TOO LATE LEGAL – Marilyn Armstrong

“Have you considered marijuana?” floated past me on the conversational breeze. It was my previous cardiologist speaking. Was I in the Twilight Zone? No, he was merely suggesting pot might be a good drug. For me. It would deal with a variety of issues. He wasn’t suggesting “medical marijuana” because though theoretically we have it, insurance won’t pay for it and almost no doctors are certified to prescribe it. But don’t worry, now we can buy it recreationally — and legally — at a local shop.

“Uh, yes,” I said. “The downside, other than the price tag, is coughing. Coughing hurts.”

“Take in more air when you inhale,” he said. “You’ll cough less.”

Right. Like I didn’t know that already. He forgets that mine is the generation that made it popular. The biggest users of legalized pot are —  you guessed it — senior citizens.

I grew up in a world where getting busted for having a couple of joints in your pocket could land you in jail for a long time. A world in which marijuana supposedly was the gateway drug to a life of dissipation and degradation which would end with you lying face down in a gutter in a part of town where the cops won’t go.

Now I live in a world where the cardiologist recommends smoking pot.

My mother was born in 1910 and passed in 1982. Growing up, horse-drawn carts were far more common than automobiles. She was a child during World War I, a married woman and a mother in World War II. She survived — somehow — the Great Depression and marched with friends and family in a spontaneous parade of celebration when the New Deal passed. Even though the Depression didn’t really end until World War 2 and brought employment to everyone who wasn’t fighting.

By the time she passed, there was cable television, home computers, and two cars in every driveway. One day (I was a kid) I shouted: “Oh look, a horse and cart!”

She looked bemused. “When I was your age,” she said, “We used to shout “Look, a motor car!”

And today, my cardiologist suggested pot. Okay. I think I see a motor car.

Our local cannabis shop is at the edge of town, close to the main road that goes to Rhode Island. Convenient. It also has a parking lot.

I was afraid they’d put the shop in the middle of town and we’d have a permanent traffic jam.

Massachusetts, in its infinite wisdom, has so heavily taxed cannabis that it’s more expensive to buy it legally than to get it from ye olde dealer. In fact, it’s a lot cheaper to buy it from the same guy you bought it from before they made it legal. Competition lowered his prices while the state upped theirs. Figures, doesn’t it?

As it turns out, pot has no particular medical advantages for me.  The cannabutter I made was so strong, I didn’t feel better. Mostly, I just passed out.

I wish it did work medicinally. I wish something would work. The company that made the medication that always worked for me stopped making it a few months ago. It was cheap to buy and it helped. But it wasn’t profitable. Now we are searching for something else that won’t make me sick, make my heart stop, or give me ulcers while reducing the pain enough to allow me to function.

Pity the pot didn’t do it.

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.

TO MOM ON YOUR 101st BIRTHDAY

Today is “Flag Day” throughout much of the world.  Here, it is much more. It’s my Mom’s birthday.

Happy Flag Day, America

Esther Letticia Holder Armstrong left us 11 years ago. But for me and my family, she’s very much alive in spirit and 101 years young. They were singing “You’re A Grand Old Flag” and “Over There” when Mom was born on that June 14th in 1917.  Mom’s father,  my grandfather,  was over there. He was a sailor in the Danish Navy during World War 1.

Gramps, a Barbados native, saw plenty of action as he would tell us many times in the years to come.

Esther Holder, as Aunts and Uncles would gleefully tell me, was a feisty child and teenager.  “Smart as a whip,” friends said about Mom. She graduated near the top of her Julia Richmond High School class of 1935.  My Mother once described herself to me as a “Jazz baby,” showing off pictures of herself as a young woman who liked to dance. I’m not sure how that resonated with some of the older folks in the family but none of them lived in a glass house – if you get my drift.

I guess Mom left a trail of broken hearts when she and my dad, William Benfield Armstrong, married in 1941.  It was one of the biggest social events of the year. However, modesty aside,  the glittering affair was just the warm up to my début on the world stage in April of 1942.  A star was born —  at least that’s how I’d see it in my private fantasies which Mom frequently punctured.

Mom was a single parent during my early years because Dad was away — in the Army – seeing some of the heaviest action of World War 2 in France and Germany as a Sargeant in the still-segregated armed forces.

We looked like a Hollywood family when Dad finally came home from the war. At least that’s what I thought. Mom was beautiful and Dad was such a handsome guy.

Over the years, my Mother was “the voice” of our family. She clearly set the parameters for right and wrong, good and bad for my two younger brothers and me. I tested her many times, especially as I got older and became a “man” in my immature mind.  I always lost those confrontations.

Mom was tough! She was also tender, in her own way. She encouraged me to read and write.  She actually read my first attempts at fiction and assured me I had talent. She told me I should pursue my dreams.

We weren’t big on outward displays of affection,  something that I would have to deal with in later years. However,  Mom always found quality time for me. She knew I had a huge passion for movies.  We’d go to the movies, 3 times a week.  I was “Mom’s date.” She would explain who the people on the big screen were.

They were Gable, Tracy, Hepburn, Cooper,  Grant and all the others who reigned over my fantasies through my many years of loving Hollywood.  Mom said she named me after her favorite star,  Gary Cooper.  There was a mixup in recording the birth certificate and Gary became Garry.

There would be frequent mixups later when I became a news guy on television. Actually, there are still frequent mixups. Some things never change.

I’m not sure my Mother was excited about my career choice.  She always said I should become a doctor, lawyer, or minister.  She agreed I talked well.  What she really said was,  “Garry,  you have a big mouth!”  I’d smirk when she said that.  The smirk usually quickly disappeared she gave me “the look.” Mom also thought I was too good for the women I dated. I think she left that impression with many of those women in my life. I got lots of feedback about it.

I remember Mom and Dad celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.  I saw a look in their eyes I hadn’t seen too often.  The look of love.

Dementia took hold of Mom in her last few years. Dad had passed away.  Mom was alone with my middle brother Billy in the old family home on Long Island. Anton,  my youngest Brother, was busy with his blooming career as director of the St. Olaf Choir in Minnesota. I was the married, busy TV news guy up in Boston.  Family get-togethers were difficult.

In what would be her last coherent afternoon with me,  My Mom floored me when she admonished me to be a good husband, to find quality time with Marilyn, to show affection and not stonewall Marilyn with internalized emotions. Mom held my face close with her hands like I was that stupid teenager. She smiled with patience and compassion, counseling me to “… be good to your Wife … you are lucky to have her. Show her you appreciate her, that you love her.”

I’m still trying Mom.  I’m not there yet.

In the meantime,  Happy, Happy Birthday.  Mom.  You’re the best!

MY REAL MOTHER – Marilyn Armstrong

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.

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. She 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.

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 — 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.

1963

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, then 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.

She didn’t trust 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 (yech,) 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 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 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.

My mother and her sisters. 1953. Queens, New York.

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

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

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers, daughters of mothers, and mothers of mothers. Let’s celebrate being women and being alive. It’s not such a small thing.

MY MOM’S ADVENTUROUS HONEYMOON – BY ELLIN CURLEY

At the age of 19, my mother married a 34-year-old doctor named Abraham. Her father’s name was also Abraham so her husband became known by his initials, A.O.

She and A.O. decided to honeymoon in Russia so Mom could meet her mother’s sister and the rest of the family who had never moved to America. It was 1936. They took an ocean liner, the elegant ‘Normandie’, to France and took a train through Europe to Russia. The train had to go through Nazi Germany to get to Russia. At the time, Jews traveling in Europe were already getting nervous.

Mom and her first husband, A.O.

At one of the stops just before entering Germany, A.O. decided to get off the train and get sandwiches for himself and his bride. It took longer than expected and as he came back out onto the tracks, holding the sandwiches, the train was just pulling out of the station. He had both of their ‘papers’ with him. So Mom was now entering Nazi Germany alone, with no papers!

The Nazi officers got on at the next stop and started questioning everyone. Mom and A.O. had struck up a conversation with another passenger, who was German or Austrian. Mom found him and told him her predicament. She was panicked, needless to say and he agreed to help her out.

When the German officers got to Mom, she and the good Samaritan tried to explain her situation. Husband with papers, getting sandwiches, missed train, etc. The Germans insisted on searching Mom’s luggage, which she happily agreed to. While they were still talking, quite tensely, there was a commotion outside the train. Mom stuck her head out the window and saw an incredible sight. There was a railroad hand car, pulling up behind the train, carrying a train employee and A.O., still holding the sandwiches!

Old fashioned railroad hand car

A.O., who spoke German, had been able to get someone at the train station to help him rescue his young bride in the only way available to them. It was a daring and a timely rescue. A.O. got back on the train, produced their papers and the German’s left, confused perhaps, but satisfied.

That’s not quite the end of the story. A.O. later told Mom that, unbeknownst to her, he had been smuggling information, in his suitcase, for the Russian government! He was a member of the Communist Party and he was acting as a courier between the party in the U.S. and Russia. Needless to say, if the Germans had found A.O’s hidden documents, I would not have been born.

Mom and A.O.

Mom was furious at A.O. for putting her in a potentially dangerous situation. He should never have agreed to carry ‘spy’ documents on his honeymoon and exposed Mom to such jeopardy.

I always loved this story though because it’s the closest thing I’ve ever been to a real life cloak and dagger drama. Cue the credits and the spy movie music!

MOM 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 1963

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 She 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.

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 they were spying on us. Positive J. Edgar Hoover was out to get us. He had a long list — and 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 (yuk) 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 in prison (too expensive). No decades 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 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. She was a grimly determined atheist and would eagerly debunk any hint of religious belief should I be foolish enough to express them. But she made sure my brother had his Bar Mitzvah and never ate pork. Tradition.

She was the most cynical person I’ve known. I was always sure she was wrong, that people were better than that. I can’t even imagine what she would say about the way the world is turning out. I expect she would feel vindicated because on some level, this is exactly what she expected. She did not believe in the goodness of human beings or that god would step in to rescue us. With all my heart, I wanted her to be wrong.

So here I am. Nearly as old as my mother was when she left this earth. I think my mother would like this version of me. I think she always liked me, possibly more than I liked myself. It just took me a long time to “get” her.

I’m very glad she isn’t here to see how the world has changed.

REMEMBERING MOM ON HER 100TH BIRTHDAY – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Seventy years ago today! I can see it clearly as yesterday even though I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday.

June 14th, 1947.

Harry Truman was President. Jackie Robinson had just broken Major League baseball’s color line. “Gentlemen’s Agreement” was a controversial new movie. In Jamaica, Queens, New York, P.S. 116 students were itching for the school year to end. The kindergarten class was distracted by music that filtered from other rooms as 6th graders practiced for graduation.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Mrs Hartley’s kindergarten class was trying to focus on a boring history lecture. This was a special day,  Mrs. Hartley told the class.  Why, she asked.  A few hands shot up. The shortest kid in the class, the one in the first row in a starched white shirt and pressed short pants raised both hands.  Mrs. Hartley looked around and then pointed to the little kid.

“Garry, why is this day special?”  Mrs. Hartley had mixed feelings about Garry who seemed bright but had issues. Earlier that year, She had to give Garry an F on his report card because he couldn’t properly buckle his galoshes or button his overcoat. Yes, I already carried a burden but was ready to seize this moment. I looked firmly at Mrs. Hartley, sure of the answer about the significance of the day.

1988

“Today is my Mommy’s birthday!!” I remember Mrs. Hartley looking  briefly confused before sternly answering me.

“Garry, today is Flag Day! An important day to celebrate our country’s history!!”

I answered quickly, “Maybe. But it’s my MOMMY’S birthday.”  We locked eyes as I sat down.  I could hear the other kids giggling as Mrs. Hartley stared at me. The bell rang and the class scattered quickly. Mrs. Hartley gave me “the look” as I skipped by a couple of the taller kids and out the door.

When I got home, I told Mom the story. She smiled and kissed me on the cheek. I was surprised because I thought she might be angry because I had “sassed” the teacher. No, not this time.

Sure, June 14th is Flag Day. But for me, it will always be my Mom’s birthday. Esther Letticia Armstrong would be celebrating her 100th birthday today if she hadn’t been called home 10 years ago. She lives on with her legacy : three sons. Anton, Billy, and Yours Truly.

I’ve written about Mom before. Days of my youth when Mom forged and nurtured my love of books, music, and movies. Our family library was full and varied. I remember reading Eric Sevareid’s “Not So Wild A Dream” when I was still in grade school. Mom made sure we listened to radio newscasts every day. Murrow, Sevareid, Gabriel Heater, Lowell Thomas and many other icons were familiar voices in our household. I didn’t know it then, but my career as a TV (and radio) news reporter was already mentally seeded.

1945 – Garry’s mom and dad … and Garry, too

Mom was a very forthright person. She didn’t suffer fools. She set the bar high for her sons and didn’t accept lame excuses for procrastination, mediocre school work, or social gaffes.  I was encouraged to pursue my dreams even if Mom didn’t always agree with some of my choices.

Through the years, I have snap shot memories of Mom and her wonderful voice, singing the “standards” that I’ve always loved. We would duet on Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jimmy Van Huesen and the hits of Sinatra, Crosby, Doris Day, Nat Cole. We shadow danced to big band music. Mom was graceful. I was not. Marilyn and my wedding song, “For Sentimental Reasons” had been a staple in the Armstrong house through the decades.

When I leaf through the photo albums and see pictures of Mom and Dad, I have a tinge of sadness because I didn’t know them when they were young, full of life and love, and part of the greatest generation in so many ways we cannot appreciate. I’m not sure how Mom would deal with our current political landscape. As I said earlier, she didn’t suffer fools.

I’m sure Mom is celebrating today, singing in  her beautiful voice and everyone is laughing, having the time of their lives.

Happy Birthday, Mom!! 100 years old and counting.