When I traveled to Israel for the first time, in 1972, I worried about how much my mother would worry about me. I was just 17; you know what I mean… Freshly graduated from high school, I was about to embark on what they now call a gap year. I was the first-born child, leaving behind a single mother with my three younger siblings, all of whom were in their own unique and, shall we say, erratic orbits. What would she do without me? I said to her, “Mom, I don’t know how many days it might be before I have any access to a telephone. What should I do? Do you want a telegram?”
I will never forget my mother’s response. This little, 4 foot 11 inch, prematurely grey-haired woman said, “Don’t worry about it. If your plane crashes, I’ll hear about it.” She said it gently, but her intent was clear: you’re a big boy now, and you’re in good hands.
It was a major hassle to make an international call home from Israel in 1972. The most direct way was to go to the central Jerusalem post office where there were some little booths with telephones inside. You’d walk to the window of a certain clerk. She’d stare at you as if you were creating a serious inconvenience for her. You’d write down the number you wanted to call, tell the exasperated clerk how many minutes you wanted to talk, and then pay. She would then assign you a booth number. Such a lot of red tape and complexity!
My mother appreciated that she didn’t need me to check in with her much when I was away. She had enough to worry about. Her philosophy was: “Don’t look for trouble. If it wants you, it will find you.”
I called home twice over nine months. Once for Mother’s Day, and once for my mom’s birthday. Yesterday would’ve been her 88th birthday. She was born on February 8th, 1929 and died on October 26, 2009. Her birthday was the first date I ever remembered besides my own birthday.
Nine years after her death I can see more clearly than ever how she influenced me and my life. I won’t dwell on the negative stuff, though that’s there, too. Her love of music and standing up and belting it out in front of a crowd, large or small; that is most definitely in my DNA.
It’s nine years since my mother died. I still miss her – not every day, of course. When I sing a particular song (she would’ve loved Mi Chamocha Blues), I imagine her beautiful smile. When I hear certain melodies, especially some jazz standards, I can hear her crooning. Whenever I see some good looking strawberries, or cook her famous brisket, or cry at the slightest provocation: I think of her. It makes me wistful: simultaneously happy and sad. That’s the way it is as we lose loved ones and friends. They don’t disappear. Instead, they take the shape of music or aroma or a rainstorm or a tear.
I will always miss my mother. That’s a fact that just seems to go with the territory of living. There is literally nothing I can do about her loss or any other loss. I can only be thankful for every gift she ever gave me. I will always be indebted to her trust and her love of music that changed my life forever.
In nine months I only called my mother twice from Israel. No guilt, no recrimination, no disappointment. No trouble. Just joy. That was my mother.
Happy birthday, Mom.