May 8, 2020

Why I Was Never Allowed to Forget Mother’s Day—By My Mother

A remembrance of enforced remembering

By Ed Goldman
Until my mom passed away in 2006, I never forgot Mother’s Day. I never got the chance to.

Even when it was still at least three weeks away, she’d remind me it was, successively, (a) on the horizon; (b) looming; (c) coming into view; and (d) tomorrow.

I’d love to say her memory ticklers were subtle, but until this moment, you’d have never found the words “subtle” and “my mom” in the same sentence.

Here’s an example: For more than 20 years, she was a part-time salesperson at the May Company department store in Southern California. In 1998, she lamented in a phone call with me that she’d been asked to come back to work “on a fill-in, emergency basis.” To be sure, she’d been one of the store’s top producers. But since she was already 80, I doubted the veracity of her claim and asked why she thought she was being called in. 

“The Mother’s Day rush!” she exclaimed. This call, it should be noted, took place in mid-April. As you’ve no doubt concluded, there was no emergency and nobody had called her back to work. But someone was now reminded that a special day was in the offing. 

Ed’s mom with his wife. The two passed away within 10 months of each other.

While she and my dad had a daughter who died as a toddler, years before I was born, my mom raised three sons, a subspecies not widely lauded for paying attention to details. I understand today, and maybe even had a sense of it then, why she was always dreading she’d be forgotten. Her father had left her mother when my mom was eight years old, living in the Jewish section of 1925 New York City—an enclave and culture where divorce was not only a rarity but practically an anomaly. And a divorced woman and her child, pariahs. 

But when my mom was 13, her mother remarried. Mike Mirsky, a tailor and, like all of my grandparents, a Russian immigrant, was a hot-tempered but essentially kind man. He opened my mom’s world to art, music and literature, and adopted her not long before his own child, my mom’s half-sister, was born.

My brothers and I didn’t know that Mike wasn’t our birth grandfather until, in 1965, my family returned to New York for my eldest brother Jerry’s wedding. Around that time, Stuart and I—he was 19, I was about to turn 15—started reading about hereditary male pattern baldness, aghast to learn that you likely inherited it from your mother’s father. Mike Mirsky’s head made a cue-ball look like it was sporting a pompadour.

Our anxiety was relieved because of Mike’s mercurial moodiness. Halfway through our visit, he decided to evict my mom, dad and brother Stu (Jerry had his own place). As he bellowed, my mom sobbed and the veins in my dad’s neck, arms and fists kept rippling in anger. Finally, my mom came bursting into the room where Stu and I were packing and screamed, “He isn’t even my father! This man isn’t my father! He’s my stepfather!”

Somehow, things calmed down an hour or two later and we all had dinner together in the kitchen. That’s when my brother and I displayed the sensitivity for which boys and men are often acknowledged. When Mike was out of the room, we asked our mom if her real father was as bald as Mike. Puzzled, she said, “No, he still has thick, curly hair like you boys.”

This was decades before guys high-fived each other but I’m sure Stu and I did some equivalent of it. When my mom asked what we were celebrating we told her about the male-pattern baldness threat. She looked at us and, I think, just for a moment, regarded us as the pigs we truly were. Then she blew her nose laughing. My mom could always make you laugh just by watching her do it.

Despite looking and sounding the part, my mom was not a stereotypical Jewish mother. She didn’t pressure or expect any of her sons to grow up to become doctors, lawyers or accountants—a good thing, since none of us did. My eldest brother, Jerry, was a high school gym teacher and baseball coach for more than 30 years in Houston. Our middle brother, Stuart—who died of Hepatitis C a number of years ago after receiving a transfusion containing contaminated blood, courtesy of Baxter Laboratories— was an engineer and entrepreneur. And I was just as you see, someone whose life took on direction when, 50 years ago next month, he started getting paid for his writing. Until the day before she died, quite literally, my mom read every single article and book I wrote.

Typing these words today, alone in a room like I am every other working day, I began to miss my mom and that contagious laugh. Her name was Betty. And I have a feeling that somewhere, somehow, she’s glad that even without her constant reminders, I remembered her in time for Mother’s Day.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).