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Missing My Mom

1957 … Mom and I are just getting to know each other

Ida F. Dreskin lived for 93 years, and was well on her way to 94. She was my mom and I really thought she had an excellent chance of seeing a hundred. But one month ago, her extraordinarily terrific life reached its conclusion as Ellen (my wife who, amazingly, happened to have been teaching for a weekend at my mom’s temple down in Florida) held her hand and sang to her as Mom departed this plane to go wherever it is that beautiful mothers go to when their time with us is complete.

But I miss her. This morning, with snow covering New York, I’m homebound with Charlie (Ellen is once again out of town) and the feeling washed over me that this would have been a great time to give my mom a call and say hi. But while I can certainly speak to her, I can’t speak with her. And that makes me sad.

1998 … so happy to have been able to take Mom to Israel with me

Having been my mom’s youngest, we shared a pretty special bond. Probably because she pitied me, being the youngest and the weakest and the most pitiful of her children. (I’m hoping I grew out of much of that sentiment.) Whatever the reason, she was pretty important in my life. And while I  didn’t visit her enough, and I didn’t even call her enough, our relationship was always solid and loving.

I treasured our phone calls. Neither of us has/had a very good memory and she would actually keep a pad by the phone, filling it up with news she wanted to share with each of her kids. Coming from the world of non-profits and an abundance of committees, I really appreciated that she had prepared an actual agenda for our conversations. (Unlike my dad, whose phone calls consisted of, “Hi, Bill! Say hi to Ellen.” I was always glad to speak with him, but boy were those talks brief.)

Here are a few memories and thoughts I shared about mom at her funeral.

I’d begun a file. You see, I knew mom was old, and I knew she wouldn’t live forever. So I’d begun a file: “Memories of Mom.” I knew that when this day arrived, I’d want to speak, and I didn’t want to have to struggle to remember the important stuff. So I’d put those memories in the file. But when I opened it, there was only one item there: “JimmyTonyTommyMichaelBilly!” I didn’t think this day would get here quite so soon. I thought I’d have more time. But here we are, just the same. And me, having to write without having made that list.

For fifty years, Mom had been saying her memory was going. And okay, so she forgot a few things here and there. But really, she just had a bad memory. She was never any better at remembering how to operate a computer in 1996 than she was in 2016. Back then, she’d write down copious instructions (notebooks full of them!) and she still wouldn’t be able to find the file containing the memoirs she always said she was going to write.

And then there was “JimmyTonyTommyMichaelBilly!” The woman never remembered my name. She’d have to run through the whole list before figuring out what to call me.

But here’s the most important memory of them all — the one that neither she nor any of us ever forgot: Mom loved us and she was proud of us. She adored the grandchildren we all gave her. And we loved her deeply (which was pretty good for emotionally-challenged Dreskin men).

I remember Mom’s cooking. Basic meat and potatoes fare, if you can believe it, coming from a woman who’d been a vegetarian since the early 1970s. The woman could burn a hamburger like it was nobody’s business. And even long after she’d tamed her carnivorous side, there were still hamburgers and french fries (and also chicken cacciatori, snickerdoodles). And flank steak too, which seemed to always appear on special occasions and homecomings.

I remember long, lazy summer days at the Clinton Hills Swim Club. While mom slathered on suntan oil and baked in the sun with all the other mothers who’d thought there was nothing better than (or dangerous about) basking in the carcinogenic death rays of a hot summer sun, I was in the water. We’d meet up for lunch at the snack bar for more burgers and fries, and then stop at Shuller’s on the way home to pick up dinner (yep, more burgers and fries … it would take a while before we got behind her in eating healthy fare).

A little further down the timeline, after the divorce, Mom and I moved out of 1221 Avon Drive in Bond Hill to the New Forum Apartments in Clifton. I’d begun working summers at camp and returned home one August to find she had moved again … and forgotten to tell me where. What, you thought that parents relocating and not leaving a forwarding address was just a joke?

Mom and I grew up together. She married Dad at 19 and was every bit as young as her age. By the time I was born, she was 34 and growing up. She wanted out of her stifling marriage so she could begin enjoying life’s plentiful offerings. It wasn’t long before she started Transcendental Meditation and gallivanting across the globe in search of the Maharishi and nirvana. I actually think she came really close to nirvana. The woman needed only four hours of sleep a night and stayed that way pretty much the rest of her life. As an old lady, her doctors were distressed that she “couldn’t sleep” and they gave her medication for it. It took some doing but I finally convinced that if she still felt rested after her usual four hours, she shouldn’t let doctors unnecessarily medicate her.

When I myself began to become something that approached “grown up,” I got such a kick out of making Mom proud. She loved when I started making music and really enjoyed the home recordings I would send her and, oh my god, getting to see her baby’s off-Broadway musical?! That was one of my very favorite gifts to her. But I think it got even better when I became a rabbi. She loved reading what I’d write and I think fairly burst with pride at what she saw going on in my temple. I mention this because, for me, it was all payback to the mother who’d given me so much across the decades. It made me feel great to be able to fill up her heart with a return on the investment of love that she’d made in us all those years earlier.

Which brings me to these final years. While I think she did get worse at operating technology, she still loved having it in her life (even if she could never remember how to Facetime with any of us and had to settle for playing Spider Solitaire as just about her only consistently successful computer activity — although, if you look at her Facebook page, she somehow managed to post a whole lot of her scores there). She did what she could and had fun doing so.

She couldn’t hear us on the phone so well, but I think that was more due to the above-mentioned shortcomings regarding tech. She didn’t seem to remember how to set her hearing aids or even the speaker on her phone. But no matter, she still managed to share the news with each of us about what our siblings were up to (she considered herself, I think, the clearinghouse for all family news … especially the sensitive stuff that she shouldn’t have repeated but simply couldn’t help herself. By the three hundredth time, if we were still getting upset about it, we had only ourselves to blame.).

We buried my mom during the week of Parashat Khayei Sarah, the life of Sarah, in which Abraham’s wife, Isaac’s mom, Jacob and Esau’s grandmother, breathed her last. Sarah had lived 127 years — she’d been a beautiful old lady. I didn’t think my mom would get to 127 but, as I mentioned above, I didn’t think that 100 was out of the question either. In the end, she got 93 years, and that ain’t too shabby either. She died with her marbles intact, fairly healthy, and beautiful as ever, inside and out.

So thanks, Mom … for being my mom. You lived life on your own terms and served as quite the role model for the children and grandchildren who watched you do your thing. We should all be so lucky to live life as you did.

We’ll miss you, that’s for certain. But it won’t stop us from living, because that’s what you taught us through your example each and every day.

But I do miss you.

With love from your baby boy,
Billy


P.S. I wrote this piece to honor my mom’s memory. Our winter campaign is dedicated to honoring all  the moms and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers, who have touched our lives in wonderful and unforgettable ways. Please consider making your own gift at jonahmac.org/donate in honor of those into whose family you’ve been lucky to be born.

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