October 17, 2018

Honoring Thy Mother

I called my mother to wish her a happynew year. She answered the phone like this: “Commo say yammo.” “Mom,why are you speaking in bad Spanish?” I asked. “I’ve been gettinghang-up calls, so I’m sabotaging my voice,” she answered. I broke uplaughing.

My mother bought my book retail, mind you and gave it to my aunt Syl as a gift. She autographed it,”From the author’s mother.” When she told me about it, she said thatshe hoped I didn’t mind. I broke up laughing.

Lately, I’ve been laughing a lot with her evenabout the memories I paid an analyst to help me work out: feelingdeprived when she served an 8-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola to fivepeople, or embarrassed when my husband thought the cereal bowl-sizedsalad she placed on the table was his serving, or angry the summershe put my brother and me to work tiling floors to save money onlabor, or frantic when she locked me out of the house after I ranaway from home and came back. I was 4.

Could that have really been me whining abouthaving to wear the sock samples she brought home from work? No matterwhat my foot size was, I wore them sometimes rolled under mytoes. I never went without; I just didn’t always have the rightsize.

My generation, the children of parents whosedreams were end-played by the Depression, had to pay someone tofigure out life without hearing the word love. Would I have beenbetter off if Mother had said, “I love you and here’s a pair of socksnot your size”?

What I used to cringe at I now admire. Beforethere was such a thing as consumer advocates, my mother took on theestablishment. Her latest battle is with the telephone company. She’saccused them of charging too much on her phone bill. She’s keeping alog of her calls, and in a recent exchange with a phone-companyexecutive, she was told, “Madam, our computers are far moresophisticated than your egg timer.” She received a $1.23 refundanyway.

Nothing gets past her. Three days after her secondhusband, Sam, died, she had the presence of mind to transfer hisfrequent-flier miles to her account. If I lied when I was a kid,which was often, I had the third-degree interrogation uncovered light bulb and all. She would have made a great hangingjudge or the kind of prosecutor who would have haunted an acquitteddefendant into jail.

I read that scientists are thinking about cloninga human. It’s a fascinating procedure in which a donor egg isstripped of its genetic makeup and one cell is removed from thecloner and ejected into the egg. What will result is a human beingwho is the exact genetic double of its mother. If this catches on,the psychoanalytic movement will have a renaissance.

If I were my mother’s clone, not only would therebe two of us which would probably bring back sanitariums,not for us but for everyone else in the family but how couldI have grown up to get along with her? The terror of being an adultis that you cannot blame anyone for not being in the life you want.So there’s a relationship between growing up and getting along withyour parents, especially if you still hold them accountable for yourproblems. Yawn.

I told my mother recently that I wish I had beenmore like her when it came to money. She said: “You’re a giver, evenwhen you don’t have it to give. I had to survive. But as long as I’mhere, you won’t have to worry.”

Where I once worried that she was in my life, nowI worry that she may not be? Not have to worry? I said it to myselfover and over. My mother is 85 years old. We have been arguing sincethe moment of my birth, when she said, “What’s she screaming about;I’m the one who had the pain!”

And now there’s laughter.

Linda Feldman is the co-author of the newly released “Where ToGo From Here: Discovering Your Own Life’s Wisdom” (Simon &Schuster).

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