Contrary to popular belief, I did have a mother who loved me as I loved her. Unfortunately, she died while I was in early middle age of, egad, liver cancer. And even though I have passed my 83rd birthday, I still miss her and wish she was still around so I could consult with her.
Recently, my only sibling, my sister who is 15 years younger than I am, said she was going to New York (from Tampa) to, among other things, clean up mom’s grave. Mom is buried somewhere in the wilds of Long Island. I haven’t seen her grave since my aunt Dorothy, mom’s younger sister, was buried in the same plot about 10 years ago. (My father, who died at 92, had his ashes scattered in the East River off Manhattan--where he often swam as a boy.)
For reasons that I don’t understand, I have no desire to visit her grave again. Instead, my wife, who never met my mother, said she will go to New York City to join my sister so they can both tend to the grave. Susan and mom would have liked each other.
My mother was a truly remarkable woman, one I did not fully appreciate until she was gone. Mom was a brilliant pianist who, at the age of 15, had been offered a tour of Europe. My very traditional grandparents turned this down as it would not have been “proper.” Instead, mom earned a little money playing in silent movie theaters and dreamed of what she might have been. In the middle 1920s she went to Fordham Law School, only the second woman to be admitted. There she met my father.
After they graduated and married, mom and dad moved to Florida to take advantage of the Florida land boom. My father set up a one man law firm to search titles. Mom, who was twice as bright as dad, became the firm’s secretary. In 1927, after becoming pregnant with me, mom and dad came home to be with her family.
In addition to her intelligence, mom had two great assets and, for me, one big deficit. She had a social conscience that would have saved the whole world. She had a sense of humor that made her one of the best storytellers I’ve ever heard. And the deficit…she was a perfectionist. For example, mom never played the piano from the time she started going to Fordham until I could play piano four hands with her many years later. She still loved music during that period, but because she could not play really well without practicing several hours a day, she would not play at all.
The impact on me was that although I too loved music, I could never get through practicing the piano without mom calling from the next room to say, “that should have been an A flat, not an A.” The result was that I hated to practice. It was good enough for me, although painful to listen to, that I could “hear” the notes in my head. Clearly it was not good enough for mom.
To mom (and to dad as well), no matter how successful I became in life, I was always an underachiever. I was not perfect. Our relationship degenerated over the years so that as I got older I rarely called her. I became a bad son.
It is way too late to make amends. The lesson to be learned from her came to me long after I had raised my own children. I am close with both of them today. By the time I married Susan and inherited my stepson, I got the message. Of course you have to love your children, help them to be good people and achieve their potential, but also vital is that you do not damage their self-respect and first and foremost, your relationship with them.
In one respect, Mom might be happy with me now. She often said, “The only immortality I believe in is the memory of my children.” She certainly lives in me and my sister.
We don’t need Mother's Day to remember her.