Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Memories of My Mother

~1956, the front seat of the Chrysler she was driving at the time, delivering campaign materials for Adlai Stevenson. She pulled up to a tree shaded driveway, stopped more suddenly than I expected, and I tumbled off the seat onto the floorboard. (no seat belts then!) After being sure I was okay (we weren’t going very fast, after all) she looked me in the eye and said “Don’t Tell Daddy!”

~That same morning, feeling like she was dawdling on the doorstep, I thought “Step on the gas!” and I laughed - hurry up out there AND drive the car away. Probably the first joke I ever told. And I was the only one there to hear it.

~1963, a neighbor telling me to ask my mother what whore meant. We sat at the kitchen table as she described sex to me, laughing at the faces I made. For a woman who avoided uncomfortable conversations, this was a milestone.

~ In Junior High, struggling to rewrite my social studies notes in Cornell Style, G'ma staying awake in the kitchen. Keeping me company but not helping me do the work. It was a lesson I took to heart - she had my back, but I was on my own as far as doing it was concerned.

~1968, on a college trip to University of Michigan, sitting next to her in a movie theater watching Joanne Woodward in Rachel, Rachel…. both of us squirming during the steamy sex scenes, saying nothing, looking straight ahead.

~Early 1970’s, visiting Bubba and Zayda in Brooklyn, walking past the druggies nodding out in the hallway, G'ma telling me how Bubba woke one up and asked him to change a light bulb in the ceiling, laughing at her mother’s surprise that such a young man could be so sleepy in the middle of the day.

~Early 1970’s, talking about WWII, wanting to join the WACS but being dissuaded by her mother’s cry: “How many of my children must go to war? Isn’t your brother enough?” The regret was palpable, the lost opportunities still raw.

~1984, VERY late meeting us at LaGuardia Airport racing toward our gate (before TSA), baby Big Cuter in her arms. “We lost track of the time! And I’m giving you a shitty baby!”

~1994, trying to teach Murphy to retrieve a ball, laughing for 45 minutes before declaring, with emphasis “You’re right. This is a STUPID dog!”

~2008, next to me in the front seat, driving around Tucson, admiring the big sky, reminding herself that now she lived in Tuck-Son…said that way so she would remember how to spell it, because spelling counts, especially in her perfect, small, printing.

~2010, when asked how she could keep such good spirits when she couldn’t remember anything and knew she couldn’t remember anything: “Will it help me remember if I get mad? And, besides, who wants to be around a cranky old person?” Best advice. Ever.

~2012, Little Cuter and SIR's wedding, wondering where she was (“Look around; what does it look like? ” “There’s a bride, it must be a wedding!”), and not wanting to go home “until Suzi wants to leave.” Reminded that she was at my house, she laughed and wondered if Brother was tired and wanted to leave. She was having a grand time, surrounded by everyone who loved her, even if she couldn’t remember why she loved them back.
Image may contain: 7 people, including Jenny Hileman Petersen, people smiling, indoor

~And, randomly, that she loved cowboy songs and Christmas Carols, horseback riding and skiing (“before I had children and responsibilities”). She was the slowest reader, but she always had a book nearby. She over-packed for everything (the beach, vacations, car trips to Brooklyn or Queens) but somehow we always needed what she had stowed away. She loved the beach, “except for the sun, the sand, and the water.” You knew it was really hot when G'ma deigned to take a dip in the pool - side stroke only, please.

~ And mostly, that she loved me. Unconditionally. Totally. Without question. Every day. I never seemed to disappoint her. She always looked at me with pride. I made her happy. That was a gift she gave me throughout her life. and what I remember (and miss!) the most.


  1. -Early 90's, sitting on the painted red concrete step in her backyard while she brought me slice after slice of watermelon
    -Mid 90's. Nunleys, Nathans hot dogs, Carvel
    -Mid 90's, me helping her to make matzo ball soup and her admonishing me for shrinking away from touching the chicken neck: "that's where all the flavor is!"
    -Late 90's (well, always) "Two hands on the wheel, HERBIT!"
    -Late 90's, that same memory about Murph (he was SO dumb....)
    -2011, visiting over thanksgiving and her telling me to "bring that handsome man [SIR], closer"
    - 2012, bringing all those fabulous women pictured above at my rehearsal dinner to hover around her for the most poorly lit photo of all time and thinking about how she was responsible for all of that fabulousness and, even if she didn't really know, she should have been DAMN PROUD.
    - 2013, the morning she passed away and the same day I found out I was pregnant with Flapjilly
    - 2013, her funeral, SIR commenting (having never been to the funeral of a Jewish person) that shoveling the dirt onto her grave felt beautiful and he wished he got to do something physical like that to say goodbye to his own grandparents
    -2013, the next day, sitting shivah, reading all of the letters that Uncle Jeff wrote to her and she saved in a dated manila envelopes, hugging you and just being there when you needed that moment alone (but not totally alone)
    - 2019, right now, thinking about her and wishing she could have met my kiddos and how much my girl would ADORE her and her costume making skills and wishing I could thank her for the Snow White costume and her incredible parking karma that she gave my daughter.

    1. Hard to type.... more than a little teary... and smiley, too <3


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