I was asked to write something about my mother.
Considering the critical role mothers play in Shadows and Ghosts—Edna, Judith, one Jewish, the other Gentile, it’s odd that I haven’t done it before. But these are my thoughts, random, strung a bit haphazardly….
In many ways she was like both Edna and Judith; in others, she was like neither.
A tiny woman, fragile, loose-limbed, and notoriously accident-prone, she could find the single dip in a sidewalk over which a thousand people had stepped without falling. By the end of her life, I’d lost count of all the bones she’d broken, the number of emergency rooms we’d visited.
She had a sharp mind and wicked wit, a striking contradiction to the soft delicacy of her beauty—pink skin, high cheekbones, finely sculpted nose, copper-hued hair, and wide, intense, dark eyes. Despite her constitution, she was steel-willed, determined, tenacious, and thoroughly unconventional, a sylph with the heart of a daredevil: she wanted to try everything.
Her greatest dream was to do biological research, find cures for diseases. Her teachers and guidance counselors encouraged her to go to college. But this was during the 1930’s. There was a Depression. My mother was supposed to find a job, and then a husband.
I can only imagine the discoveries she would have made had she been encouraged to pursue her dream, given the support to pursue it. She truly believed she could do anything, and even when life was throwing obstacles in her way, tripping her up, she found ways to prove it.
When she wasn’t working as a corporate financial officer (a position she ascended to at a time when the glass ceiling was oppressively low for women), or taking care of her children, or managing the house, she was in the kitchen experimenting, concocting, feeding her spirit. The kitchen became her laboratory…
…which is how I wound up roasting peppers, because she decided, as she always did, that the peppers one roasted on their own were better than those that were made by someone else. I tried to buy a jar once when she was visiting, and she laughed at me, then headed to the produce aisle to find the perfect peppers before taking me home and showing me how to roast them.
Her insistence on my learning this skill amused me, but I realize now the value of it, the importance, in everything I do. How lucky we all were—my father, brother, and I, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, then grandchildren—to be the recipients of her teaching, her gifts, her need to create, solve problems. How blessed we all were to be in the presence of such a woman….