A MOTHER’S WALTZ by Leslie Martel and Marilyn Armstrong

Mother’s Day – Sunday, May 8, 2020


FROM swo8 (Leslie Martel): Today is Mother’s Day. To commemorate this day, we have created a photographic montage of families together. It includes eight generations of my family and three of Marilyn and Garry Armstrong’s families.

The song is bittersweet because to be a mother, is indeed bittersweet. Our children bring us our greatest joys and our greatest sorrows. The couple in the video are my great-grandparents.

My great-grandmother died in childbirth, leaving 3 babies and a husband. When my great-grandfather remarried the children were sent off to their aunt to be raised.

The aunt is the lady sitting by the fireplace. The first photo of children is of my grandmother and her twin sisters. My grandmother being the oldest would have missed her mother the most. In spite of her early losses she became an extraordinary person and had a huge influence on me and my thinking.

To be a mother has got to be one of the most difficult endeavors to undertake in one’s life. We are given this helpless creature for a short period of time to nourish, educate and inspire before they disappear into the ether of adulthood.

As a tribute to mother’s everywhere we dedicate this song, “Mother’s Waltz” by swo8 Blues Jazz and Marilyn Armstrong. 


FROM Serendipity (Marilyn & Garry Armstrong): The melody of A Mother’s Waltz echoes in my mind. I feel as if it is something I remember hearing my mother sing a long time ago, but of course, it is new from swo8 Blues Jazz

The pictures of my family include my mother, me, much younger and my son as a toddler. Pictures of Garry’s family include his mother and father’s wedding, Garry’s dad back from WWII with little Garry on his knee. Garry’s mom as a young woman.

The pictures are family heirlooms that evoke strong and sometimes conflicted feelings.

Music by swo8, with pictures from Leslie Martel (swo8) and Marilyn Armstrong (from both my family and from Garry’s family).

These are memories in music for all mothers.

JEWELRY AS FAMILY HISTORY, PART 1 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Whenever my daughter, Sarah, comes to visit from LA, we always take a trip down memory lane together – in my jewelry drawers. I used to have all the jewelry I kept from my grandmother and my mom and my earlier years in shoe boxes and Tupperware containers that were stashed away in a closet. Then one year Sarah decided that we should organize all the old jewelry and display it in easy to access drawers, which we did. We discovered many pieces that I can still wear and those got transferred into my personal jewelry collection.

Now every year, Sarah and I go through our neatly organized drawers, reminiscing and trying on pieces of our family history. Here is a sampling of our favorite ‘historical’ treasures.

The two necklaces below belonged to my grandmother and I believe came with her to the US from Russia around 1908. I remember her wearing the one on the right and I always felt that they had a ‘European’ look to them.

My grandmother’s primary, go to piece of jewelry was the pin. She never wore earrings,  bracelets or rings. But she wore pins in may ways, like at her neck with a high collared dress, to hold a scarf in place (she loved scarves) and on her chest, on their own. She was very conservative in her taste but liked good quality, well designed pieces.

In the ‘olden’ days, no woman’s wardrobe was complete without a collection of pearl necklaces. Below is Grandma’s three strand, ‘evening’ pearl necklace but she also had single and double strands of varying sizes.

Now onto my mother, who was born in 1916 and started her jewelry collection around the 1930s, as a teenager. Her early pieces were primarily Bohemian in style, with many Beaus Arts/Art Deco touches. Her style changed dramatically as she got older and she later favored large, bold, ‘funkier’ statement pieces. So looking back at her early collection is always odd for me because I never knew the woman who would wear these pieces.

I love this Beaux-Arts/ Art Deco bracelet and I still wear it all the time.

My mother’s style-evolution can be seen, to some extent, in her two wedding rings. She married her first husband in 1936 with a small but interesting band. The wedding ring she wore after she married my father, in 1949, was big and flashy and not really a wedding band at all. She had a large collection of big rings which I gave to her friends when she died because neither Sarah nor I wanted to wear anything that big.

The mother I remember, and the grandmother Sarah knew, loved chunky, big necklaces. She was short but very busty and broad-shouldered, so she wanted her chest to make a style statement. It’s hard to tell how big her pieces actually were since I gave away the bigger ones to her friends after she died.

The green and gold piece below is only HALF of a two-tiered necklace that I deconstructed because I couldn’t wear it in its original state. The second tier was also gold balls with green stones, so you can imagine how bulky it was. Even as it is, it’s a bit too large for me but I do wear it every once in a while. I mostly keep it for sentimental reasons.

A sample of the big and ‘clunky’ neckpieces my mother favored.

My mother rarely bought any ‘real’ jewelry because she favored the larger costume pieces. But she did like sparkle for the evening, so she had some crystal/glass pieces in her wardrobe for dressing to the nines, which people often did in the fifties and sixties. She wore ‘evening’ clothes, often long dresses, at least once or twice a month. As a child, I used to love helping her decide what clothes and jewelry to wear when she went out at night. Maybe that’s why I’m so attached to her jewelry.

In her later years, I introduced my mom to the Craft Show and she ended up buying a lot of her costume jewelry there. At that point, our tastes had grown together and we both liked interesting, unusual, pieces that people would notice and comment on. So often she and I would buy from some of the same craft artists. The glass jewelry below is an example of something we both bought and wore. She bought the necklaces but I wear them now. The earrings are mine because she never pierced her ears.

My mother only wore clip on earrings and I couldn’t tolerate clips, so I gave away all of her earrings, which were as big and full of personality as all her other jewelry. I did keep one pair though because it was one of the last pieces of jewelry that I bought for her and because it represents the bright, fun, spunky spirit that characterized her and endeared her to everyone who knew her.

 

A NOSE JOB FOR MOM – Marilyn Armstrong

I don’t remember how many times my mother told me this story, or how many times I have told it to you. It bears retelling.

At age 22

My mother, like many young women of her generation, had wanted to attend high school. And college. But the family was poor, and there were many mouths to feed. In the end, she had to quit school after seventh grade to take a job. She worked as a bookkeeper. At 14, my mother was respectable. Also naïve and innocent.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

The first place she worked was in a music publishing house on the Lower East Side where she had grown up. She was there for seven or eight years and finally decided to get a better job.

Immigrant children had trouble breaking into the workforce. Of course, my mother had the additional burden of being female at a time when women were not considered equal. There was no “political correctness” to protect them. My mother was blond and green-eyed. At 5 foot 7 inches, she was tall for her generation. Her English was better than most of the family since she had been born “on this side” of the Atlantic and had all her schooling in New York.

She was ushered into a room to be interviewed for the job she wanted. A few questions were asked. A form was handed to her and she filled it out. When she came to the box that asked her religion, she wrote Jewish. The interviewer looked at the application, said: “Jewish, eh?”

He tore the application to pieces and threw it in the trash in front of my mother. She said that from that day forward, she wrote Protestant so no one would ever do that to her again.Finally, I made a leap of understanding. I connected this anecdote to an aspect of my mother I never “got.” My mother wanted me to get a nose job. When I turned 16, she wanted me to have plastic surgery to “fix” my nose.

“It’s not broken,” I pointed out.

“But don’t you want it to look ‘normal’?” she asked.

“It looks fine to me,” I said. I was puzzled. My sister took her up on the offer. I continued to say “no thanks” and my nose is the original model with which I was born.

Since the last time I told this story, I realized my mother wasn’t hinting I wasn’t pretty enough. She was asking me if I wanted to not look Jewish. Remarkably, this thought had never crossed my mind. Until a few weeks ago.

I know many children of Holocaust victims refused to circumcise their sons because that’s how the Nazis identified little Jewish boys. I know non-white mothers frequently sent their light-skinned children north hoping they could “pass” for white. But never, until recently, did it occur to me my mother was trying to help me “pass” for non-Jewish.

I never considered the possibility I was turned down for a job because I was, in the immortal words of Mel Brooks, “too Jewish.” I always assumed it was me. I failed to measure up. I was too brash. My skills were insufficient.

I told Garry about my revelation. It was quite an epiphany, especially at my advanced age. I needed to share. It left me wondering how much I’d missed.

September 15, 1990 – My family at our wedding. I think most of us look a bit alike!

I told him I’d finally realized my mother’s persistent suggestion to “get my nose fixed” was an attempt to help me fit in, to not look so obviously Jewish. I had never considered anyone might not like me for other than personal reasons. I said I thought perhaps I’d been a little slow on the uptake on this one.

Garry said, “And when did you finally realize this?”

“Yesterday,” I said.

“Yesterday?” he repeated. Garry looked dumbfounded.

“Yesterday,” I assured him.

He was quiet and thoughtful. “Well,” he said. “You’re 72? That is a bit slow. You really didn’t know?” I shook my head. I really didn’t know. Apparently, everyone else got it. Except me.

MR. ROGERS AS PARENTING GURU – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My mother was a psychologist who originally specialized in child psychology. Throughout life, I had a personal role model for parenting through the way she treated me and from what she actually taught me about relating to children.

Her philosophy was to respect your child as an individual but understand how he or she thinks and what he or she understands at each level of development. You should talk to children as you would an adult, but using words and concepts they can understand at each developmental stage.

She believed that you should explain whatever is going on in your child’s life, including why you want them to do something or not do something. I always got a reason for what was expected of me so I was a very reasonable and cooperative child, most of the time.

My favorite photo of my mom and my son, David

I was nineteen in 1968 when Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood started its 30 plus year run on television. I didn’t get to know him until around 1987 when my daughter was two.

She became a huge Mr. Rogers fan, as did I. I immediately realized that he was motivated to help parents as much as kids. He was a wonderful example of the calm, consistent, patient demeanor parents should exhibit towards their kids as well as a model of how adults should communicate with children.

He showed parents how to tune into what their kids were feeling, to respect those feelings and how to appropriately address them. He was particularly good at showing parents how to help kids through difficult times in their personal lives or in society as a whole.

He started his TV run in 1968 and that year he filmed an episode especially for parents, showing them how they could talk to their children about the assassinations and social turmoil that was erupting in the society at the time. His last address specifically for parents was after 9/11 in 2001, when he was talking to a generation of parents who had grown up watching his show.

Mr. Rogers’ parenting style was familiar to me because it mirrored my own mother’s approach to parenting. It apparently had a huge influence on many other parents for decades.

He became a parenting icon, or guru, to millions. His influence could be compared to the influence of Dr. Spock. He also wrote several books for parents. The real wisdom he conveyed was through his overall persona and gestalt. Parenting philosophies have changed over the years but his example of nurturing and sensitivity has had a lasting impact.

Celebrations last year marking the 50th anniversary of his TV debut were received with enthusiasm and huge ratings. There was a PBS special and a critically acclaimed documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” which made 22-million dollars at the domestic box office and became the top-grossing biographical documentary in American history!

The trailer for the new movie coming out about Fred Rogers, starring Tom Hanks, also received an enormous outpouring of affection and support on the internet.

Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers

Mr. Rogers is obviously beloved by both the children and the parents who watched his show and he was a comforting presence to parents as well as children. He gave parents confidence that with some empathy and patience, they could handle any situation with their children. But he also made it clear that there had to be a real connection between parent and child for this magical relationship to work.

To be a parent like Mr. Rogers, you had to talk to your child, ask him questions, read to him and play with him in order to develop the rapport and trust that predicates the “Mr. Rogers’ style” relationship.

Above all else, his message was to accept and love your child “just the way you are” and to give that dependent being all the time and attention he deserves. This approach is timeless, compassionate and caring.

Mr. Rogers set a high bar for generations of parents, particularly working parents whose time with their children was more limited. He also gave these parents the roadmap and confidence to reach his lofty goals.

You could say that Mr. Rogers has played a major role in shaping American society through his influence over generations of kids and parents because society is made up of individuals, and parents shape the character of the individuals who populate society.

Mr. Rogers helped shape parents since 1968.

A WOMAN’S RIGHT TO LIVE – Marilyn Armstrong

One-Liner Wednesday — Women’s Rights

I remember the awful days before legalized abortion. When women’s jobs were listed separately in the paper. When the first question you got asked on a job interview was “How fast can you type,” and the second was “Who will take care of your child if he or she is sick?”

When contraception was nearly impossible and a lot of it hadn’t even been invented, so no matter how hard you tried, you could end up pregnant anyway. We fought a lonely battle to retain control over our own bodies.

We won. I was sure we won, didn’t we?

Roe V. Wade put an end to getting abortions in a back room somewhere. Right?

pro-choice-advert

I remember backroom abortions performed with chlorine bleach, coat hangers, and turkey basters. When sepsis or perforation of your uterus was not an unusual price to pay to end a pregnancy and as likely as not ended in death for both the fetus and you. When young women, unable to obtain an abortion threw themselves off bridges rather than have an unwanted baby, or tried to abort themselves, with terminal results for mother and child.

Despite conservative backlash and brainwashing on this issue, and despite the current frenzy in Washington DC, having an abortion was not and is not a sign one is irresponsible or anti-life. It’s a choice to have a good life when the alternative is at its best, bleak. These frenzy has been going on for my entire life. I’m 72 and women have been fighting this battle since before I was born.

suffragettes

Women have abortions for all kinds of reasons, including a desire to be more than a mother.

Physical health. The welfare of living children. The basic need to survive. A career that leaves no time to properly care for a child. The lack of a career that makes it possible to bear and raise children in a life that is not squalor.

Meanwhile, these so-called men are trying to stop a woman’s access to abortion are simultaneously determined to keep women from getting effective birth control, a weird set of beliefs that no matter how hard I try to make sense of it, doesn’t make any sense. And the worst part of the “pro-life” movement is that these same people care nothing about what kind of life this not-yet-a-person will lead following birth. They only care about being born, not about living. Squalor is fine, abortion or even birth control is not.


This is not “pro-life.” On every level, it is “anti-woman.”

This has little to do with preserving life. It’s about power. Isn’t it always?

Getting women back to their position of subjugation so old white men can own the world. They already control most of its assets, so let’s finally get those pesky women back where they belong.

It has always been about that.

So many women my age went through an abortion. Were we happy about it? No, but we weighed our options, then did what we felt was our best (only) choice.


The most significant gains in personal freedom women
have won are at risk. If we don’t speak up, speak out,
and stand together, we will lose it all.

I never imagined that I would have to fight this battle AGAIN. I remember my friends looking for someone to perform an abortion, terrified of the consequences, but even more terrified of what their lives would become should they be required to go full term with pregnancy.

I am many years past child-bearing. This is about women. All women. Whether or not we are fully equal in this world, this nation — and have the right to decide what happens or is done to our bodies.

If there is a right to life involved, how about the right of women to have a good life, to bear the number of children we want from none to many.


No one wants an abortion, but sometimes, you need one.

No woman should be forced to bear children.

This is a position I have held since I was very young and before I’d ever had sex. If you don’t own a uterus (and never did), you have no right to be part of this conversation. As a person who will never carry or bear a child– or even be responsible for those you had a part in creating, what right have you to speak on the matter? Old, childless men who want to force women to be baby machines are particularly loathsome.

I had an abortion. It wasn’t a “real” abortion because it was too early to even be sure it was a fetus. That was before tests made it possible to determine whether or not you were pregnant until pregnancy at least 8 weeks advanced. I had a husband in the hospital with cancer, a young child, a career just getting off the ground, and issues in the marriage that would later end with divorce. There was no way we could survive a new baby. Not to mention significant genetic issues that still haunt the family into new generations.

I am horrified by these people and their cruelty. Disgusted, revolted and sickened. I do not care who knows it.

#1linerWeds – One-Liner Wednesday and yes, this is way too long, but this is a big issue for me and always has been. I cannot keep this funny. It isn’t funny.

REALLY, MY MOTHER – Marilyn Armstrong

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

My mother didn’t bake anything, much less cookies. She was a terrible cook because she hated cooking. 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. She talked to me about everything and more important, she listened to me.

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 this country to her list.

She enjoyed talking to me. I’m not sure if she talked to anyone else about being a young woman when FDR became president. How, when the NRA (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 I have since learned that it happened, just the way she said it did. For all I know, it’s happening right now.

She didn’t trust the government, was sure they were spying on us. Positive that  J. Edgar Hoover was out to get us and he had a long list — and we were on it. Turned out, she was on target about most of it.

Mom1973-3She was in favor of equal rights for everyone, everywhere. Pro-abortion, in favor of birth control, gay marriage, putting wheat germ in everything (yuk) and holistic medicine before anyone knew what that meant.

She wanted all religion out of the 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 in prison (too expensive). No years of appeals. One well-placed bullet in the brain and justice would be served.

That was my mom.

She gave me Knut Hamsen to read and a grand piano for my 14th birthday. As well as appropriate 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 very small and treated me like an adult. She was a grimly determined atheist and would debunk any hint of religious belief should I be foolish enough to express it. I always felt she had a personal spite on God for failing her and the people she loved.

She was the most cynical person I’ve ever known. It seems I am following in her footsteps.

So here I am. Older than my mother was when she left this earth. I think my mother would like this version of me. She always liked me, probably more than I liked myself.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY: A MOTHER’S WALTZ – Leslie Martel and Marilyn Armstrong

Mother’s Day – Sunday, May 12, 2019


FROM swo8 (Leslie Martel): Today is Mother’s Day. To commemorate this day, we have created a photographic montage of families together. It includes eight generations of my family and three of Marilyn and Garry Armstrong’s families.

The song is bittersweet because to be a mother, is indeed bittersweet. Our children bring us our greatest joys and our greatest sorrows. The couple in the video are my great-grandparents.

My great-grandmother died in childbirth, leaving 3 babies and a husband. When my great-grandfather remarried the children were sent off to their aunt to be raised.

The aunt is the lady sitting by the fireplace. The first photo of children is of my grandmother and her twin sisters. My grandmother being the oldest would have missed her mother the most. In spite of her early losses she became an extraordinary person and had a huge influence on me and my thinking.

To be a mother has got to be one of the most difficult endeavors to undertake in one’s life. We are given this helpless creature for a short period of time to nourish, educate and inspire before they disappear into the ether of adulthood.

As a tribute to mother’s everywhere we dedicate this song, “Mother’s Waltz” by swo8 Blues Jazz and Marilyn Armstrong. 


FROM Serendipity (Marilyn & Garry Armstrong): The melody of A Mother’s Waltz echoes in my mind. I feel as if it is something I remember hearing my mother sing a long time ago, but of course, it is new from swo8 Blues Jazz

The pictures of my family include my mother, me, much younger and my son as a toddler. Pictures of Garry’s family include his mother and father’s wedding, Garry’s dad back from WWII with little Garry on his knee. Garry’s mom as a young woman.

The pictures are family heirlooms that evoke strong and sometimes conflicted feelings.

Music by swo8, with pictures from Leslie Martel (swo8) and Marilyn Armstrong (from both my family and from Garry’s family).

These are memories in music for all mothers.