Sunday, May 12, 2002

My Mom

On Mother's Day here, there's a sharp piece of glass lodged under my heart, it pricks at my heart every so often today, to know my mom isn't here anymore. Surely she's here in spirit though, when I think of all the funny practical stuff she taught me. She grew up in OOOOOOOOOOOklahoma where the wind goes sweeping down the plains, spending a good deal of her teenage years reading voraciously or watching movies in the local bijou to learn how rich people in New York City drank tea from china cups. At 18, she plunked down the money she'd been saving for years to buy a train ticket to Manhattan and leave her cow town behind.

She loved describing her arrival in New York in 1936, which was 100X more swell than she even dreamed, but her embarrassment to have nothing to wear but her homemade calico cowgirl dresses. She set about getting rid of the dresses and her hick accent and her love of cowboy songs. These stories always amazed us, since we were the urban and suburban result of growing up in NYC at 80th Street between Madison and Park, Riverdale, NY and later Greenwich, CT with a mom who looked a lot more like Jackie O than Patsy Cline. We weren't rich, but riding a wave of 1950's prosperity, my dad's ability to talk anyone into another job in the booming Madison Avenue advertising biz of the time, and my mom's relentless push to give her kids a better upbringing than the dusty Okie life she'd lived.

Still, she was that energetic unlikely paradox of downhome no-nonsense candor and big city polish. Her advice on marriage, "It's easy to find some guy to screw you, what's hard is finding a guy who'll give you a good backrub."

What she was best at, as so many moms are, was making you feel everything was going to be okay — as long as you made your bed first thing every morning. I still make my bed first off, even in hotel rooms, believe it or not.

Whatever else she was, she was just an enormous amount of fun. Sometimes she served us dinner backwards starting with dessert, "just for the hell of it." She was playful and silly. When I was in my teens, despite her big brood of five kids, she took the time to plan a week vacation for each of us, alone with her. I remember being in Puerto Rico with her and one Saturday night she proposed we sit in the lobby, pretend to be waiting for someone, but just spend the evening looking at all the weird people going in and out and just make cracks about them, which we did and had a hilarious time doing it. She was a killer Charades player, she could trounce you at Scrabble, she did The Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle in ink.

She was smart as a whip, but never got a chance to go to college. But even into her 70's she was better read than any person I know. Once I was arguing about politics with her, something I'd read in The New York Times by some prominent journalist. She stopped me cold and looked at me incredulously, "Didn't you read his piece in Rolling Stone?!" she says to me. And, of course, she was right, the same writer had written a seminal piece in RS, but I'd missed it. I walked away from the kitchen table stunned, chastened and thinking, "I'm 30 and she's 70 and she's reading Rolling Stone and I'm not?" It wasn't about that magazine, it was about the fact that she was a tireless and deep reader.

And did I mention, she loved me? Loved me with a unconditional but tough love that didn't seem to have a limit. I could always count on looking into her face, being stopped dead by those pretty green eyes of hers, flashing back one message loud and clear, "You're my darling daughter, you can do no wrong, I love you so."