It is my mother who first instilled in me a love for music. Singing and dancing have always been second nature to me, regardless of any skill or talent. Some of my earliest memories are harmonizing with her to Linda Ronstadt and spending lazy afternoons singing and dancing to old Gene Kelly movies or Gypsy or West Side Story, when the girls and I would argue over who “gets to be Maria this time.” Being the oldest, I always won, of course. I remember my mother’s beautiful voice and wanting to be able to sing like her one day. Every once in awhile someone will ask me how in the world I know the words to almost every song and I have to blame it on that woman. Always playing music, good music, and all kinds of music.
She emphasized creativity. Her love of jewelry making and arts & crafts of all kinds certainly made me a DIY diva of sorts. I still love sewing, cross-stitching, crocheting, painting and good old paper-and-glue. Unfortunately, her jewelry business also spoiled me rotten and as an adult I realize just how many girls must have been so jealous of me: rings on every finger, a new necklace every week… I can’t afford that now, so I get very excited when I receive a new pair of handmade earrings or necklace in the mail from mom even now. She taught me that gifts you make are the best ones to give.
Speaking of beautiful things, as a small child up until I was a teenager, I also shared her love and curiosity of all things OLD. Mom and I would go to antique shops and browse, guessing prices as if we were on Antiques Road Show and every once in a while even coming out of the store with a newfound treasure. I particularly loved old books and began collecting them on these trips. I credit her with my obsession for garage sales, flea markets and antique shops, as well as a kickass old book collection that I treasure to this day.
This passion for antiquity bled over to history, the arts, spirituality and literature for both of us. How else could I have read every piece of work by Dickens, Austen, Dostoevsky, L.M. Montgomery, and Solzhenitsyn, among others, if not for this lust for old-world imagery and historical perspective? Mom’s own search for God made me appreciate people of all faiths and cultures and find beauty in weathered and ancient things.
I remember her love, compassion, and gentleness with our menagerie: horses, cows, chickens, chinchillas, ducks, geese, rabbits, goats, sheep, ferrets, newts, fish, gerbils, hamsters, hermit crabs, parakeets, cockatiels, cats and dogs. I also remember the mess, chaos, exhaustion but dedication to the whole zoo. I am lucky to have grown up with a petting zoo around me as much as I hated the chores involved, and when I remember that part of my life I smile. I look forward to listing the animals I cared for as a child when I meet new people or recount my childhood to friends.
I’m happy that she was able to give me some kind of cultural identity. I have a love for all things Jewish, know a handful of Yiddish words, understand a couple of Hebrew prayers and songs and I’m pretty sure I could move to Israel if I wanted. (Cool.) She shared Nana’s wise sayings, including, “Only boring people get bored.” “You wouldn’t jump in my grave so fast.” “What am I, chopped liver?” I’m pretty sure without her I wouldn’t have a taste for lox. Then again, it is awfully tasty on a bagel with cream cheese, and maybe even a straight-up Shiksa can respect that… Maybe. My trip with Mom to New York when I was 11 is one of my favorite memories. I got to pretend I was a real New Yorker and hang with the rest of the Jew-clan (did I just type that? Ha!)… I’ll also go ahead and blame her for some of my sense of humor. Thanks, Ma!
Mom taught me how to listen. I’m not all that good at it. But I try. Mom was always a good listener. She was everyone’s best friend, the one her girlfriend’s called for advice, the one MY friends called for advice.
Give, give, give. My mom gave her time, her heart and her home to others. Every once in awhile, Mom would open our home to people in need. And while I always thought I was better than anyone who stayed over at our house (because I was and always have been a little brat), that wasn’t the case with Robin. Robin taught at the School for the Deaf, and she taught me sign language, and she took me for walks and I loved her dearly when I was a little child and she stayed with us. I didn’t know she was a lesbian-witch at the time, I just knew she was rad. But I also know that she was not staying with us to hang out with me… Mom was letting her stay with us until she could get back on her feet. She taught me to give, volunteer, and have compassion for others. (And make friends with lesbian-witches!! )
Don’t give up. In the worst of times she would say, “We’ll get through this. We always do.” And we did. And we even figured out how to have fun when everything actually sucked.
I remember her fortitude: she was a protectress of runaway “bad kids” and defender of wrongly-accused, innocent children to school principles among others. She taught me to “question everything.” She taught me to stand up for what is right, or at least, what I feel to be right at any given moment. Which is probably why I’m such a mouthy, smartass bitch.
Above all else, she taught me to be nice to my siblings and enjoy my family. I am thankful most of all for her pressure on me to cherish my brother and sisters, as she does all of us, because they play a huge role in my life: past, present and future.
Love you, Mom! Cheer up!