THE CYNIC WAS RIGHT

My mother was not a regular kind of mom. This confused me a lot while I was growing up. Other mothers made cookies, kissed boo-boos. Hung out with the other mothers in summertime. Swapped recipes. Watched soap operas.

July 1963I’m the one in the middle with the shaggy dark hair and my mother is on the far right with white hair, leaning back in her chair

My mother didn’t bake anything, much less cookies. She was a terrible cook because she hated it. She was an unenthusiastic housekeeper and the whole “huggy kissy” mothering thing eluded her. She didn’t watch soap operas, loved the Marx Brothers and MGM musicals. She never graduated high school but read voraciously and constantly. Especially about science and space. She was fascinated by quarks, black holes, and antimatter.

She never kissed a boo-boo; I don’t remember her kissing me at all. She wasn’t that kind of mom. Hugs yes, kissing no.

Mom-May1944

She had no interest in gossip, recipes, or cute stories about anyone’s kids. She wanted to talk about politics or the space program and which nations were so hopeless they needed a complete redo, from scorched earth up (she had a list). I think if she were still alive, she’d probably add the U.S. to her list.

She enjoyed talking to me about being young when FDR became president. How, when the National Recovery Act was passed, there was a spontaneous parade in New York that lasted 24 hours. Ticker tape and all. How the government had surplus crops during the worst years of the depression, and government agents took the extra food, dumped it in vacant lots and put poison on it so no one could eat it. Even though people were starving.

I thought she was just paranoid, but recent events have made me change that opinion.

She didn’t trust government, was sure that J. Edgar Hoover was out to get us. He had a long list — and she was sure we were on it. She was in favor of equal rights for everyone, everywhere. Pro-abortion, birth control, gay marriage, putting wheat germ in everything (yuck) and natural medicine when no one seemed to have heard of it. She wanted all religion out of schools and government.

She was in favor of the death penalty. She felt there were people who should be taken out and shot. No long-terms prison sentences and no decades of appeals. One well-placed bullet in the brain to serve justice.

That was my mom.

She gave me Knut Hamsen to read and a grand piano for my 14th birthday as well as appropriately anatomical books about sex. She figured I needed accurate information so I could make informed decisions.

She hummed most of the time, sang the rest of the time. She got the words wrong all the time. She read me poetry when I was small and treated me like an adult as soon as I could talk. She was a grimly determined atheist and would eagerly debunk any hint of religious belief should I be foolish enough to express any. But she made sure my brother had his Bar Mitzvah and never ate pork.

She was the most cynical person I’ve known. I was sure she was wrong, that people were better than that. I expect she would feel vindicated because on some level, this is exactly what she expected. She did not believe in the goodness of humans or believed a god would step in to rescue us. I wanted her to be wrong.

So here I am. Six years older than my mother was when she died. I think my mother would like this version of me. I think she always liked me more than I liked myself. It just took me a long time to “get” her. I just couldn’t figure out why she wasn’t like all the other mothers. Garry had the same problem with his mother. We both watched too many television mothers who were nothing like the ones with whom we lived.

I’m very glad mom’s not here to see this post pandemic world, though I suppose she too lived in a post pandemic world too having been born just 8 years before the Spanish flu hit.

I doubt she be surprised at our current venue. She would definitely tell me, “I told you so,” and wouldn’t stop until I bowed my head in humble obedience. She was assertive.



Categories: Anecdote, Mother and motherhood, old photograph, Personal, Photography, Relationships

Tags: , , , , , ,

12 replies

  1. You definitely look like her in the July 1963 picture.

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  2. Wow, what a mum! And you have more than just a tad of your mother in you.. Like it or not 😉

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  3. Your mother seems like someone who understood exactly how the world operates and that everything is about profiteering and making money in our human society. I think I would have understood you mother completely, but not when I was a young girl. I can understand that you didn’t understand her. You were to inexperienced. I am sure my boys don’t understand me. Thanks for sharing about your mother, Marilyn.

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  4. Despite her not being that TV mom who somehow did it all and still looked perky, your mother was great. How lucky you were to have been raised by her! She taught valuable lessons (obviously) like independence, standing up and being counted and having a voice among many others. I think she really loved you and your brother, but that particular generation wasn’t raised to be overly demonstrative, despite what Leave It To Beaver or Father Knows Best would have had viewers believe. I got one of your kind of mother too, without quite the finesse sadly. But who was a strong woman when being a strong woman was definitely not popular. We were lucky, you and i.

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    • Garry ALSO grew up in a very undemonstrative family. Maybe it was all those war years and the hardships that came with it. I actually had to learn — literally practice — being affectionate. It still doesn’t come easily to me. It might be a generational thing, the times through which we pass.

      I’m pretty sure I got both my assertiveness and my endless searching for answers from her. She used to read all the time and when she got to an interesting part, she would tell everyone to stop what they were doing and she would read to us.

      I learned a lot from that and I still annoy Garry because I do the same thing and it interrupts his television viewing — and because he’s deaf, he has to turn everything off so he can hear me. But it was from listening to my mother that got a 99% grade on the national tests for space and science. I never read any of those books, but they were read TO me. Considering that she dropped out of school (was told by her parents to drop out of school) when she was 14, she did pretty well for herself.

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  5. your mom sounds like an amazing person and think of all of the things she’s passed on to you, some appreciated later in life

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    • I think I was in my 60s before I really got a grip on who she was and what she wanted for me. Also, it took that long before I realized how much she appreciated me and appreciated me in ways I had not really seen myself. I was the intellectual in the household. She was disappointed in my lack of athletic ability (she was a skier and a skater, a horseback rider and a swimmer — and tennis (I keep forgetting the tennis)) and I was a complete klutz (except for horses), but I had a good brain and I enjoyed using it.

      Liked by 1 person

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