Sunday, February 19, 2012

It’s Been a While Mom

A while ago, my brother left this world and I wrote a little tribute to him, my appreciation for a life well lived.  It is now coming near to another birthday of old—my mother. She left this world a while ago—in 1980, having rented a space here since 1899.  So she managed to traverse parts of two centuries.
But much as my brother exceeded all my expectations of a brother, husband, father, and all around good man, so too did my mom surpass any reasonable expectations for the good mother.

Many women who become moms manage to get some help in this enterprise called family and child-rearing, the help coming from folks called fathers/husbands. In our case, the father-husband of the household was mostly missing in action. I have never been sure why he was only rarely present. Nobody ever seemed to talk about it. But it is a fact that he was gone more than he was around.
Now, until my brother decided on his own to not only graduate from high school, but went on to complete college, no one in our family, to my knowledge, had ever gone beyond high school and most never reached high school. To be fair, we are talking late 19th and early 20th century life, when education was more the province of the upper classes than now. So, with no education or trade skills, my father became a drifter. He drank often and to excess on more than one occasion. I am told that at one time he played a violin well enough to land a job at the CBS radio orchestra. However, although I once spied a violin in our apartment flat, never did I see or hear him play . . . not a note. So, whether he was just not good enough, or more likely that he drank too much and so lost his precious position, I cannot say. However, raising three kids during the 1920’s and 1930’s cannot have been much fun for the lower classes, the group to which we were firmly affixed, so perhaps the stress got to him.
My mom managed somehow to get enough training in bookkeeping to get herself employed during the war as a bookkeeper for Gibbs and Cox, as best I understand it, a naval architectural firm that designed surface warships for the US Navy. Apparently, the job she held paid well enough for mom to pay for a “railroad flat” on Second Avenue in Manhattan, near 71st Street. We lived in several such places as I remember it, but this one actually had a bathroom within the flat. The previous unit in which we lived had a bathroom in the hallway between two flats.

Each time my father came home for one of his brief stays (generally by whining) we would have some brief periods of calm, followed by another storm after which Rudy, the pseudo-father figure would depart. But in between all these bouts of sturm und drang, my mom kept on truck’n. She went to work every day, without fail, and brought home a paycheck routinely. She managed even to buy war bonds and thereby to put away about $3000 during the war. This all without financial help from Rudy. See, when he left, he never sent home any money. Mom had to keep on by herself.
And Mom did all this, continuing to raise her three kids by herself, while also periodically having to care for her aging parents, who were fast running out of money, thanks to the Republican banking and stockbroker-induced Great Depression. Mom never once complained about her life, which, seen in retrospect, was a tad depressing.  She never bad-mouthed her deadbeat husband. She just worked, and tucked me in at night.
After the war (WW II for those still paying attention) my mom had these war bonds which she had accumulated. She thought that maybe life in New York City wasn’t such a hot idea for a family with little money. Mainly, she was afraid what the city would do to her kids.  Our sister was by then married, but my brother and I remained within her care. And she worried.  We were, I guess, the original latch-key kids.  So, she took her savings and went upstate a bit to look for a place to buy. She found a little place in Rockland County, in a little village called New City Park. There was a little house that had been a clubhouse for this little village by a lake.  My grandpa—Grandpa Inglis, who had been a carpenter and sometime house-builder before the Depression, agreed to fix up the place and convert it into a two-bedroom house, with a proper kitchen and bathroom.  So, buy it she did and fix it up he did, all of course, with no help from Rudy.
Then my mom extracted my brother and I from our life in Manhattan, and moved us to “the country”. But, the move was accompanied by yet another of Rudy’s home-comings. He came home just before the move. He agreed to get a job in New City or Nanuet and to take care of us, while Mom continued with her job in New York City. She even bought him a car, so he could go to work.  Wow, we were to become a two-income family.
So, Bill and I enrolled in the local schools—me in Chestnut Grove, a K-8 grammar school, and Bill in the Spring Valley High School.  Bill had been going to Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, so Spring Valley would be quite a change from his high-performance, big-city high school. But, we began life in “the country.”

That pastoral period lasted about six months. One morning, during a very cold winter, our oil heater failed. Rudy, not one to solve problems, decided that it was obviously time to leave again. So, without even a fare-thee-well, Rudy took off in Mom’s car and left his two sons to cope.  Bill did the obvious. He called Mom in the City. She did what she always did. She dropped whatever she was doing, left behind her life in Manhattan and came to New City Park. She quickly got the heater fixed and almost as quickly got herself a new job, this time with Widman’s Bakery, a local firm in Spring Valley.  And Mom just kept on truck’n. Again, she never bothered to complain. She just did what was necessary for her kids. In that, Mom never waivered.
So, Daisy—Mom, your birthday’s coming around again. You would have been 113 years old on this February 23rd.  You didn’t make it that far—almost no one does.  But I wanted you to know that we all noticed. You always performed. You were a great Mom and when the going got tough, you always remained firm. You stuck by your kids, always, always. And we noticed. As a family, we weren’t much on talking, so maybe we never got around to telling you how much we appreciated you as our Mom.

You were great. And I will always remember that about you. I have not forgotten you Mom. None of us forgot you. We all loved you much. I’m the only one left, so I wanted you to know that, wherever you are, you were a Mensch while here.
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