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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
Puzzle Pieces Image

Bee Meyer
151 S. Resler, Apt. 189
El Paso, Texas 79912

MAMA MAMA
[First written 1966 or 1967; final version 1982(?)]

 

Mama comes to the kitchen and makes washing motions with her hands against her chest. I want, she says and I need and she rubs her hands in a scurbbing motion against her body and this is how I understand she wants a bath. As I run her tub she leans over me and says why should you bother darling I can do this and then stands immobilized by the baffling buttons of her dress which she has put on backwards over her backwards slip. The empty lace pockets of the slip's brassier hang behind her thin back. Later when she has redressed, I will unbutton and swing her around and she will say when they were little you had all this (she means she had us as children) and now they are little you have all this (meaning we have her and Papa as our children). And I will answer intending it to be gentle but it will have the edge of bitterness that I have had the priviledge of being both mother and daughter for what my mother is saying is her sorrow for me that again I have a small child and she is my child.

Give me something for my hands, Mama says and we bring out the ironing board and the stack of napkins and handerchiefs and she is grateful and busy ironing and folding. How strange that of all the ways in which her hands were deft, only two are left, dish drying and ironing. When she first came to us I put a crochet hook in her hand and a ball of bright red yarn. She held the hook but could not take a stitch and so with the bulkiest of knitting needles, this my mother who had knit our babies their dress clothes way into grade school.

I am going to the library. Mama is lying down. Would you like to come I ask her not because I want to because I do not and yet I feel some change in place and movement might please her. On our way back I will stop to buy her a chocolate ice cream stick and it will be a celebration. Flavors are fresh and new and daily unremembered by her and all the way home my mother will force bites and licks on me and I will say no thanks and no thanks darling and Mama will say have some and have some and I will have some rarther than no thanks darling.

Mama's eyes are still a sharp bright blue. Good morning she says as I look up from the paper. Don't stop, don't do that for me she says, my son is still not dressed. When she says my son she means Papa. Sometimes she calls him my friend and when she wants him quickly and suddenly it is Ruben. Ruben she says with the "n" sharp and hard between her teeth. She sits up at the b5reakfast bar, surprised every morning to find her breakfast waiting. Too much she says. I answer hm hm. Have some she says. Yes, Mama, hm hm. She waits. This stuff, she points to the cereal or the egg, delicious. Food is new every day. Every meal. I look at the paper again. The headlines and paragraphs run together. Ruben my mother screams suddenly. He'll be here soon, Mama, relax. Yes, hm hm. Mama answers, some days are more than others but I have no complaint. Ruben.

My father hoists his new, fat belly up to a breakfast stool. Mama hands him a piece of her toast. She would throw it away, Mama says, looking at me with something less than affection. Use it. If she throws this out I will be very angry, she is extravagant, Mama says.

Good morning my father says in his gravelly Litvak Yiddish accent. He stares at his breakfast, Here, Papa, first your pills. First every morning your pills first. Every morning. The pills. Here. In front of your plate. Papa picks up the pills carefully, one at a time. Watching Papa pick up the tiny pills in his thick, awkward fingers is like watching a bear handling a sugar cube. I watch the lift slowly, slowly of each pill to his mouth. In. Done. Now Papa says about the pills tthat his father couldn't do it but his son would make it work. In translation this means that what old Dr. Pepper couldn't do for Papa's constipation, his son could do. Papa says to be sure to tell him he's for sure a better doctor with his yellow pills, two a day and no more cramps or at least not so many and no more extra physics. Good for you, Papa. Hurray for young Dr. Pepper. Eat your breakfast, Papa. Eat.

By this time Mama has walked behind me and is already at the sink. Please, Mama, please. You can dry later. Please, I'm not ready. Oh says Mama, then I can fix these things if the woman isn't coming today. Is she coming? No. Mama, I say about Hattie. Good, I will fix these things. Papa looks up from the pleasure of bananas and cereal. Things? Our things, Mama says. She goes towards their room happy to be on her way to work and bed making and clothes rolling. In a minute she is back again making sweeping motions. I want -- where is -- and so I ask, do you mean the broom, Mama? Not necessarily, she says. I try again. The broom? She puts her head to one side. Her eyes are so blue. She grins at me. That might be something to consider she says precisely, but reserves judgment until she sees what I mean by the broom. I remind Mama that Hattie cleaned her room thoroughly yesterday, but her hands keep sweeping. I take the broom from the kitchen closet. She is delighted with it. My father puts the third or fourth spoonful of sugar into his coffee, stirs and stares, stares and stirs. I finish the dishes and begin to clean out the refrigerator. Papa sits and stares. Not really at me but at something moving. Each motion I make is something to watch. My fingernails curl inward. Ruben! The call is imperative, commanding. Mama comes as quickly as the sound of her voice. I need you. Now. How clearly she says what she needs to say sometimes.

But at four o'clock this morning she came into my room. I'm a sick woman, she said. Her hands fumbled with the buttons of her gown. Always so modest, she does not remove her underpants until she steps into her tub, now she was tuggin her gown, anxious to show me her disease. I am going to die, she said clearly. Are you in pain, Mama? Do you hurt my darling? Let it be quick. Let it come fast. Mama, do you hurt? She pressed her hip bones. Here, she said. Lumps. Lumps growing. I felt the bony hips through the soft, sagging skin of her stomach. These are hip bones, Mama. Everyone has them. That's it, Mama said. Lumps growing. I am sick. I urged her back into her room. Softly, softly. Lie down, Mama. She pulled up her gown and caught my hands. Here, she said, lumps. I said Mama, you're fine. The doctor was here last week and he says you're fine. If this is so I am grateful, my mother said precisely. You know? You're sure? Yes, I said. Yes, I know. I am sure. It's so. I patted her. Ah ah ah, baby. Ah ah ah, baby. Ah ah ah, baby. She slept.

Now I ask how she is this morning. She says fine. Papa asks what happened. I tell him. Mama's eyes are blue and clear and interested. She listens to the story, wanting to know what happened next. Papa says don't you remember, Mamie? No, I don't remember. I don't remember. I don't remember my son's children nor my daughter's children nor my son. I don't remember my husband's brother. In another world these people, my mother says. Some days are worse than others, Mama says. Don't ask me about these things. But her eyes fill with tears. There is no reason at all to get up, she says softly. My throat clogs. But I am nearly cried out. I have been in mourning for my mother since she came to me. I mourn for her. I mourn for me.

My mother says you are my life. I protest. No, Mama. No, my love. I don't want to be your life. No please, Mama. No.

Mom talks to my father. Her voice is his companion. The sound is his fifty-six years of marriage. She tells him he must stand up like a man and find them a place of their own to live. He knows she doesn't realize he can't. He knows she doesn't know he can't dress and attend her. Tell me, he asked when they first came to live with us, are there no things to hold up women's stockings? Garters, Papa. Then get some, he said. She has some, Papa. They're on her girdle. Girdle? Pants? Brassieres? Buy some more of everything, Papa said. She should have plenty because every morning I can't find anything. Dresses, slips, underpants, belts, sweaters, robes -- all of them are rolled tightly against each other in her dresser drawers. Mama is busy many times a day removing and rerolling. Dresses from the closet. Papa's underclothes. Rolling neatly and stacking. But again and again the sound of her voice goads him and he comes to me with Mama and tells me she wants him to leave. My mother laughs at him. He's crazy, she says. I have no complaints. These are pleasant people here and our things and our place and he's crazy. Pay no attention, Mama says.

Before they came, Papa went with my uncle to look at the Jewish Home for the Aged. A grave, a prison he said and told me maybe when his apartment lease ran out in six months, I should fix up a room in our house. How do I say don't come Papa. How should I not want my father? How should I not want my mother? How do I say I am not ready, their only daughter, to be their nurse and keeper? Of course, Papa, I say, we will get a room ready. We will move our Debby to another room. I'll pay, Papa says. Whatever it is, I'll pay. But even before the new beds, the new spreads, the clean motel room look was ready, they were here. My mother was thin and frightened and clung to me. I love you. You are my life. Papa said she wanted to come. She cried. She wanted to come.

My brother came from South Dakota. He said you can't do this to them and they shouldn't have this as the end of their life and they mustn't leave their beautiful apartment to come way out here in the country with you. They need people around them and they must go to the Jewish Home. And my hands caught up to my throat and I said I cannot take them there and he said you must and you must come with me and visit and bring them to see for themselves.

And the sun shone into the patio and round and round the silver-haired people circled, those who walked slowly and those in their wheelchairs. Around and around the patio. The grave, the end of the road, Papa said. Put me in my grave, kill me and send me here. I am a dead man. I am in hell. And I said, never, Papa, if you don't want to come here and Mama said brightly there are nice people here but why are some many of them so old and so sick? But my brother signed the submission for admission papers and the social worker said why do you want to come here, Mr. Light to Papa. And Papa said who wants to come. And the social worker looked at me suspiciously, quite sure that I was railroading my poor parents and I protested that this was not my idea but of course the social worker has heard this many times and his smile is cool and measuring. But then my father said we will tell you what you want to know and maybe I'll come and maybe again who knows?

But when we were all through answering questions the social worker said he would have their psychiatrist interview Mama to see whether she is qualified, whether she can cope. If she were able to cope why should she be here, my beautiful mother? And the psychiatrist said after their visit, no, she can't come, she can't cope, she isn't eligible. If we take them capable and later they become like your mother they can stay, depending on the fine print in the agreement. But we cannot take them here when they are already like your mother.

When we came back home, Mama cried. And Papa said furiously, my money they'll take, all my money, every last cent they'll take, but not my wife. And who wants them? Who needs them? A grave.

The quiet of our street lends little for their eyes. Papa takes his morning walk and looks for a friendly face. Young women hang out their clothes. Children play. No one talks of old times or how my father built his business and we take my parents to the nearby community center and Papa says nothing.

Ruben talk with somebody, my mother pleads. And he shakes his head and says there is nothing here for us. He is right. Such places are for the capable old, for card players and the "machers," those who can run things, direct things, make speeches, take up collections, serve coffee, listen to speeches.

Papa says they don't do nothing here and the next time we want to take them, Mama says no, darling, no, I'm tired. For at the beginning she looked up with pleasure, speaking brightly with anyone near her but there was no meaning to her words and the welcoming old sat a little while near her but were baffled and moved away. My parents sat alone.

Later and lonlier, as if it had never happened before, Papa said find me a place. What can I do with my life in hell. A man must live somehow. Mama must have nursing care we say and although we do not say it, so must you, Papa. But now it is Papa pushing for life who asks us to shop for a place and we look through the phone book and we walk through the agencies and we walk through endless corridors and rooms and patios and we find a nursing home nearby.

We bring Papa in to meet the director. He is delighted. Papa likes the director who ingratiates and welcomes him. He is a social worker owner. He woos Papa. He invites my parents to come as his guests for noon day dinner. A Jewish chef. The food is good and there's so much.

But today when Papa and Mama come to dinner, the friendly man who greeted Papa yesterday leaves them with the others. They are full of need to tell of their loneliness and sickness and across the patio from the dining room, the thin high sickness of screaming rises higher and higher.

Papa comes back to our house. His time of hope is gone. Buy yourself some liquor, he tells my husband. Papa remembers he has called our home hell and he wants to erase the words with presents. Buy yourself something. Keep me.

My uncle David, his brother-in-law, comes to see Papa. Please, Dave, Papa says, you say you want to help me. Find me a place. Now I am sick with dislike for my father. I have become my father's jailer when he pleads find me a place, Davie. My uncle says he will look around at retirement hotels and he winks at me and says maybe we can find a woman there to help Mama. My mother sniffs. Help me? Who needs help. My son and I can take care....

The next day I speak about such hotels and Papa says, I saw, I saw, who can live in such places. Cockroaches. Lice. We don't know how to live like that. And Mama says, Ruben find us a place. Tomorrow we'll feel better and I can take care of you.

My father holds his stomach and goes to bed. Mama covers him with one of her little dresses and a bathtowel and sits with him. She is very still and able. She pats him. Ruben, she says in her lovely voice and careful diction, when you get old you must adjust, you must accept. This is my wonderful mother. She is my mother with the shining mind and quick wit. This is Mama. Papa comes to her bed and she lies down with her thin arms around him. I cannot bear to look. I am their child and I am their keeper and I am their jailer and I am their prisoner.

My friend Inga says you must stop hoping for any changes except for the worst. The only one who can change is you. You must face it. You must accept it. Mrs. Granowitz the social worker says parents cannot be allowed to impose the tyranny of their complete dependence upon their children.

Good, sane, scientific Mrs. Granowitz protects middle-aged children from their parents. Have you seen Jackson Manor? Have you seen Snapper Creek? Thank you, Mrs. Granowitz. We look at more nursing homes. And I walk through sunny patios and two women drift arm in arm through a lobby. Through scarcely moving lips the uniformed receptionist says to a male nurse that two of our girls are in the lobby. Wouldn't you like to take them back to their rooms? Now? And the two wispy little women, still arm in arm, are firmly turned around and walked away. Lobbies are for guests and residents' children and prospects and visitors mustn't be allowed to see what is behind the plantings and the screening. Lobbies are beautiful and the fountain bubbles.

I come back to my own nursing home and Papa and Mama are in their chairs in the hot late afternoon sun. They rise and Mama says I was so worried. I want to fix something to eat and I don't know and it's so long and where were you? Love me. I love you. Kiss me. You are my life. No, Mama. No.

But see how little I learn: You are my heart, I tell my daughter Debby. At seventeen she says, no thank you. It's too much. Please. Mom, close my door. Please, Mom. Leave me alone. You are my heart, Debby. No thank you. Close my door. You are my life, Debby. No thank you, Mom.

My chest bones rise in physical pain of rejection and pity when I see Papa and Mama sitting together on my mother's bed, waiting to be called to dinner. We pour the wine and hand them a snack to fill the long afternoon waiting and we clink glasses and Mama says, L'chaim, to life. You should only be well and live to a hundred, Mama says. I reach over to kiss her in the guilt of what I feel and what I am going to say and I answer God forbid. God forbid. Like you, Mama? God forbid.

At the table my father says nothing. His eyes straight in front of him he waits. He smacks his lips at the short ribs, the chopped liver, the fish paste spread on thing Norwegian snack bread. My father is newly a slave to his growing belly.

I will do all the dishes, Mama says, and carefully empties all the rib bones into the soapy dish water. Please, Mama. Darling. Leave it. Please Grandma, Debby says. Please, please, please my mother repeats sharply. I can see your mean face.

You are still my wife, Papa says and his tears spill over his fat cheeks. Your mother can still dry a dish. Yes, Papa. But look, Papa. I open the drawer of table silver to show him how Mama has carefully filled it with little orange juice glasses.

Papa says never mind, I will put them away and carries them carefully over to the refrigerator. Debby asks Grandpa, why are you putting the glasses into the refrigerator? Oh, he laughs and stands with them in his hands until we taken them away from him.

Mama says, come Ruben. We'll take a walk. But it's bitter cold tonight. Over his little shift, Mama carefully buttons a sleeveless chiffon blouse inside out. I say No, Mama. Take a sweater. She comes with me to look at the miracle of how I find so many sweaters in her dresser drawer. You are so clever to find them, she says. Whose are they? Yours, Mama. If you say so, she says.

My parents walk the block together in slow and measured steps. They are beautiful. Her arms are linked to his. Their white hair shines in the sun. She speaks to him and he inclines his head toward her. The little children of the block sometimes get out of their way or once in awhile look up and smile. Papa stops anywhere for a child. Mama looks for a moment but is quickly impatient at children too often in our driveway or at the door. Sometimes they are pests she says and the children don't return if they see Mama at the door. Ruben she calls. Enough! We are sad but angry too when our friends the neighborhood children stay away.

Today we prepare to go to the park and pool of Matheson Hammock. I have seen many old people in the grove of trees north of the pool and I hope my parents will see a friendly face and hear a welcoming word.

Our Hattie helps to dress Mama and I listen to the good sound of her laughter. Mama comes out of her room looking handsome. This is too good she says, pointing to her simple lavender dress and she goes back to her room to change again. I say please, Mama, don't change your clothes.

She repeats, too good and I ask Papa to take Mama outside to wait in the car. She is furious with me. Her eyes burn. You're mean, she says, but she goes.

Papa comes back into the house to ask me why Mama keeps changing her clothes. She doesn't do the changing, we have to, I tell him and we haven't time to keep redressing her today.

Papa says your mother is pathetic. But now I am not disarmed. When Papa refers to her as your mother, he shares the burden of his wife with his daughter. When he brought her to us he gave her to us, the confusion of her unmatched belts, her zippered dresses worn backwards, the tight rolls of her clothing in her dresser drawers, her hands rolling, rolling, napkins, handkerchiefs, the hems of her skirts, her busy hands rolling.

Again Papa says there must be something to hold up a woman's stockings, as Mama stands in their room knotting strands of torn hose over her knees. I untie the knots and look through the tight little rolls in the drawers. I tell him again, yes, Papa, garters. I buy lightweight garter pants for a body too thin and tired to take the strain of girdles. Pull your panties down, darling and we'll change you. Her hands flutter at her dress. Oh God I love you, Mama. Here, she asks? No, Mama. I reach up to pull down her pants. Her hands fly to her body to hide. She pulls down her slip and locks her knees together. I must separate her legs and forcibly pull at her pants. Stupid of me she says distinctly. I'm stupid. No, Mama. No, darling. You're not stupid.

She reaches for the garter pants and pulls angrily, trying to force both of her heavy space shoes into a single pants leg. I sit her down at the edge of her bed and together we force one foot through each pants leg and as she stands, I pull the pants upward. Her stockings sag below her knees. She says firmly and loudly, I can do this and once again she knots her stockings over her knees as she locks a wad of used Kleenex under the knot on her right knee. She is fast, but now I must undo all the knots and fasten the garters.

When we are through, she is beautiful. I fasen her small pearls around her throat and touch her lips lightly with lipstick. How handsome your mother is, people say and as I move her toward the car I am thinking that this is my mother and this is not my mother and I want Mama as I have always wanted and needed her.

At the park we are invited to share a table. Mama smiles. A gravious lady. Haven't I met you somewhere, she asks friendly old Mary. Mary laughts. I met you here and I met you many times at the Club, yes, I met you already a lot of times.

Mama reaches for a handkerchief in her sleeve, her belt, her pocket, the neck of her dress. It is never where she needs it and now I open her purse to see if the one I put there is still there and I find a rolled up slip and two pairs of socks with it.

Mama's eyes are sharp on me as I finger the rolls of clothing in her pocketbook and Mama is proud. In case it's cold, she says. In case the sun goes behind on this 88-degree day, Mama, you will bind on your slip and bounce the balls of your socks. But I do not laugh and I do not cry and my husband laughs and that is his sanity.

I see her come in to breakfast this morning, her hem hanging and fastened in two places with thin gray hairpins and I choke with sadness and anger that each sign of my mother's unreality should gouge at me so. I keep telling myself I have accepted it. But how can I? Her words hold the sound of remembered intelligence and wit. And charm. No, not her words. But her voice. The voice of my mother, the voice of love and authority. Beatie, what did you do? Did you buy fudge with the grocery change? You mustn't eat candy, darling, you're too fat. Give your brother the candy. Plan the piano for the company Beatie. That's beautiful. Clementi, Czerny, Kuhlau.

When her fat child made music, Mama glowed with pleasure. When Papa went bankrupt in New Haven, my piano was the only piece of furniture they shipped to our new hom in South Dakota and Papa and Mama kept up their payments until the Horace Waters upright belonged finally to us. Mama shipped it to me when I was married.

Mama. Mama. You were always reaching and trying. Firest for yourself then for us. You went to work in a notorious factory when you were thirteen. When Papa met and fell in love with you, you were a forelady. Firm, meticulous, precise and neat, but funny and witty, quick tongued and sharp tongued. Cutting, too. Sarcastinc and at the same time, loving. And not a pincher. A wide armed swatter. But your body was there, interposed, when Papa pulled off his belt to spank us in a sudden rage.

I never doubted thta if she had to, Mama would kill for me, would always love me. Did I doubt it? Even when I thought I was adopted because my thin brother was given the candy and sat with his eyes gray and wide and beautiful under his golden curls and my brown Dutch bob hung so straight. Did I think I was loved then?...And if I thought I was loved, why did I sneak under the table and cram my mouth full of food, while all the time calling here kitty, here kitty and stuffing my own mouth?

Why haven't I forgotten the night in back of Mama's little store in Connecticut, when her friends from New York came into our bedroom to look at my brother, golden haired in his crib. I listened. And waited. The lamp was first held over Dick's head. A man's voice said, an angel, a reggelah angel.

When they came to look at me, I felt the head of the lamp on my face, against my closed eyes. The same voice cooled. A nice little girl, it said.

Of course I was adopted. I knew it. And Hershey kisses spoke to my mouth of hidden love. I stole them from the counter. Later I stole ice cream from the freezer of our restaurant and one Sunday afternoon when I was ten and we stopped to visit a man and wife we knew who ran a Kewpy doll concession stand at a beach near New Haven, I walked around the back of the stand and found a skillet full of cooking salami and eggs and reached out to scoop up a great hot mass of it in my hand and cram it into my mouth, hot and choking. Why haven't I been able to forget this?

You're so mean and yet you're a good girl my mother says and yesterday when she spent the whole day in bed, I bathed her and brought her food on a tray and she smiles with love and grasped my hand and kissed it. The tears came so hot and fast to my eyes. I choked. How could I bear to have her show such total love and gratitude to the faud I know I am. I was thinking when she was so ill, that perhaps now she will begin to die. Now. Oh please dear God, no. But she is eighty-three.

In the morning she is better and we have once again begun her daily blood pressure pills. I think suppose I don't give them to her. But I do. Daily. And after a few weeks on these new pills, the young doctor comes and says congratulations. Your mother's pressure is much better than yours and three weeks ago it was very high. He nods in a complimentary way and says some people have come to me about investing in a nursing home. I should send them to you to run it. Thank you doctor. Don't bother. I am already in the business.

My father asks why I am crying so early in the morning. Nothing, I answer and point to his pills, butter his toast and sugar his coffee. Nothing. But I have just come into the kitchen from my bedroom where I screamed I can't stand it, I can't stand it. Oh God I cannot stand it. For today as every day, the soft uncertain sound of Mama's steps began my morning. As I picked up the paper, she came round the screen of the breakfast bar and said as she says every day, don't stop, I can wait for my son or my friend and then patting me she sat down immediately in front of her plate and as she does every day instantly began her breakfast, anxious for her food in the morning and life again and there she was, old, old, my lover and my jailer and my victim.

I smiled over tight teeth. How she enjoys her food now that I have brought her back to health. All the orange juice. Three slices of bacon. Two slices of buttered toast. Coffee with cream and sugar. And I read and do not see what I read and I could not bring myself to do what I always do with anyone else and certainly always with Mama, to talk.

I bite back sound until finally, sick at my own cruelty of thought, so much worse somehow than any open action, I read a headline aloud for her. Mama perks up and answers in many words of no meaning and almost freed for a moment in self-forgiveness, I lower my head again to the silence but my tears come and I run to my room.

I am afraid to think of this fall when Debby will be going away to college and I will be locked in this silence. I am afraid of many things. I am afraid of my hours, unwilling to be with Papa and Mama. I am incapable of being away. No away is far enough, for if we leave and go out to the beach or park without them, I can only think of how they could be with us and perhaps enjoying themselves.

Today, then, here in the park, I leave them after I have given them lunch and brought their lounge chairs over to the card players so they can watch. But my husband walks over and stands beside me, as I read near the pool some distance from where I have seated them. He tells me we might just as well have left them at home. They can't join in with the old card players or the old talkers. People say hello and ask a question or two and Mama answers and soon the people look at each other and walk away.

But my husband is wrong. The physical difference between being here at the park and the dull daily forever hours at home gives them a pleasing change. At least it helps me to think so. I need to think so. I need to believe there is something I can do, some action I can take. This busyness for a moment deludes me into thinking I am giving them pleasure. Pleasure? Even I can't tolerate such overstatement. It is only I involved, keeping busy in order to excuse myself for leaving them and walking away to be free a little while. If only Mama wouldn't keep saying darling, smile at me. Give me something for my hands. Give me something for my love. Smile at me.

Papa sits withdrawn. Is this the beginning or something which began years ago? Is it becuase it was always Mama who approached and spoke and charmed and joked. Poor Mama, her enchangted sisters have always said, so quick, such fun, so bright and Ruben, a mouzik, a bad tempered Russian, a screamer, a curser.

But this was never all of it nor of him. He always loved her more than she knew or consciously accepted. The family called him the Greenhorn. Mama went to the Catskills for her vacation and he sent a card decorated with an overstuffed, perfumed red satin rose. Beneath it he wrote in his inconfruously beautiful flowing script: Mamie, smell from her. Her friends roared, teasing and crowding around her. Smell from her. Smell from Mamie.

But the Greenhorm. my father, was very strong and angry and bright. Apprenticed to a glove cutter by his mother at thirteen, he learned his craft with hate for his mother who had refused to send him on to school. In New York he became a pants cutter, an elite craftsman, a union organizer, a striker.

From some unknown source, my mother and her motherless sisters and brother Sam had learned to speak a distinct, unaccented English and to sing and to enjoy life. They were gay and laughing and Papa was for awhile their Greenhorn Boarder when their new stepmother, Aunt Lena, wanted to add a few dollars to the money Mama's father made in his grocery store.

On day Mama flung back Papa's engagement ring. Their tempers clashed, their courtship was squally. But later Papa came to her in ters. He had just heard that his father had been murdered in Russia. Bandits stole his wagon. His body was never found. Of his whole family, Papa loved only his father. Mama comforted him. She took back his ring and married him.

When I was two and a half and my brother Dick an infant, Mama pulled Papa away from New York to Connecticut. She demanded fresh milk and country air and the end of garment workers' strikes for her babies' security. Papa, set to peddling from a wagon drawn by a half blind horse, screamed his rage and pride. I am ashamed to peddle. I am ashamed to beg, he said and went to work in Worcester in his trade.

Later he opened his own pants company in a New Haven loft. How proud he was. And how ashamed when he wasn't making what he considered a good living for his family and Mama had to help him.

When things were bad with us a few years later in South Dakota, I thought it was Papa hated Mama that he yelled so loudly at her, chained together as they were in our little restaurant.

But it is only now when I scream as loudly at my husband, out of my own anger at myself, that I have begun to understand where Papa's screaming came from.

At their fiftieth anniversary dinner, my father's brother Nathan, the mandolin player, said he never thought it would last. But by God they fooled us.

Now in the fifty-sixth year of their marriage when Papa leaves for a little outing with my husband and does not remember to tell Mama they are going to the market or whereever, my mother walks and walks and takes to her bed, her eyes frosty with anger and fear. When he returns I remind him he mustn't ever leave without telling Mama. She misses you, Papa. She can't stand being without you. And my father, his strange new belly resting on his short thighs, says after all, a marriage of fifty-six years makes a mark on a man.

Later he will cry to me and plead to be free of her. He will tell me that he too must live and that he wants a chance to live and that he can't talk to Mama. That she can't talk to him. That she's meshugeh. And even when he says the word "crazy," his light brown eyes darken with shame and pity and he cries and says he should bite his tongue.

But he pushes me until finally I try briefly to separate them with Mama in a nursing home. She walks through the night and crawls into any bed and all the beds in any room with an open door, looking for Papa. She doesn't cry. She just keeps walking. And every day Papa demands to go and see her. He says nothing to her but he sits with her and he turns to me and says what am I to do? How will I live? But this will be later. I could not bear this time at all. Papa pleaded to bring her home after a week.

But now I am here in the sun near the Matheson Hammock swimming pool and behind me in the grove of trees I will find Papa and Mama as I left them. They will sit and wait and wait and sit and when I come to her my mother's blue eyes will light up and I will bend down and touch her hair and kiss her hair and his her face and she will laugh and turn to anyone near her and say, have you met my sister and she will smile proudly about me at them and I will bend down quickly and cup her face in my hands and kiss her blue eyes shut so she cannot see my face. Perhaps ever again.

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