• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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To Understand You Know Too Soon There Is No Sense In Trying.

I’m back from the brisket brigade, otherwise known as New Year’s dinner at my mom’s. I have to hand it to her, at eighty she still makes homemade gefilte fish, matzoh ball soup, brisket, chicken, potatoes, Kasha varnishkes and honey cake. This post is an appreciation of the woman I never really appreciated. My mother always made us look words up in the dictionary. “Mom, what does Blah mean.” “Look it up,” she’d yell back. And then we’d have a conversation about usage. My mother admitted to me that she had picked out a pen name from a young age when she wanted to be a writer. Lynn Carter. My mother smoked Tarryton’s and drank scotch. I can’t believe she didn’t put pen to paper with those vices. She was a big reader, and I remember her reading to us in bed, taking turns between my older sister’s and my twin bed on alternating nights. And how I loved having her in mine when it was my turn.  She was very theatrical and gave her thumb a good lick before turning a page.

What about your mom? Oh, happy new year.

81 Responses

  1. My brother goes on and on about how much he misses her. The first year she was gone was bad. I generally had a tough time dealing with her “absence”. But lately, it seems like I remember so much stuff that made me angry or disregarded my “me”ness. I guess it is a process. I am completely ticked off with her for leaving my dad. He’s just a mess without her. How could she do that?

  2. 1. My mother didn’t read, nor did any of the women in my family. But she encouraged me to read and bought me books and comics and magazines she could absolutely not afford. The library books were okay, but these books I owned were like talismans around my bed. I thank her for this.

    2. My ex mother-in-law (Mrs. Greenberg) was the first Jewish mother I ever knew. I adored her and still miss her cooking.

    3. Teri Lynn Carter, I am. Sounds like a good pen name to me.

    Here’s to mothers.

  3. My mom smoked Benson & Hedges, but only in the bathroom.
    She loved George the best, but still cried the entire day after John was shot.
    She married a man six years younger than her when she was 29 and I got to be in the wedding.
    We went to the library more often than the grocery.
    She kept a copy of anais nin’s diary in her bottom nightstand drawer.
    My kids know her as Oma and think she’s the funniest person they ever met.
    If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have hardly any good stories.
    (and i would look like someone else.)

  4. In the 60s when she was a magazine editor she changed her wigs, for amusement, as often as she changed her shoes, so each morning she might be brunette, blond or redhead. She covered the Chicago Eight trial for CBC and smuggled the tapes back to Toronto. I hope to have 1/10 of her feistiness and sense of fun.

  5. Shana Tova. My mom read bedtime stories to me and my older brother when I was still too young to read. I asked her where the stories came from and she said, They’re right here on these pages, in these words. I looked at the words and knew there was magic in them and I would someday learn how to cast spells with that magic.

  6. My mom is the rare type of mother who somehow managed to be both greatly needed disciplinarian for her three wayward daughters and yet still our fun-loving friend. Not an easy line to toe. As she inches farther into her seventies–and I find I myself repeating what I’ve already told her and listening to her often tired stories of how she now fills her days–I have to remind myself of this.

    And funny that you mention your potentially talented mother never taking pen to paper. On a whim, I recently asked my mom to guest-blog for me. I was amazed at her working of words.

    I’ve been fortunate to have her.

    But as far as cooking a holiday meal? Her favorite saying is, “The bitch don’t cook.” We tend to eat out a lot.

  7. Mine was a stay-at-home mom who filled her house with books when she had an empty nest. In the few years when she had books instead of kids she read more than most hardcore readers would do in a lifetime. I’m sure she would have written a book herself if cancer hadn’t been her final chapter. Thank God she told me to do what I love and forget about the money.

  8. L’shanah tovah!

    My mother smoked for forty-two years — when I was a college freshman, I couldn’t study unless I was in the library’s smoking lounge. The week after she quit, cold turkey, my dad called me and asked if he could sleep on the floor of my dorm room for a while.

    Once we kids were out of the house, she took an adult ed basketweaving class in the evenings, and in two years was winning awards in juried shows. In three, she was the president of her region’s basketweaving guild and was traveling the world learning about new techniques and patterns.

    Once she turned 65, she joined Curves to get some exercise. She now owns two franchises.

    Two weeks ago, she visited Jonas Gerard’s art studioand decided she’d like to try painting on canvas. I fully expect her to have her own gallery showing within eighteen months.

    (and her matzoh ball soup recipe is a bowlful of home)

  9. כתיבה וחתימה טובה

    Oh, Betsy, the word “mother” is like flipping a switch for me. I’m not going to say you’re lucky you still have your mom, because I don’t believe it’s possible to fully know her until she’s gone. But maybe that’s just me.

    My mom weaned me on Reader’s Digest, early-70s National Enquirer (when it was in black and white, and full of the most lurid stories, not just tepid celebrity gossip), and the “life stories,” as she called them, of Milton Berle, Liz Taylor, and Sammy Davis, Jr. Any trash literature that the tenants left behind in our motel was tossed into my room, uncensored, which is how I made the acquaintance Jackie Susann, Erik von Däniken, and Hare Krishna.

    Her smoke of choice was first Raleighs, then Parliaments, then Marlboro Lights. For a few years, we had our own cigarette machine right outside the front door, which kept the tenants and the neighborhood supplied, while paying for her three-pack-a-day habit.

    She drank screwdrivers in the evenings, too many, then woke me up in the middle of the night, crying, and invite me to join her in the dining room, wher she’d open up can after can of sweetened condensed milk, drinking it down with ice water. I missed a lot of school that way.

    She taught me the art and science of grilled cheese sandwiches, Me-Too Brand Egg Drop Soup Mix, and Chung King Frozen Egg Rolls. She got out of cooking by giving me carte blanche in the kitchen, starting when I was eight. She told me that if ever I find myself broke, I should spend my last dollar on filling my belly, which advice has never let me down. Our fridge was stocked with filet mignon, key lime juice cubes, and Hawaiian Punch.

    I’m not even sure she was my biological mother. I am likely the bastard child of her only son and one of his many pre-Roe conquests. Some poor sixteen year-old was likely her surrogate, before we started calling them that. No matter; genetics is nothing to the force of her will, her rage, her need to have someone to devote herself to, someone to demand devotion from.

    She was my chief torturer. My best teacher. I used to think she was a bad mother, but five years after her death, considering how much of me, and all the best parts of me, are her, or a direct rebellion against her, I’ve revised my judgment: any mother who doesn’t kill you before you’re old enough to fight back is, in my book, a good mother.

  10. My mother took every opportunity she could to black her teeth out. Hobo costumes. More hobo costumes. That woman loved a good costume. I speak about her like she’s gone. She’s not; thank god. Now she lives to drum. Once a year, she goes to a camp and stays up all night, dancing round the fire, beating her hands raw and useless. I got to go with her one year and I’ve never been so proud of anyone. She’s never been a terribly memorable cook but I don’t care about that. The reason I go home is to wake up early and have coffee with her and to make a big pot of oatmeal for us, or maybe a six-minute egg on grits, and to cackle over a glass of wine, and because I’m still intrigued that she was once my age.

  11. My mother brought her father’s piano to our house when I was five and taught me for years, teaching me hard-headed discipline and a love of music. While I still play she stopped the day after her final exams. I could never understand such a waste of study but she said she was in love then had us three. I’ve been begging her to play again for years and just last week she said she might get out the Mendelssohn Variations.

  12. My mother smoked Marlboros and was part owner of a bookstore. She used to chat on the phone sometimes with Bennet Cerf. Her favorite cookbook was THE I HATE TO COOKBOOK by Peggy Bracken. We ate a lot of frozen turkey tettrazini with a side dish of slimy canned pears on iceberg lettuce. As a result, I’m an awful cook, but I’m one of those guests that goes insane with happiness when I eat someone else’s home cooked food. That New Year’s dinner sounds yummy.

    • Peg Bracken is one of my writing heroes! I used to be able to cook, but I lost it after a bad breakup. Damn that man.

  13. My mom? Lives within a mile of me now. Definitely not part of my grand plan… Happy New Year to you, too! We don’t get a lot of gefilte fish or Kasha varnishkes in Claremore, Oklahoma, but I imagine it was delicious! 🙂

  14. my mom? sidelined at the hotel in the sky.

  15. Shana Tovah Betsy! I can’t get past the food in this one to even think about my mother. Mothers and daughters have always been an especially complicated dynamic. All I know is that I could never be one.

  16. Seeing that black eye gave me a mild shock. I’d forgotten about that ad campaign. I got a good laugh out of your mom licking her thumb. Terry Pratchett has one of his witches do that in Discworld and it’s always funny.

    My mom is a lot like your mom except mine is 87 and still making corned beef and cabbage in the spring and pumpkin pie from scratch in the fall, only now she buys the crust. It’s not the same, but I don’t complain.

  17. My mother published her first novel at 68 and self published her second one at 78. Her first novel came out around the time of my wedding.I made her promise not to plug the book on MY day, but she did manage to work its title into her speech!

    When my mother’s first book was published I was proud and pleased for her. But now that I’m trying to write my own, I’m in absolute awe of her accomplishments.

  18. My mom is a poet with a pragmatic, former teacher’s demeanor. She just self-pubbed an anthology spanning 40 years of writing. Some of the poems rock.

    She used to correct my grammar, no matter how wrenching the conversation. Maybe that’s why I’m such a good editor now.

    She had a good friend who visited us one Christmas and brought me twigs she found on the beach as my present. She did wrap them up, though.

  19. My mother, whose 89th birthday would have been today (she died in 2009), was a complete and utter nonparticipant in the kitchen, extraordinarily so. My husband remarked to me after we had been married thirty years that my mother had never so much as prepared toast for him, not once. But she was an animated and engaged reader at bedtime. She read every E. Nesbitt to me, and we had all of them — the copies from her childhood which had belonged to her mother in her childhood. I really tried, but I did not succeed in reading every single one to my own daughters; they loved The Five Children and It, The Phoenix and the Carpet, and The Story of the Amulet, but we stalled out with TheWouldbegoods.

  20. My mother, Maria, was a single mom in the late 1950s. She was blindsided by my father’s request for a divorce — they had to go down to Mexico to get one back then — and the sudden burden of raising a two year old son and an infant daughter by herself. She was hit even harder when her best friend ran off with my father. We moved to the unfinished basement apartment in my grandparents house and I remember her simply going through the motions of day to day life until one night when the boiler blew and the basement flooded. I woke up to see about three feet of water lapping up against the bed and furniture and thought, whoo hoo! I jumped from the bed to a hassock
    floating by then onto a chair, having a great old time playing in the low rent water park. My shell shocked mother was helping my grandfather bail water while my grandmother — also named Maria — rescued my sister from her crib. Seeing me jumping and playing amid the chaos and knowing my sister was safe made my mother smile then laugh in the face of the nightmare her life had become. From that time on she knew that as long as we were together and healthy, nothing else really mattered. She took on secretarial jobs and made enough to raise us and we were happy. She dated a few men, some we liked some we didn’t, and when she remarried a decade later, we all thought we’d become the model family, mom, dad, buddy and sis, but instead the man turned out to be a verbally abusive alcoholic and we all did the best we could, happy when the old man passed out after dinner and we could spend the evening as a family once more.

  21. Her family never understood her. They tried to squash her, snuff out her spirit, turn her to darkness but she managed to escape. She had children of her own and broke that chain of abuse. Every second of her day I felt her devotion, I felt her core of love. I am good because of her.

  22. My mother was an avid reader and saw that we had access to a library from an early age. She’d had to drop out of school one year before she would have graduated because she had no shoes to wear. She was a self-educated woman and NEVER banned any books from my reading list. She’s been gone forty years and I still miss her daily.

  23. Happy New Year, Betsy. My mom didn’t smoke or drink, though I think she should have. She kept oil paints and brushes in a kitchen drawer but only did one painting that I can remember. I don’t think her life turned out the way she wanted and as the oldest child, I always felt that I was somehow responsible.

    Great question. Thanks!

  24. My mother read to my sister and me in her bed. She read what she liked, so we heard James Thurber as well as Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
    I still remember how hard we laughed at her reading of “The Night the Bed Fell”. She forbid me to read romances, so I dived into science fiction and was radicalized ever after.

  25. My mother is in the process of re-discovering herself and redefining her relationships after many years of myopic marriage to and care-giving for my now-deceased father. I’m watching this metamorphosis with a wary eye, hopeful, she may truly find inner happiness and allow us to really know her.

    A happy new year to all.

  26. My mother had ten children, I’m #9. My older siblings liked to complain that my younger sister and I had a much different mother than they did. well, I hope so, by the time she had us, she was mellow, funny, half crazy and we had no discipline at all. She was very funny and beautiful. My Dad was crazy jealous of her, would never let her work or drive a car. they were married 60 years.

  27. My mother told me to read Jane Austen when I was twelve and took me to the adult section of the library when she thought I was old enough. She taught me how to pour a bottle of beer into a glass and to drink espresso at the end of a meal. I really wish I could go have a coffee with her this morning.

  28. When I think of my mother growing up, I remember the smell of onions and garlic sauteeing on the stove. She cooked dinner dishes at breakfast time before she she left for work. English was my mom’s second language. She struggled with writing it (all those rules) so I often wrote all the teacher notes for me and my brothers. She didn’t read to me much but she did sing to me and taught me my first prayers in croation. She had an eye for design and sewed some of the prettiest dresses for me with no patterns. She is a strong woman trapped inside the body of a wallflower. My mother would rather I became a teacher or a nurse but she’s also gave me a special book, The Art of the Short Story, that she unearthed from an old chest of books instead of throwing it out.

  29. My mother has issues.

    Have a happy holiday.

  30. My mother smoked Virginia Slims and peeled carrots with fury, that cigarrette wagging on her lower lip. She worked at Safeway ( to my mortal embarrassment) and mispronounced big words while using them correctly. I went to school with a bunch of rich kids. Their moms had time for PTA.
    But that was 25 years ago. My mom doesn’t smoke anymore. She drives a school bus through dusty East Texas and bakes award winning cakes for the county fair. She’s fun, loud, and still mispronouncing. She’s the perfect grandmother.

    • My mom mostly nails the pronunciations but misses on the word’s definition. She insists to this day that the word “droll” means sad, melancholy. I’ve shown her the dictionary and she refuses to believe it.

      • Ya, correcting them gets so old. Mom commented on my facebook the other day, using ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’ and well….*still embarrassed…But like she’s told me since I was 9, “You’ll git over it.”

      • My mother can’t pronounce “pistachio” without a couple swings at it. She always adds an “N” in the middle, somewhere.

        Naturally, I ask her to say it at every possible opportunity . . . especially when she’s winning an argument.

  31. my mother came straight off the page of a flannery o’conner short story…her name’s chicken (my dad’s name is hurdle) and she’s 98% bile…wishes I was somebody else…though she’s an extraordinary chef (interned for Jean-Georges) and managed McGovern’s campaign for the state of NC and once chased Nixon through a private airport with her middle finger raised (he was on his way to Sadat’s funeral)…any (emphasis on the word any) gift I got for writing came from her,

  32. My mother gave up on life by the time I came along. She made her escape through the need for money so wasn’t around much. When she was she was tired and angry. She screamed. A lot. Sometimes, I think she purposely riled my father’s psychosis and left me to deal with the aftermath. If it wasn’t for me she might have been able to make a clean break. Maybe my fear was some sort of compensation. I usually romanticize when I talk about her. Especially to the relatives. After all, I am a storyteller. But the truth is I remember excruciating absence. No one called me home for sandwiches and Campbell soup. I’d sit outside the doors of neighborhood kids as they ate lunch and dinner and would eventually find my way home to stick knives into the toaster to fish out bread that I smeared with margarine. But my clothes were impeccably ironed and she was the person who walked across town in sub zero weather in the dark to confront a teacher who made me cry. She was the best and worst person I knew. It was a hard life and it beat her. Only the melancholy remains and even that is fading.

  33. This year, my mom didn’t like how brisket #1 was cooking, so she went to buy another one. Culinary competence is not her strong point. (In the past 18 years, she has assassinated 2 stoves, and she’s not even sure she used the oven in one of them.

    She used to favor Kents, but now it’s strictly Dewars. Don’t invite her over if you don’t have a bottle.

    How is it that all our moms smoked and we turned out just fine? That second hand smoke theory won’t even light a candle.

    And she always made me look things up — so I learned how to spell, what words meant and where they belonged in a sentence — as well as my p’s and q’s. None of which makes me terribly employable in this century, but technology and mother belong in different hemispheres.

  34. My mother was very angry, in an utterly unpredictable way. I never knew what would set her off, never knew when she’d be beating the crap out of me. Also, she was stingy. I was raised to act like a game show contestant, weeping my gratitude for some pitiful prize, each time I got a new pair of shoes.

    I still remember when one of her dates (she was married four times) took us kids out to a fancy candy shoppe in New Hope, PA. I chose hand-made fudge; the piece I got was the bit that caught the fudge-maker’s cigarette ash. Can’t identify the brand — but it was definitely a cigarette ash. I ate it anyway, fearful that if I pointed out the flaw in this magnificent treat of costly fudge, I’d be blamed and smacked for ruining the gift. The memory of the taste of that fudge still makes me gag.

    These days, if I don’t get exactly what I want when I want it, I scream and rant like a crazy person.

    My mother now wants to make up for the past. I’m 55. My mother brought me a gift of Play-Do last month. I also get cute socks, Valentines with teddy bears on them, and barrettes. She’s gotten a lot nicer now that she’s been drinking a martini every afternoon (for the past 20 years).

  35. My mom is amazing, I couldn’t ask for a better one. She is all quiet strength like her father, something I never quite appreciated when I was younger. This past year has been the worst ever for our family and I’ve seen the depth of both her courage and her compassion and come to understand that the one means nothing without the other.

    Almost to a fault, she doesn’t put her problems on other people. I’m glad that I’m finally at the age when I can support her as well as the other way around because I worry sometimes that she carries the weight of the world.

    She is bright, kind, thoughtful and beautiful and I admire and love her to pieces.

    I could go on and on about her really. Just know that I know how lucky I am. The world would be much better off if everyone had one like her.

  36. Winstons. Non-stop. Both my parents. I didn’t even know cigarettes stank until I went away to college and came back home.

    My mom did not read to me. She’d been a British war bride, and every minute had to be spent doing something she considered productive. She worked full-time from 14 to 62 as a seamstress, raising 3 kids (when no one thought it was odd to chain-smoke while pregnant) and keeping an immaculate house. One of my first memories is of asking her every night to read me the Dr. Seuss book I’d taken out of the school library, until I had to take it back to school unread.

    Most of my memories are of her back–at the kitchen sink, over the ironing board, leaving the house early to go to work. But she was the kindest woman I have ever known. I miss her fiercely, 5 years after Alzheimer’s finally had the grace to take her away from here.

  37. I’m sitting here reading all these mother descriptions, thinking about my own and how to best describe her, warts and all (no, seriously, no warts). And then a thought bubbled up to the top that stopped me cold: fast forward 20 years, what would my daughter be writing about me? I’m going to be thinking about this for awhile.

  38. The task is to leave the nest, well-made or warped, how we make that transition seems to me the valuable tale.

  39. My mom was a writer. She didn’t have a chance to try to publish anything before her death, but I think she had a real shot. And I’m not just saying that because she was my mom — she did tons of research, really understood the industry, was careful and patient with her work and revised, etc. She had written a middle-grade novel that she gave me to critique. She was so nervous for me to read it and, honestly, so was I — I was worried it wouldn’t be publishable and I’d have to tell her. Imagine my shock when I read it and found it really quite good. I was so excited that I could be genuinely excited about her book.

    I still have a copy of that manuscript under my bed. She was also working on an historical novel before she died. I believe the working title was my middle name.

    • Why not send it out and see if you can get an agent interested? Since you’re also a writer you might be able to handle any rewrites should they be necessary.

      • I’ve thought about it, but overall I’ve been holding on to the manuscript, thinking that I’d cross that bridge once I progress a bit more in my own writing career, I currently don’t have an agent to ask for advice (and, to be honest, I haven’t started looking for one yet b/c I’m still revising my novel). So I guess I thought my mother’s book could wait until I’m in a better place to address it. I imagine getting a contract for a manuscript by a deceased, unpublished writer is, if not impossible, not exactly easy.

  40. A CONSPIRACY OF DUNCES is just one famous example of a deceased author finding a publisher courtesy of a mother’s persistence. No reason to believe it can’t work the other way around. Good luck with your WIP and securing representation.

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