When I was a baby, my mom had to put my watermelon into her Osterizer blender and turn it into watermelon juice because my esophagus was so constricted that I could not even swallow mushed-up watermelon. I’m now pushing 57 years old and if you want an indication of just how much I own my mom, you need look no further than that I made it past 1, let alone 56.
She was the most caring soul I knew for much of my life and that was true well into adulthood.
For example, it was the late 1990’s and my job had me traveling around the Pacific Rim pretty regularly. I had been sitting on a conference panel in Singapore; I had the flu and with over a 100 degree fever; and I was in a place that was 100 degrees and raining. I felt like crap. I was flying back to Portland, through Los Angeles, and I planned to stay with mom and dad for a few days. I got off the plane, walked out of LAX, and sitting on a little bench in baggage claim was my mother. I had never wanted to see that wonderful smile so much. Both of my parents were amazing that day. But, I’m not embarrassed to say that, even at nearly 40, I really needed my mum!
She showed me the same tenderness and love when I lived at home throughout my time at CalArts. When I’d come home from school and walk in at 2AM she’d pretend that she had just “accidentally” awoken. Then she’d feed me like the good Jewish mother she was.
In fact, while I was in college, mom and I had a very special relationship. Once a week, on my way to school, we would go together to IHOP. Rich and Sandra were both in the San Diego area, dad was off to work, and I sort of had her to myself. Just seeing, in my mind’s eye, her face as we hung out and shared our coffee and pancakes kind of makes me tear up.
As I grew older we shared some more interesting beverages than coffee. After I turned 21, mom loved to have me join her in her occasional Scotch. Many people know her as the tiny lady who allegedly could nurse a single Glenlivet all night. She SAID she just let the ice melt but, strangely, she got more opinionated and a lot funnier as those cubes melted. I could save a lot of money if I could have the ice cubes that she had! Regardless of quantity, I’m proud to say that this Glenlivit thing was not always true. You see, she and her brother Bud used to drink only Chevas Regal. It was I who introduced her to her to single malts! Maybe that’s the only thing I did for her that was anywhere near as good as the things she did for me.
So far I’ve been focusing on memories but now I want to move forward and to speak about blessings and regret.
For the past 28 years I’ve been in Oregon, doing lots of volunteer work, and having insanely busy jobs. Because of that, I owe an awful lot to my brother Rich and my sister Sandra. I was once the cherished first son with the penchant for single malt scotch. But, I do know that Sandra and Rich did an enormous amount for mom when I wasn’t around. I love them for their deep devotion to mom in the last years of her life.
One last thing.
The night before she died Rich called and told me she was ill. Perhaps naively, we thought she would recover. After all, she bounced back from everything else. On her last day he called again. “You’d better get down here”, he said. I left a meeting, booked a flight, headed for the airport and even changed my booking while on the road to try and get to LA in time to see her. Sandra did similarly but she drove in. In both cases we owe our spouses a lot. In my case, my wife stopped what she was doing to get me to the airport. In Sandra’s case, her husband packed for her and even remembered to toss in her favorite Ugg boots. That is the kind of relationship that we must cherish because that is the kind of devotion you can step back from, say “what would Sally do”, and know it would be the best of all possible choices. She was a role model of right action.
I got to the Burbank airport and Rich picked me up. I missed seeing my mother by less than 2 hours. This I deeply regret. But I want to tell you something. When I walked into the room and saw my mother’s soft and peaceful face, her spirit now gone, only two things saved me from a much deeper regret.
- First, that in her final hours my brother held his cell phone up to her so I could say goodbye. He says she knew it was me and smiled. I’ll choose to believe that and to thank him.
- Second, that my sister was there in time to see her. I feel blessed beyond measure that Sandra made it to be with mom as she passed. She was with mother as she left us and she was there to hug me and to cry with me. For that, too, I’m grateful.
To my father I want to say thank you for being there for some very difficult years. I love you too. I also want to say this:
“Don’t give away that bottle of Glenlivet that’s in the cupboard over the stove”. I hope that you will keep it with you so that with each visit I can remember her amazing smile with a sip. It represents one of 2 drinks by which I’ll always remember my mom and it’s one hell of a lot better that watermelon juice!!