One more candle tonight. A yahrzeit candle to memorialize my mother, gone now 17 years. I will remember. I will cry.
The day she died was our granddaughter Adiel’s 5th birthday. Adiel was spending the summer with us in Herzliya, attending the nearby kaetenah (summer day camp) and we had decided that a birthday party was in order even though Grandma Ida was quite ill at the Meir Hospital nursing facility in Kfar Saba.
So the whole family gathered. Aunt Pam and uncle Matt and cousin Liat from Zichron. Aunt Janet and Uncle Ze’ev from Herzliya Cousins Tali and Ilan. And Grandpa Sam, Grandma’s devoted, adoring husband of 62 years.
We had just finished the cake ceremony and sang the dual renditions of Happy Birthday/Yom Huledet Sameach, when the phone rang. Grandma had died.
That morning Adiel and I had baked her muffins. Our normal routine was to visit after kaetenah, in the late afternoon. That day, fortunately, we had deviated from our schedule and visited first thing in the morning. We cajoled her to eat the muffins, to no avail. Her body had already closed down. Food was of no interest.
My mother was never what you might call a big eater. But she was an accomplished cook. And she always cooked to order. Meals in our house when I was growing up were customized. My grandfather enjoyed her homemade soup and would eat the flanken that was typically swimming inside the broth for his main course, with always a starch and a vegetable. My father usually had lunch at about 2 pm when he had a break from work. He was a man who enjoyed his meals! But, never leftovers! Soup had to be hot! And every meal was quite simply an elaborate undertaking. My mother loved the cooking (so she said) and was definitely not subservient. But, what is strange, is that I never remember her actually sitting down and eating with any of us. She cooked. She served.
I’ve described my mother as some sort of household help. Nothing could be further from the truth. She was actually a renaissance woman, with a superb and ongoing education. She had attended Brooklyn College at a time when most of her female Jewish cohort were not going past high school diplomas. She loved poetry, especially the romance poets. She loved classical music, especially opera. And she was a major fan and frequent attendee at Broadway shows, with her two old friends Shirley and Esther.
Shirley and Esther were both college educated as well but not when she met them. She was a new girl, in the 4th grade, when she shyly entered an overcrowded Brooklyn classroom. There were simply no seats left and children were already sharing desks, with their attached seats. The teacher asked who would find room for Ida, the new girl, and Shirley and Esther volunteered. They remained friends throughout their lives. Their Tuesday night trips to Broadway became an honored tradition, at $2. per show.
My mother was also a bit of a linguist. She spoke Yiddish fluently. Her English was perfect, syntax, grammar and vocabulary. She was a daily NYTimes crossword puzzler and enjoyed the Sunday puzzle immensely. She always finished, in the days when there was no Google to help with obscure clues. She spoke some French and Spanish, probably not as well as she thought but better than I for sure! Hebrew became her nemesis though. Many years in Herzliya and she remained in kitah aleph.
My mother and father had an unbelievable marriage. I heard them argue once in my entire life. I never. as a child, realized how unusual this was. They truly lived in simple peace and harmony. In their old age they would play cards together, sitting at the dining room table in Herzliya, keeping a running tab of who was winning and how much money was at stake. The money was never paid. The tab grew and grew. But they laughed and found pleasure in each other. Theirs was a true love story..
Their lives in old age were filled with routine shopping. cooking for the Shabbat meals, vsiting the kids, and qvelling at the arrival of new great grandchildren. How ironic and sad it was, therefore, that our Sabra grandson, Dov Itai, was born only a week after my mother died. Itai is in memory of my mother, Ita. Sharing his beautiful brit milah ceremony in Caesaria, without my mother, was truly reality setting in. Life went on. She didn’t.
It’s not easy to capture my mother, any mother. She was, as most mothers are, such an integral part of my every moment. I still feel that she is with me. Maybe she is. It was always my habit to call her when I returned home, from the supermarket or from a trip to some foreign locale. A few weeks ago when we returned from Russia, I again felt the gnawing need to phone her to let her know we were home safely. Mom, we’re home. Now you can rest.
Oh yes: Mom, I love you.