who she was and become who she is? Does she remember those times with her oldest friend as she sits in her recliner, napping and watching tv? Does she have regrets?  Would she tell me to make other choices, to look at the world from another perspective?  I'll never know.  She can't follow the questions, let alone give me the answers.

Glady's ended her holiday note with this:
I wish I was closer to you so we could touch and speak.
I wish she were, too.  Perhaps her presence could unlock some answers.

1 comment:

  1. I think it's great that you have been given a different glimpse of your mother's life. I think what we let our children know about us is not exactly how we were. I'm very careful to not let my children know things I did in my 20s. I don't want them to do them. It's not that I don't hide it, I'm just not forthcoming with that info. When they are older, I will let them know about my poor choices. I laugh when my brother-in-law and sister are so hush hush about what they did in high school and their 20s. My niece has no idea and I've let on to some of the things they have done--like smoking pot. At my niece's age (almost 19), I think it's alight to let her know that her parent's aren't as squeaky clean as they try portray to her. I'm careful though. It's not my place to divulge that.

    At least Gladys is able to reminisce and you get to have an idea of who your moms was when she was younger (and not necessarily how she was a a mother).

    Hope you had a lovely weekend.

    Megan xxx


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