This I Believe

Rita - Edinburgh, New York
Entered on November 25, 2006
Age Group: 65+
Themes: family

I believe that if a mother raises her daughter in an atmosphere of love and protection and does not dwell on the problems of her past, there’s a good chance real bonding is taking place. That’s what happened with Mom and me.

Her problems began in 1920 in Duluth, when she broke off an engagement to a “nice Jewish boy” to marry outside her faith. My mother’s father, a religious Jew who once regarded her as his favorite among thirteen children, now mourned her as if she were dead.

In my early years I wasn’t aware of this burden my mother carried. It was the Depression, and that was burden enough, except Mom was loath to admit it was anything more than a rude interruption to her way of life. I was to learn from her that taking care of home and family was paramount to any other considerations. Together we cleaned, we cooked, we gardened, all with a little humor, a little silliness, and lots of singing.

Frequently my mother would sneak us in to see my grandmother when she knew my grandfather wasn’t home. Once, however, he WAS home. When we entered, he glared at my mother and started upstairs. My mother quickly said to me, “that’s Zeydah, say hello to him.” I ran to him calling out “Zeydah, Zeydah,” and hugged him around the thigh. When he picked me up in his arms and kissed me, his moustache tickled and made me giggle, but everyone else in the room was crying.

Later on, I managed to get through schooling without the encumbrances of noteworthy academic achievement, though I did find time to excel in the study of boys. Fearing this would lead to greater problems, Mom encouraged the development of more acceptable talents of mine, namely a singing voice and a flare for the dramatic. So I joined the Temple choir, advanced to soloist, and enjoyed the praise and attention of the congregation. It was a delicious feeling, this niche I found, knowing I had something special, something no one else had. Where to exploit these gifts was the next question.

Certainly, Duluth was no answer. The Mecca for me was New York. Together my mother and I laid the groundwork for this mammoth undertaking: piano lessons, private French lessons, Little Theatre tryouts, then getting a job to pay for all of this. Once I had accumulated enough money for a decent wardrobe and train fare, I set out for New York in January of 1945, alone.

In New York, my voice coach opened up a bewildering new world to me of seasoned performers and professionals in the arts, but the excitement wasn’t enough. I was homesick, worn out from holding two jobs, voice lessons, and always being hungry for a decent meal. I called Mom to say I was coming home.

I thought this would be the shock of her life. Instead she out-shocked me. “Stay put,” she said. “Your father left me. I sold the house. I’m joining you in New York. Get over your homesickness, you don’t know what that is.” In the aftermath of these clipped sentences, I knew this was a woman of exceptional strength and beauty. Within a few weeks we were reunited in New York, and picked up our lives again, with a little humor, a little silliness, and lots and lots of singing.