What a Difference a Day Makes

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Three of a Kind:  ok, I wrote this months ago… then, accidentally deleted it. Nancy has been patient — but it’s been hanging over my head, with a few other “to do’s.” Yet as I approach the second anniversary of my mother’s death, I reflect again, on the best/better days we had together. However, the notion of a favorite day is muddled, as it’s the “moments” that seem more poignant. To me, anyways.

It was a Sunday night in the fall – usually, the blended family ate together, but this time my stepdad and his son decided to rid themselves of estrogen under the guise of “guy talk.” Which left us with girl talk — and so, my mom, daughter Gabby, and I dined “in.” We camped out on the couch in the den, with CBS 60 Minutes as background noise, eating heaps of spaghetti off dinner trays…it was Gabby’s first time using a dinner tray, and she thought this was “really living.” At 8 or so, she didn’t use those words exactly, but if she could have, she would have. Several rounds of spaghetti were followed with even more rounds of card games: war and gin rummy. All centered around a coffee table that we’ve had my entire life.

It took the disappearance of all other familial distractions, to appreciate how much my mom was enjoying my daughter that evening. It felt good to be a priority for that short time, and to feel the contentment among us three. Cuz for all I’ve done to both disappoint and please my mother in life — for all the unflinching support she gave me towards adopting my daughter, following the abandonment of her conventional 2 parent, white-picket-fence-life dream for me — all felt OK in the world. And that’s why I remember it so fondly.

As my flight descends into LA, my previous home, I know I’ll wake up tomorrow wanting to call my mom, as I often did, to tell her how great the weather is, that I’m wearing shorts in February, and playing tennis outside today. And of course, I’d want to tell her about Gabby. But since tomorrow is the day she died two years ago, Plan B. I will walk the beach, buy Gabby the Aviator knock-offs she so admired on my mom (who had the real ones), and enjoy the blue skies and green grass. Before returning to that coffee table now residing in my home, and the reality of how the cards were dealt…

Liz

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This blog topic has been a tough one. My mother and I didn’t “plan” days together. When I was young, we were together a lot (too much), but now that I think about it, I am surprised we didn’t have special outings. What day did we spend together that was ours? In fairness, I’m sure the trouble lies with my memory because I do remember quite clearly— my mother did love spending time with me.

Well, I did think of one that was “ours,” but I’m sure she hated every minute of it. It was not planned. It was not quite a whole day. But it was just us two. My dad was at work. And my brother was playing at a friend’s house. I was around 8 and loved to read my library books while taking a bath. Especially when it was cold out. Even at 8, I was already always cold. My mother was downstairs getting the house ready for company that night. Which never happened. Because as I was stepping out of the tub, I realized I hadn’t flung my book far enough away and in an effort not to drip any water on it, I slipped and hit my head on the radiator. It hurt, but not in a way that caused me to think anything was wrong. But, I was wrong, I soon discovered. My mother heard me fall and came up to see if I was okay. I told her I was. I hadn’t looked in the mirror. It didn’t seem necessary. I really was clueless there was blood and whatever else…

My mother hated blood. Couldn’t stand the sight of it. Hated to be scared. Hated scary movies. Having seen Psycho (my father was never forgiven for that…) she always locked the bathroom door every time she took a shower. Open wounds and their remedy were definitely my dad’s domain. But this is what was so unlike my mother—she opened the door to find that gash across my eyebrow and was totally calm. She simply told me I wasn’t fine as she reached for a towel to cover up the mess so I wouldn’t see it. Because of course, once I heard I wasn’t fine, I wanted to see what she was talking about. But my mother was firm about it.

We were a one-car family at this time. My dad had parked it at the train station. But she located a friend who let us borrow their car so we could get to the doctor’s office. My mother found a way to remain in character as this clear-headed general and solved each obstacle—getting me dressed, arranging transportation, calling my brother’s friend’s house, explaining the situation to my doctor— and she never lost it. Which I am certain she would’ve done otherwise.

Other details have faded away but her complete focus on my getting medical attention has not.

As for the seven stitches, I know my mother was with me for the whole thing. And I know she would have rather been anywhere else. (Maybe even watching Psycho.) But I never felt that from her—from the moment I got on the table ’til the last stitch. Hers was the perfect hand to hold. I mean, squeeze. (That novocaine was not earning its paycheck.) I was so grateful to have her there; she said all the right things— all obvious, but exactly what I needed to hear. She was sympathetic and positive and I’m certain she deserved an Oscar for it.

What I also loved was that she never gave me a hard time for reading in the tub or prevented me from doing it again. There never came a time when I was made to feel I had done something wrong. It was always just an accident. Even the dinner plans that had to be canceled were out of my earshot. I felt only concern. And love.

…I never meant for our seven stitches in time to slip so far from memory. I only wish I had the chance to share it with her. But sadly, my mother is no longer a phone call away. It’s a lousy ending to this story, though I’m glad to recall it, just the same. I need more memories of us that aren’t yet another pointless stand-off or collection of meaningless chatter. Because all too often, that was the nature of our time together.

Nancy

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NEXT INSTALLMENT:  She Means Business

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Bond Voyage!

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I was fortunate to share many vacations with my mom; foreign, domestic, and frequent long weekenders in the California desert when I lived in Los Angeles. I have good memories of those times; tennis and golf, beaches, new restaurants, swap meets, knock-off purse ladies, and relaxation — we seemed to get along best on vacations, which offered a deviation from the habitual judgments of daily life. But the one trip I regret we did not take together, would have been to the town my mom grew up in: Fargo. I know, this is hardly a dreamy, desirable destination for many (or anyone) — nonetheless, for me, it’s one that would have shed greater light on my mom’s childhood…and ultimately, her.

While born in Minneapolis, my mother’s family settled in Fargo where her father started a men’s clothing store downtown: Rosen Clothing. It was a very prosperous business, but then came the Depression, and shortly thereafter, her father’s untimely death of a heart attack when my mom was 11…on Rosh Hashanah. As a widow in her 30’s with 2 girls under 11, my grandmother returned to Minneapolis with my mom and aunt Helen to move in with her mother.

In her 70’s, my mom finally ventured back to Fargo for the first time with her friend Addie, also from North Dakota. She said she remembered it all; her home, the corner where her father’s store was, playmates’ houses, street names — everything. She didn’t seem moved by the trip either way. But I imagine her departure from Fargo must have been a tough time — leaving financial security, her father’s legacy and her home, to live with a grandparent and see her mom sleeping on the couch so she and her sister could share a room. A world of great promise had been shut down. And perhaps, my mom did too.

It would have been my hope that if we traveled together, I could have learned more than I know about that time in her life; how it influenced her choices, behavior, aspirations, and better grasp what it meant for her to lose so much of it. I’ve heard it in words, but the stories were void of feeling — I’d want to see her facial expressions/body language as she revisited her past, hear the off-the-cuff commentary, in addition to her verbal recollections of her life in this town. For much of my life, I’ve wanted to better understand her stoicism, her resilience, and her tendency to outwardly negate sad and angry feelings of her own, or her kids’ – because, after all, we were “so lucky” to have what we had …and have.

I assume that our journey west to Fargo would have given me a richer and more emotional snapshot of her childhood, and if so, a greater appreciation for the parts I loved about my mom, and greater acceptance of the more challenging dimensions of her personality.

But who knows: if the trip proved reminiscent only of a Coen brothers movie mecca, a spa would be a great second choice …

Liz

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I know where my mother wanted to travel— she wanted to see the Greek Islands. But that was a trip she wanted to take with my father. And besides, why in the world would I want to go where she wanted to go? (I access my inner child when it suits me. As any inner child would.) If we both have to suffer through airport security, it oughta be a place we both want to visit.

Or maybe… it’s a place neither of us want to visit. ‘Cause although that sounds all wrong…to me, that’s what makes it oh so right. And really, this way we can’t accidentally pour ketchup over steak. By sparing Sardinia and Saint-Tropez our hotel reservations, they remain the magical places they’re advertised to be.

So, by my math, that means my mother and I are packing our bags…err…backpacks to go camping. Serious in-a-tent, under-the-stars camping. Misadventure by moon glow. (Unless we forget to factor its waxing skedj into our travel dates.) I’d like to see how we’d do in a place we have little interest in exploring first-hand. And minus a few Girl Scout excursions, we have no experience. In other words— we have no experience. How would we fare? …Maybe we’d bond because it’s just us. And that weird sound coming from “over there” is just the watershed moment we’ve needed.

As I see it, our usual button-pushing would be out of reach. My mother couldn’t disapprove of my lying on the beach all day and I wouldn’t be bummed when she shut out the ocean breeze at night, opting for central air. She couldn’t point out clothes in a store window that are perfect for me and I wouldn’t walk too fast for her. I’m not being an asshole with this plan; I think I am on to something for us. Marooned. Like astronauts. (Speaking of which—if it didn’t take functioning in zero gravity and a pilot’s license, I’d put space travel in play. At least we’d avoid the bug spray.)

Truly, I’m not sure I can even make a fire. I know for sure I can’t cook. And my camp mate? She’d rather ask her mother-in-law for advice on marriage than sleep outside. What’s in my mother’s nature is not mother nature. And this apple did not fall far from that tree.

Yes, I know— outbursts and cold shoulders are not immune to a pretty setting. But I’m convinced the remoteness would make us less likely to slide into those sinkholes. We’d need each other. It would hit us over the head every day we were out there. We’d have to talk. (“How’s this taut line hitch knot?”) We’d have endless, practical (mother-daughter neutral) decisions to make. Like how to arrange a camp site. What should we take on our morning hike. (We can’t really go our separate ways and meet up for drinks at 7.) And none of it would be mired in bad history. We’d be navigating this forest through the trees, together. And even before…

I’d love to see us getting pro-shop advice on water-resistant liners for shoes and sleeping bags, as our college brains went limp. I’d like to see us studying all the lamps that profess to do things we didn’t know they needed to do in the first place. Plus… we’d have to buy ponchos.

Imagining my mother and me in this setting makes me smile— washing pots and plates in a stream, silverware (almost) floating away… pointing out constellations to each other (all wrong, most likely), trying to get in and out of a tent without taking it down in the process. I’d like to think a week of hot dogs, oatmeal and baked apples filled with nutella would bring us closer. Even if we couldn’t survive more than a day.

Camping might be just the space odyssey we need. And Odyssey is a famous Greek poem. So, I’m being a good daughter after all….

Nancy
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NEXT INSTALLMENT: What a Difference a Day Makes

Must You do That?

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So, I’m sitting at a bat mitzvah, next to a friend who recently lost her mom – looking down at the bracelet on her wrist, I asked, “what jewelry do you have on that is from your mother?” “All of it….and you?” “Most of it…” I replied. I take joy in wearing my mom’s jewelry because of the sentiment that it was hers, of course, and secondly, because I like it – it’s truly beautiful. But also of importance, I knew SHE liked it, which is all too often a cumbersome validation at the core of many mother/daughter relationships.

So, when I think about what I did that annoyed my mother the most, I recall it was, in her words, “you twist things” — all for the sake of testing her approval. It was my motive to “get the nod,” to gain her acceptance through challenge, through doubt – even though my outward demeanor took on the adolescent attitude “I don’t care what you think, really.”

And our exchanges went something like this. (Included third is what I wished to have heard from her)…

Mom: are you having dessert?
Me: not sure…are you asking me because you think I shouldn’t… do you think I’m getting fat?
When pigs fly: enjoy dessert – the cake is delicious…you look great, honey!

Mom: are you wearing “that” to the party?
Me: what’s wrong with what I’m wearing? don’t you like it?
When hell freezes over: I love your sweater! You have great taste and look good in anything you put on…

Mom: who are you going to the show with tomorrow?
Me: John. Why? don’t you like him?
When fish climb trees: I respect your choices – you know I always trust your judgment.

Mom: you’re working again tonight?
Me: what’s wrong with that? – you think I work too much and should go out more, don’t you?
When unicorns are real: I value your drive and conscientiousness – I’m so proud of your career…

You get the idea. I wanted to beat her to the “punch” before I took the punch. And sometimes there were never any punches intended, just an innocent and genuine interest in my life. However, there was obviously a predisposition to my twisting, some basis in my upbringing that made me feel under fire. Even when I wasn’t. Her frequent focus on outward appearance, in addition to her own natural beauty, style and pragmatism, created a self-consciousness in me — one that I carried for years. OK, a few decades…but only a few.

Often her compliments to me were followed by my cross examination: “really?….are you just saying that to make me feel better?” A Twister. It was hard to accept something at face value – high standards that she had and all. But that hesitance on my part — should that be the worst of our exchanges? Because upon reflection, it really wasn’t so bad. And in the latter years, it occasionally spurred conversation where I challenged her judgment, and was awarded with a rare and sought-after “you’re right, darling.” With that, I felt like I’d just won the lottery.

Where it gets a little “old” is that I still ask myself today, all too many times, “would mom have liked that?” and if “yes” it’s a shoe-in, that her approval (which I still need apparently) allows me to slap it on the Visa, help myself to another piece of cake, or work until midnight. Old habits die hard, but in many respects, I’ve always been a late bloomer…

Liz

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Funny. This latest blog premise was my idea and yet nothing I did ever bugged my mother. Zilch. She had no issues with me, from tip to toe. Nothing but perfect from the moment I became hers to take care of. I didn’t cry. I didn’t fuss. I didn’t suck my thumb. “You were such an easy baby, Nancy.” (Lest you think I’m kidding.) …Well, I am kidding. Sort of.

Her first impression of me really didn’t change much. Not for a long time. Why? Why else. I did what I was told. And didn’t do what I knew could get me in trouble. (Except once when I was 16.) In full disclosure, whatever “perfection” I facetiously claimed in paragraph one, I did so for selfish reasons. Arguing was very common in our house and I wanted no part of it or the consequences. I needed to blend in. To the point of invisibility. So, with my “perfect” MO, the chances of annoying my mother were bound to be minimal. I turned myself into what I thought she wanted me to be. My mother didn’t know me. (Nor did I, for years.) I’m quite imperfect. From tip to toe.

However!… despite my model behavior, I did still manage to tick her off on occasion. Nothing that merited an after school special. Or an after school guidance counselor. Which was good… because I was obsessed with doing my homework.

I know my mother hated when I’d fall asleep at night on the couch. (Which I still do and still love to do.) I know she hated that I wouldn’t leave a movie ’til the credits were over. (“We’ll be waiting for you in the lobby.”) Also, that I wouldn’t sit with my parents because they watched from way in the back and I liked to sit way in the front. (“You’re too close. It’s not good for your eyes.”) My mother didn’t like that I read all about the Tate-LaBianca Murders when I was in high school. And later, Martha Moxley. (“Nancy, how ’bout Eleanor Roosevelt?”) She didn’t like when I stopped playing the piano and then, could no longer play it at all. She didn’t like that I left the car radio on after I turned the car off. She didn’t like that I used the last of her correction tape and didn’t tell her. (Can’t blame her. She needed that stuff for work, sometimes.) And my mother didn’t like that I’d rib her for watching soap operas. Which she did all my life, even as her mind was fading. She didn’t really like my taste in clothes. Too tomboyish. (“Why don’t you wear something that’s hanging in your closet instead?”) She didn’t like that I’d watch tv leaning on the counter in the kitchen. (“Sit down. There are four chairs, right there.”) My mother didn’t like that I’d interrupt a story she was telling to remind her she told me that already. But that really annoyed me, so….

But what bothered her the most, I think, was that I stopped listening to her advice. More accurately, I stopped asking for it. I didn’t experience that one until my mid-20s. When I did start to find my own way. And she let me know about it. “I miss our talks. Why don’t you tell me anything anymore?” (Well, ’cause all you’re gonna do is tell me how to handle it. And maybe I want to handle it my way and see what happens. Maybe what I want you to do is just listen…and be supportive.) My age(s) of invisibility had finally passed.

I felt there was no wriggle room with her. If I shared something, she was gonna take it over and solve it for me. I’d inevitably get her opinion, with research if needed. Or I’d simply get an earful. It wasn’t my intention to annoy my mother in this way, but from her side, that is how she felt— cut off. I just couldn’t figure out a better solution. …Maybe I should’ve asked her advice. (Terrible last line.)

Nancy

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NEXT INSTALLMENT: “Bond Voyage!”

Infrequently Asked Questions

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It’s my nature to ask a lot of questions — often, too many, or so I’ve been told. In regard to my mom, there were the obvious ones; who is your favorite child? what are your life’s regrets? which was your best decade? There were others that were more provocative…and then there were the questions I didn’t ask — either because I feared my mother’s discomfort or my own.

As I reflect on missed opportunities, especially now that she’s gone, I wish I could hear her answer this: What was the greatest compromise you made over your lifetime? After all, it’s the compromises we wrestle with daily that ultimately transform choice and circumstance into our values and character.

My mom experienced a lifetime of great joy and tragedy, good health and chronic pain, of caregiving and being cared for. But as to “compromise,” my mind is drawn to that last set — how she cared for others; what were the sacrifices? (there must have been many, as the caring of family/friends was a non-negotiable practice for her.) Was it reciprocated? How did she allow others to care for her?

When it was her turn to be cared for, be it major surgeries or untimely losses, friends and relatives stepped up, devotedly. But still, it was emotionally tenuous. Her adamant refusal of gifts “so unnecessary,” one’s time, “go out and enjoy the day” was pervasive, as if she was undeserving. It was her business to please others, while resisting others’ efforts to care for her, likely ignoring a basic need for that kind of attention. Which recalls a moment we shared when I was 9:

Following the loss of two grandmothers and the family dog, I came to recognize a fear of death, its finality. As my mom gently talked to me, not being religious herself, she offered no rote or easy explanations of heaven or god. Instead, she spoke of her mother, what she admired and remembered, and how to keep people close to us… her version of “forever.” Noting my frightened demeanor, she said she too used to feel life more intensely, but chose to temper those feelings. Perhaps they were too overwhelming and distracted from life’s joys.

I believe this was my mother’s greatest compromise – choosing to address her emotional hurts by dismissing them. Instead, she spent much of her time tending to and validating the pain of others at the expense of experiencing her own vulnerabilities. The tight reigns on her feelings profoundly affected many decisions, yet it was by her design, as it kept her life a little safer. Keeping the peace was a priority. It fueled her strength, empathy, and to be sure, stoicism — so she was consistently there for others. But not always there for herself.

While excessive giving may have served her well (both outwardly and inwardly), in her final years with Parkinsons coupled with a major brain injury, when I hoped for her to receive as much as she gave, it didn’t happen. It was hard for others to adapt to my mom’s “new normal,” to be seen as she really was, and not how others expected her to be. An image of my beautiful, incapacitated mother in such a fragile state was not one many could endure. It wasn’t “her” and yet, it was.

If she was sitting with me sipping tea at the kitchen table just once more, her answer to the “greatest compromise” might be very different…don’t know. Yet I do know the importance of asking what you want to learn while you have the chance. As there’s always more to hang your hat on to strengthen the legacy — other than “I love my children equally, of course.”

Liz
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I wish I’d asked my mother to tell me about losing her first child. He was a still birth.

Actually, there were a few times that I did, but like so many personal questions, she had her stock answer at the ready. “We just wanted to get pregnant as soon as we could. We didn’t want to wait. And we got lucky because we had another boy, so it was like it never happened.” (If you say so.) She spoke those lines without hesitation or sadness.

When I was younger, I wasn’t brave enough to push her further. I was afraid of how unhinged she might get. I’d seen her when she fought with my dad. That was too much for me to handle. And when I was older, we were too far apart and I didn’t trust myself to be as comforting as I surely needed to be, should she break down completely. I am trying to say, given the subject matter, I wasn’t sure how much my genuine interest should matter. Where’s the line between wanting to know more about my mother and not wanting to turn her into an irreparable hot mess? Would I find myself feeling guilty and say things that I didn’t really mean? Or feel I owed her becoming more of the best friend she longed for me to be, like when I was little? (Being a people-pleaser by nature, it’s always a struggle for me to remember I am also “here.”)

For me, bringing up this child’s passing was ice too thin to stand on for very long.

But I could’ve listened all day and night, if she’d have taken off her game face. I wanted to know how she felt that day. I wanted to know if she and my dad were told why it happened. I wanted to know if every New Year’s Eve was always a mix of celebration and sadness. (As that was the night she delivered him, one month early.) I wanted to know why he had no name. Why he wasn’t buried. Did she wish he had been. I wanted to know how much she could enjoy her second pregnancy (my brother) having just gone through what she’d gone through. (My mother got pregnant as soon as she was able.) Or her third, which was me.

She waited to even tell me this news ’til I was 16. Unceremoniously. While she and I were having dinner in some diner. I cannot even remember what lead up to it or if that had been her plan all along that night. (Another good question.) I just remember my head spinning. Because (apparently) this secret was finally being allowed “out.” Which I didn’t understand nor like. My parents had been taking me to R-rated movies since I was 10. They were hardly shielding me from life’s cruelties in the real world either. Why did you wait so long to tell me something so important? And shouldn’t news like this be discussed altogether, at home? As I have no idea when or how my brother was told. The manner in which she revealed her story was almost as upsetting as the story itself. …My mother often let it be known she wanted my brother and me to appreciate the value of family, yet she acted quite the opposite.

But this brother who, for so long I never knew I had, has always stuck with me. If he’d lived, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be here. Though, oddly, sometimes when I look at family photos I’d imagine him there too. Would three kids actually have been better suited for parents that often liked their kids to choose sides?

It’s sad and embarrassing and shameful that his presence was wiped completely away. And I feel partially responsible. But maintaining or, more accurately, creating a sense of family between us two, wasn’t something I excelled at either. Never more obvious to me than his passing and his passing from history.

Many secrets remain with my mother. So it should be no surprise the bond between us held fewer and fewer meaningful moments. I didn’t try hard enough to change that. As I look back on our tenuous relationship, I wish I’d been more inspired and determined to bring us closer.

Nancy

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NEXT INSTALLMENT: Must You Do That?

Living Social

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While some people awaken to the sun or an alarm clock, growing up, I woke up to my mom’s telephone conversations. These rendezvous started hours before her 8am tee time, usually with either Sybil, Lucky or Rose – they spoke with one another by phone, only to join each other for their foursome a half hour later. Yet they had to share the day prior, and prepare for the one ahead; conversation tended to travel plans, advice, kids, the weather (and subsequent attire) and who made the stupid bid at the bridge table yesterday.

Waking to these daily calls and hearing my mom connect felt good – it was so normal, congenial and comforting to hear that inflection: “Have you ever? I never…” One would think these ladies weren’t taught complete sentence construction, but there was an established code among them and that proved sufficient. It was no shock that on my mom’s 65th birthday her 6 closest friends created a skit, each with a phone in hand, mimicking these daily exchanges in rhyme; ”I can’t get through, to Abby Lou” “she’s probably on the line with Rose, discussing the perfection of Jonathan’s nose” (her only grandson) …and so it went.

When my mom married her second husband, I think he was a tad surprised to discover he wouldn’t get to speak to his wife until late afternoon, upon her return from the day’s events. Golf or tennis was followed by lunch; a club sandwich and a coke, more chit chat, and a financial exchange as to who owed who what for the latest shiva spread, bar mitzvah or baby gift. On Tuesdays and Friday’s, bridge or mahj followed lunch, wrapping up with friends around 4:00 – they were good days.

On those non-game days, aside from rote errands, shopping and blow combs with Karen at Horst (her skill relative to cost was content for many phone conversations), my mom was caring for someone in her or my father’s extended family. Blessed with wonderful relatives — inevitably, old age, illness and disability prevailed, and my mom always stepped in and served as the “go to” family member that could be trusted for those hurting or alone. Her compassion had her forever visiting, with fruit compotes, briskets and bundt cakes in hand — those forgotten or lost amongst the busyness of other people’s daily lives were at the forefront of hers – she never shied away from taking on the “hard stuff.”

At 50, she was diagnosed with a bum hip, which limited her activity, like walking the lakes and what not, but there was still entertaining, cooking, swimming, and the highlight of every month – stock club: a club which lasted 50 years, as its age was aligned with mine, given my mom was pregnant with me upon its inception. While there were roughly 15 minutes addressing stock purchases and sales, the remainder of the afternoon was dedicated to The Meal. Usually, it was at someone’s house, and I always loved the leftovers when it was at ours. Even when it wasn’t, delectable desserts came home to me in napkins, stuffed somewhere in her purse.

My mom’s greatest joy was tied to the most basic rituals of everyday life. Friends and relatives. Morning tea and toast. A newspaper and the Today show, and a novel in the late afternoon sun – this was as good as it got. She believed there was always something to look forward to, and she loved her life, whether her days were commonplace or extraordinary. She had the knack (not to be underestimated) for enjoying the present, and the small pleasures in a day — even the routine phone call, to lament the irony that her grandson wound up getting her mother’s beautiful nose.

Liz
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Whenever my mother left the house, and it wasn’t to get groceries or walk the dog, I would be reminded— oh, right! she’s a person who does stuff other than decide what’s for dinner or when Pepper needs to go outside.

The only extra-Laurencian activities she made time for were playing tennis and playing bridge.

Bridge, however, happened at home, where I could see it. I mean, there was a set foursome, a monthly schedule scribbled on a calendar, and living room furniture to be rearranged… so that special furniture could be put in place. True, when her bridge club was at our house, this meant a folding table and chairs, otherwise wedged behind a spare sofa in the basement, were brought upstairs, but still…all the living room decor was given a once-over to make space. Then, it was Hoover’d and Pledge’d and the stack of Dionne Warwick albums was made handy. For the ladies.

And about that bridge table— I always wondered how my mother’s very modernist taste could allow for the unapologetically “homespun” tablecloth that covered it. For one thing, it was made of thick brown felt, covered (smothered, really) with bright orange and green rickrack trim and some hand-stitched playing card shapes. It was like someone’s first sewing class project. Its very presence, in a house that otherwise strived to be more urban than suburban, was a mystery to me. Like those people who you had no idea would wear the tam and plaid knickers etc when they golf. But it held its own in the coffee table drawer, next to wedding gift coasters and appetizer trays.

My mother didn’t do a lot of entertaining, though she was an excellent cook, so she always served a few hors d’oeuvres. From recipes bookmarked by more recipes, clipped out of newspapers. And then, yes, her own bridge mix— chocolate-covered peanut crunch, vanilla caramels, and almonds (no raisins, no jellies)— filled a lead crystal bowl. The energy boost sat next to the sharpened pencils and score pad. Once the chit-chat was over, it was game on.

I would sometimes peer around the corner just to watch my mom stare at her cards. This lady took bridge seriously; she was focused. …Who is this lady, I wondered. She wanted to win. As social as playing cards was, in theory— four women, no kids, no men, no errands— if someone less polished was filling in, it could be reason enough for my mom to bow out that day.

…Maybe it makes sense that my mother’s own social calendar wasn’t a resource for endless conversation. (Definitely not something you have on a tennis court either.) Because she was kind of picky about her friends. (And her family, frankly.) And fickle. One minute she’s laughing and chatting on the phone so loud everyone in the house can hear her and the next you find out she feels slighted by that same person and boom, they’re iced out. Her inner circle was a cast of changing players as well. Small as it was. My mother liked being the center of attention, if she believed she wasn’t, well… out of the address book you went.

Her love of bridge was not passed down to me. But she was not one to pass down traditions. And I was not one to ask, in fairness. …And I never considered ’til just now what that would’ve been like— sitting across from her at “that” bridge table. Watching her intent face, close up. Learning what she loved about this game so much. That picture, I cannot actually picture. But it is now something else I will wonder about.

Nancy
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NEXT INSTALLMENT: “Infrequently Asked Questions”

Facebook, circa 1950

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What would it be like to have had a Facebook page in 1950?  while color film was available, most recreational snapshots were black/white, so that’s what’s you'll see on "mom's page."  I enjoyed recalling her favorite films, restaurants, stars, etc., as they became a part of my life either by story, or better yet, shared experience.  

So here’s a glimpse of her life “back when,” and long before I came to be…
What would your mom’s page have looked like?

https://www.facebook.com/abbylou.evans

Liz

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My mother as a 22-year old… What would she sound like— when I’ve only known her as my mother? I stepped into her slingback heels and waited for her to tell me. …Turns out she’d sound like any other self-absorbed young woman in her 20s. I chose ’54 because that was the year she took a trip to Europe and fell in love with my father. I wanted to capture her place in the world (accurately enough) using the verbiage of today and the vernacular of Facebook. That’s what made it so damn fun— giving the past a present tense.

(It’s best if you scroll up from the bottom.)
https://www.facebook.com/estelle.adelman.9?fref=ts&ref=br_tf

Nancy
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NEXT INSTALLMENT: Her Social Calendar

What She Wore Best

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When people first met my mom, their initial reaction was how beautiful she was. It wasn’t just her big blue eyes or gorgeous figure that made her so stunning; with her unmatched sense of style and natural presence, she always left her mark wherever she traveled or lived. I always felt I had one of the “prettiest” moms in the class, the best dressed mom at the party – she had a special, un-definable something, and I admit, I was flattered by the compliments I got about my mother, despite her own modesty towards her outward appearance.

She loved clothes and was familiar with the work of every top designer ‘round the world – it was her thing. So, it’s hard to choose my favorite outfit of hers, as there were so many that highlighted her flair and bold taste, from the very casual to the elegant. Yet, a Bonnie Cashin wool/mohair coat, matching skirt and scarf worn during the 60’s and 70’s is a most memorable pick. It had a lot of life to it, as did my mom. Ms. Cashin, was a San Francisco-based designer who favored luxurious and organic fabrics to create her “art.” My mom’s coat was olive green, highly textured, knotty, shin length, with a large plaid, made up of thin lines of bright magenta and powder blue. She wore it with a wool turtleneck and pumps, always. The color combinations were vibrant and rich with character, and the matching skirt/scarf created an outfit, that along with excellent posture and natural beauty, could have put her on the pages of Vogue…really. Smashing.

I loved when she wore it to my mother-daughter events at school, as well as walking downtown on the Nicollet Mall, and lunching at the Young Quinlan Tea Room, a favorite, given the large fountain holding pennies of wishes. When my penny wish wasn’t to feed Biafrans or end the Vietnam War (hot topics of the times), I was wishing I could look like my mom…in her beautiful plaid outfit. Her appearance reflected care and confidence, and no matter what she wore, it was chic and copycats abounded — she coined these as “compliments.” Given her fashion acumen, it was no wonder she became the “dear Abby” of suburban couture – if you needed to know the rules around hemlines, which dress to buy for the wedding, and if the shade matched your shoes/skin tone – go ask Abby. She’d give you an answer to make you feel like a million bucks…which is why I still ask her for advice every time I enter my closet. Nearly every day.

Liz
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Watching the Oscar parade of designer gowns was the perfect palette cleanser to the Closet Runway stuck in my head— what my mother wore best never came close to a red carpet moment. Though she did walk the red carpet, if you count the old (old) TWA Terminal at JFK Airport. But for those “events,” my mother wore her customary traveling slacks and a beige shirt with a nondescript taupe pattern on it. Subtle with two “b’s.” …In plain gray, our Samsonsite luggage had more style. (Though this glass house-living writer is in no position to throw fashion stones.)

I’ve been trying to remember any glam-cam images of my mother going out “for a night on the town.” That’s an expression I never use when I think of her in evening wear (same with “evening wear”). But in truth, my mother did not slump on the effort. Even though she was heavy, it didn’t stop her from wanting to look nice when that’s what was called for. I have vivid memories of shopping with her. We’d scour Saks and Bloomingdale’s Dress Departments ’til we found the few size 14’s in stock by her favorite designers, Jack Mulqueen and Ciao. Every other label was dismissed. I always felt so awkward when she’d struggle to put something on that really didn’t fit her body. How I wanted to be anywhere else. I’d stare past her to the dressing room wallpaper and confirm or deny whatever she requested of me. I could see she liked to wear new things and look stylish, and despite all our problems, I always wished that feeling for her— that she could slip something on and feel like Grace Kellyowitz. I wanted to tell her “you look really pretty in that, mom” and mean it.

Instead, the end results were all very…unsexy. (“Sensible” is not just for shoes.) If I could open “that” closet today, everything in there would still be too old for me. And at this point, we’d be peers.

So for me, what my mother wore best was not wooden hanger-worthy. It was something more casual. When she wasn’t striving to make a fashion statement. I liked her in wrap skirts, light wool sweaters and loafers. In second grade, when she was our room mother— the designated driver of bringing needed baked goods to class (for reasons I no longer remember)— she once showed up in this midnight blue skirt with a cranberry and black tartan plaid and big wooden buttons down the side, topped with a pale blue turtleneck. And her signature little piece of jewelry— in this case, a simple gold collar pin. And I thought “Phew. You look all right mom. You look good. …Now get out before you come over to my desk and embarrass the crap out of me.”

Nancy
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NEXT INSTALLMENT: FACEBOOK, CIRCA 1950