I’ve been bad about writing with my mother as a focus. I suppose that’s because I don’t think we had much of a relationship until later in her life and by then it was unwell mother and helper son. I may be denying stuff but I’m not so sure. As this week contains both the anniversary of her birth (12/1) and the anniversary of her death (12/5), I thought it was time to write this piece of life at 222.
Mom was one of “the three weird sisters:” Eleanor was the beautiful one, my mom, Edith was the smart one and Lillian was the youngest. Aunt Lil always laughed as she told that. I knew my aunt Lil as a professional success and a leader of a national Jewish organization.
Edith was actually mom’s middle name. Irene was her first name but she switched them. I don’t know if it had anything to do with my father’s mother’s name being Irene.
In the fifties and sixties a working mother was not typical. Mom was the office manager of a very successful dental practice on Madison Avenue. When the senior dentist passed away in 1971, less than a year after my dad, she moved on. She became executive secretary to a vice president at Group Health Incorporated.
I don’t remember doing things alone with Mom while growing up, but I do remember things with the family. Mom lit the shabbat candles and the four of us ate together; whether the table was in the dining room or in the living room depended on the year.
I’m not even sure mom came to school plays and things. I know that dad was at the Mikado in sixth grade at PS9 because he was the director but whether mom attended is unknown.
I remember going to the theater as a family. I remember those parties around the Thanksgiving day parade on Central Park West in her boss’ friend’s apartment.
Liquor always flowed freely at home. I remember living room gatherings where mom drank gin. Dad drank scotch. Mom smoked Kents. Dad smoked Chesterfield Kings.
While dad did not believe in corporal punishment, mom felt differently. I only remember being struck that one time when dad was in California on business in the 60s and she smacked me. You may recall that I went directly to the phone and ratted her out. The only other incident of physical violence that I recall occurred between mother and daughter at the dinner table. It was over in a flash of anger.
I remember clearly in 1970 when Dad was in the hospital my mother and her boss took me out for dinner and taught me how to eat a lobster. We were almost alone that time.
My parents had moved into apartment 9E at 222 in the very early 1940s. It was always home to her. She was confined in the bedroom with TB in 1950 and from then on she always had an air conditioner. It was in fact the only room in the apartment that had one for a very long time!
My parents both used taxi cabs. I don’t remember either saying they rode a bus or the subway. I don’t know how I learned mass transit. Cabs were fine except for the time mom smashed her thumb in the door of one that had just delivered her home.
The engagement ring that Mom wore was the one that my father’s mother had worn. Grandma died in childbirth. It was always known in the family that this ring would go to the woman I chose to marry.
I came home one day in 1978 and said, I’d like the ring now please. She was a bit surprised. The diamond has now passed to the next generation, going to my son’s wife.
When she was discharged from a hospital stay in the early 90s mom insisted on going back to 9E. She really needed to be in structured care but she insisted. Mom always got her way. It didn’t last long, but I learned a lot about how to get Medicaid so that she could move into a nursing home which she then needed. I was married by then and had children, it was the early ’90s. She had lived in apartment 9E for close to 50 years.
Mom died in a nursing home accident. It had been a sad journey for her and one I’ll never forget. I had been gone from 222 for fifteen years when she passed.
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