Posted in Creative Nonfiction, Jamie Dedes, Uncategorized

Those Infamous New York Moms

Mom and Me 1950, Brooklyn
Mom and Me
1950, Brooklyn, NY

A woman in Brooklyn decided to prepare her will. She told her rabbi she had two final requests. First, she wanted to be cremated. Second, she wanted her ashes scattered over the local shopping mall.

‘Why the shopping mall?’ asked the rabbi.

‘Then I’ll be sure my daughters will visit me twice a week.’

I met my Jewish friend, Laurel, when she came to a meeting at our local meditation center in Northern California where we now live. Laurel and I  got on right away. We both like Broadway shows, music and opera, reading, writing, and good meals seasoned with great conversation. She’s from Great Neck, LI in Nassau County. I’m from

Me and Rich 1972, Montauk Point, LI, NY
Me and Rich
1972, Montauk Point, LI, NY

the Center of the Universe, Brooklyn. We’re about the same age. So we come from the same time and, essentially, the same place.

Now New York moms get a bad rap, especially Jewish moms – but none of us gets off free. Laurel reminded me of that yesterday with a stereotypical New York joke at the expense of mothers. These jokes usually illustrate moms making caustic remarks or their attempts to foster guilt in adult children. While we do use regional idioms and have a distinct style of delivery, I’m really not sure that mothers from our time and place have the corner on either caustic commentary or the laying on of guilt. New York moms can’t be the only ones who, when distressed by a child’s behavior, say or at least think – despite how treasured the child … and they are treasured – “For this I was in labor thirty-six hours.”

Like all of us, my mother was very much in process and very much a product of her place and time. Among other things, what that means is that modesty was a primary concern. For my Maronite (Eastern Catholic) mother this included modest dress, which in turn included girdles. Now I’ve got to tell you that until I hit forty I was mostly underweight. In fact at Christmas when I was nineteen, I stood 5′ 3 1/2″ and, though I was three months pregnant with my son, I weighed only ninety-three pounds. Nonetheless, from my thirteenth year until her death when I was forty, my mother was adamant that I should wear a girdle so that I wouldn’t “jiggle.” That would be immodest and unseemly. Only my mother, I would think, would put me through this torture for nothing. As my husband said, “What’s to jiggle? If she turned sideways and stuck out her tongue she’d look like a zipper.”

Those old, typically New York jokes at the expense of our mothers were funny because there’s an element of truth in them. Our mothers often did pave the pathways to their homes and hearts with guilt. They could be cruelly caustic. They were as tough as life. They tended to be rigid and narrow on some sensitive subjects. But they were also present. They were idealistic. They worked hard in their homes and at their jobs, where they were grossly underpaid. Many of them worked for hours each week to make the most unbelievably complex old world dinners for traditional Sundays that included religious services and large gatherings of extended family and orphaned friends and neighbors.

No matter how difficult things got, these sturdy immigrant and first-generation American women did not resort to drugs, alcohol, or beatings. They went to bat for us at school. They got us into the best schools they could afford and kept us in school for as long as they could afford to do so. They protected us from old lechers and young men who did not have “honorable” intentions. Kudos and compliments were about as common as Dodo birds in the twenty-first century; but secretly they were pleased and would proudly show photographs of us to their friends and boast of our accomplishments. It took me years to appreciate their insecurities and motivations.

Mom and me 1980, San Francisco, CA
Mom and me
1980, San Francisco, CA

You can tell by the posture in the photo to your right, that moving into my thirties, I was still struggling with mixed feelings. The reason in this particular case: Before I went to work one morning, I left money on the kitchen table for a pizza. I called home at 5:00 p.m. as I was leaving the office and asked my mother if she’d order the pizza right away because I was “starving.” I got home and “binged”: I ate one slice of pizza and left the crust. “I thought you were hungry,” Mom said. “I was.”  The fact that I was thirty and still “eating like a bird” and underweight disturbed her. In turn, I was disturbed because she was still trying to tell me how to eat. I do the same sort of thing to my son now, not about food, but about other things.

I miss my mother and am thinking of her even more than usual with Mother’s Day soon to arrive. I wish she was here nagging me to clean my plate. I finally understand. As the saying goes, “We grow too soon old and too late smart.”

– Jamie Dedes

© 2013, feature and all photographs (from our family album, please be respectful), Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

Photo on 2012-09-19 at 20.00JAMIE DEDES ~ My worldly tags are poet and writer. For the past five years on medical retirement due to a chronic, potentially life-threatening illness, I’ve blogged at The Poet by Day, formerly titled Musing by Moonlight. The gift of illness is more time for poetry. Through the gift of poetry (mine and that of others), I enter sacred space, the common ground that is our true home.

Author:

The focus of "The BeZine," a publication of The Bardo Group Beguines, is on sacred space (common ground) as it is expressed through the arts. Our work covers a range of topics: spirituality, life, death, personal experience, culture, current events, history, art, and photography and film. We share work here that is representative of universal human values however differently they might be expressed in our varied religions and cultures. We feel that our art and our Internet-facilitated social connection offer a means to see one another in our simple humanity, as brothers and sisters, and not as “other.” This is a space where we hope you’ll delight in learning how much you have in common with “other” peoples. We hope that your visits here will help you to love (respect) not fear. For more see our Info/Mission Statement Page.

12 thoughts on “Those Infamous New York Moms

  1. This is a lovely tribute to your beloved mum and other mothers of her time. I like the warning in the saying that we grow too soon old and too late smart. Luckily, most readers of this blog will think life is a continuum. At least, I do.

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    1. Indeed. It is a continuum. The saying is a one of many old American Pennsylvania-Dutch adages that used to part of popular wisdom when I was growing up. My mother used to quote them to me all the time. 🙂 I loved you post today, Paula. Listened to the music several time. What a gem you have found. I’ll be over to comment when I get a free second. 🙂

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  2. Jamie, I love this piece! It is so much a perfect reflection of all the Jewish mothers I knew growing up. Now I know a generation of women in their late 70’s and 80’s who were third generation and remarkably successful and respected by any standard. Of course, overbearing mom’s dd not have to be Jewish…..

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    1. … and if subsequent generations have done well, it is in part due to the example of persistance and determination they other generations set for us. Thanks for your delightful comment, Michael.

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  3. I am blessed with a mom who has truly evolved. Her New Jersey, Radcliffe, WASP sensibilities have mellowed after almost 40 years in the Bay Area, CA. Sometimes her tolerance amazes me. I follow her example and find myself quite changed from the mom I was when my kids were in high school. I am hoping that I will never be too “set in my ways” to reconsider my opinions.

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  4. Lovely piece Jamie. Great tribute to the determination and hard work of Moms. Your first picture… there is one like that of me in 1950 so I guess we are the same age:)

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