Friday, May 6, 2011

Mother's Day

Mother’s Day in the USA is this coming Sunday, May 8th. Someone on Facebook has come up with the idea to post a picture of your mother as your profile picture until Monday May 9th. Normally I don’t participate in very many Facebook ‘events’, but this one struck a chord and I posted a wedding picture of my mother. I think it’s a good idea and a nice way to honor our mothers on Mother’s Day.

My father passed away in 1985, and my mother in 2001. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of them both. My parents were quite strict when we were young, so it took some doing on my part to really get to know them as people and as friends, but I had managed to do that by the time I entered my twenties. I remember being afraid of my mother when I was a child; she had her rules and ways of doing things, and you did not want her to get angry at you if you broke the rules or ignored her wishes. But she was also the type of mother who had milk and cookies ready for us each day after school, and the door to our house was always open to our friends. She liked our friends. Several of my friends to this day will still comment on how kind my parents were to them when they were growing up, especially when there were problems or emergencies. That is always nice to hear, because I remember them that way too. And when we finished each school year, they would take us and our friends out for ice cream sodas at the local Howard Johnson restaurant. Those are nice memories.  

After my father died, my mother and I became close friends. It was a friendship that was defined in large part by her personality, likes and dislikes—she was a quiet person by nature, reserved rather than extroverted, friendly, curious but not nosy, kind, hospitable, not a big talker, and not a gossip. She was a doer and we enjoyed doing a lot of different things together--going out shopping, walking, exploring new towns, driving around just to drive around and take in the local sights, and going to the theater or ballet in Manhattan. She was born in Brooklyn but moved to Tarrytown when she married my father. She ended up loving Tarrytown and was a member of the Tarrytown Historical Society. One of the things I miss most about her is her incredible holiday spirit. It was infectious, the energy she had around the holidays, especially Christmas. She loved everything about Advent and Christmas and could not wait to start Christmas shopping. She pushed for getting the tree up and decorated each year. She loved buying gifts for others and was generous in that way to a fault. She thought very little about herself and I always remember worrying about that as I was growing up. It always seemed to me that she should pay more attention than she did to her own wishes and dreams. But she didn’t. When she got old, she had very few wishes; the few that she had were easy to fulfill—we would go shopping in White Plains and then eat lunch at the local diner. We always ordered a grilled cheese sandwich and a dill pickle and cole slaw on the side, followed by coffee or tea.  She was a real tea drinker—she loved her tea. Sometimes during the summer, she wanted to go to Friendly’s in Pleasantville to get an ice cream sundae, and that was always fun, getting in the car and driving around the Tarrytown Lakes and talking about the changes in the town and the area on our way to Pleasantville. When I visited her on my annual trips to New York from 1990 onward, I would stay with her and we would enjoy our movie nights—watching videos of some of the old films that she liked, like Adam’s Rib, Meet Me in St. Louis, Home Alone, White Christmas, and others. I find it both comforting and sad to watch those films now, because they always remind me of her. It is funny what we remember about our parents; my father was a great reader and I remember my talks with him about the books he/we had read, or about the business world and his work experiences, or about faith and the church. With my mother, our conversations were more oriented toward school, the teachers, the women in the neighborhood who were her friends, local events, and the like. She spoke very little about her youth, but as she got older, I tried to absorb the little information she did share, so that I could get some idea about her mother and father, both of whom died before she married and had her own children. She always spoke well of her father; he seemed to have really loved and respected her mother. I do know that her mother went blind when she got older and that my mother lived with her and took care of her; I understand now that my grandmother probably had glaucoma and that there was no treatment for it at that time, with resultant blindness. She was also close to her brother, but did not see much of him or her sister after she married. But that seemed to be more common in those days; women married and had families; husbands and children became their priorities. This was prior to the feminist movement. But my mother did not really have many tales to tell about her growing up, and we always wondered why she was so secretive about her youth. It always made us that much more curious, but she did not spill the beans no matter how much we questioned her about her childhood. With my father, it was quite different. He was quite willing to share his childhood and teenage experiences with us. I feel that I got to know my father in a way that I never quite managed with my mother.

A few years ago I took it upon myself to make a family album for myself and my sister and brother. When my mother died, my sister and I went through her belongings and found many old black and white photos and the corresponding negatives. I spent some years sorting through them all, arranging them chronologically. I scanned the good photos and made a digital photo book that came out surprisingly well, especially the photo reproduction of my parents’ wedding reception at the Hotel St. George in Brooklyn. It is amazing to see all their family members and friends gathered in one place—a perfect photo in such regard. I have spent a lot of time poring over that one photo, trying to identify each person at the reception. This leads me back to the photo of my mother that I posted on Facebook; it is her wedding photo and she looks beautiful and happy. It is a reminder to me once again that my mother was a young woman with hopes and dreams of her own, and that she looked forward to her marriage and her future in the same way as every other bride. Not everything worked out as she would have liked, that I know. It never does. My father’s illnesses were something that neither of them could have predicted would assume such a large place in their lives. Yet my mother stayed energetic and positive until the end, something which also makes me admire her since I doubt that I would have had half her energy and positive outlook faced with similar situations. So on this Mother’s Day, I honor her memory by writing about her. She has influenced me in so many ways, and I am forever grateful for having had the time to spend with her as she got older. I only wish it had been more in the few years before she passed. But she never complained about my living in Norway, and I remember that she told me that she planned to come to stay with me in Oslo a few weeks before she died. I would have loved that. 

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