Archive for the 'Mothers' Category



Alayne wanted me to love her intensely. “I found you in a rosebush” she often reminded me, “and gave you to your mother.” I believed her absolutely though sometimes I wondered why, if I really was her angel child, she didn’t keep me for herself when she had the chance. Of course, that wasn’t a question I was supposed to ask and so, angel child that I was, I didn’t. We never got into who put me in the rosebush or whether I was supposed to have been a flower that miraculously bloomed into a baby but it suited Alayne to have had such an experience and it pleased me to have had so unlikely a debut. Hearing this probably annoyed the hell out of my mother and the time came, perhaps after I stopped believing in Santa-Claus, when Alayne no longer told her magical story although she continued to refer to herself as my “other mother”. Like my mother and her friends Alayne was far more gorgeous and glamorous than the average husband required of a wife although for Lyman, her husband (a connoisseur of art, antiques and fine books not to mention women), she was probably just the ticket.

They lived with their miniature schnauzer, first Jeep then Buttons on Park Avenue, — the upper 70’ a spacious apartment filled with paintings, rare books and some priceless treasures I had to be careful not to touch or, more likely as I skipped by, jiggle. She held court of a morning in the master bed of the master bedroom where,  however, the master did not sleep. He camped out in his library and possibly paid visits when he was of a mind to enjoy the conjugal rights for which he was paying so dearly. (Yes, I know it’s none of my business but who wouldn’ t like to know?) When I visited overnight I was the one who slept in the library and Lyman went to his club. Or so I now reason because if he ever tucked in for the entire night next to his luscious wife why wasn’t he around early the following morning?

The walls and nearly invisible closets that lined each side of the bedroom were covered in a pale blue silk moiré. The bed and headboard were upholstered in blue satin, and the sheets were ivory satin between which Alayne was, mornings, magnificently ensconced wearing an embroidered, beribboned bedjacket. Over her lap was an enormous bedtray with curving cabriole legs and cubbyholes for the mail and newspapers. There would be a softboiled egg in a china eggcup, toast and coffee.

She would send the dog to stand in the corner for some unknown failure to obey the rules. After a while she would whisper, “if there’s a little dog in this room who would like to say he’s sorry he can come here now and ask for forgiveness..” And little Jeepor Buttons, would pad over looking crestfallen, put his paws on the bed with his little head between them and wait to be absolved and fed a bit of toast.

Her dressing room was lined with mirrored closets and a large round mirror was attached to the back of a swivel chair in front of the long, mirrored vanity so that she could see her face and hair from every angle.

When I was about six Alayne went to an Episcopal orphanage to adopt Rosemary (a name immediately changed to Barbara), a little girl about my age –who, in the pictures I have, is beautiful and looks as if she’s about to cry. Alayne transformed the maid’s room, a small cell near the kitchen with one high window and a tiny attached bathroom, into a bedroom for her. We were to be friends and, I realized at dinner one evening when we were having a spelling bee, competitors. When I realized that I was being shown off to Barbara’s belittlement I stopped playing but it wasn’t soon enough.

After a year Alayne sent Barbara/Rosemary back to the orphanage.

She wasn’t me.

A New Life



In Memorium


Although my Mother was nearly ninety-three when she died, she was never old enough to receive Modern Maturity, the AARP monthly sent to every member, like it or not.

“God damn it to hell,” she would shout when it arrived so as to be heard as far as the duck pond across from her townhouse in El Reno, Oklahoma and the cemetery down the block where her ancestors slept. The publication was so repulsive that several days passed before she could lay a hand on it. Then suddenlyshe would stub out her cigarette, rise from her prone position on the couch, pick up the despised magazine and toss it with extraordinary precision–considering she was not athletic, hated to walk or move about unnecessarily–from some distance into the wastebasket.

“I’m not mature enough!” she’d say and then, as if she’d heard a chorus of protestations. “No, and I never will be either. So there.”

She must have had her last cigarette on the evening of September 3, 2000, because the next morning I found her, via telephone which she answered as if nothing were wrong, by her bed on the floor where she’d fallen, following, as I later learned, a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA). The only upside of this episode was that she never smoked again. Before this it was useless to protest her habit even though I found burns on tabletops and burned out cigarettes in ashtrays whoseinch-long ashes drooped menacingly. It also did no good to mention my throat got sore from second hand smoke.

“Why that’s not true, dear,” she said, disappointed at yet another confirmation that I had failed to inherit her good sense. “There’s no such thing as second hand smoke.”

One evening after I coughed and coughed twice more, she stood up, glared at me and said, “That’s just ridiculous and I don’t want to hear about it ever again.”

She was firm, confident, unyielding. I don’t recall her being in doubt ever about anything except once. After an evening when she said she’d had “a snootful,” a self-compliment because people who didn’t
drink were of no consequence, she wondered if she’d behaved quite as she should have the night before.

“Still” she said, upon a brief reflection, “I did it–so it must have been all right.”

When it came to politics or bias my mother never held back. At the height of William Jefferson Clinton’s undoubted scandal, my Mother said she had characterized the President to her younger sister, a woman as far to the right as she was to the left, as “that sweet, darling Bill Clinton.” Her sister allowed she wouldn’t be in touch for a long, long time.

“I don’t care one bit if she didn’t like it–that’s how I feel. Anyway,” she continued with accidental clairvoyance, “she didn’t have to make such a federal case out of it.”

The mini-stroke affected her profoundly, and, unable to be on her own any longer, I brought her home to Connecticut. Although she lasted another nineteen months I knew my mother had turned a final corner when she said nothing about the Florida ballot dispute or the ultimate determination of the election of 2000. As often as W appeared on the screen, I was never again to hear her say,”I don’t know what it is–but I just cannot STAND that man!”

A month after her death I went to get the mail across the street from the end of our driveway and found my Mother wedged in above the circulars, junk mail and bills, in a box. It was a shock despite the fact that I’d been expecting her. I thought she was going to be delivered by UPS, a dispatch I would have preferred as more dignified and less trivializing although there’s nothing dignified about having ashes delivered by any means, then to save, inter or sprinkle them, as I would do when I decided where. I thought it might be appropriate to take some to Park Avenue where she lived for many years although itdidn’t seem environmentally correct. What if everyone did that?

I could also have sent them down to Oklahoma where my mother was born, and where she lived fifteen of her last seventeen years. Courtesy of one of my many cousins, her ashes could go in the duck pond or around her parent’s graves. But mailing her again would have been “too macabre” as my mother liked to say–that always made me want to ask if there were such a thing as just macabre enough? Of course I knew full well that she just liked saying the word, glamorized with the “too” asin “too fabulous” while stretching out the second “a” in macabre for a bit longer than was endurable. It was also her way of not having to discuss something as unpleasant and, to us both, unlikely as her death.

She went so far, however, when lost for a more controversial topic, to remind me she did not want a funeral or a burial–that she wanted, never mind the disapproval it engendered among her siblings–my mother thrived on disapproval–cremation.I thought I might put her in the Atlantic Ocean where she’d sprinkled her husband’s ashes in 1980 off the Westhampton shore, their summer residence. That had to be the place because as soon as I thought of it I heard her come to life in my head and respond in five of the many voices that accompanied five of her many roles:

The baby, “Oh goody, swimmin’ with the fishies;” the grande dame, “Absolute perfection, darling girl;” the hillbilly, “Shucks, this old country gal’s not fussy;” the kindly gentlewoman, “Bless heart, what a sweet idea;” or herself, “Goddamn it to hell, I don’t give a shit!”

So my inimitable mother was reduced to ashes–as we will all be, one way or another, to be delivered–as we will all be, one way or another, back to earth. It is very ordinary. It is very strange.