Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Mom Pops Into My Mind

When I think about it, Mom's been gone for a long while now.  Indeed, all my relatives in my parents' generation...aunts and uncles and the like...have passed on.  They all departed around the same relatively young age of 70.  I would often wonder why.  Then I would look at my dad's old Technicolor slides of family gatherings.  Everybody had a cigarette in one hand and a cocktail in the other.

Message received.

It's Mother Day so memories again come to the forefront.

Here's Mom and me feeding some ducks at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. This was a popular Sunday afternoon destination for my family. Our own little theme park.  Six Flags Over Dead People. I have some other photos of us and the ducks and the thing I noted in all of them: my mother's always on the side of the pond in high heels. Barbara Billingsley lives. Except I never saw her vacuuming the hallway in them.

Looking at vintage snapshots, I am always blown away over how well dressed she always was. Now that I recollect, my mother was a clothes junkie. Her closet was constantly filled with new stuff. And shoes, shoes, and more shoes.
I got dragged at least once a week by her as she checked out the new offerings at Bromley's on Fourth Avenue in Mount Vernon. One of those dress stores that made me feel incredibly uncomfortable as I sat there quietly as Mom tried on one outfit after another. I always wondered how we could afford it all.

I got my answer a little later on when the weekly shopping jaunts included a stop at the Mt. Vernon Loan Company on Fiske Place. My mother would go up to the window, hand over an envelope, and then turn back to me.

"Don't tell your father."


Over time, I noticed that the Mt. Vernon Loan Company never really disappeared from my mother's anointed rounds. When I got a little older, I was entrusted with delivering the little white envelope myself. The loan place was conveniently located in the same office building as my dentist and my orthodontist. One stop shopping. Get the rubber bands or the bite plate adjusted and pay off Mom's deficit. No fuss, no muss.

In retrospect, my mother was one of the original liberated women. Because, as soon as I was about six or seven, she was off to work. First at a pen manufacturer, then at an electrical supply place. Finally, she made the great leap to the big time. Commuting to Manhattan for a job at a major accounting firm. Meanwhile, I was hanging with the grandparents while Mom and Dad worked. And, as long as I can remember, the envelopes to the loan company kept coming.

I never questioned it all. Except I could always tell that money, as usual, always seemed to be a big discussion point between Mom and Dad. Which is why she kept working. Once she was working "downtown," the wardrobe in her closet expanded at geometric proportions. Essentially, Mom never had a dollar she couldn't spend. I learned this more and more years later when she was retired and on a fixed income.

I financially supplemented her a lot in her post-working era. She used her Social Security and her pension to pay for her rent and her food. I covered the other stuff: electric bill, the phone, the cable. It should have given her a comfort zone that was pretty cushy. Except for those months where she ran out of cash before we hit the 30th of the month. And our conversations were always the same.

"Can I borrow fifty dollars? I'm short this month."

I'd dutifully go over everything she paid for and I was always suitably confused. I could never understand how she went over budget. I'd ask the same question and get her knee-jerk reaction.

"No, I'm not paying off the loan company."

After several short months, I started to dig around. In her apartment building, she had a passel of retired friends who were also not doing their best at living check-to-check. But, instead of asking their own offspring for bailouts, they'd come to my mother. And she was more than happy to lend out some cold cash. While the budget in all the apartments on Fleetwood Avenue were balanced, my mother was building a shortfall worthy of the federal government. Forget Reagan. My mother was the true inventor of "voodoo economics."

After squelching the stimulus package that my mom was extending to her cronies, the spending returned to normal for a while. And then short months returned.

"No, I'm not paying off the loan company."


"No, I'm not giving money out to the building."

Once again, I had to impose a thorough investigation of my own mother. It didn't take long to find the answer.

In a kitchen cabinet, I found over five hundred expired lottery tickets. Some weeks, she had spend more than 100 dollars, attempting to "be in it to win it." Outed as the newest member of Gamblers Anonymous, my mother tried to make nice.

"If I win the big prize, I'll give you most of the money."

Nice try, Mom. In retrospect, I guess it could have been worse. It wasn't like she was spending her money on fast living and cigarettes.

Well, she did a little of that, too.  They all did from what the pictures tell me.

Dinner last night:  Orange beef from Century Dragon.

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