Today, my darling mother would have been 89 years old…hard to imagine at times. Even harder to wrap my mind around the idea that she has been in Spirit for 2 1/2 years. She ‘left the building’ (kinda like Elvis Presley) on November 26th, 2010 and I have not one smidgen of a doubt that my father who paved the way on April 3rd, 2008, was there with a hug and smooch to welcome her; in his words “The most beautiful girl in the world.” They were married almost 52 years when he passed and she continued on with a broken, but open heart; living and loving her friends and family with her trademark zest. She would say often that she was shy; having grown up mostly with cousins as her friends. Her mother (my grandmother, Henrietta who I referred to as Giggie) was one of 13 children, so she had lots of cousins (mostly boys) and my Uncle Jim to run around with in her Philadelphia neighborhood (the Olney section for those familiar with the city). One of her uncles used to call her “Sally up the alley”, since they all lived around the corner from each other.
I never saw that in her. Instead, I watched, marveling at the ways she embraced life and collected friends everywhere she went. Our suburban South Jersey home was a gathering place for our friends and those of my parents. Holidays were memorable and after parties, the house rang with the residual energy of laughter and love.
I often wonder what it was like for her; beyond thinking of her as my mother, but as a woman. Her father died when she was 18 and for the rest of my grandmother’s life, they lived together, traveled together and when she and my father got married, he moved into their house and after I was born and we moved to New Jersey, my grandmother came across the river with us. My father used to say “I didn’t move in with them, she didn’t move in with us. We all moved in together.” My mom was a career woman as well as homemaker which was rare for someone of her era. When my parents met in 1955, she worked as a switchboard operator for a law firm and was well respected by her bosses and co-workers. She maintained a long term friendship with her friend Miriam Tindall who she met there. She would joke that my Aunt Miriam (as my sister Jan and I referred to her) could eat chocolate nearly all day long and stay skinny and all she had to do was look at it and she would gain weight. We spent many a Christmas with Aunt Miriam, Uncle Dave and their son Brian and I wondered how Santa knew to leave presents for two little Jewish girls. She met and married my father when they were in their mid-30’s which was relatively late for that time. Her handsome sweetie courted and wooed her, marveling at his luck at meeting her at a party of a mutual friend after she had been stood up by her long term boyfriend. That night, she came home and told my grandmother that she had met the man she was going to marry. When you know, you know. And she did indeed. Their first date was at a Chinese restaurant and her fortune read “You’d better prepare your hope chest.” She kept that fortune in her wallet until it was stolen when I was a teenager. She kept it in her heart forever.
Throughout my childhood, she had many jobs; guess I know where I came by my penchant for adding new career tendrils. She was a gateguard at our local pool, an Avon representative (which helped Jan and me to land some regular babysitting gigs), she sewed doll clothes, working for a woman named Mrs. Handy (which I always got a kick out of), and wrote a community ‘gossip column’ for the Burlington County Times, you know,-who got married, graduated, got awards and such. When Jan and I were old enough to stay home by ourselves, she landed a job at Sears as a switchboard operator and there she remained until she retired at 65. On top of all of that, she volunteered at Rancocas Valley Hospital and made our home a haven.
When she passed, my life changed dramatically. I am still processing the impact of the physical loss of my most ardent cheerleader, but feel that I have integrated her best qualities. There are times when I look in the mirror and see her gazing back at me. Words come out of my mouth that have me thinking she said them (and in her voice). She shows up in so many ways in my consciousness, sneaking in when I least expect it. I sometimes use her as a barometer for values; such as “How would Mom handle this situation?” and that gets blended into the ‘cake batter’.
The photos that are at the top of the article were taken, I’m guessing when she was in her late teens/early twenties and I had actually not seen them until I was going through her belongings after she passed. They remind me that she had a life before taking on her most cherished roles as she thought of them as “Moish’s wife and Edie and Jan’s mom.” Such a glamour girl!
Happy Birthday Mama Cakes. Celebrating you grandly and with love <3