Mothers and daughters. Probably the closest of all relationships…and sometimes a mine field in an oasis.
Yes, you can love someone and also resent the hell outa them. That was my mom. Generous, fun-loving, cute, vain, cryptically intelligent, materialistic, a nag, irritating as hell, but most of all…lovable.
Memories? You betcha!
Several years ago, I decided to give Mom an afternoon of culture. She loved fashion. So one day we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art…They had a special showing of the First Ladies ball gowns. Afterwards, standing atop the Museum’s stairs we were trying to decide where to have lunch. A street mime was doing his thing below. White-faced, black garbed, the actor was doing a great job. ‘Look, mom…isn’t he terrific?” I said. She looked, put her hands on her hips, pursed her lips, and loudly exclaimed her one word review: ”Exhibitionist!”
I always hoped those tears on the mime’s face were painted ones.
Then, there was the night at the ballet. First row mezzanine..Lincoln Center, Swan Lake. I could tell Mom was excited, cuz it was the first time ever she was to see a live performance. So, we’re sitting there enjoying the spectacle, when of a sudden, the white swan makes her entrance, not en pointe, but in an ariel sweep, suspended from a hidden wire, flapping her hands madly…something was wrong with the rigging, and it was a little jerky…not much…but enough to ruin the entire effect. It looked like a bad high school performance. Neither Mom nor I could contain ourselves, and we burst forth with such raucous laughter that a gentleman in the row behind tapped my shoulder as a reminder to resume proper decorum. Well why the hell wasn’t he laughing? Mom saw all this, caught my eye, and decorum went completely out the window, as we sat helplessly choking with laughter.
No signal needed, we gathered our gear and quickly left, holding on to each other, weak with mirth.
Then there was the time we were walking in the street, Mom seriously nagging me about something I thought trivial. Head down, I was intent on not listening. At one point, I turned to say something. Gone! But I heard giggling in the distance. I turned around and there she was holding one pointy high heel, sitting on the pavement, feet splayed, trying to catch her breath, laughing. “I tripped,” she giggled. Rushing to her aid, choking with laughter was myself, and a very nice middle-aged gentleman. I stood by, putting more cracks in the pavement with my insane laughter. All this time, the the nice man tried to lift my mom’s 98 pound body which had apparently gained 50 more pounds in her fall. He could not lift her. I stood by, carrying on like an escapee from Bellevue’s mental ward.
“What kind of daughter are you,” cried the outraged man…”Help me get her up” This evoked peals of hysterical laughter from both mother and daughter, and finally the man left, bewildered, in a huff. Eventually, we got ourselves together and left the scene.
Being somewhat a fashionista, mom loved to show off her lovely clothing, sometimes at the most inappropriate times. I remember during my hospitalization for gall bladder surgery, mom was there in my hospital room, all decked out in a silk dress, mink stole and lots of dazzling, dangly jewlery. She took the words on that swinging door seriously. “Surgical Theater” Did she expect me to perform ingenue to her starring role? Not really, but this was, to her, an outing of sorts…Yeah, she loved her daughter and was genuinely concerned, but couldn’t help grabbing an opportunity to wow the doctors, nurses, and visitors with her wardrobe and fashion expertise. All that jewlery jangled my nerves and the close contact with mink caused me to sneeze, almost opening my surgical stitches. She soon left in a cloud of Chanel and silken flurry only to return next time sans mink, but with a Persian fur jacket thrown artfully over her shoulders. A soft arrogant smirk lingered around her mouth as the nurses eyed her obliquely when she demanded a vase for flowers. Quiet pearls embraced her delicate neck; that neck I would have gladly wrung at the time.
When mom reached her frail eighties, I worried about her living alone, but she managed okay for a time. It was my habit to call early every evening to make sure she was safe and comfy in her small Bronx apartment.
One evening I called and there was no answer. I kept trying but still no answer. Really worried now, I hopped a cab and headed up to the Bronx. Arriving at her apartment, I rang the doorbell. No answer. It was now 7 o’clock on a cold winter night, and my imagination took over.. I didn’t like what I saw in my mind’s eye. I opened the lock with my key, and was stopped by a brass chain lock. I called ”MOM!” …no answer. I backed up, rushed forward, slamming into the door. That broke the chain, and the door opened. I rushed into the apartment, heading for the bedroom. There she was, sitting in front of the window, crocheting and watching telly. “Oh, hello, darling,” she said, benignly…”How nice to see you…wasn’t expecting you…would you like something to eat?”
“Where were you? ” I shouted. “Been trying to reach you since 5!.. Why didn’t you answer the phone?”
“You phoned? No you did not!” I checked the phone. Ringer was on low. Aw, nuts. In my best patient teacher tone, I instructed Mom to always keep the ringer on loud.
Mom’s health soon failed, and it nearly killed me to visit her in a nursing home. She was always a generous woman, giving her children gifts at every turn…but there was nothing much to give now. “I have a little something for you,” she said, reaching for her purse. Her withered hand searched inside the bag for a moment and emerged clutching something. She opened her hand and there rested five packets of Sweet and Low. This pathetic, indescribably sweet gesture brought immediate tears to my eyes, and I enfolded mom in a careful embrace, smoothing her hair…”Aw, mom, thanks so much…I was running low.” Mom let me hold her for a moment and then, pushed me away saying, awkwardly, almost angrily, “Jackie, I love you,” the tone was nearly an admonition…but the words were there, I understood, and I loved her back.
Mom passed soon after that, leaving her legacy of strength, fun, and love.
I still love you, mom… sweet and low.