Wednesday, March 20, 2019

"Flashes Of Gertrude"

That was my mother’s name.  Anna’s daughter Golda is named after her.

During a recent phone conversation with my brother, I related two anecdotes about our mother, a habitual exercise, to rekindle her memory and flesh out some specifics.

I have mentioned these stories in the past.  But if you stick around, I will reveal a fresh recollection that recently flew in from nowhere.  I love when that happens.  It means the mental “machinery” is still cranking.  To what end, I have no idea.  But it’s cranking.

This first tale is somewhat larcenous.  (Although ultimately harmless.) 

I am returning from England, age 23, having floated home with my accumulated possessions on The Queen Elizabeth I, disembarking in Manhattan.  When my mother flew down to meet me, she got one look at my threadbare attire and immediately took me shopping at Macy’s.

Shirts, pants, and later, in the ”Accessories Department”, a belt.

We proceed to the back of the back of a long line, ready to check out at the “Accessories Department” cashier.  It was taking forever, the queue of purchasers moving agonizingly slowly.  Suddenly, the new belt clutched firmly in hand, my mother turns on her heels, and heads for the door.

“Mom”, I called out, with palpable concern, “did you pay for that belt?”

“Not yet”, she replied, casually exiting the premises.

Later that day, lunching at some famed but affordable New York eatery, we order our meals, and then, flaunting my nascent “adult independence”, I order a beer.

My mother had never seen me drink alcohol before.  (Besides a sip from the Seder Cup at Passover.)  If she’d been a fly on the wall at the Horse and Groom pub in Hampstead, she’d have seen me drink beer every night.  But she wasn’t.  She was a worried mother in Toronto.

This was definitely a “First.”

The food is delivered to our table, along with a tapering glass of amber imbibement, which is set down on a supplied coaster before me.

After carefully studying the “Forbidden Liquid”, my Mom says,

“You know, I haven’t had beer in ages.  Would you mind if I took a small taste?”

“Bon vivant” that I am, I magnanimously say, “Sure”, and I slide over the glass.  

In an unguarded instant, my mother picks up the beer glass, raises it to her lips and begins to drink.

And drink.

And drink.

And drink.

Finally, with a satisfied “Ahhhh”, my mother sets the glass on the table, sliding it back in my direction.  My reaction to what I have just witnessed is a hybrid “surprised, amazed, astonished, and incensed.”

My glass of beer was now entirely empty, save for a mere thimbleful of residual liquid, sitting sudsily at the bottom.

“Good!” she pronounced, and began eating her lunch.

My brother enjoyed those two stories, which he was unaware of, being a participant in neither event. 

Now the third story…

Which is less a story than a retrospective observation, which came to me recently out of the blue…

When my brother and I were old enough to be left alone, my mother and her friends would make regular pilgrimages to New York, attending the hit musicals of the season.  My Fair Lady.  West Side Story.  The Music Man. 

When she came home, she would – almost ceremoniously – hand me the souvenir Playbills (the official programs) from those iconic musicals.

That much, I always remembered.  (Along with the fact that I don’t have them anymore.)

But here’s the “new thing” that suddenly popped to my consciousness.

The programs she’d brought back for me were invariably in collectible “Mint Condition.”

Unstained.  Unwrinkled.  Un-dog-eared.  Un-rolled-up-like-a-telescope.

Despite the inevitable travel “wear-and-tear”, those souvenir programs were impeccably pristine.

It was like she was giving me a present.

It recently occurred to me, however, that it was perhaps more than a present.

It was a subliminal signal.

Sometimes, it’s hard for people to say things straight out.  Complicated feelings prevent communicating directly.  But, looking back at those perfectly preserved programs, my mother was secretly telling me something.

In the area of approval, acceptance, encouragement and support.

As in,

“I can’t say it out loud.  But I get it and I’m there.”

It is a little late, I suppose, but I truly appreciate that gesture.

Way more than her protectively chugging down my beer.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

Great memories. Did she return to pay for the belt after the queue was gone?


JED said...

You reminded me of the time my mother first heard me swear. I was home on break from college. I was driving her somewhere and we were waiting for traffic to clear to make a left turn. They were moving a little too slow for my taste and I said something like, "I wish these damned drivers would move along." All she said was, "So, that's what they teach you at college." My going to college got blamed for a lot of things.