“A mother is a mother from the moment her baby is first placed in her arms until eternity. It didn’t matter if her child were three, thirteen, or thirty.”
– Sarah Strohmeyer, “Kindred Spirits”
Dads keep you in line. But mothers come to the rescue.
She’ll snatch you at the last instant from the edge of the dock. Search for the 17th time for the monster lurking under your bed or behind the curtains. Chase your family dog in traffic and lure him back home with her homemade brisket. Hug you in the emergency room and even tighter when the Wicked Witch of the West turns over that menacing hourglass and tells Dorothy, “This is how long you’ve got to be alive.”
Later, in your adolescence, when the girl you can’t live without tells you she assuredly can live without you, a mom will say it’s the girl’s loss — not yours — and, “By the way, did you notice what an annoying giggle she has?” and, “Personally, I couldn’t bare listening to that day-in-and-day-out. Honestly, honey, I don’t know how you did it.”
Mom made it her business to bail me out of a slew of “fixes” as she tenderly and sometimes teasingly called them. Call it “enabling” if you must; to her, it was a mother’s calling to come to the rescue. To make things OK.
For example: On Thursday nights, our high school football team had a nonnegotiable 7 p.m. curfew, in the words of Coach Roy, “to get your heads screwed on straight” for the Friday night game. Heaven help you if he called your home and you weren’t there but instead (he presumed) gallivanting with some “ne’er-do-wells” (his word).
Which is what I was doing during one of those inviolable Thursday night bed checks. A bunch of us had gathered in Johnny Neff’s basement — we who had been blackballed from an exclusive club of popular guys — for the inaugural meeting of our own club. Earlier, I’d confessed the pain of that rejection to Mom, which is why she smuggled me from our house and drove me to Johnny’s right after Dad left for his weekly poker game.
We named ourselves the “Dohboys” or “D.O.H.’s,” linking ourselves in perpetuity with the silly-hearted exclamation, “Doh!” (Think of the film actor James Finlayson, Laurel and Hardy’s perpetual nemesis, or Homer Simpson.) How glorious and timely it was to laugh and bond with such a merry band of “ne’er-do-wells.”
Until Johnny’s mother shouts from the top of the stairs, “Is the Schwartz boy down there? His mother’s on the phone.”
“It’s Mom. Your coach just called. He wants to talk to you.”
“Jeez. What’d you tell him?”
“I told him you were in the shower.”
“What do I do?”
“Call him back. Now. Here’s his number. Make sure he doesn’t hear whatever it is you boys are up to.”
“Jeez … Oh, Jeez…”
Then Mom said, “You’ll be OK.”
That kind of thing.
Fast-forward past an umpteen more bailouts. In old age now, Mom rediscovered religion, which meant if you needed her on a Saturday morning you’d find her at synagogue “in my same seat.” Too many hip, knee, spinal and worsening mind afflictions prevented Dad from accompanying her anymore, although I suspect he was more content to sit in his den cigar-smoking, nibbling on kosher pickles and reading the latest Tom Clancy novel.
On one of these Saturdays, he was healing from his most recent surgery in a nursing home.
That’s when I received the call from a nurse to please come there now. Why? “Please. Just come, sir,” is all she said.
I remember very little about driving to the nursing home, what was said when I got there and entering Dad’s room with the nurse. Nor do I remember much about the drive shortly afterward to Mom’s synagogue.
But the rest is as clear as a photo you’ve kept forever. From the back of the sanctuary, I watched Mom. I’d always admired her athletic golf swing and how she could chase down that dog of ours. But now she was too weak in the legs to sit-stand-sit-stand with the other congregants.
It was a frightening, impossible task to have to tell her face-to-face, right now, that her husband of 54 years had just died. No bailout here.
An usher gently tapped Mom’s shoulder and informed her that her son was here to see her. She swiveled and saw me, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt and clutching my car keys. She knew right then.
In the quiet of the foyer, Mom’s first words to me were, “You’ll be OK.”
Dick Schwartz lives in Minneapolis.