Monday, May 12, 2014

My Mother the Super Hero

It may be the day after Mother's Day but "Susan Says..."  is declaring all of May to be Mother's Month (the stretch marks alone are worth more than one day), so I thought we might explore a facet of my mother's character I haven’t yet covered. 

Sure, I've talked about how funny she was, how talented and creative, how well she cooked and baked but have I discussed her tough side, her herculean strength, her ability to physically do battle with a New York City subway car? 

Not until today…

I was reminded of it recently when, on his morning show, Michael Strahan mentioned that a car had bumped him while crossing the street on the way to work. 

This kind of thing happens on the many cross roads of Manhattan, we’ve all seen it. As for Michael, he did what any 6 foot five, two hundred and fifty pound ex-foot ball player with giant hands might do---he punched the car. 

Who’s going to challenge him?  

But, what if something similar happened to Little Tiny Olga with her sensible shoes, cotton candy hair and armful of shopping bags from Gimbel’s….

Extra points if you remember Gimbels.
Allow me to paint a picture: A very busy pre-Christmas street near the shopping hub of the universe, 34th Street in New York City. Crazed people, honking cars, crosswalks blocked, street lights blinking but ignored. In the midst of this chaos, my law-abiding, cautious mama has places to go so, when a taxi turns and attempts to nudge its way through the crowd and happens to nudge her in the process, what’s a middle-aged woman in a conservative cloth coat to do? I’ll tell you what---she stops in her tracks, shifts her shopping bags, turns in slo- mo to glare at the hapless cabbie, makes a fist and punches the hood of the car. And, in a voice so loud that my hair blew back, bellows, “HEY!!!! I’M CROSSING THE STREET!!!!!!!!!!”

"Little Olga did what ?

Time stops. What has happened? 

To a young teenager who is embarrassed by every move her mother makes, the searing burn of pure humiliation is now rising from my collar to my cheeks until I notice that people are patting Tiny Olga on the back, saying things like “You tell him, lady! “ and “Yeah, you showed him!” Hmmmmm. The creeping blush recedes….maybe my mother is – could it be – cool???

Fast forward to a summer subway ride. We are heading to Grand Central to catch a train “to the country” and a visit with suburban relatives. Little Olga’s philosophy was to leave super early for everything because New York is known to throw surprises at anyone with time constraints. This day was no different. The delays came at us strong and we were sweaty, frustrated and late. 

Just as our train pulls into Times Square and Tiny Olga and I are poised to exit, the doors do not open. The train has stopped but nothing is happening. I could sense the outrage rising in my mother’s righteous busom. This was unacceptable! We had risen in darkness, departed at dawn, eaten raisin bread on the B train and yet, across the tracks, the shuttle to Grand Central is leaving without us?!?

Suddenly, my mother dropped her bag and, placing her teeny, weathered hands on either side of the subway doors attempted to, literally, pry them apart. 

Now this was too much. I had survived the taxi punching incident thanks to the approval of the mob but here, people waiting to exit the train stood behind us in stunned silence as this obviously deranged middle-aged woman did battle with a subway door. 

Please, my self-conscious adolescent self begged God, let the earth open and swallow us when, amazingly,the doors started to open--not because the conductor was making them but by the strength of Tiny Olga who now had people helping her….

The doors snapped open and again, my mother the folk hero, was receiving praise from the crowd---“Good job, lady…good job!” Despite the praise, I could not rise above this and really gave her hell once settled on Metro North. “What were you thinking, Mom????” Her simple answer, “I didn’t want to miss the train.”

Very soon after (that day), it made me laugh. And laugh. And, I am still laughing at the memory, at her heroic status among hardened New Yorkers, at my own embarrassment. Then I cry a little because I miss her. And then I laugh some more. 

My favorite super hero.


  1. Now I'm crying. Funny and sweet.

  2. Great post. You had a fun mother.

  3. I enjoyed reading this. She sounds like a great lady. Happy Mothers Day.