Regular readers may have noticed that I have not been posting much the past few months and even less the past few weeks. Three weeks ago, my mother whose name was Irene passed away at age 82. Irene was a remarkable woman whose full story cannot be told in one blog post.
I went to a memorial for my mother last night and wrote down some memories that I shared with her close friends and relatives. Here is what I wrote:
When I was four and a half, the summer before I started school and the summer before my sister was born, I got the then common childhood disease, the measles. I had a fever of a hundred and four for several days and I was sad that on the nicest days of the year, I had to stay inside sick.
My Uncle Murray Sloan, my mother's brother was a doctor and whenever I was sick, he would pay a house call on me with a black leather doctor's bag. I usually would get a shot of antibiotics and then he would entertain me with magic tricks while the pain from the injection faded.
One night while I was sweating through a high fever, I had one of those long vivid dreams that many people experience while sick. In the dream I traveled back in time to shortly after I was born. I was starting to develop my own identity.
Scenes of some of the more traumatic episodes of my early life are what I remembered. For example, at age one and a half, I remembered my mother putting on a snowsuit for me and going outside the brownstone building of my early years, only to be pushed down by a boy named Peter. I cried and knocked on the door. Safely inside, I reported, “Peter pushed me.”
In another episode, I remembered my concern when my mother got sick on the old fashioned propeller plane we took when we moved to Los Angeles when I was two.
Memories of Early Youth
From what I know of human psychology, most people few or no memories at all of their life before the age of four. Whether the experiences I had were actual events or complete fantasy is hard to know. Looking back, the many stories my mother and father told me about my childhood may have caused me to remember them differently, with the familiar stories imposed on fading memories of a dream in childhood.
Aside from the specifics, the dream was a tale of separation from mother and my fears and desires to stop the process. I was one of those kids who they say was tied to his mother’s apron strings.
Another early and somewhat traumatic moment came while living in Burbank at age four. My mother taught me to be politically progressive or liberal as we called it back then. I remember driving with her to the polls when she cast her first vote for Adele Stevenson in November of 1952.
And that we got in a minor accident on the way home, which resulted in my mother being taken by ambulance to a hospital with some cuts on my arm, I was worried and scared, perhaps as worried and scared as I was three weeks ago when my mother took what was probably the first ambulance ride to a hospital since that time. My mother did not like doctors, ambulances and hospitals and did her best to avoid them during her wonderful 82 years on the planet.
The dream at age four and a half became a context for how I think about my life. If like is like a movie, those were the early scenes in black and white and grainy film.
A later scene which is probably a more authentic memory is me at five nagging my mother for a toy I saw on TV called Robert the Robot (Here is a YouTube Video of the program I watched on TV that got me interested).. I was a geek from an early age and interested in things scientific and technical. I At the same time, my imagination inflated the powers of this toy robot until in my mind, I thought he would be like a home servant that would automate my existence, brining my cans of soda pop from the refrigerator and even cleaning my room.
My mother was less enthusiastic about Robert the Robert as this early wonder toy from Marvel cost almost $20 which back then was on the high-priced end of things. I would not stop asking my mother about getting me the toy. She tried her usual ploy which was to say that she would get it on Tuesday. I would wait until Tuesday and she would give me a new reason for not getting me Robert.
I was relentless and she finally broke down and bought me Robert the Robot. My initial encounter with the toy was disappointing to say the least. Here is short clip on YouTube showing exactly what the toy was really like . It didn’t even have a battery; you had to propel the thing but turning a crank inside a long metal flexible coil attached to the toy.
When you turned another crank, it had a small repertoire of phrases which started with “I’m Robert Robot mechanical man.” I played with the toy for 20 minutes at the most and abandoned it.
Mother kept asking me if why I wasn’t playing with it. I told her, “I don’t like it.” She was right about Robert the Robot. It turned out that she was usually right about almost everything she told me to do or not to do.
When was eighteen, I became part of the rebellious hippie movement. One of the main credos of the hippies was to rebel against anything our parents stood for or wanted.
For many of my fellow members of the counterculture, rebelling against their parents may have worked out ok. As I have a bit of an independent streak, I prided myself on never following my mother’s advice on anything. This started a long losing streak which lasted for many years. If only she hadn’t been so right about everything, I would have had a life with perhaps a bit less adventures, many of which only sound good as stories but were not so much fun to live through.
Big Mother in the Sky
At age 27, I had moved away from Los Angeles where I grew up and moved to Santa Cruz where I was to spend most of my adult life in a home by the ocean. My mother always liked the idea that she live close to her children so in many ways, moving was a continuation of both rebellion and search for my own identity.
However, moving away from my mother in distance did not really separate me from her. My mother loved Woody Allen moves and she especially liked the portion of the Woody Allen movie New York Stories called Oedipus Wrecks. Here is the film on YouTube.
The film is about a neurotic New York Lawyer named Sheldon who is micromanaged by his powerful Jewish mother. The name this segement of the film is a pun on the classic neurotic complex which early psychologist Sigmund Freud identified while studying middle class Jewish families in Austria at the turn of the 20th century.
He described the Oedipus complex as an affliction of male children who become have become overly fixed and identified with their mothers. Sounds a bit like me, no?
For those of you who have not seen the movie, neurotic Lawyer Sheldon tells his psychiatrist that his mother contently interferes with his relationships and everything else in his life and that he wishes she would disappear A few days later, Sheldon takes his fiancé to a magic show and his mother tags along. Sheldon'mother is invited by the magician to take part in the show. On stage, the magician makes his mother mysteriously disappear. But when the magician tries to make her reappear, he cannot.
However, she does reappear. Instead of a flesh and blood mother, she is now a giant god-like aspiration in the skies above Manhattan. From this vantage point on high, she is able to interject herself into every aspect of Sheldon’s life,
Like Sheldon, I ended up on more than one shrink’s couch telling stories about my mother. My mother could never understand why I would talk to a psychologist about her because she was always right. She figured that most of my problems came from not listening to her.
Aldus Huxley once said that “life has to be lived going forward but is best undertood looking backward. About ten years ago, after a long mid-life crisis contemplating my life, I came to the realization that my mother usually had been right.
My mother had been asking me to move to Las Vegas so I could be close to her but I had resisted. So when I realized that she was so often correct with her advice, I decided to move here. With that move, I finally had made a decision that began to lead to a better life.
When I moved to Las Vegas, I began to be mothered again. For those here that knew her, you know she had a remarkable attention to the details of life, something which for years I had ignored. With her coaching,
My mother called me at least once a day until about a year and a half ago. Often when she called, we talk about a range of things, romantic comedies on TV, the latest with Bush and later Obama. She would also have a long list things that I needed to attend to. She was my to-do list and checked up and me to make sure I had gotten my car registration done or my flight booked.
When my mother stopped calling, I started worrying about her the way that she probably worried about me the previous sixty years. Her health and ability to walk began to decline but never her mind or attention to details.
I also had to learn to start tracking my own to-dos. This is what Jewish mothers call becoming a mench (a man).
I started spending some weeks at her house as I was beginning to realize that soon I might not be able to ever go home anymore.
The last few months, she has had me come over periodically to help her go shopping. About 10 days before she died, I went over to her house. I would usually go there when Angie and her cleaning crew were supposed to arrive. When this cleaning crew gets to your house they go right to work with a purpose and make it obvious they do not want you in their way.
Just as we were leaving they showed up, we went over to Vons supermarket and spent some time shopping. After shopping, we usually had coffee at the Starbucks inside the market.
That day we sat and talked for over an hour. I had some deadlines on work I was doing home so I suggested we leave. She looked like did not want to leave. We got back to her house and I took the packages into the Kitchen. A couple of people from Angies crew was still in the kitchen and got in the way of me putting away the groceries. The crew was also cooking their lunch in the microwave so I was sorry that I come back so early. I could have avoided the awkwardness of the scene in the kitchen. My mother had lingered behind and sat in the car. I realized that my mother had somehow known that they would still be here if he did not stay a bit longer in the cafe.
Images in this post: 1) Infant Bruce Eisner and Mother, 1948, Brooklyn, NY; 2) Bruce Eisner second birthday, 1950 Brooklyn, NY; 3) Robert The Robot Marvel Toy, 1952; 4) Woody Allen and Mother, New York Stories, 5) Bruce and Mother, Las Vegas Nevada, 2006