March 4,1924 – July 10, 2010

My mom’s favorite photo of herself, taken in a Greenwich Village nightclub circa 1944.

Things My Mother Taught Me

How to Iron. A chore she loathed. How ironic! Mountains of clean laundry would accumulate for weeks at a time on top of our clothes dryer. Piles which we, as kids, would dig through searching for clean underwear. Yet, when I was twelve years old, my mom took the time to instruct me in the technique of ironing a shirt, which went something like this: collar first, sleeves second, shoulders next, then front left and right panels, and finally the back. To this day, I follow that sequence, to the point of obsession.

My grandmother had given birth to my mother in the neighborhood laundry. Which might explain my mom’s lifelong, love-hate relationship with ironing (“Be careful!” I can still hear her admonishing voice, keeping her kids at arm’s length whenever she was dressed up to go out. “You’ll wrinkle my clothes!”) She was, however, an inveterate clothesline user. She loved the smell of freshly laundered sheets drying in the breeze. And how the wind magically smoothed out the wrinkles.

My father was always trying to get her to change her ways. One night after work, he pulled into our driveway hauling an industrial-size iron in the back of his station wagon (an oddball appliance that, according to him, had “fallen off the truck”) — as a surprise gift for my mother.

Well, that went over like a lead ballon. It was the type of iron you’d see through the plate glass window of your local dry cleaners. You know that dangerously scary-looking steaming cylinder with the fitted curved lid of steel? Which, when brought down with brute force and a hissing burst of scaldifying mist, would incise a razor-sharp crease in your father’s pants?

It was the worst gift he’d ever gotten her, next to the sewing machine.

How to tell time. I learned how when I was three years old. My reward was a Hopalong Cassidy wrist watch.

How to “bump and grind.” Yes, my mom, a music lover par excellence, and never one to play the music snob, happened to also love striptease music. There was a top-ten song in the 60s called “The Stripper” (by David Rose). While most people were content to buy the single, my mom bought the album. She also owned its sister recording: “How To Strip For Your Husband.” She liked to blast these records full tilt. In the summertime. Windows open. My dad may have taught us how to do the Lindy Hop and Peabody, but my mom demonstrated for us the finer points of the bump and grind. This — coming from a woman (if you read my previous post) who would complain about naked mannequins in department store windows.

Never talk to strangers. The danger of talking to strangers, in particular, those bearing candy, was grilled into us weekly. When I was six and my sister was three, we went shopping at the local A&P with my mom. Both her arms were cradling grocery bags when we left the store. Out in front, my sister put a penny in a vending machine, but the candy didn’t come out. A man in a fedora happened to pass by. “Excuse me, Mister,” said my mom. “Would you mind helping my daughter with the candy machine?” He tipped his hat and crouched down next to my sister. “Why don’t I help you with that,” said The Stranger. My sister took one look at him and screamed bloody murder. The guy took off.

My mom had taught us well.

How to Laugh at Life. This was her greatest gift to me.

She was one-of-a-kind. Her last words were “I love you,” spoken to a hospice nurse who was caring for her.

I will miss her more than I can say.

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2 Responses to “March 4,1924 – July 10, 2010”

  1. Tom Snowden Says:

    Your mom taught me that it was okay for adults to enjoy rock and roll. I’ll always think of her when I hear Rainy Day Woman or Dirty Water. I’d walk down the side of my house as a teen and hear her singing along to those songs on the radio. If she wasn’t singing, she was whistling. She was a very positive influence in my early years.

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