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Moms I Have Known

The last of the moms has died. Her name was Opal and she was 98 years old. She was a grand old dame, funny and feisty. She loved peacocks and geese and kept both. Have you ever eaten a peacock egg? Amazingly rich. She liked to travel and gamble and was good at both. She was instrumental in saving my home.

Back in the early 80’s, at the height of “creative financing,” my friend Angi and I bought a duplex with only a few dollars down and very little credit. She lives in one side of the duplex and I in the other. We had three mortgages, one a balloon that came due in five years. Five years went by. Our first two mortgages were paid ahead. We’d never missed a payment, nor had we ever been late. We couldn’t get that third mortgage refinanced. The bottom had dropped out of the housing market. Our home was doomed.

In stepped Opal, Angi’s mother-in-law. She loaned us what we weren’t able to scrape up from raping our 401Ks and mutual funds. We always had, she said, a place in her heart since we were the only people who had ever actually paid her back. We loved her. And now she’s gone.

Opal wasn’t the only great mom in my life, just the last. The first was my mom, Zana. Pretty and profane, she made sure that wherever we lived–and we lived in a lot of places–our house was the hub of the ‘hood. She didn’t mind a house full of hungry neighbor kids because then she always knew where I was. She died when I was 13 and I still miss her fried chicken. I wish I’d known her as a grown up.

In high school, my BFF’s mom was Evelyn. She got me through high school and saved, if not my life, then my sanity. Whenever I’d run away from home, I ran to her. I had a stormy adolescence, but there was always a place for me with Ev and her oh-so welcoming family. She and her husband, Jack, were the most in love people I’ve ever known. We’d stuff four kids–me and their three–in the front seat of a big white Chrysler and go cruising country roads while they sat in the back seat and necked. Ev made my graduation dress because my stepmother wouldn’t and my sewing sucked.

There was my Auntie Madeline, my mother’s sister. She cussed and drank and smoked. She taught me to play poker. Once my parents were both gone, she was the only family member who was unequivocally there for me. She loved my dog and insisted on feeding him ice cream. Her daughter was grown and away with her own family in California. Auntie and I (and Uncle Roger) became our own family. As she got old, she got mean. She made me crazy and I miss her.

I have been blessed with really good friends who had really great moms. Didn’t get to see much of Angi’s mom, Helen, since she lived in Illinois, but she never forgot me or our other friends at Christmas. There were always hand-made gifts for us. One year it was multi-racial mice angels, another brightly colored home-sewn underwear. During the Carter Administration–we’ve all been friends for a VERY LONG TIME–it was a pair of sexually explicit ceramic peanuts. The gifts were always thoughtful and funny and special.

Our friend, Eileen’s mom, Rose, was one of those German-from-Russia women who loved through food. It didn’t matter what time of the day or night that we’d show up, the first words out of her mouth were, “Have you eaten?” It didn’t matter what our answer was, because in just a few minutes there’d be a full, hot, sumptuous meal on the table. And that was in the days before microwaves! Even after Alzheimer’s destroyed most of her mind, she still tried to feed us. That never went away.

I still have friends whose moms are living, but these are the women who helped raise me and loved me and kept me on the straight and narrow, and Opal was the last of them. Guess that means we’re the moms now. Scary thought.