My friend Saralee phoned last night with the news that her mother had died. I was sad, mostly for her loss, as her mother had lived a good life and passed away at the age of 94. Then this morning, it hit me, and the tears started to fall.
Three of my oldest friends have lost their mothers in the last year, and although the loss for me is nowhere near theirs, I feel much pain. Purely narcissistic pain.
First there was Paula, the mother of Leya, who has played a major role in my life since I was a child of two. She cared for me while my mother was in the hospital giving birth to my brother. We lived in a two-family house belonging to the synagogue where both men were affiliated (my father was the cantor, her husband the principal). The path of our lives was determined then and has flourished into what is now a third generation of love and caring.
Paula always took an interest in my life – she knew about my interior design projects and even went to see one or two of them when she was in the area. I was beyond touched by that. My own mother gracefully declined the offer to see my work. As Paula had worked for a decorator once upon a time, she remembered the names of furniture and fabric firms and could rattle them off to me at will, which really tickled me. We also shared a love of Hagen Dazs chocolate ice cream and could be happy just sitting at her kitchen table enjoying bowls of it.
During my youth, I spent many Shabbat weekends at her house, since Leya and I were the same age and steadfast playmates. Once I got older and moved to Israel, the roles reversed and Paula spent many happy days at my home in Caesarea with her burgeoning family here. It was a “favor” I was delighted to offer and my time with her filled me with joy. There was just something about her – her genuine concern, her enjoyment to hear what was going on in your life, her absolutely perfect memory (she could rattle off names of people we were in sleep-away camp with over fifty years ago). I truly believe there was not a person on this planet that did not admire, respect and adore that woman. I was just one of many.
The next news was the passing of Shirley, mother of my friend Amy who has been in my life since “Keetah Aleph Mechina” (Hebrew School, third grade, I think). Sometime in our youth, Amy, I and several other friends gave ourselves Southern names (I have no idea why) and Shirley was assigned Mama Blossom.
Although Amy was in a grade higher than me, during those elementary school days I used to love hanging out at her house in the afternoon. Her mom seemed cool (although back then Amy might not have agreed with that statement). They had a dog – and that was cool enough for me. I got a popular friend who liked me, a with-it mom, a lovely father, a cute brother and a fabulous Border collie all wrapped up in one family.
It was at Amy’s house that I was first fell in love with china. Yeah, that’s right, china, as in dishes. Mama Blossom had Wedgewood Colonnade Black (black has always been a bit of an obsession for me – it’s such a perfect color and an excellent compliment to most other colors). The dishes are white, with an ever so gentle line of black for decoration. I just died when I saw those dishes and they remained a part of my subconscious into adulthood and two marriages when I drooled over them but never dared buy them. I would walk through the Bloomingdales china department and seek them out – just to dream about owning them one day. (My ex actually did offer to buy them for me or a new car if I chose that instead – I went with the Wedgewood, of course).
I couldn’t share that obsession with my own mother – she didn’t pay retail for anything (and Wedgewood was never on sale) nor did she relate to my obsessions. But I could wax poetic about that pattern with Mama Blossom any time I wanted.
Then there was the time I was around 18 and sent over a package of Shaloach Manot (home made hamantaschen and goodies distributed on the holiday of Purim) to Amy’s mom. She was touched and she never failed to mention it to me for the next several decades.
I had an opportunity to see Mama Blossom during my last trip into New York and I blew it. I was too busy shopping at an outlet mall and then had to see friends in New Jersey before handing back the rental car in Manhattan. The deadline was too stressful for me so I apologized and missed my last chance to tell Shirley how much she meant to me. I wished I could have seen her one more time.
Now Elaine is gone. Or Grandma Elaine, as I have called her for the last thirty years. Saralee and I became besties in high school and while my home was never very open to having friends visit, or at least I didn’t feel so comfortable with it, the doors to her home were wide open. Not only would Elaine greet me with a wide smile and a question as to how I’m doing as I walked into her kitchen, but also if Sara’s dad was home there’d be a whole lot of teasing. I loved the laughter that permeated that house, the warmth, and the smell of fresh baked goods coming out of the oven. To this day I haven’t tasted a cream cheese brownie to match that of Elaine’s.
As I got older I often stayed with Saralee and her husband Barry during trips back to New York. On occasion Elaine (who was living in Florida) would be there too and we would have pajama parties reliving the old days. She never ceased to ask about my life and was anxious to hear every little detail. I never ever remember her getting angry, I just recall this wonderful joie de vivre, which carried her way into old age. I’m certain that I’m just one of many who will not soon forget her.
While I didn’t have the best relationship with my own mother (let’s leave that to Freud, Adler and all the others), I did have great relationships with these women. Matriarchs of Jewish families, who successfully ran their households, nurtured their children and made young girls like me feel loved and valued. Non-career women who focused on home and family and seeing to it that the needs of everyone else was met. They met my needs, and I didn’t even know I had them.
I shall miss these women, and will always carry their memories in my heart. Farewell Paula, Shirley and Elaine – you were the best!