• 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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What’ll I Do When You are Far Away

I’m writing with sad news. My mom, my bridge lady, died last month. A lot of people have said they felt they knew my mother through my book, The Bridge Ladies. I always wanted to ask: what, what do you think you knew about her. I feel bereft that I barely scratched the surface. My mother was beyond complicated and our relationship covered the spectrum. The dressing room wars. The thirty years in therapy. The symphony of criticism. The covert encouragement. When I was eleven or so, we drove past a snow covered field with dead corn stalks sticking up. I said it looked like stubble on a man’s face. My mom was delighted by the comparison and explained what a simile was. Then the field burst into flame.

What did you learn from your mother?


30 Responses

  1. Unconditional love and how not to pick a husband.

  2. First, I’m sorry for your loss. Second, my mother, who is 94, taught me that humans are incredibly resilient. She has had so much grief in her life, and she still looks for the good – every day.

  3. Betsy,
    I’m sorry to hear of your mother’s passing. I loved your book, and the relationship you shared with readers, and my mother and I both read it.

    My mother died last year, and it hit hard. Somehow I thought it would be easier, as in: we all lose a mother at some point so how hard could it be?

    The thing I learned from my mother — in life and in death — is that you can have a long and difficult relationship and still love and grieve deeply.

    Best to you in this passage.

  4. I’m so sorry Betsy. I loved the way you portrayed your mom and her friends in The Bridge Ladies. And how wonderful to have that time to share with her in later life because of bridge and your book.

    Grief is a hard old road. My mom died last July and I’m ticking off all the anniversaries: birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s Day… hurtling towards the big one…

    Sending you love.

  5. that i didn’t really know her and i don’t really know myself and it’s okay to be complicated. but it’s not okay to pick favourites amongst your children.

    i’m sorry for your loss.


  6. I have had several. All having shown me different things.

  7. I am so sorry, Betsy.

    I learned grammar, how to be funny, how to bake bread, how to be closed up, how to listen to music from my mother. So many things.

  8. From my mother I learned:

    To savor the dark burst of a plum
    To revere the word
    To marvel at Shakespeare
    To fathom a tree
    To praise.

    Betsy, not a day goes by that I don’t think of my mother. She died at 99,
    She was refined, gracious, and patient. I’m deeply sorry for your loss. I loved your mom through your book. And you know what the real bridge is? My granddaughter, newly born a month. So life goes on.

  9. From my mother I learned:

    To savor the dark burst of a plum
    To revere the word
    To marvel at Shakespeare
    To fathom a tree
    To praise

    Betsy, not a day goes by that I don’t think of my mom. She died at 99. She was refined, gracious, and patient. I am deeply sorry for your loss.
    I loved your mom through your book. And do you know what the real bridge is? My granddaughter, newly born a month. So life goes on.

  10. Betsy, I am sorry for your loss. Saying that we all lose them, our mothers, unless we go first, seems trivial and almost rude. Mine is still alive.

    The Bridge Ladies — I’m glad you wrote it and I’m glad I read it. You described not only your mother and her bridge partners and their husbands, but their world and their time — a world and a time now gone.

    How much do we learn about a person through reading about them? How much do we learn about them even through living with them day after day through year after year? Much is kept hidden, either intentionally or through the accidents of each one of us living outside of the minds and beings of others. We sometimes scarce know ourselves, save to know that we are all of us fundamentally the same — there is a little or a lot of everyone in everyone else. And in addition, we change over time — but we’re all still people, similar in that respect.

    Your flame simile is superb. But you knew that.

    What did I learn from my mother? Various things. Fear. Resentment. Duplicity as a survival mechanism. How to be alone, within myself. How to think, to question, to demand and seek justice; to turn away, to walk away, to run away, to find some other place to stand. Later, I learned sympathy, understanding, forgiveness — but those are built on a foundation of rubble, of strewn shards, every item broken.

    We all lose everything, until all we have left is everything we’ve lost.

    My mother, more than any other person, place, or thing, made a writer out of me. For better or for worse, and from the better and the worse, she implanted in me that burden and that gift.

    • I did not mean, by my opening remark, to cast aspersions on upthread posts. I had not yet read them. Better that a mother should go first than be faced with the loss of a child.

  11. Heartfelt sympathies, Betsy, from a fellow Spartan and frequenter of Whitlock’s. What did I learn from my mother? So much, for better or worse—my children would likely say the same of me. At 95, Mother now teaches me how to age with grace, to count life’s gains rather than loses. Peace.

  12. Oh, no. I’m really sorry, Betsy. You referenced your mom here so many times and your love & and respect for her shone through. So sorry.

    I didn’t learn enough from my mom as she died when I was young. She did teach me how to type, though. She gave me books and little diaries with locks. She gave me my early writer tools and for that I’m grateful.

  13. What I learned from my mother is that it was okay to pray for her to die. She was so sad, so miserable, so adrift during the last seven months of her life without my father that I yelled at God to take her. For her there was no way through life without the man she had been married to for 62 years.
    In 1944, after knowing each other for only 18 days they married. My dad, a virtual stranger, saved my mother from the aftereffects of a horrifically brutal rape. Without him over 6 decades later she was a victim again.
    AND I knew none of this while she was alive.
    She taught me that secrets held tight are as toxic as any poison that alters your DNA,.
    I loved her dearly, miss her everyday and am forever grateful to God that she is in a better place.

    My heart goes out to you Betsy. Relationships with our mothers is often complicated, so is the truth we live after they die.

  14. How sorry I am for your loss, Betsy. Complicated relationships make for complicated grief and sorrow, but I hope you are doing okay most of the time. I really do feel like I knew her and thank you for sharing her with us.

    As for my mother, I’m still trying to figure out what I’ve learned.

  15. Just reading your news took my breath away. I am so sad for you and your family. You made your mother proud.
    What did I learn from Mom? “Never buy food at a bake sale, they may have cats.”

  16. Sorry to hear about your mother passing away. The fields on fire were blazing ever brighter when you wrote about her in The Bridge Ladies and took her out on tour.

    I loved my mother. A few things about her:
    I learned restraint. As a teenager, I respected that she wouldn’t confront me when I came home wasted, but wait until the next day. Her guilt trips didn’t work — sorry, mom — but I did appreciate her attitude and concern.

    From an early age I learned that things didn’t get done unless you did them. She was a divorced single mother with a toddler and a baby in the 1950s and it took her awhile to get over being freaked out. Then she did whatever secretary/receptionist work she could to help us survive, move us out of my grandparent’s basement and into a crappy walk up apartment with a scary long, dimly lit hallway. During the summer evenings young Italian Romeo’s serenaded their beloveds, who stood dreamy eyed on wrought iron balconies. Kids laughed, the old men shook their heads or threw pots of water out on the love struck souls. The old ladies sighed.
    When she was dying I learned you should never ignore a foot infection when you have diabetes. Amputation was not an option; she had always stood on her own two feet.

  17. Deepest, heartfelt condolences. I read your post on Facebook and it knocked the wind right out of me.

    “What did you learn from your mother?”

    There is nothing better for one’s self-esteem than hard work.

  18. I’m so sorry, Betsy. So sorry.

  19. Betsy, Now She Is Part Of Everything. From My Mum I Learned Kindness, Fairness & The Use Of Humor In Bad Situations. She Had To Live Through Things That Couldn’t Be Laughed Off: The Deaths Of Her First three Children. One Who Never Saw 20, & Two In Their Late 30s. All From Catastrophic Illnesses. She Prevailed, With 4 Of Us Left. She Had Faith; Not An Opiate In This Case, But How To Live Through Suffering. Carry On The Way She Would Have Wanted You To. i’m Sure She Was Very Proud Of You. Condolences, Sean Andrew Heaney.

  20. I’ve pictured the two of you in a small bookstore with creaky wood floors talking about The Bridge Ladies. She is wearing a pale blue sweater set with pearls and you are wearing a black turtle neck and blazer. She holds her breath when you talk. She thinks that she still has control by being there, watching over what you say and holding the audience accountable for their curiosity. She is beautiful, radiant when she chooses to smile, ready for a quip or stoney silence, an unexpected photograph, a catastrophe. Everything about you reflects on her. What you wear, how you roll your eyes, whether your hair color came out too dark or too mousy, every story, every thread of brilliance or joy or darkness, everyone who loves you. In her eyes you are her and yet you’re not and she walks this thin line like a reluctant aerialist, watching you for a fall or a magnificent landing. Whatever happens to you happens to her and she bears this by smoothing the pillow case and criticizing the rugulah – too dry.

    Maybe this is your mother, maybe it is mine. There are so many mothers to remember. Condolences to you and your heart.


  21. So sorry for your loss, Betsy. I loved the picture you painted of your mother and her friends in The Bridge Ladies. Regarding what I learned from my mother; how to be a person. Sending you and your family condolences.

  22. I’m very sorry for your loss, Betsy. And bereft as you are, I’m so glad you scratched the surface. Such scratches increasingly matter.

  23. Hoping that all our heartfelt sympathies and prayers have been a comfort to you during this time.

    Alas, one of the scariest skills I learned from my mother was the ability to lie. Thankfully, I prefer Truth above all else.

  24. Heartfelt condolences to you, Betsy. It’s sad!

  25. i like your work

  26. I’m sorry for your loss. My mother taught me, “When you shop for clothes, do’t look at every thing on the rack–just run your eye along the top and only look at the colors you like”. It saves a lot of time and looking at stuff you hate. I miss her every day, and I talk to her every day–she’s a actually more supportive to me now.

  27. I feel your loss, because I lost my mother, Carolyn, February 2018.
    She played Bridge too, was a master actually, partnering with the likes of Peter Pender from San Francisco. Even as demential gripped Mom, she still beat my sisters and me at card games.

    On another note, it seems you are also afflicted with Musical Tourettes, based on the titles of your posts… You had singing down your page.

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