Observations on quality time with my 84 year old father, day 25
Today’s edition is slightly different from the previous 24. Yesterday was both my mother’s memorial service as well as the day Leee Childers passed. The first was followed by the traditional eating of the foods so Jewish (we went to Canters). The second necessitated the traditional drinking of the vodka. Therefore, as I was not in a position to write a new entry, I’ve chosen to post my comments from the memorial. As they contained several comments relating to the Rockats, without knowing it, I was also thanking Leee for the joy they brought my mother, as without him there would have been no Rockats.
I’m Elissa’s son Curt. Some of you may know me as Lewis and that’s alright too. We are one and the same. I’d like to talk a little bit about my dear mother. The Weiss’ have always been an irreverent, inarticulate, tangential, long winded and sometimes inappropriate bunch. I hope I can live up to that lofty expectation.
First off, the music played during the photo slide show is by an artist named Don Rondo. I’d never heard of him until my Uncle mentioned the other day that my mother was the president of his fan club. Seemed like the most appropriate music to use.
Growing up in my family in the 1960’s, it was assumed that your parents wanted you to be a doctor or a lawyer. After some film of the first heart transplant surgery was played on television in late 1967, most of the family watched in awe, but I was traumatized, covering my eyes, screaming “Change it, it’s horrible!!” My mother said at that point she knew I’d never be a doctor. “I could only hope he’d be a lawyer,” she said.
Luckily, I had an interest in history and politics, and as most politicians were lawyers, my mom still thought there was hope. She got me biographies of the presidents and we had a set of encyclopedias that I would do research with. Soon I could recite the list of presidents by memory, both backwards and forwards and knew all sorts of useless trivia. “Mom, did you know that William Howard Taft was the fattest president? He got stuck in a bath tub once but he was a very graceful dancer.” My mom’s reply would usually be something like “Oh, my son: he’s so smart!”
In time I realized that what my parents really wanted me to be was happy, so I pursued music and chasing girls mostly. I did keep paying attention to politics though and in the mid-70’s when the Watergate scandal was unfolding, I was in heaven as I was full of revolution and I hated Nixon with a passion. But what stayed with me was a speech he gave on his last day in office as a farewell to the white house staff. I’m sure my wife and daughter are rolling their eyes at this point, as I never miss an opportunity to talk about this event and if it’s on TV I always watch it and cry like an old man at the opera. Nixon, looking as if he hasn’t slept in days, uses this opportunity talk about his parents, their hard work and struggles. When he mentions his mother he says, “There will probably be no books written about my mother. But I’m sure you could all say this about your mother. My mother was a saint.” In their darkest times, it seems everyone calls out for their mothers and recognizes their sacrifices…even scoundrels like Nixon.
Well, of course: my mother was a saint. OK: Jews don’t have saints, but if they did, she would certainly be the Patron Saint of Leopard Print. She loved leopard printed anything!! Perhaps she was a leopard in a previous life? Over the past few months as it became apparent that she was near the end of her days, I took stock of all of the leopard print items I could find in their apartment.
Here’s what I found:
Throws and blankets
Eye Glass Case
Light Switch Cover
Auto floor mats
Bras and panties
Another thing this list implies, was my mom was a great shopper. My dad would say she had as many shoes as Imelda Marcos. She knew how to get the best out of shoes too. She would tell me that it was important to have more than one pair of shoes. She’d say “Ya know Curty, two pairs of shoes lasts like three. They wear out slower”. On the surface this is straight out of the Gracie Allen School of Logic but I think she’s right though. The more worn out they are, the faster they wear out. So the more shoes you have, the slower they wear out and the longer they last. So the more you buy the less you need. You save money by buying more. That’s why she bought so much stuff: she was saving money!!!
She also shopped for clothes for me with gusto. When I was about 5 years old, she was able to find a bowtie just like Soupy Sales, my favorite TV show at the time, and had cobbled together a complete Soupy outfit for me to do the Soupy shuffle in. I also had Beatle boots, Monkees double breasted shirts, Nehru jackets, bell bottoms…my mom made sure I was the coolest kid at school…in my mind anyway.
If anyone ever saw the inside of her refrigerator or pantry, you knew she had no problem shopping for food or setting an inviting table. I think that at one time or another all of my friends had dinner at our place. One time, in the late 80’s, my girlfriend and I came to stay with my parents for a weekend by the beach when they lived in Long Beach New York. They even said we could invite another couple to stay over with us. When my parents picked us up from the train station, my mother insisted we go grocery shopping on the way home. I figured we’d grab some hamburgers and hot dogs, but no, that wasn’t enough for my mother. The rest of us stayed back and were amazed as my mother filled a grocery cart with more food than a UN humanitarian airlift. It was a finely choreographed dance as she moved from aisle to aisle filling the cart. I didn’t think you could put that much food in one cart. Food was teetering over the edge. Right as we’re getting to the counter to pay she remembers, “Oh, Erica’s coming mid-week. I better get a roast.” Erica was a vegetarian at the time but she could not be stopped.
There was no such thing as a small plate with my mother either. I remember in my twenties, trying to get down to rock star weight, if I was visiting I’d always tell her I just wanted a little bit at dinner. The plate would always arrive overflowing with enough food for three people. My father and I would look at each other and shrug our shoulders. My dad would say “There’s no such thing as a small plate with your mother.”
My mother always encouraged us to have friends over. It was a way of keeping an eye on us and sizing up our friends, but it also made them feel good to know that we had friends and a support system, because one day we’d leave the nest and they wanted to know that someone would be there for us. My friends all would say I had the best mom, but I always thought it had something to do with the fully stocked candy cabinet.
When I think about the times I drove my mother most crazy, food often played a part. I couldn’t have been more than 6 when I begged her for hot cereal. She must have given me Cream of Wheat and not read my mind that I wanted Maypo, so I balked. She dumped it on my head. Another time I begged for eggs and she gave them to me scrambled instead of assuming I wanted them sunny side up. I got my face pushed in the eggs for that. Another time, in my teen years, I was particularly obnoxious…hard to believe; an obnoxious teenager… and I had infuriated her so much she just trembled and turned red in the face and you could see she was about to blow. She had been chopping a carrot, so she whacked me on the head with the carrot. Better than the knife that was in the other hand I guess. But I forgave her. And she always forgave me for whatever horrible thing I did: breaking things, failing classes, cutting school, endless youthful indiscretions. She always forgave me. She forgave all of us when we fell short. That’s unconditional love.
She always encouraged my musical efforts, getting me guitar lessons, then drum lessons, piano lessons, letting me play a drum set in our apartment in Brooklyn and then our house in the Rockaways and coming to all the school band performances. When I made my first record with a band called the Rockats in 1981, she brought a copy to her beauty parlor and found out that one of the girls there was a fan of the band. She was so proud that even though the record peaked at #198 in the charts before falling into oblivion, you would have thought it was a giant hit. Also, she had this way of saying “Rockats” that no one else did. She would put the accent on the “Kats” instead of the ‘Rock,” where by everyone could see all the dental work my father paid for as plain as day and a giant smile on her face. Last year, over 30 years since she had last seen me play, the band was invited to play at a festival in Las Vegas. My parents came, one of my sister’s family came, my wife and daughter came, my uncles came… it was a grand old time. My mom’s health was obviously fading but it was a chance for all of us to be together. And just to embarrass my wife, while several family members noticed my mom was struggling in the Vegas heat, Karen was the only one who could convince her to use a wheel chair. And anytime I spoke with my mom after that, she mentioned what a wonderful wife I had, who would be so concerned for her and treat her so delicately in what could be an awkward situation for an in-law. And I want to thank my wife Karen for being so loving to my dear mother.
I never doubted that my mother loved me or my sisters or her husband and her brother. But, frankly it was nothing like how she felt about the grandchildren. To my daughter Emma and my nieces Gracie and Paulette: my mother loved you all so much. I know sometimes you may have thought she loved one grandchild more than another. Not so: she loved you all as much as a grandma could love her grandkids. She never stopped talking about you three or asking about you. You all made her so happy by just being you.
When my mother passed, I was one of those that were with her. She went quietly and seemingly painlessly. She had been there for me in the beginning and at so many other times in my life, it was the least I could do, to be with her as she started her next journey and to wish her well. She was a great mom. I could not have asked for more. She gave me everything a mother could give.
© Curt Weiss 2014