Sunday, May 19, 2024

Missed My Last Mother's Day

This special dinner was one of the first
gatherings after my father died, and I
remember that we all toasted my mother
for what she gave us and did for us.  We
were pretty determined to let her kno
 My father died just before Father's Day six years ago.  He knew he was dying, and every time he thought he had a few days left, he called to, well, repeat the same lecture as his hearing (and personality) limited conversations.  My mother died yesterday, just a few days after one of the only mother's days we didn't connect.  She had been in a rehab facility after a hospital stay, and I was in Germany, preparing to come back.  I had meant to call her when I got back, but I ended up pushing it to Saturday afternoon.  It was too late.  I had been determined over the past few years to tell her how I felt about her, how much I loved her, how much she shaped me, how much I owed her, so I am not so fussed about missing the chance for one last call.  She was 92, and the last few years and especially the last few months were progressively more difficult for her so this was not a surprise.  

My mother was simply the least self-centered person, most other-centered person I have ever met.  While she was a great cook, whenever there was a more burnt piece or a smaller piece, she saved those for herself.  I can't remember a time where her preferences overrode anyone else's.  She, for instance, did not enjoy the Barbie movie last summer, but she gamely went while most of her brood (her siblings, and much of the next gen) were in town for our summer vacation.  She would have preferred Oppenheimer.

My mother was an awesome grandmother,
and her legacy is this group of sharp, funny,
fierce, left-wing women.

Speaking of nuclear war, my mother is the one that got me interested in politics and history and international relations.  I don't have memories of specific conversations, but I do remember talking to her about this stuff. And one of my very first political memories is of watching her celebrate Nixon's resignation.  She was a fierce liberal, always wanting government to do right by those who were less fortunate.  While she had an appreciation for Jack Kennedy's looks, she was an FDR woman through and through.  She could talk New Deal as long as you wanted.  I got my sense of justice and outrage from her (and from my daughter).  While she never got to see a woman be president, she did get to see the most FDR-ish president in her last few years.


A pre-Steve pic of the family

My mother went back to work when I was in 3rd grade or so, working for the Naval Aviation Supply Office near Philly. That was fun for me as she told me about the cool planes that she would order parts for, ones that would make the news like the Harrier and the P-3. She would visit Hawaii and Guam as part of her job to connect with those on the other side of the supply chain.  Only now have I realized we never talked about what those meetings were about. Her first job, pre-kids, was in advertising in the 1950s in New York.  Which made her very uninterested in watching Mad Men. 

My mother shared her empathy with us, so that we cared about what happened to others.  It really was a defining characteristic.  I now I am being repetitive about her "other-ness" but it sticks out. A second defining characteristic was that she didn't want to be her mother-in-law--she wanted to be a far more supportive, loving one.  In that, she wildly succeeded.  She was so good to my wife and so sweet to my daughter.  She subsidized my daughter's private school in Montreal so that we could move there and understand my daughter's teachers.  She also gave us money to invest for my daughter's education so that she could go to any school she wanted.  I am pretty sure that the various relatives of ours who came out had no fear that she would ostracize them.  Maybe if they came out as a Trumper, but LGBTQ?  No worries there.

One could confuse her going along with everyone else as passivity, but not when one of her children needed her.  Then the momma bear would come out.  When we moved to Maryland, I was about five years old, ready to go to kindergarten.  They had me take an ethnically biased IQ test that I failed--for instance, the picture I picked as the best breakfast was not the bowl with steam coming from it but the round thing with a whole in it--a bagel.  Nope, it was a donut.  My mom went in and yelled at them.  I guess I got placed in a normal kindergarten track as a result. She also helped us push our father into getting us Candy who was the sweetest poodle.

Last summer, we played some gin
and some scrabble with her.  At 91,
she was still quite on top of her game
even as her NYT crossword puzzling
suffered a bit.

My mother was very smart, very curious, and very aware not just of her family but of the larger things.  Her politics, as mentioned above, were liberal in the most positive of ways.  She gave money to liberal politicians, she gave much time and effort to mental health organizations, and she gave her insights to us.  I am most grateful that her brilliance only dimmed at the very end, the last few months, as hospital visits made a dent.  Her memory was still so very clear, and I only wish she was more aggressive in sharing her stories.  She would tell them, but mostly when pushed, and I regret not being so good at getting more out of her.



My mother loved to travel and she loved fine dining.  My father and her got to visit almost every place in the world that they wanted.  She would have liked to keep traveling, but that got progressively more difficult.  My father's death put a big dent into the eating out as she grew up never eating out alone.  And then the pandemic struck, limiting our ability to visit.  Each of her four kids would take her out for dinner when we visited so that she could enjoy this one thing she could still do.  But for a couple of the last years of her life, she was pretty much trapped at home.  When I did visit recently, we would explore the streaming stuff, and we had a mixed record of finding stuff that she liked.  "It's ok" was about as negative a thing she would say.  She did find Breaking Bad to be engaging when I introduced it to her.

That she had no one to eat with except when we visited meant that she could not menace the sidewalks of Philadelphia with her scooter.  She was always an excellent driver--she taught most of us (all?) how to drive as she had far more patience than my father--and had an excellent memory of which sidewalks were intact and which ones were not.  I got much exercise trying to keep up with her as she scooted, even crossing against lights if there were no traffic (which is another thing I got from her). 



I got to learn which sites in Philly
were scooter-compatible including
this park by the Delaware River. 

We got in the habit of zooming twice a week when we were all locked down during the pandemic.  Given that we didn't have that much to talk about, given that none of us were doing anything interesting and we got tired of talking about politics, we started playing various games.  I found a Chuck Klosterman card set that would ask people about very strange hypothetical scenarios, and then we'd find out how each of us would behave.  It was most illuminating what my mother would and would not do for herself and for the greater good.

Which gets me to the last thing I wanted to mention here.  My mother had the sneakiest sense of humor.  She would mostly listen--either in these zooms or when we got together--but she had the sharpest zingers (never mean ones, well, not at us anyway).  More than once we laughed really hard and could barely breathe.  So, she was game to wear a tiara for her 90th birthday party.  She could be silly even as she was not a fan of silly tv/movies (see the Barbie reference above)




 My mother was very much the matriarch who held our family together.  We could have split apart, but her kindness, her patience, her tenacity, her sweetness, and her love kept us together.  For that and for everything else, I will be forever grateful.  I wish her last few years were not so frustrating and solitary, but she knew she was loved, that her kids and her grandkids appreciated her and were doing well with their lives. 

I couldn't find my digital stash of older pics that are mostly pictures of pictures my father took.  Will post more of those when I figure out which folder they are in.


Anonymous said...

Very well said! We will miss her but always be close because of her.

Barbara Wolfgang said...

You probably know that your mother and father met on a fishing boat- a Klein family event. I was there to observe the sparks.

Steve Saideman said...

I think my older siblings heard that story.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, thank you for sharing this sweet tribute.

ems4019 said...

The story I was told was that my mother’s friend Enid Brownstone introduced her to my father, Enid’s first cousin. I never heard anything about a fishing boat.

Suzanne Lanoue said...

Enjoyed reading your heartfelt words. My mother didn't say much about politics, that I recall (she passed when I was 10), but I do remember she hated Nixon and was against Vietnam.

Rob Chasen said...

Thank you for sharing this, Steve.

Anne Gropper said...

Just found your article. It was beautifully written. Your eulogies confirmed my feelings that mom was a quiet person but a loving one. So sorry she’s gone.