If you’ve read anything I’ve written in the past, you know that I tend to write about my father a lot.
A writer is supposed to write about what she knows, what she feels passionate about, and often what memories/ideas/people conflict with her truest self. Writing is a catharsis; A way to release pent up frustration, pain, and also suppressed happiness.
But it’s about damn time I write about Mamma.
My mother Linda, like many of my relatives, grew up in the town of my happiest memories, Brooklyn. Her childhood life was surrounded by cousins and her older sister Barbara. Her father, Max, owned a mechanic shop and was known around town as a gifted tradesman. Her mother, Pauline, was a strong-minded, independent woman who was well equipped with a wicked sense of humor and a gregarious nature.
My mother grew up in Brooklyn in the 60’s. She sang Elvis, Fats Domino, the Shangri Las in the shower. She wore a mint green dress with a fur collared cardigan wrapped around her long gloved arms to Prom with my father. She wore a beehive hairdo at her college graduation.
My mother was a smart, devoted student. She was kind and social. She avoided conflict at all cost; At a graduation award ceremony her name was called for a prestigious award and another Linda Roberta Goldberg stood up to receive it (The odds of another Goldberg being in the room in 1960’s Brooklyn was very high).
Contrary to my writing habits, I’ve always been a mamma’s girl. From a young age I was desperate to be in my mother’s presence. I would follow her around the house, crawl up next to her to watch television, and even call her from the payphone in middle school just to say “hello” during lunch hour. This, coupled with an intense anxiety disorder caused me to stay home more often than go out with friends in high school in order to be near her.
Therapists tried to convince me nothing bad would happen if I left her, but I couldn’t shake the feeling I would rather be with my mother than not. My mother was, for me, a security blanket. She understood my fears and could calm me down once I got revved up with panic. She wanted me to get better. She battled with my father to send me to therapy and then again to convince him I needed medication to help calm my nerves. She was always my ally, my confidant, and the person I was most afraid to lose.
Growing up, my family spent a lot of time in my mother’s beloved Atlantic City. Atlantic City is where I ate my first gelato ice cream. It’s where I first learned to fly a kite. It’s where I learned (fictionalized) Roman and American Western history courtesy of Caesar’s Palace and Bally’s Casino themed lobbies.
My mother spent most of her time there on the slots, while my father and I poked into different arcades and dollar gift shops. On most nights my mother would take us down to one of Caesar’s many restaurants and we’d eat a comped dinner before we attended a comped show. Sometimes we ate deli and went to see a comedian. Other times it was buffet and a music concert. I lived the good life while drinking shirley temples in the front row.
On one particularly sunny, Atlantic City summer day my father took me to the boardwalk amusement park. This park was the kind with rides that make kids squeal and parents nervous about the loose standards on safety regulations. It was the first time I had been on any ride and my father let me ride every single one. I had no understanding of limits. I had no previous roller coaster rules from experience. And my father apparently thought nothing of letting me eat an entire funnel cake before embarking on every upside down curvy twirly ride- which I rode with wild abandon.
One ride in particular that I remember not only went around and around, but also upside down over and over again. At this point, I finally reached the threshold of my tolerance. Once on, I was too shy to yell to get off, but another young boy did the job for me. He screamed “STOP STOP STOP” and when the ride stopped, my father came over from behind the gate said, “Want to get off too?” I nodded and we decided to leave the park.
Later that night, drinking a coca-cola and watching TGIF in the hotel room, my stomach began gurgling. I was unfamiliar with the feeling. I knew something was wrong, but did not know what. I also happened to be sitting in the room by myself while my parents went to the hotel lobby to grab tickets for that night’s show. My grandmother was in her room, a few doors down, freshening up and waiting for my parents to arrive as well. I figured I could go to her room and she could help me.
There were two hotel keys on the bedside table. I, in my infinite child wisdom, only grabbed one, convinced I was grabbing my grandmother’s key. When I walked out of the room, the hotel door sealed shut and dread immediately sunk in as I thought, “Which one is grandma’s room?” All the doors seemed familiar and all the numbers seemed unfamiliar, and I realized I was now locked out of my room. My next plan of action was not to wait outside, or even to knock on all the doors yelling, “Grandma Pauline!” I decided to go to the lobby to find my mom.
When I took the elevator down to “L” I felt confident. Then doors opened. My eyes took in a sea of adults clamoring around poker tables with the sounds of coins dropping out of slot machines and bells ringing and music playing. I immediatly reached for the elevator button to go back.
After the elevator spit me back out where I started, I began to cry. I was orphaned now. All alone.I would never find my parents. I would live in Caesar’s for the rest of my life. And worst of all, my tummy hurt. I’m not sure how long I sat there, but eventually the doors opened and a jovial older couple stepped out of the elevator. Mid-conversation, mid-step, they watched as I threw up by their feet.
They asked me all the appropriate questions, “What’s your name? Where are your parents? Are you ok? What happened?” I couldn’t answer. I was sobbing and my mouth tasted like regurgitated funnel cake. The nice, older man picked up the emergency phone and called the lobby. I heard him explain that a “little girl was locked out of her room and not sure where her parents were.” At the same time, another couple stepped out of their room, oblivious to the vomit, and stepped into it.
As these two couples cooed at me to cease my crying and wiped their shoes off on the carpet, the elevator doors opened, and it was my Mamma. There she was, looking in shock at her seven year old daughter with a tear stained face, to the two couples, and then finally to the vomit on the floor. I reached my arms up for her.
Once those doors opened, I saw the one face I had been longing to see during the entire ordeal, the one familiar face that assured me I was going to be safe.
She was, my mother, a deep breath of relief. She was my world, my safety and my pancea for all of the fear and embarrasement and sickness I had felt. She was and has ever since been for me a sign that I was home. The person who could say, “Everything’s alright now” and I would truly believe it was.
Sometimes I think that my relationship with my mother (and my father) was so intense growing up because G-d knew about my plans to travel South in the future. Perhaps I had to love my parents so fiercely in those first twenty-one years of my life to make up for the physical distance that would be put between us in years to come. For whatever reason, I am where I am today both mentally, emotionally, and physically because of my parents. I owe so much to both of them.
But to my mother, I am indebted to her for the life she gave me. For the hope and joy of living that she instilled in me. She taught me how to love and be loved. She taught me how valuable I was and how to be good to others. She taught me to go after my dreams. She taught me that laughter was vital and that great happiness could come from a great mixed tape played on the highest volume.
I love my mamma. Always have, always will. Happy Mother’s Day Ma.