I Remember Mama

I Remember Mama

I Remember Mama (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Item 1:  Whether or not you’re a mom, no doubt, you’re somebody’s child, which is why I’m hoping you’ll check out a post I submitted this week to the Huffington Post. I call it,

The Best Mom, Probably

Why? Because my son, in his infinite wisdom, didn’t want to go out on a limb and call me the best mom in a text he sent me to wish me a happy Mother’s Day. No doubt, he was afraid I might get an inflated ego over it.

Of course, little did he know, telling me I was “probably” the best mom was enough to drive me crazy and I set out to discover what exactly he meant. I first wrote the post when I started blogging, but it’s perfect for Mother’s Day, so, please read it–and comment!

My son, during a trip to Venezuela, with Tia Olga, who passed away earlier this year.

Item 2:  This time of year, it’s easy for me to get all teary-eyed and start waxing poetic. This is because I lost my mother 18 years ago this month. Plus, I’m a romantic at heart and, as such, I’m prone to getting sentimental at the drop of a hat.

For years, my mother and I had a Mother’s Day tradition of watching I Remember Mama, one of our favorite films. (FYI: Turner Classic Movies usually carries it around this time.) It’s sappy as all heck but don’t you dare make fun of it because to me, it’s such a tear jerker. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about. It’s got everything–pathos, humor, suffering, a cat that dies then comes back to life, a crazy uncle who yells a lot, and a mysterious boarder who’s into reading. Add to that, a hard-working, ready-to-sacrifice-all-for-her-family kind of mother. It’s classic!

I Remember Mama, made in 1948, stars Irene Dunne as the matriarch of a Norwegian family, living in San Francisco, circa 1910. It is narrated by Katrin, the eldest daughter and an aspiring writer (Trivia: She’s played by Barbara Bel Geddes–Miss Ellie from the original Dallas series!). Here’s how Katrin introduces her mother–and the reason I start blubbering as soon as I see the opening credits:

“For as long as I could remember, the small cottage on Castro Street had been home. The familiar background was there; Mama, Papa, my only brother, Nels. There was my sister Christine, closest to me in age, yet ever secret and withdrawn — and the littlest sister, Dagmar.

“There, too came the Aunts, Mama’s four sisters. Aunt Jenny, who was the oldest and the bossiest; Aunt Sigrid; Aunt Marta; and our maiden Aunt, Trina. The Aunts’ old bachelor uncle, my Great-uncle Chris — the ‘black Norwegian’ — came with his great impatience, his shouting and stamping. And brought mystery and excitement to our humdrum days.

“But most of all, I remember Mama.”

Item 3: My mother had five sisters and one brother. Now, only one sister, Tia Livia, remains. Tia Olga, the second to youngest, died earlier this year. She was kind and gentle and deeply spiritual. She was the only one who never married nor had children. In her final years, living in Venezuela with no income of her own, it was the nieces and nephews who took care of her, making sure she had all she needed. I sent her what I could, including chocolates from the states and the latest issues of Reader’s Digest, one of her favorite magazines that she enjoyed reading in English. I loved her so much and miss her dearly.

Item 4: One of my favorite bloggers is Deborah Batterman. She writes honestly and with humor, and has a knack for making me laugh. In a recent post on her blog, The Things She Things About, Deborah wrote about her mother and how she once phoned Deborah, when Deborah was living in New York City, from their home in New Jersey, and left the following message on the answering machine:

“Close your window, there’s something coming from Jersey.”

Reading that made me fall over in a heap of giggles. What was coming from Jersey? Sounded dangerous and wicked! Well, you’ll have to read Deborah’s blog to find out more.

Deborah has also written a collection of essays titled, Because My Name is Mother.  Laced with humor, tenderness, and a bit of nostalgia, you’ll find these stories quite enjoyable, and, best of all, they’re now available for Kindle for only $0.99! A bargain, if you ask me, and makes for a great Mother’s Day gift for just about anyone!

Back to Item 1: It’s the not knowing why my son said I was “probably” the best mom that gets me and, frankly, I can’t stop thinking about it. In any case, though I might “probably” be the best mom, one thing’s certain: I know I’m the luckiest mom, for I have two great kids.  Kids that I never took to the tanning salon, nor left naked in the car while I ran errands. So, Josh and Sarah, if you’re reading this, you’re welcome. I didn’t torture you and that, if you ask me, ought to deserve more than a “probably.”

But, Readers, I’ll let you decide. Read my story in the Huffington Post, and then be sure to let me know what you think!

So, Happy Mother’s Day!

Now, how about you? What do your kids do to show you their love?

The Real Ms. Fix-it

My mother taught me a lot of things but there’s one thing she missed: she never taught me how to be handy. Nor did my father for that matter. While I was busy spending my childhood watching TV, writing my innermost thoughts in my secret diary and singing and dancing to show tunes around the house—where all the world was my stage—it would’ve been nice if one of my parents had showed me how to use a hammer and nail.

I did learn the proper way to wash the dishes by hand, how to make the bed, and how to write a thank you note. But face it, this was a different time, when not only was a woman’s place still in the home, but a young Latina’s place was preferably in a convent, under lock and key. In other words, being handy was for boys.

Getting ready for Charm School, circa 1970

And, you know how they say, it takes a village? Well the village didn’t help either. As soon as I reached high school, we were separated by gender: boys were put in Industrial Arts or shop class, where they learned how to construct, build and repair stuff. Girls were placed in Home Economics and I was no exception. There, I learned how to set a table, plan a menu, and the polite way to hold a glass of wine. No gender bias here.

Just in case I wasn’t getting it right, my mother enrolled me in Charm School, an eight-week course offered by the supreme authority on charm itself, the Sears and Roebuck department store. Yes, thanks to Sears, I learned how to walk, the proper way to engage in polite conversation, and how to hold a cup of tea. Graduation from charm school meant getting to participate in a “fashion show,” which consisted of a runway set up next to the Tools Department. It was all I could do not to trip over my chunky high-heeled, ultra teal shoes. If you ask me, walking on that runway was the closest I’d ever come to a wrench.

Which is why it now takes a village to attend to the maintenance of my home. Oh yes, I can stencil a pretty flower around the fireplace or choose a colorful throw for the couch, but don’t ask me to clean the air conditioning filter or replace the flush valve. That’s what professionals are for and why they get paid the big bucks. At least that’s what I’ve told myself when writing checks with multiple zeros at the end. That is, until I met Gale.

When Gale and I first met and struck up a friendship, I had no idea of her amazing, hidden capabilities. Unlike me, Gale is a very resourceful, self-reliant woman. More importantly, Gale has a heart of gold. I’d never met someone who could be described that way until I met Gale. The day she came into my life and saw that I was a fool for paying out all sorts of money for simple repairs, Gale took over, hook, line and sinker. She’s the original Ms. Fix-it who does it all out of love.

Gale, San Diego's first female telephone installer

Gale has become my go-to friend. Fluorescent light on the blink? Call Gale. Toilet not running properly? Gale can fix that. Too much static on my phone line? Gale can fix that too. (Yes, turns out Gale was San Diego’s first female telephone installer, climbing 30 foot poles in a single bound.) She’s a real whiz who grew up with an independent spirit and promptly learned to fend for herself. Now she fends for me too.  A true blue friend with true blue know-how.

So maybe my parents didn’t teach me to be handy because they thought a husband would take care of me. Maybe it didn’t end up that way. Who knows? With Gale on my side I can’t go wrong. If ever there’s a problem, I know I can call Gale and if by chance she can’t fix it, there’s always the neighborhood plumber. Oh and Gale, if you’re reading this, I think there’s something wrong with the dryer.