Thursday, December 06, 2007

an attempt to shop...

...or maybe just get out of the house. The local, very ramshackle, mini strip mall is the only place I get to regularly. It is easy -- just a mile or so away. And I don't feel like going far these days. Too muich of a hassle with two kids, work -- I just have no time.

The CVS is my main destination (probably because we have all been sick in one way or another -- requiring cold meds or psychotropic meds). It is a sad little CVS. But it functions well enough. Though finding Hanukah candles there was a fool's errand. Are there no Jews in this area? Come on!

Thursday, November 22, 2007


So I actually cooked something (Abraham is the cook of the house) -- but only two things: cranberry relish and cranberry steamed pudding. (I am the cranberry maven, turns out; I also love cranberry juice.) Both are my mother's recipes. I make the relish every year without fail. But the pudding is more of a pain, taking 2 1/2 hours to steam in a mold on the stovetop. I often skip it.

My mother used to ask every year if I had made both dishes. She was usually in Australia, but she loved Thanksgiving. And she seemed disappointed when I didn't make the pudding. So I made it this year, in her honor. She is smiling from whatever afterlife there is -- she believed life couldn't just end and promised she'd watch over me. So she'd better be, I say!

(Next posting will be about something besides my mother -- I hope -- Az's small size, only 12 pounds at 5 months old; Iz's storytelling and how much I miss him now that I have the demands of two children... my writing, my painting -- but so much is wrapped up in my mother's memory right now.)

Monday, November 19, 2007

I remember my mother

I spoke in person at my mother's memorial in New York City on October 14. It was so hard to prepare -- I almost decided against it. But then my stepmother suggested that I would regret it if I didn't. She was right. So I spoke. I was not at all nervous -- I usually am speaking in front of a crowd. And this was a crowd that included many writers and practiced speakers. I did completely choke up on the first sentence and had to pause for a good long time (probably seconds only, but felt like a while) until I was capable of speaking. Here is what I said:

I could not have asked for a better mother. She was unconditionally loving and supportive, sensitive and understanding. She was also a tremendous role model in many ways – brilliant, adventurous, creative. Yes, she could drive me crazy sometimes, but she was my mother. Whose parents don’t drive them nutty sometimes? And she had an amazing memory – which fed her writing ability and probably even demanded that she write.

My mother always said her earliest memories – from when she was 2 or 3 – were clear and her thoughts were more sophisticated than she could express at the time. I wish I could recall the exact memory she related as an example – it had to do with listening to a piece of music.

I am so worried that I will forget all the stories she told me and that the memories that only the two of us share will fade in me, the sole holder of them now. I have been writing again, as she always wanted me to do, and a great deal about her.

I have been writing “I remembers” in bits and pieces. With so many writers and teachers of writing in the room, you probably know what I am referring to. My mother assigned her students this exercise: Write a piece in which every sentence begins with “I remember.” It was a way to tease out concrete writing.

Since I have been considering how to convey what a fantastic, loving mother she was. And how interesting and intelligent. How much she meant to me, her only child.

A somewhat random selection of my “I remembers” is a place to start:

I remember she called me “darling.” As in, “I love you, darling” and “How are you, my darling?”

I remember how she neatly quartered apples and pears, sliding the knife effortlessly in an arc to cut out the seeds. Then she put the quarters on a little plate. I remember she cut the tip of a banana off instead of snapping the top open, leaving a cone of banana flesh, which I wanted to eat first, in the tip.

I remember she bought a miniature, kiddie-sized set of wicker table and chairs so I would sit still and eat. I remember her plan didn’t work. She also tried plates and bowls with pictures, such as those of Winnie the Pooh, so that I would eat all my food eagerly to get to the bottom. This also didn’t work.

I remember the giant floor pillows covered with colorful Moroccan print fabrics that she set up under the built-in bookshelves in the living room. I remember she would sit on the pillows with me and read to me. Or I would sit there and cut up her magazines to use pictures as paper dolls.

I remember my mother taking me to the carousel in Central Park. I remember she told me about the brass rings, hanging high, that carousel riders of the past would try to grab. I remember I believed she knew the origins of all sayings, phrases and words.

I remember my mother’s office, next to my bedroom, the walls covered in world maps. I remember her office in Sydney, covered floor to ceiling, wall to wall, in Monet posters. I remember she sent me cards and postcards reprinting paintings of windows with girls looking out of them, their backs to the viewer. I think they reminded her of me. They are on my office wall.

I remember my mother almost always had music playing – the radio tuned to the public radio classical station. I remember she recognized most pieces, “Oh, that’s so and so’s such and such.” She also knew the words – in the original language – of many opera pieces. And she would sing.

I remember my mother singing show tunes, often in the kitchen, and pre-rock pop tunes such as “You’re the top” and “Button up your overcoat.” I remember getting older – a teenager – yelling at her to stop – embarrassed though no one else was in the apartment.

I remember my mother tsk-tsking jaywalkers when she was driving, and I swear that she sped up to make her point. I remember she denied this.

I remember my mother’s “clothing museum” of our clothing. Things we’d never wear again, but that reminded her of significant events. Pigskin bell bottoms, a red corduroy toddler jacket with embroidered flowers on it. I remember a fair bit of polyester (a long black sheath dress, an orange/red/pink striped mini dress.

And these are just a small handful memories. But a place to start, to remember her, preserve our shared stories, to try to capture what she was like. I cannot believe I will never see her again.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

a tribute to my mother

My mother died on July 11, 2007, from metastasized ovarian cancer. I am so very sad. Following is what I wrote for her funeral:

My Mother

My mother always said her earliest memories – from when she was 2 or 3 – were clear and her thoughts were more sophisticated than she could express at the time. I wish I could recall the exact memory she related as an example – it had to do with listening to a piece of music.

This is one of my major concerns now that she is gone: I will not remember all the stories she told me. And the memories she and I alone shared are now just mine – and I worry I won’t remember everything.

I remember little things:

  • She called me “darling” (as in, I love you, darling”).
  • She neatly quartered apples and pears, sliding the knife effortlessly in an arc to cut out the seeds. Then she put the quarters on a little plate. She cut the tip of a banana off instead of snapping the top open, leaving a cone of banana flesh, which I wanted to eat first, in the tip.
  • She let me cut up her magazines and newspapers so I could make paper dolls of the pictures.
  • She bought a miniature, kiddie-sized set of wicker table and chairs so I would sit still and eat. (It didn’t work.)

Trying to write well, especially about my mother who deserves the best and who was herself such a fantastic writer, f eels difficult. Like rusty gears turning? The gears are there, but not used nearly enough these days. My mother always said I write very well – but she may have been too kind, idealizing me a bit.

I’ve often assumed she idealized me because I am her daughter. She thought I was beautiful, smart, a good writer – and said so often. (Who could ask for a better mum, right?) Of course I was special in her eyes. (I know how special now that I have two children.)

In talking to her friends over the past few days, I realize that she had a similar effect on others. They have said she made them feel special, she was an influential friend, she was a fantastic teacher – all variations on the theme: she had a major impact that made her daughter, friends, colleagues, and students feel significant, important.

I don’t think she knew what an impact she had on others – even on her own daughter.

  • She taught me that I should do what I love – even if my choice were quirky.
  • She taught me that reading and writing are essential to living a full life – I feel strange if I have not done one or the other for too long.
  • She taught me that women can do anything –it very occurred to me that I couldn’t do something because I was female.
  • She taught me that questioning and examining are simply what one does – Abraham, my husband, often teases me about examining and discussing the most trivial thing.

My mother was unconditionally loving and supportive, sensitive and understanding, rarely – if ever – critical (I know many women whose mother’s make comments about their weight, their life choices – not my mother). She knew me better than anyone (except perhaps my husband Abraham – but I write “perhaps”) – and I cannot believe I will never see her again.

I already miss talking to her on the phone – being able to call her and talk about nothing important. With the time difference between us, we often talked at odd hours for her, even 11 or 12 at night. Even the “nothing important” stuff was interesting to her. She could discuss anything as if it were a story or a philosophical question to be examined – whether the topic were something trivial like a bad haircut or something meaningful like becoming a mother.

I will miss her visits to the States. I am so sad that my sons will not get to spend more time with her. I cry when I see her handwriting, hear her recorded voice on her answering machine.

But this is the sad stuff.

Because she is still here in so many ways. That may sound clich├ęd – but if anyone could still be here, she could. She was that kind of presence.

When my mother came to visit – once a year, sometimes twice – she stayed with us in Cheverly, Maryland, just outside of Washington DC. Iz, who turned three on April, loves his grandma. She was not loud and boisterous with him, she was very much herself. She read to him, talked with him as he played with his toy animals (in the tradition of his grandma, telling stories with them), and she took him to the nearby playground.

Though I had taken him to the playground many times, I had never noticed the hollow but very alive tree on the walk there. My mother did. She was fascinated with it – because things could be hidden in it. She and Iz would put a flower, stick, or little toy in it on the way to the playground and pick it up on the walk home.

On her most recent visit in April, she was not up to taking Iz. But one day she went out for a walk by herself and took one of his little plastic dinosaurs. She left it there for him to find later. He was thrilled, and I will keep up the tradition she started.

I already called the tree “Grandma’s tree” in her honor because Iz did not see her often – so he would think of her. He insists on stopping at it every time we walk past, and notes it even when we drive past, “Look, Grandma’s tree!” Now it will remain Grandma’s tree, so he does not forget her.

I believe Izwill remember her. She was a powerful presence, even though she was quiet – maybe because she was quiet. (Though “quiet” is not the right word. Thoughtful? Observant? Calm? No one word can describe the presence she had.)

My son, Az, was born on June 14 – when my mother as already in the hospital. In a way, his birth complements her passing – maybe offering some healing. And though he will not meet her in the flesh, her line and her spirit can live on in him. I look at his little face as I write this, and, for a moment, he looks just like her.

The day after she died, we went to the tree with a bunch of flowers from our garden – black eyed susans and purple cone flowers – and left them in the tree for her. I imagine her spirit checking in with us – making sure we are okay, watching over us. In a short letter she wrote me when she was first diagnosed in 2005 (a letter I just opened because she instructed me not to open unless she died), she wrote, “I’ll watch over you, and just think of me and how I love you.”

Thursday, July 05, 2007

many happenings

Since I last wrote (over nine months ago), I have:
  • been pregnant (Sept-June)
  • traveled to Australia to cheer up my mother who was being treated for metastasized ovarian cancer (Dec-Jan)
  • had a baby (June 14)
  • heard my mother is now actually dying from further metastasized ovarian cancer (June) and may only have weeks to live
More things have happened, but new baby and dying mother are the major ones. I will write more details soon.