When I was six years old, my mom gave me an important lesson. She was on carpool duty when she dropped off Lawrence Fishman at his home. He didn’t say thank you. She became furious. She told me, “I don’t want you to be friends with that boy. If someone doesn’t say thank you, you don’t want him in your life.”
My mom always offered little gems like that. She once told me, “You’re born into a birth family but you spend the rest of your life searching for your earth family. If you’re lucky, the two are the same.” Another time she said, “Only spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself. If somebody makes you feel lousy, stay away from them.”
My mom was quirky and opinionated and never hesitated to speak her mind. She loved to stir things up. When I was in high school, she became a Chocolatier with a twist. She hired a sculptor to make a mold of a penis and used it to make chocolate schlongs. She called her company Lick-a-Prick and filled the refrigerator with edible phalluses. Friends were always surprised when rummaging through our fridge for something to eat.
My mom was playful and loved to laugh. During her childhood speech to me about avoiding strangers she said, “If someone you don’t know offers candy to get in their car, don’t do it….unless it’s chocolate.” She followed this with a mischievous laugh and bright smile revealing her youthful spirit.
My mom had many jobs. She was a Sunday school teacher, camp counselor, cocktail waitress, notary public, chauffeur, unemployment official, caterer, truck driver and hairdresser. She assisted my father in film production then launched her own career in movies and television as a production coordinator. She worked several seasons on the shows Alien Nation, My So-Called Life and CSI. She worked with Quentin Tarantino on his first film Reservoir Dogs. He called her “my movie mom.”
She loved the music of Dory Previn and Barbra Streisand. She was a voracious reader and wrote poetry. She wrote a screenplay about the life of Chubby Checker. She was interested in psychology and spoke often of becoming a therapist. She was a member of a nudist camp.
She loved being a mother. She embraced the role of teacher, protector, cheerleader. She was always in my corner. When I struck out in little league to cost our team a game, she told me, “That pitcher was scared of you. He knew if he didn’t get you out, you’d hit a home run.” She was lying but I smiled anyway.
My mom was a badass. When I was beat up by a schoolyard bully she drove to the boy’s home, confronted the mother and demanded to see the bully. The mother retrieved the boy and my mom slapped him across the face. The bully’s mother didn’t say a word.
In 1974, my father took our family to Greece to make a movie. We lived in an apartment in Athens. During this period, Turkey invaded Cyprus and America aligned with Turkey, Greece’s arch enemy. Anti-American protests erupted on the streets and an American diplomat was killed by Greek gunmen. My father called my mom from Salonika and said she had to find a way to bring my siblings and I to the American embassy about a mile away.
My mom gathered my brother, sister and I and told us if anyone asked where we were from, we were to say we were British. We held hands and marched through the streets filled with angry protestors. People screamed “káto me tin Amerikí.” (“Down with America.”) Someone burned an image of Nixon in effigy. As we neared the embassy, two Greek men blocked our path. My mom walked up to the largest guy and screamed at him to get out of the way. He complied and we made it to safety.
As I said, my mom was a badass.
She was a people person. She had a magnetic personality and lit up a room. She didn’t judge. She saw herself as an outcast and accepted those who were different. My friends loved my mom. They came to her with their problems, grateful for a shoulder to cry on. When my best friend separated from his wife, my mom let him stay at our house until he figured out his next move.
My mom was a horrible cook. Her “specialty” was stewed poultry. She pounded a chicken with a hammer, tossed it into an unseasoned soup pot with boiling water, milk and mandarin oranges. What emerged was a frothy, alabaster mass with the texture of rubber and a residue of yellow foam. We’d leave the aborted meal in the pot and go for Thai food instead.
My mom and I had a complicated relationship. She was the center of my life, but I needed to find my own way. As a teenager, I started to express my independence. We clashed. The more I pulled away, the more she held on. Our relationship suffered and we had intense battles.
At age 27, I entered therapy. My mom did an amazing thing. She entered therapy herself. One night over dinner she said, “I’m sorry.” “For what,” I asked. “For whatever I did to make you unhappy.”
I loved my mom for that. I was at a dark point in life and she tried to absorb the burden herself. Over time, we grew close again.
My mom was a breast cancer survivor. After her recovery, she volunteered as a counselor for the American Cancer Society. She mentored women dealing with their own cancer journeys. This gave her a sense of purpose and a means to help others.
As my siblings and I left home for college, my mom struggled to forge a new identity. She always had a wanderlust and began speaking of moving to Alaska. My father reluctantly indulged her, hoping she’d never act on her dream. In the late 90’s, she gained the courage.
She packed her Jeep, bought some maps and drove up the California coast. She called me from Big Sur saying she’d made it as far as the famed Bixby Bridge, but couldn’t find the courage to drive across. I counseled her to be brave, telling her to open the car windows and scream as she traversed the span. She called again from Carmel telling me she’d made it.
My mom continued her trek, calling from Oregon and Washington. It took her about a week, but she finally arrived in Anchorage. She found a motel and began scouting locations as if she were on a movie. A few days later she called my father and asked, “What the hell am I doing here?” My father flew to Alaska, spent a few days with her seeing the sights then accompanied her on the long drive back to Los Angeles.
My mom gave up her Alaska dream but her restlessness remained. She moved with my father to Palm Springs and became excited about reinventing herself. She volunteered for the Follies, a song and dance review at the Plaza Theater. She made new friends and rediscovered old friends who’d moved to the desert.
Around 2010, my mom began losing her memory. We disregarded her symptoms at first, attributing them to the standard plight of aging. But after she drove her jeep into a drainage ditch twenty miles into the desert, we knew something was wrong. She had dementia.
My parents sold their desert home and moved back to Los Angeles. My mom’s health challenges worsened. Her diabetes led to kidney failure and dialysis. Our family came together to help care for her. She made it safely through the pandemic but in 2021 her health plummeted.
We moved her to a nursing home. She endured several surgeries but her symptoms worsened. We made the difficult decision to discontinue dialysis and opt for hospice. We spent as much time with her as possible, playing Dory Previn music on the boombox.
As she neared her final days, she became delirious. She screamed out often, ravaged by pain and confused by her situation. My aunt and I held her hand and told her we loved her.
On her final weekend on earth, I remembered her encounter at the Bixby Bridge. She was once again terrified to cross a great divide. I told her to be brave, that everything would be okay.
In the early hours of July 5th, I had a dream about my mom. She showed me a line-art drawing she’d made in a senior art class. I told her it reminded me of the path someone took to make it to the end of a maze. This made her smile. Later that morning I received a call from the hospice agency that my mom had passed.
Thank you, mom. I love you. Give dad a big hug for me. May your journey be safe and may your load be light. I’ll see you again.