My mother died.

As Reggie Jackson claimed when he went to the Yankees, she was “the straw that stirred the drink,” she made things happen and people followed her, everyone testified throughout my life how much they loved my mother, but I must say it was not easy being her child, in another lifetime my mother would have been a career woman, she may or may not have had a family, but it was a different era, in so many ways.

We lived in the suburbs. My parents had a rich social life, based on people my mother had met at the Jewish Community Center when she arrived in Bridgeport, Connecticut after marrying my father in 1948. Oh, did I tell you my parents met hitchhiking? My dad picked up my mom as she and her friends had their thumbs out after attending a concert at Tanglewood. My parents could never tell us not to hitchhike, then again, that hasn’t been a thing since the seventies.

My mother grew up in Peabody, Massachusetts. Famous during my early years as the home of a mall, which was of the old stripe, i.e. outside, and then a second, indoor mall was built next door. I mention all this because a store in said mall, first in the outside one, then in the inside one, was Jordan Marsh, a department store that purveyed the best blueberry muffins you’ve ever eaten. The store is now gone, but you can find the recipe online. But good luck replicating the muffins, it would be like trying to make the famous tuna fish dip from Carlos ‘n Charlies, essentially impossible.

Peabody was dominated by tanneries. That’s where my grandfather and uncle worked. My grandfather and grandmother immigrated from the old country, Russia and Poland respectively, at least that’s how I remember it, I’m not big on genealogy and I must say my older sister Jill was closer to my grandparents than me, she’d go there every summer, I got a bit freaked out by the smell, and the borscht, however we did go to Peabody regularly. One of my earliest memories was lying on the porch on the back of the three story apartment house my grandfather Louis owned, it sloped severely and I was afraid to go to the edge, and I was also afraid of nuclear war because it was the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. My mother came out and said not to worry, because if they dropped the bombs we’d all die.

That was my mother. She was opinionated and judgmental and it wasn’t until I went to college that I realized she was not God. I didn’t need to rebel against my mother in high school, she was already a liberal Democrat, and she lived to go to the theatre in New York City. There was an unlimited amount of money for the arts in my household. Ask for a physical item and there’s a good chance you wouldn’t get it, want to go to a movie or a play, the wallet was open. Then again, if I got too into something, there was a backlash, my mother was supportive of my skiing until I called the Stowe WATS line every day for the ski report and told her the conditions, until I bought so many records I had more than anybody else. But that’s where my father came in. He was wound tight, he’d had a hard upbringing. He was not a dad’s dad. He never sat on the couch with me and drank beer and watched sports, as a matter of fact, he might not have watched an hour of television in his life. But he did love “The Flintstones,” because they had a STONEWAY! My father was very into music, he brought his violin everywhere, he didn’t play well, but he loved to play.

So my mother was the middle of three children. Her older brother Herbie was the golden boy. He served in World War II and went to Tufts and became a chemical engineer. My mother had to convince her parents to let her go to Boston University. At first she lived at home, then in Boston, she made lifelong friends there, although they really didn’t reconnect and hang out until after we were out of the house. And oh yeah, my mother was one of the most popular girls in her high school, which we drove by all the time, on the way to Lynn to see relatives, or to the Salem Willows, or candlepin bowling, that’s what I did with my uncle Harvey, the youngest of the three children, in retrospect he might have had autism, he never went on a date in his life, but we were good friends. Harvey hurt his back at the tannery and had so many back operations that his pain became chronic and he ultimately O.D.’ed from pain pills in his forties. My grandmother, who he lived with, never recovered from his passing.

My mother studied for a library science master’s degree down the road at Fairfield University. She ultimately switched to American Studies, and got a master’s degree in that, but my older sister Jill insists she ultimately got the degree in library science too. It takes a village to write an obituary, and between the three of us, Jill, myself and my younger sister Wendy, we’ve pieced the details together. Then again, there have continued to be surprises even at this late date. Just a couple of years back, Jill told me my father had gastric bypass surgery. He had been fat, but I thought the surgery was for pain. He always said he’d had two-thirds of his stomach removed, turns out it was true!

Anyway, I mention the library because at the end of my tenure in elementary school my mother took a job as a librarian in a school in Bridgeport, in an impoverished neighborhood. I did not like that she worked, I liked having her at home when I came back from school. This was the fifties and sixties, none of the mothers worked, and no one was divorced. Then again, Selma was a nurse, occasionally. Yes, Selma Sheketoff. Everybody had a last name like that, “Smith” was rare. We were best friends with the Sheketoffs, went on vacation with them every summer to places like the Catskills or Atlantic City, and after school I could journey to their house and open the door without ringing the bell. Now no one even leaves their door unlocked.

My mother met Selma and her other friends playing volleyball at the Jewish Community Center. And they had a community. Parties constantly, get-togethers, the kids were nearly secondary, not that we were not paid attention, bring home a bad report card and it was death, and we all knew we were going to college and going to become professionals before we entered kindergarten.

And another tale my mother told me… I was born in April 1953, at the time my parents lived in an apartment in Bridgeport, we moved into our house in Fairfield on Halloween, and my mother did not move out until 2003. But one of the activities we used to have when I visited her in the past two decades, she moved into a condo in Bridgeport after selling the house, was driving down the old streets, by the house my father’s mother lived in, in the neighborhood where he bought us lemon ice. Just a few years ago, my mother pointed out the laundromat she and her friends always used to go to, she said they left the baby carriages, with the babies in them, OUTSIDE! Yes, it was a different era.

So, my mother was very creative. She wrote musicals for the Temple. And she knew how to type, she’d type my term papers, she insisted I take typing in high school, maybe one of the best decisions ever.


My mother was a culture vulture. She went to Judith Crist movie weekends. Movies were art to her. My high school friends would come over and always remark thereafter about their conversations with her, they were wowed. And one also said going to my house was like going to a museum. It was anything but stuffy, but my mother had purchased artifacts. Oh, one more thing, we had an open door policy at my house, anybody could stop by anytime, I never had to ask “permission” to bring my friends over. And, also, my father owned a liquor store, so there was endless soda at my house, you could have as much as you wanted, I once trooped my entire Little League team from the diamond to my garage so they could all have their own bottle. I never liked milk, and I never remember drinking it, except for chocolate milk, I drank soda. But at the time it was usually flavored Cott, and even Yoo-hoo, if you could call it a soda, which you can’t. But the Yankees were aligned with Yoo-hoo and I lived for baseball. My dad threw like a girl, if at all, but he took me to the games, with my mother, even though my mother knew more about baseball than he did, she was very into sports, she lived to play golf, and twenty years ago, after back operations prevented this, she was devastated.

My mother would not let us watch TV during the afternoon, no way. She’d insist we leave the house, go outside. You could not lay about, at any time. We rode our bikes to friends’ houses, and also there were music lessons and other activities, but don’t ask my mother to drive. My mother never ever picked us up from elementary school, even if there was a hurricane, which actually happened. She’d always tell me to ask someone else for a ride. Maybe this exacerbated my social anxiety. I remember calling her from the even more distant high school, asking her to pick me up, and her telling me to walk home.

Oh yeah, my mother never ever made breakfast for us, NEVER EVER! She slept in until ten a.m. every day. I know, this stuns most people, but it was de rigueur for us, our mother had more important things to do. And she was a late night person and was lax on bedtimes. When everybody else was going to bed at 6:30, we stayed up until 8. And if there was something good on TV, like the Oscars, or on Johnny Carson, she made sure we watched it, once again, there were no rules for art. But she denigrated my watching of dumb television shows. “Bonanza” was cool, “My Mother the Car” and the “Beverly Hillbillies” were not. Then again, just before going out on a Friday night in November 1963, she insisted we watch Jack Paar to see this new musical group from England, the Beatles.

So, my mother made me who I am. It was my mother who kindled and supported my interest in the arts. Then again, once again, once I got too into them, that spelled trouble. I’d like to tell you my parents were supportive of my writing, of my life, but that would be dead wrong. My father always wanted me to be a lawyer, he didn’t care whether I ever practiced, he said it was a good background, it would pay dividends in the future. I went, practiced law for ten minutes, and then moved on. But my mother had no patience for my struggle, she wanted me to live the life of a professional. For my mother it was never enough. If you said you had dinner with John Lennon, then spoke to the president and flew to the moon, she’d invariably ask…SO WHAT ELSE DID YOU DO?

And I remember forwarding an e-mail from Quincy Jones, back in the first decade of this century, before any dementia set in, when she could still go on the computer. I got no response. In our next conversation I asked her if she’d read the e-mail. She said yes, with no emotion. She thought it was just from someone named “Quincy Jones,” when I explained the reality she famously responded…HOW WOULD YOU KNOW QUINCY JONES?

There was always someone better, who knew more. I’m only overcoming that at this late date. I’ve felt inadequate, I’ve believed there were men in white robes who knew more. And the “New York Times” was godhead, if it was written there it was fact, and the writers were superior beings. To her dying days she read the paper, even though with dementia I’d see her read the same section for hours.

Not that she was completely gone, but it had gotten worse in the last three years, and in the last eight months one step beyond that. She couldn’t wrap her head around Covid, we’d have a whole discussion about it and then she’d ask me to explain the virus to her all over again.

And we were having these conversations because she wanted to move from Connecticut to California and I said to wait until Covid was over. But she insisted on coming. She arrived less than a month ago with undiagnosed cellulitis which begat sepsis and after being in the hospital for five days she was transferred to a rehab place where she died Wednesday night. She was 93, she would have been 94 next month.

And my mother had a good life, a great life. My father adored her and did whatever she wanted. As my mother often said, my father slept through some of the greatest theatre of all time. He’d go, but he could not stay awake. And as my father moved up the economic food chain, they’d travel incessantly. My father would just insist she tell him in advance, so he could block out the time. She insisted my father do no work on trips, but at times he couldn’t help himself, he lived on the phone, get a message wrong and you would be hit, literally.

So my mother was the social one, my father the business backbone. You could talk to my mother for hours, you could listen to my father, but you could not really tell him your hopes and dreams, your feelings.

But it’s all over now. They’re gone. I’m an orphan, albeit at 67.

And when I turned 67 last April, it was the first time I felt old. I’m not talking emotionally or physically as much as intellectually. I am going to die too, sooner rather than later, the younger generations are here to replace us, and they are pushing me and my generation down the line, even if so many boomers want to deny it.

As I referenced above, my mother was never satisfied, therefore I’ve been pushing for the brass ring my entire life. And I’m not about to give up now, but one has to wonder if those who’ve got a 9-6 job and a house and a family are better off. Then again, my mother never played in the big leagues, she never understood the business hierarchy. Not that she didn’t have an opinion, not that she didn’t tell you what to do.

So, as you can tell, I’m conflicted about my mother. She inspired me to be who I am, but she was also my nemesis. Then again, she mellowed in the past seven or eight years. But before that…it was intense.

And one more thing… If you have the ability to have children, please have more than one if you can, my conversations with my two sisters have gotten me through these past few days and we will lean on each other in the future. Also, do your best to have and maintain a love relationship, without Felice I’d be in outer space, reeling.

And Jill called me last night and said she felt guilty, that she wasn’t grieving enough. I felt the same way, but I’d been afraid to say so. Is it because my mother was old, and I’d only seen her once since she’d moved to California in October, from a distance, for Covid reasons, or is it because of the chiaroscuro nature of our relationship? I don’t know. But I do know my father had terminal cancer, so on one hand I was prepared for his death, but when he ultimately passed, I was not, I was numb for a month and it took a year for me to normalize, will it be the same with my mother?

And it’s that time in our lives. The first parent is the worst. That’s when you truly confront death, you cannot believe they’re gone. Is the second just easier? Once again, I don’t know.

We’re shipping my mother’s body to Connecticut, to be buried next to my dad. My mother never ever went to the cemetery, I did, it was weird, but it did bring me back, made me tingle, made me thing of interactions with my dad, then again those never fade, just like my mother will never fade from my mind.

Physical items are not as important as experiences. My parents lived by this mantra. And my mother didn’t care in the least for physical items, if they broke, fine, it was my father who flipped out if you wrecked the car.

So I guess this brings me back to the beginning. My mother was a god in her world. Looked up to. The one who said “let’s put on a play,” let’s go do this and that. Who joked all the while. She had a large personality, but it rarely rubbed anyone wrong, she had it all together. But she’d grown up in tougher circumstances, she questioned prices, she was cheap, it was my father who spent, albeit never extravagantly.

So I am numb, off-kilter, and it’s such a strange time, verging on the holidays with Covid. And I’m in a better place than I’ve ever been in my life, although most of it is behind me.

But I am my mother’s son. That is the person you know. She’s the one who made me. Sure, my father taught me to stand up to people, to be myself, but the interests you see me write about, they all came from her. She did a good job, it’s finished, there’s nothing left to do, her work is done, so I guess she can move on. And on one hand, it’s freeing for us three. Maybe our mother’s judgment in our heads will dissipate. But she was too strong a force for her influence to be forgotten, ever.

P.S. Oh, just one more thing, her name was “Muggs.” Never ever Muriel, NEVER EVER! She’d gotten the nickname in college, and I never heard a good explanation, but this was her. And just like the name, she was irreverent. She only sent humorous greeting cards, they were all you could send to her. She was anything but touchy-feely. Her idea of cooking was boiling Jolly Green Giant vegetables in a bag. But she and my father knew how to live the good life. They took us to ethnic restaurants, they broadened our horizons, they made us who we were…and for that I am thankful.

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