Friday, May 16, 2014

Mother's Day Post Mortem

It is 95 when we leave for the airport. I am flying to New York, ostensibly to help Spuds pack up and store all his crap.  I will be gone for ten days.  The boy has a lot of clothes.  I am spending a couple of days in Manhattan on each end and in- between Spuds and I are spending a few days in Philadelphia, for no particular reason except my mother was born in Germantown.  I don’t have time to tear through the garage and try to extract her birth certificate and I am unable to find anything on although there is a photo of my maternal grandmother, posted apparently by some relative I’ve never heard of. 

My mother left Philadelphia when she was a baby and moved to the Bronx where I find her named as a family member on a 1930 census.  Her elder half brother Irving lived his life in Philadelphia and was the host at what he described as the city’s best restaurant.  My cursory (free trial membership) poking at yields nothing and to access the Philadelphia Jewish Genealogy obituary website  a $100 donation is required.  I am not that curious.  Once when he was visiting our freezer conked out and my mother was distressed about a pint of ice cream.  My uncle Irv noted that this happened at work all the time and they simply re-froze it and it was fine.  Perhaps he exaggerated about the quality of the restaurant.

This is my first mother’s day in twenty-one years without a kid although I was remembered sweetly by both of them. Joe College thoughtfully leaves a gift and a card for me before he leaves for Europe.  Spuds sends a dead on sketch of Rover with a note saying that when he is faced with a problem his natural inclination is to try to figure out what I would do.  This is incredibly loaded. It seems that so often what I do is to fuck things up even more. God help the boy, although no one has ever said anything more lovely to me.

Being old now is at the forefront of my day-to-day life.  The nest is empty.  My health is good but many of my contemporaries have maladies minor and major.  The sense of being in a very different phase of life is palpable and bittersweet.  Being on the cusp of senior citizenship I find my self-awareness has blossomed in tandem with my not giving a shit.   I’ve given lip service for years about how you reach true maturity when you stop blaming your parents.  I am truly, or for the most part I guess, done with that. But with this new era I find that my appreciation of my mom and dad has increased more than I ever could have imagined.

There is an article about a competitor that mentions briefly my own business and quotes my pop from a 1973 interview.  He talked about the obsessiveness of film collectors and said, “Film is like dope.”  This is so quintessentially my dad that I feel him more than I have in a long time. We quarreled a lot and many times when I got my way, it was the wrong way.  I have and will never work as hard as he did but I muddle along. I will never love the business as much as he did,  It is often a colossal pain in the butt.   I forget sometimes that it is my father’s legacy and while he, like all of us, sometimes fell short, he left to me the great accomplishment of his life, the most precious thing he had.

There’s a line from a Joni Mitchell song that's popped into my head frequently over the decades.  “Papa’s faith is people.  Mama, she’s always cleaning.”  There are little pockets of disarray at the house and office but except for the children’s hovel, I value cleanliness and order.  I think the most virulent fights I had with my mother were about my slovenliness.  Now that we work for all the things the kids thrash I do at times indeed feel wounded by their apparent lack of respect for my labor.  My own mother became quite vicious in her mania for tidiness. I leave the kids ‘ room completely alone and usually suck it up about the rest of the house, or at least choose my battles wisely.  My mother’s rage just made her seem materialistic and petty and insane. I probably rebelled by becoming even more of a slob.  Now I know that I am truly happier when I can find what I need and am not embarrassed by the state of the house if someone drops in unexpectedly.  I’ve learned from my own experience though, that while I do have to enforce some sort of order in my own space, that the kids, in time, will figure out how to maintain their own. 

I lived in one house throughout my childhood, as have my own children.  My mother lost count.  They moved from Philly to NY and then crossed the country in a Model A Ford with six people and a cat, relying on charity and soup kitchens.  Mom was a young teen when she arrived in LA and before she married my dad, lived in a dozen other places.  They bought the first house she ever lived in on Fulton Avenue in 1955.  She stayed there for fifty years.  As I organize and putter in my own home I think of how she cherished hers.  I feel small and ashamed for having disrespected it.  Even though it has been over forty years since I lived there I remember every inch of the place.  The gardenia and camellia bushes.  The gigantic lemon tree.  The brick wall my father built.  The projection booth and naïve mural of a Paris Street scene.  My mother’s blouse closet and the musical jewelry box with the plastic ballerina.  The dainty filigree tray with fancy unused perfume atomizers.

Pictures of the place we’ve made for them will float into our children’s’ psyches after we’re gone.  The dogs we’ve had.  The Mexican masks.  The striped placemats neatly rolled when not in use.  Printed sheets.  Roosters. Books everywhere.  Perhaps they will feel remorse for being careless in the home we’ve given them.  Maybe they’ll rue the times they think they've disappointed us.  I must remember to tell them, and remind them again and again that as far as I’m concerned they have nothing ever to regret. The balm for all the tiny hurts is the light of who they are becoming. And while I never said, “I’m sorry” to my mom and dad, I think I am forgiven.


Anonymous said...

We are only forgiven by ourselves.

John L. Murphy / "Fionnchú" said...

"Pictures of the place we’ve made for them will float into our children’s psyches after we’re gone." Interesting for while you must have been composing this, I was on the site to check out any leads. All I found was my mother's parent's marriage date which I had not known, the same date as when I'd be born, 44 years later. I was amazed at how, typing in names less common than my surname, which I don't bother trying to trace, the less common surnames and names with them reveal so many people with those names. No name I trace hits the target beyond the few scraps I know already in the US. I scan many obits and data: deaths from consumption and apoplexy, everybody seems to be from Michigan, Iowa, or Tennessee in the family trees not mine. There appears to be a marked lack of effort by anyone related to me to enter anything. Even the LDS may not be that inspired to try harder.

Ireland is a blank, unless you pay premium rates. Even there, the comparatively rare surnames I inherit once removed, once erased, show so many with those names, attesting to the ubiquity of a few repeated over and over, and so many generations procreating so many over and over. I wonder with the trend now towards androgynous female names and strange concoctions passing for names if this will ease the assemblers of family trees to come. No more saints' names or biblical monikers, in old patterns of first son gets grandfather's name, second son mother's father's etc. etc.

The issue of Harper's arrives later with a cover story on obsession with genealogy. I guess nobody related to me shares such. I am glad you pieced some bits together. This does seem a fool's errand to many, but as I found a few years ago from a chance remark, when one person dies and those records or memories vanish, they truly do, from oral history if nobody was around to write the anecdotes down or save the testimony for others.

I have hit a complete brick wall in trying to find out about a direct forebear with an untimely and haunting demise, and in that case, I reckon what one of his sons had compiled literally went up with smoke at his own death. Many mock such interest by those who came after, but we never know who will follow us, with curiosity.

I agree it's important to have some fragments, as future generations seek to recover them, and the bits of masks, dogs, too many books, painted rooms, and wherever photos go when Fotomat dies and Kodak disappears into this infinite digital archive. xxx me