As I write this, my mother would have been 85 today. Her late September birthday would herald the cooler days she looked forward to after an un-airconditioned summer in the city. We’d celebrate surviving July and August along with her birthday as I was growing up.
Birthdays were simple and gifts were modest but if I had provided her with the kind of festivities she deserved, there would have been a marching band, thousands of balloons restrained in nets until the exciting moment of release and a call from the president.
My mother was born in the house I grew up in, in Brooklyn. One would never have guessed that her first language wasn’t English because she spoke it better than most.
She loved words and was an amazing writer who wrote fairy tales, poetry, short stories and letters that were so entertaining that no one lucky enough to receive one, ever threw it away. She was also a gifted artist whose drawings and paintings hang on my walls. Come over and I’ll show them to you.
She attended the Arts Student’s League in Manhattan and won an award, presented by Fiorello LaGuardia, for designing a coat that was produced and sold in Macy’s. When I was growing up, every single morning for about ten years, there would be a new, freshly drawn cartoon scotch-taped to the mirror in the bathroom. It was a running comic strip starring our cats and I began every single day with laughter.
I have them all in a book now and when I need to, I bring it out and laugh and cry for a while.
She was a single mother way before it was the norm and, until the fifth grade, I was the only child in school whose parents were divorced.
We moved back to the house where my grandparents, aunts and uncle lived and I was treated like a princess by everyone within its’ sheltering walls. My mother saw to it that I wanted for nothing. It was a struggle for her but I was so busy being bounced from knee to knee that I didn’t notice.
Things, then, were repaired not tossed out once they broke, frayed or faded and she covered my books in paper supermarket sacks and made sure I used both sides of my notebook’s pages. She also made her own patterns and sewed my clothes. I would have been the best-dressed girl in Queen Victoria’s England.
The things she made were fabulous but insanely out-of-style and once I was old enough to realize this, I was pretty conflicted.
She came to her senses in time for my adolescence, thank God. I got my first job then and have paid for my own clothes ever since.
Money was tight but books, records and an occasional trip to Broadway (we paid $4 for a mezzanine seat) were always squeezed into the budget. By the time I was a teen, I’d seen Zero Mostel in Fiddler on the Roof, the original cast of Man of La Mancha and had enjoyed my share of ballets and concerts.
We’d always eat a pretzel from a cart on the street afterward or stop into a cafeteria on Broadway called Hector’s which is long gone but upon whose smooth railings I would slide my tray, still humming the music from the show. Rice pudding, served in a fluted dish, would always round out a meal there.
She’d take me to film festivals at the Regency Theater on the West Side and we’d walk for miles, taking the subway back to Brooklyn with aching feet and a grand feeling of accomplishment.
She was very mischevious. When I was old enough to know better, she convinced me that plumbers used “plumber’s monkeys” that had been trained to do simple tasks and go into small spaces and I believed this until very recently.
She and I would laugh at everything, our sides aching and I never so much as stepped out for a carton of milk at the corner without kissing her goodbye. I would then kiss her hello, upon my return, five minutes later.
|Even though she's not smiling, this is one of my favorite pictures of my mother.|