So here we are standing around my mothers’ grave and, even in death, she is the center of attention. When she walked into a room, it lit up, and she owned it. She was brash, blond and bold. Vain as the day is long, the worst cook ever, the most amazing secretary, a good mother, loved my father dearly, and could talk your ear off. She never held back. And did I ever tell you she could hold a grudge? Oi Vai. Though, if she loved you, it was for life.
She used to tell a story about wanting to join the USO and entertain the troops during World War Two. She was a looker, had spunk, and had a beautiful singing voice. It was probably around 1944 after she graduated high school. Her father nixed the idea saying, “A goil hasta woik,” thus dashing her hopes for fame. The consolation prize was having her in the room shmoozing, telling jokes and stories, and entertaining us.
She was a voracious reader and gifted to me the love of reading. One of my first memories is taking the bus into downtown Bridgeport and going to the public library. Big lobby, polished wood and brass, very, very quiet. I was maybe five. We walked up to this huge circular desk, a large silver-haired women behind it, bustling around doing book things and such, and my mother tells me we are giving the books back. WTF? Or the whatever the five year old equivalent of WTF is, I screamed out, “It’s mine!” My mother and I literally had a tug-o-war with the book in the middle of the library. People shushing us left and right. I won the tug-o-war and proceeded to throw the book at the silver haired lady and hit her in the head. As I was being dragged out, I distinctly remember screaming, “I hate you. I hate you!” But I'm never without a book!
Being from Brooklyn she fancied herself as a tough, savvy, street-smart, woman. Oh, she was indeed. She had such a passion about jewelry. She loved it so much that she got into the business or as she would say, “The biz a neese.” Why she said it that way, who knows. She relished going into New York on buying trips. She especially enjoyed handeling(negotiating) in a man’s world and holding her own. For her, she got a thrill out of not only picking out the jewelry, but negotiating and matching wits with the seller on price. She LOVED a bargain. She was extremely generous with her stuff. She was always giving away something; a charm, a chain, some earrings. She shared her love of jewelry with others.
I can never remember a time when music was not on the stereo. She was proud of that stereo. Music was always on. Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Vaughn Monroe, Tommy Dorsey, Glen Miller, crooners and big band. Oh and Barbara Streisand. Oh my god, Babs was her bomb. And yes we had a stereo when no one had one. It was a mahogany RCA console with brown and gold grills. My mother was, we shall put it mildly, cheap. Very, very cheap. A tightwad if you will. This was an unprecedented extravagance. It sat as the focal point in the living room for a long time. It did have a stereo speaker that they ended up buying separately. When they got it home it didn’t sound as well as it did in the store. I'm sure at the time they didn’t want to spring for the extra cost of the speaker but as soon as she heard a low sound quality, she and my father marched back to the appliance store and bought the speaker. They came home from the store, speaker in tow, laughing hysterically about woofers and tweeters. That’s all we heard all week woofers and tweeters. When guests came over, yup, you guessed it, woofers and tweeters. I still laugh when I hear that term.
Because of the woofers and tweeters, I have loved music all my life. It’s one of the things that I could never live without. When I was twelve she asked me if I wanted to take up a musical instrument. I immediately said, “The drums!” She said absolutely not. Too noisy. So I got private saxophone lessons. I hated that instrument. Mercifully after a year of torture, it was over. But later on I took up the drums. And, the guitar as well. Thanks mom.
As talented as she was, she was not without her faults. She was an abysmal cook. Horrible. I prayed that my parents would go out on the weekend so I could have a TV dinner. Once in junior high she gave me a sardine sandwich for lunch. Who does that? I couldn’t trade it for anything. Took one bite, threw it out and was starving all day. I’m famished by the time I get home. “Why did you give me a sardine sandwich?” I cried. “I thought you liked them.” She replied, “You had a sardine the other day and you said it was ok.” I thought that was just idle chatter. I never dreamed she would turn that into my newfound culinary must-have. Her disdain of cooking led me to become a pretty good cook. And that love of cooking was passed on to her grandchild Aaron. And speaking of grandchildren she loved them so much. Joshua, Todd and Aaron. She always asked for them first when we talked.
She was an exceptionally vain woman. Never leaving the house without her face on. Always dressed to the nines. She was contemporary and stylish. With a dash of extravagance. Well, maybe more than a dash. Actually, a lot more. Even a walk to the mailbox was an ordeal because, “Maybe I should meet someone on the way, God forbid, and she sees me looking like this.” My father adored her. Anything you want hon. Anything you want. She doted on my father to the ends of the earth. The sun rose and set on my wonderful brother Steven. It broke her a bit when he passed. But she was a “tough broad” as she was fond of referring to herself, and life for her resumed. Sadder, but I could always coax a laugh out of her. And she loved to laugh.
All of the gifts that she gave me and made me who I am do not compare to her last one. Her last gift to me on the day she passed away was our first grandchild. A little girl. In twelve hours I went from profound grief and sadness to profound joy. Somehow she knew it was time. And that kind of sums her up. My mother always loved to get in the last word. I love you mom.