As we celebrate Mother’s Day this Sunday, it seems like a good time to reflect on the many contributions all our mothers made to our lives.
We didn’t have a large family. It was my sister and me, as well as my father. No mistake though, my mother was the CEO of our family.
She was the direct negotiator with my sister and me about anything either of us wanted to do or not do. My father was a kind of a go-along guy.
My mother was very active in the elementary school PTA and then around 1940 she took a job as a bookkeeper with Cejwin Camps, a large series of five camps built around a pretty lake in Port Jervis, New York. Each summer, they hosted about 1,000 kids.
She worked in the NYC office in the winter and summers up at the camp. My father commuted to spend weekends at camp. I was a camper for a number of years and then worked as a waiter and kitchen worker.
Her memory was amazing. My sister and I would mention a camper’s name during dinner and she would recite the family history, and, when pressed, how much they still owed for tuition.
She went to work when she was about 14, commuting from Harlem to midtown Manhattan on the subway. It was a clerical job of some sort on the 12th floor of a high-rise building. Afraid of the elevator, she walked up and down the 12 flights of stairs until she found a new job in a lower elevation.
One of her greatest thrills from these early jobs was delivering a package to another office. While waiting to see the package’s recipient, she noticed the other person in the waiting room. It was Irving Berlin, the famous song writer.
She was working at the Softlite Lens Co. where she met my father, who was a printing broker looking for business. They married and lived in Rockaway Beach, NY.
After a year or two, they moved to Jackson Heights and stayed 25 years or so.
Later on they lived in Florida, and after some mishaps my father had to go into a nursing home. Although he had increasing dementia, he prospered somewhat in that environment although he was not a happy camper and didn’t treat the nurses well.
To keep the peace, my mother would take two buses, rain or shine, to spend the day with him—and you know what it’s like when it rains in Florida? It pours! I arranged a charge account with a taxi company. She took a taxi twice. When I asked why she wouldn’t keep using the taxis, she said, “I don’t like the way they go.”
The only time she wouldn’t go to the nursing home was when either my sister or I were in town.
My father passed away at 91. And, finally, after much persuasion from my sister and me, she moved to a Hyatt Senior Residence. It was really quite nice, but she didn’t like it at all.
At 97, she broke a hip and was hospitalized. When they asked her what she wanted for lunch tomorrow, she got quite annoyed and announced that she’d had enough. With her steely determination, she passed away two days later.
And now, a few words from her grandchildren.
From her grandson Phillip:
A remarkable thing about the apartment that my grandparents lived in Jackson Heights—apart from the glass-fronted tchochke cabinet and the inexhaustible supply of chewy raspberry candies that lived in bowls in the living room—was that one of the closets had a shelf high up, and that shelf was capable of producing gifts, one for cousin Ellen and one for me, whenever we visited. It seemed remarkable to me, at age three. I wondered why our apartments in Sunnyside didn’t come equipped with such remarkable closets.
Grandma didn’t understand normal tastes in food. She didn’t stock Cocoa Marsh or Quik, the standard chocolatizing agents of the day, so one had to drink one’s milk straight up. The cookie situation was wanting in all sorts of ways that I couldn’t make clear to her. There was a great deal of cottage cheese and sour cream, but no hot dogs that I could discern. It made me wonder if she had raised her own children on such harsh fare.
Something I did appreciate about grandma: she never, to my recollection, tried to serve children ice cream of any flavor other than chocolate or vanilla. And certainly not peach.
And from her granddaughter Lisa:
When I think of grandma, I think of an apartment in Jackson Heights with a small basket of wooden blocks and grandpa’s classical music playing on the radio. I think of grandma arriving in New York for summer visits from Florida, armed with chocolate-covered potato chips. I think of her on Normandy Isle with a wind tunnel outside the door, and in Miami Beach chatting with friends by the pool at the Byron. I think of grandma as strong and tough and sharp-witted, close to her relatives and friendly to her neighbors. I think of her climbing on buses to go everywhere and writing thank you notes in beautiful handwriting. And, I think of grandma with my mother and you, her devoted and dutiful daughter and son.
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY – Aren’t you glad we all had mothers?