(Posted on 23 September 2015, Mom's first birthday after her death)
My mother, Rita Jacobs Marcus, died last spring. Today is Mom's 93rd birthday.
I'm the oldest of three siblings, and was "the bad kid," often getting in trouble, and the "under-achiever" who disappointed my parents.
Mom and Dad were New Yorkers who went to high schools for very smart kids. Mom (born i nthe Bronx) went to Hunter High School, Dad (Broklyn bred) went to Townsend Harris. Later, Mom went to Hunter College, Dad to City College. Many years later Mom earned a Master's Degree and a Sixth Year Certificate.
While I was in high school Mom and I attended "Sunrise Semester" on television at 6 AM. She got academic credit. I did it for joy. I got special permission to sit with her in a class on teaching the "new math" that she needed for her master's degree at Southern Connecticut State College (now "University").
The degree also required a phys ed class. One hot summer in the 60s my perennially overweight mother played touch football with a class of super-fit male Viet Nam vets. She was a good sport, even about sports. Not me. In intramural softball, when asked what permission I wanted to play, I'd ask to be "left-out."
Mom never learned how to type but she won an award for penmanship and got special permission to submit her Master's thesis in longhand. My own writing is barely legible -- even to me.
Mom was always reading. She seemed to read every new bestseller and was in a book discussion group in her late 80s. I ignore fiction.
My parents did a lot traveling, both in the USA and in Europe. Our family drove cross-country in 1961 and we often took Sunday drives. However, sometimes Mom preferred to lie on her bed with a book than to get into the car with the family. I remember Mom saying to Dad: "You want to go for a ride, _you_ go for a ride."
Mom never drove a car while we lived in New York but she did get her license shortly after we moved to New Haven in 1952. I won't say that my father was a sexist, but he drove Chryslers and Mom drove less expensive Plymouths. She was a fine driver, and very protective. I remember that if she was driving and I was in the right front seat, she'd always put her right arm in front of me if we were going to make a sudden stop. I learned that and do the same for my dog when he is in the front. (My wife usually sits in the back.)
Mom and I, like Bill and Ted, had an excellent adventure during the summer between my junior and senior years in high school. We visited several colleges -- even as far away as Pittsburgh. I did not have my license at the time, even though I was old enough.
Mom said, “You don’t need a driver’s license because you don’t go out with girls.” Hey Mom, did you ever think that maybe the reason I wasn’t going out with girls was because I didn’t have a driver’s license?
Later on I did get my license, and sometimes used Mom's car without authorization. I once made a minor miscalculation while trying to get her Plymouth out of the garage and bumped into the side of the garage. The damage to the fender and the wall were minor, but visible. Since my parents couldn’t imagine that I had driven the car, my father blamed my mother for the damage, and she accepted responsibility. Only a woman driver could crash and not know it, or think she crashed when she didn’t. Sorry, Mom. Sorry, Dad. Sorry, Plymouth.
Mom never seemed particularly "artsy" to me but she did lots of crocheting over many years, and made nice ceramic tchochkes after retirement.
Mom had a strong sense of outrage against social injustice and was in the civil rights movement in New Haven. She gave money to important causes.
She was a great planner and, with Dad, a firm believer that "if you're not ten minutes early, you're late." Greeting cards were signed and put in stamped, addressed envelopes a week before they had to be mailed. I've always been a procrastinator.
Dad was a great joke-teller and prankster. Mom was more stoic, "not the funny parent."
Mom was active in various Jewish organizations, and an office holder. Our home was not kosher. Mom taught her children that "religion is for the brain, not the belly."
Mom was a great baker and "company cook" -- but family meals were often disappointing. I don't bake.
When I was in elementary school I had a traditional stay-at-home mom who cooked lunch on school days. Later Mom became a teacher and babybro Marshall went to restaurants at lunchtime on school days.
The lunches served in our high school cafeteria cost us 35 cents a day. And as you might expect of food supplied by the lowest bidder, it usually sucked.
As an alternative, sometimes we’d bring brown bags of mommy food, or go to nearby Chuck’s or Al’s restaurants after school. Sometimes we’d go to one of the kids’ houses and raid the refrigerator.
My mother was getting pissed off about the fridge raids. She didn’t mind us eating the leftovers, but she didn’t like the mess we usually left on the stove and in the sink. Mom gave me specific instructions to terminate the after-school cooking.
One day some friends were at my house, and of course we were hungry. I didn’t expect my mother to get home for a couple of hours so I thought we could safely reheat some spaghetti, eat it and clean up any trace of it before she came home.
Unfortunately, Mom’s plans changed and she walked in while the pot of pasta and sauce was still on the stove. She got REALLY pissed off. She grabbed the pot, and flung it at us.
Mom was no Tom Seaver, Cy Young or Sandy Koufax. She’d never be a major league pitcher. She missed us, and the spaghetti hit the ceiling. The individual noodles hung like stalactites on the ceiling of a damp limestone cave.
Every so often a noodle would wriggle out of its saucy adhesive and go “bloop” and hit the floor.
Mom didn’t laugh. We did.
My mother had multiple injuries over the years, with so many parts replacements that I referred to her as "Bionic Rita." Her internal pieces of stainless steel set off the terrorist alarms at airport gates. Despite physical limitations she once toured Italy (or maybe Greece, or maybe both) in a wheelchair.
My father's last year was spent in a nursing home in Florida and Mom drove to see him almost every day. Determined to be a loving, supportive wife despite her own problems, Mom walked across a huge parking lot -- with a walker -- to get into the building.
Mom had many falls in her last decade. One time she slipped in her bathroom and spent the night on the bathroom floor because she could not get to the emergency pendant that she had left on the nearby night table.
Mom wrote lots of letters and she loved to talk, in-person or on the phone. There were times when she paid the phone bill partly by check and partly with cash -- so Dad would not see the canceled check and realize how much she was spending to call from New Haven to New York.
In her last years, Mom's communicating and her brilliance slipped away. She stopped writing, reading, speaking and did not even recognize her three kids. I visited her in her nursing home and in a common-but-sad role reversal, I fed her chunks of fruit. She could not stand up but had a strong bite, and her eyes sparkled while she chewed pineapple and melon.
Near the end, Mom said almost nothing. Her favorite word was "no" -- even if she meant yes. But Mom could be responsive even without words. One time I showed her her wedding picture. I pointed to my father and asked if she knew him. She smiled. I asked her if she ever had sex with him (probably the first time I ever mentioned sex to Mom). Her smile got bigger and her eyes sparkled brightly. I asked her if the sex was fun and she started giggling. That was a good sign.
While I did not inherit Mom's seriousness, her handwriting, her academic achievement, baking ability or her sportsmanship; I did get some of her intelligence, her drive for fairness, her love of reading, her love of learning, her love of travel, her hatred of cooked carrots, her ability to make things by hand, and her ability to function with little sleep.
I started typing this at 3:45 AM. Mom taught me that much could be accomplished while others are asleep.
Thanks Mom, and Happy Birthday. I miss you and love you.