Mother's Day is here and it's my first one without Mom. My mother, Evelyn Levine, died on April 19, and it was a huge personal loss as well as the end of an era. She was the last of the Greatest Generation in her family. More importantly, she was an amazing mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, as well as my biggest fan. Mom was so thrilled with my blog posts that she carried them around to show all of her friends. I hope she would have "liked" this one as she did every other one I wrote.
Growing up, the word that I associate with Mom is love. I remember as a child that it was unconditional and expressed often. Yes, I knew she was proud (most of the time) of what I did, but I never felt like I had to do anything to earn her love. It was just there. She was a young mom and we were close when I was growing up -- shopping together, singing show tunes, baking, doing household chores. She taught me what are now arcane household skills: ironing (I picture her ironing madly during the McCarthy hearings and remember her teaching me this skill by letting me press Dad's handkerchiefs); dusting and vacuuming three times a week (I never understood why these things had to be done until I had my own house because hers was never dirty); hand-washing the dishes nightly, and setting and clearing the table for that precisely-at-6pm dinner. She was also a loving daughter, caring for her own widowed mother as part of her daily routine.
It was seeing my mother as a young grandmother with my own kids, however, that made me appreciate the kind of parent she must have been when I was young. She was definitely a down-on-the-floor, hugging and kissing, playful person. My daughter described her as, "...the grandma that everyone wishes they could have: pure love. She was nurturing but also incredibly fun and funny. Whether it was teaching us how to play Gin or how to do a back dive, grandma was hands-on and all in."Her eight grandchildren had many fond memories:
- Tea parties
- Falling asleep holding her hand
- Her candy drawer
- Trying on her make-up, special lotions, and shoes
- Card games
- The smell of her Shalimar perfume
- Coffee cans filled with mandelbrot and rugelach that would arrive during the college years
- Going on what she called double dates with her grown grandchildren and their significant others
- The way her face lit up a room when she smiled
- The warmth of her hugs
- The love in her voice every time she spoke
She played on the floor with every one of her grandchildren and even her first few great-grandchildren. One of her great granddaughters, Maya (age 9) drew this picture of "Bubbe" hugging her:
The caption read, "This is a picture of the last time I saw my great grandma and how I remember her and her bright face." In her sweet eulogy, Maya said:
"My Bubbe is so special. She helped me inherit the gift of being good with elderly people. When I was very little, she used to crawl on the floor to play with me and my sisters. She didn't miss a thing. Every time I made something, she put it on her refrigerator. I felt very close to her. When I have children in about 21 years, I will name one with a name that starts with an E to remember my Bubbe. If she was in a Harry Potter house, she'd be a Hufflepuff, loyal and kind... I loved and love my Bubbe. Her spirit is in us, and we remember her in the way she wanted to be remembered.
During a random phone conversation, Mom told me how happy she was living at her senior retirement apartment after Dad died because she had come to know so many people who were different from her. I think she was reflecting on Christmas weekend and how she liked sharing the holiday with the people who celebrated it. She told me she had never really been exposed to a diverse community until age 89. She came to see that people are people and that they are more alike than they are different. She went on to talk about how she loved her grandchildren's spouses regardless of their race or religion. She told me how she loved her African-American great grandchildren as much as all of the others. How different her world had become.
I am so proud of my mother, not just for opening her mind to accept, embrace, and love these new family members and friends, but also for learning to be independent as she entered her 10th decade of life. Losing Dad was very hard for her as she not only loved him but also depended on his "brain" to make most of the decisions in their lives. Now she had to figure out how to fix the computer, get household repairs done, organize a new home, and entertain herself. These last three years, Mom showed us what a strong person she was. After she broke her hip last year, she was determined to recover and come back home on her own terms. And she did. My mother had grit, warmth, a positive outlook on life, and an independent streak that served her well during these years.
Happy Mother's Day, Mom. Your strength and adaptability inspired me, your love sustained me, and I will miss you forever.