I never knew my mother. Oh, I knew her; I’m not a foundling or an orphan. She was my mother, Rose and she fiercely raised me and defended me. What I mean is that I was the last of her seven children, and I never got to know her as a person as well as I should.
I was not an easy child to raise. I was an emotional hell-raiser, manipulative and stubborn. My mother must have struggled to deal with me after raising the other six kids. My oldest sister was in college when I was born. I have a nephew just two years younger than me. My two older sisters know my mother much better than I ever did. To them, she was a struggling single mom, then married to my dad (they were by her first husband). My dad was a different story, widower—they were married 10 years—who brought three boys of his own to the family. My mother had her hands full.
I don’t have a lot of memories of my first four years. My mom and dad divorced when I was four (I think?). I remember living in a small house in Marblehead, Mass, and going to see my dad on weekends. He lived in a three-story very old house a block from the beach in Lynn. The house had a widow’s walk, and we’d watch fireworks from there on July 4. Then he moved to a single-wide trailer in Peabody where he lived until he retired. It was rumored that he stashed the money from the big house for years (but I never found evidence of it).
My mother raised my older brother Jay (who writes here) and me mostly alone, going through a couple of boyfriends, before she met Dan. My memories of this period, all the way until I hit about 10, are sketchy. My mother had a life during this time, and I was probably a burden to her, but never really knew what it was like for her.
When I got past sixth grade, we moved to southern New Hampshire, and that was when I began growing up. When I was 19, and commuting to UNH, my mother and Danny retired and moved to southwest Florida. While I was in high school, she worked, first as a property manager (continuing the same job she had in Lynn, for the same developer), then at the local dog track. When she moved to Florida, she worked for a number of years at a drug store as a cashier. She always worked.
I have my mother’s sense of humor. She liked to tell some pretty blue jokes, and when she got laughing, it was infectious, to me at least. Our happiest times were when she laughed. Most of the time, I was too difficult to inspire laughter, and the arguments about disciplining me were legendary in my memory. When Rose got mad, she stewed for days, and it didn’t matter if you were the one who caused her to be mad. If you were in her vicinity, you were subject to venom. I can see where I got my stubbornness.
Rose liked sports, such as they were, as long as it was a Boston team, and as long as they were winning. She was no expert on the mechanics of baseball, football, basketball or ice hockey, but she enjoyed the Red Sox, Patriots (before they were winners), Celtics and Bruins. She used to watch Bruins games and shout “kill’em!” at the TV. If a Boston team was losing, it was a pretty good bet my mother would leave the room or turn off the TV (if the rest of us weren’t watching).
Speaking of the TV, Rose would have won an award for sleeping in front of it. She could fall asleep in ten seconds with a show on, and God forbid if you changed the channel. “I was watching that!”
“Mom, you were snoring.”
“Turn it back on. I want to see it.”
“OK,” and she’d be snoring in five seconds.
My mother had a few sisters, and they shared her stubborn nature. One time my aunt had visited from New York City with her husband, and I got home from school to find her standing in front of our apartment building with her bags. I asked what she was doing and she said “waiting for a cab.” Now, our apartment was back in the woods (in those days, when I’ve gone back things have changed) in New Hampshire. There were no taxis, unless you called one, and even then good luck. “Did you call a taxi?” Of course not. I just shook my head and went inside.
The sisters didn’t talk for a long time, and sadly, Rose entered into a long decline with Alzheimers about the year 2000. She never really reconnected with her sisters, or healed whatever differences they had. She had two brothers, one of whom was the sweetest guy you could ever meet and the other was a Don Rickles act permanently stuck in the “on” position. I liked both of my uncles, but I never really knew what my mother thought of them as brothers. She just didn’t share that kind of stuff.
That’s my regret today. There were all kinds of dynamics going on in my family. My mother had a great mind, strong emotions, and a lot of spirit. But I never really knew her other than as the person who could one moment laugh with me and the next scream at me for something I did. She used to feed pastrami to our pet snapping turtle (don’t judge). I once tried to get her to sit in a small plane I flew down to Florida to from New Hampshire to visit. She sat in the passenger seat, and I flipped the master switch to show her the instrument panel and she fled in terror. She didn’t like that I flew. I had to sneak out of the house for lessons at the local Air Force base.
When I brought up potentially joining (I liked flying), she told me she’d disown me if I did. I believed her. Rose didn’t joke about such things. The one thing she imparted to me on that front is when I went to college for a single semester in Columbus, Ohio, where I starved and hated it, I came home. She said that I had to get a job, go to college, or not live with her. I believed her. That’s how to raise a responsible adult. I did both—worked full time and attended UNH. It took five years, and I did it after she moved away.
Then it was over…my mother was someone to visit a few times a year. We’d go and do stuff in Florida. I moved to Georgia and would visit more often because it was a bit closer. When I became a Christian, I wouldn’t tell Rose, because the entire family told me it would kill her. She found out in probably the worst way possible for a Jewish mother to find out (finding my car at a church parking lot during Yom Kippur weekend). That was a terrible visit but we got past it.
From 2000 until her death, our visits became more perfunctory, as she left the house less and less. She never opened up to me as a person. Her hopes, dreams, and aspirations were that her children would do well. She put the four children she had through college—every one of us. One of my brothers from my father went to college and became a chemical engineer—he has since passed away. All of my brothers have led good lives. My sisters both did very well and are retired and happy. I think Rose would be pleased.
Of course, this is Mother’s Day. If you have your mom with you, know that her dreams and aspirations are for you to have a good life. Giving a rose to my mother Rose, is living a life she’d be pleased with, a happy life. That’s all I can do, and really all anyone can do.
Thank you Rose for giving me all you had.
I had a good friend who died too young, who was from Marblehead, MA. I visited his mother Dorothy and his brother and sisters there in 2005. Lovely town! I also remember the towns of Salem [the Gable House] and Lynn, where we stopped to eat on the way to Logan Airport to fly home to LA.