Monday, January 11, 2010

"Tribute"

The following were the words I spoke at my mother’s funeral. More or less. I say “more of less”, because I never write speeches. I don’t know how. Instead, I jot down fragments and they somehow, almost magically, grow together into a speech. The fragments were assembled as we traveled from Hawaii to Toronto. The results went something like this.

From the moment I got the word, this song started pounding in my head:

Some of these days

You’re gonna miss me, honey

Some of these days

You’re gonna feel so lonely

You’re gonna miss my huggin’

You’re gonna miss my kissin’

You’re gonna miss your mama

When she’s far away….

My mother loved that song. She sang it all the time. She adored Sophie Tucker, who made the song famous.

My mother loved talent. She used to tell me how she and my Dad would go see Lena Horne at the Cotton Club. She loved Cab Calloway. Count Basie. Louis Armstrong....

My mother loved musicals. When she came back from trips to New York, she’d bring me the Playbills, the programs – never crinkled or rolled up, always in perfect condition – of the greatest shows:

My Fair Lady. West Side Story. The Music Man.

I knew she loved shows. So when she came out to Los Angeles for (Dr. M’s) and my wedding, I arranged for us to see Sophisticated Ladies, starring Gregory Hines, who at one time was (Dr. M’s) neighbor in Venice, California.

We were invited backstage after the show. After a few minutes, Greg emerged from his dressing room, wearing a short, terrycloth robe. When he was introduced to my mother, he immediately stepped up and kissed her smack on the mouth.

I never saw my mother look so caught off guard. Her reaction was a mixture of shock, embarrassment, surprise

and not complete displeasure.

I wish my mother had had more happy times. But she didn’t have that many. For the most part, the theme of my mother’s life – if you can have one – was duty. Duty to her parents, as an only child. Dedication to Jewish organizations such as Hadassah, in which she was actively involved. And then there was her greatest, and most challenging duty of all…

Raising two young boys by herself.

We weren’t that easy.

I believe the term is “Vilde Khayas.” (Wild Animals)

When we were kids, my mother would take us to this restaurant called Goldenbergs, where we’d order our favorite food – lamb chops. I loved lamb chops, but I never liked eating near the bone, because the meat would get stuck in my teeth. My brother didn’t seem to mind. So when I’d eaten as much as I wanted, I would flip the not totally eaten lamb chop across the table. My brother would catch it in one hand – he was very athletic – and he’d finish it off.

My mother sat in the middle. So every so often, she’d see a lamb chop bone come flying across the table. She’d never move her head, or raise her voice – she didn’t want the other restaurant patrons to know she was raising hyenas – but very quietly – and emphatically – she would mutter under her breath

(AS A LAMB CHOP BONE GOES FLYING BY)

“Stop it!”

(AND THEN ANOTHER)

“Stop it!”

(AND YET ANOTHER)

“Stop it!!!”

Finally, she would grumble, through gritted teeth,

“I am never bringing you here again!

A couple of weeks later, we’d be back at the restaurant, flipping the bones across the table.

I don’t know whether it was her nature or her strategy for making her children feel more secure – it was probably both – but my mother always projected an aura of certainty. She believed she was right. About everything. This could be tricky when you had a different opinion. But that’s how she was. My mother believed that if she felt a certain way, everyone should. This led to her most famous pronouncement:

“Take off your sweater, I’m hot.”

I hope our mother was proud of us. And I hope she knew we were proud of her. And loved her. And were grateful to her for everything she had done on our behalf.

Some of these days

You’re gonna miss me, honey…

I started feeling that way when I heard she was gone.

So once again, Mom…

You were right.


Before I sit down, I would like to acknowledge the heroic efforts of my brother, who made sure my mother had the best possible care. I did what I could. But he was here. And he deserves the credit.


-------------------------
I want to thank the people who wrote in, offering kind thoughts and wishes. It seems I have two families – my real family, who were an enormous comfort, and a community of generous and supportive strangers.

I appreciate them both.

8 comments:

emily said...

You painted such a wonderful picture of your mama, I could almost see her -- a small tower of strength. You have a kind heart Earl, and your second family is proud to know you.

Paloma said...

Like Emily above me said, its like we could see her.
That was beautiful.
Once again my thoughts are with you and your family.
Gotta agree with Emily again, we are proud to know you.

angel said...

You couldn't have done any better. You honored her well and trust me, I am sure she appreciates that.

She lives on in you and we look forward to more stories about her.

I am so sorry for your loss.

Corinne said...

I agree.

What a beautiful honour and tribute to your mom.

Jon88 said...

Hmm. Seems I've spilled some water on my keyboard.

Thank you for sharing that.

andrew said...

Earl-

So sorry to hear about your mom. Your speech at her funeral was incredibly touching.

My best,

Andrew

diane said...

It's impossible to read your words and not be moved by them. What a lovely tribute to an obviously wonderful woman. She did us all a very great service in raising her children. You and your writing are very much appreciated.

Max Clarke said...

Beautiful, Earl. Yeah, she was proud.

An eloquent and touching tribute, I hope everybody laughed when you painted the picture of flying lamb chops. Funny and original.