My brother Mark, who lives near me, called the other day to tell me that he and his wife were going to visit Mom. They were planning to go there and back in one day – it is a 3.5 hour drive one way. I have been wanting to go but have been waiting for omicron to die down and the weather to cooperate. It seemed like this was fortuitous timing, and it would save me from driving alone. “Mind if I join you?” I asked. “Of course,” came the quick reply.
As I do before any visit to Mom these days, I thought about what I can bring that will make for pleasant conversation. This has gotten increasingly challenging as her circumstances have diminished. Aside from the realities of Covid which limits options, we can’t really take her out for a meal anymore. That used to be a great pleasure for her. I would be happy to manage her oxygen and walker, which make it awkward but doable, but these days she simply tires too quickly. It gets to be too much for her and the brief pleasure she derives from getting out of the apartment is surpassed by exhaustion and anxiety.
So, we look for other ways to make it enjoyable. Bringing in a meal is special. Fortunately, the food where she lives is good – no complaints there – but there is still a sameness. Mom particularly enjoys soup so bringing in wonton or a hearty chicken noodle is welcome. Since the weather was unseasonably nice, the sun was out in a cloudless sky and the air was relatively mild (considering it is January in the northeast), we ate on her patio. Mom closed her eyes, put her face in the sun and took a deep breath. In the days when Mom was hale and hearty she would have sat without a coat, not so anymore. It was chilly, and she needed a jacket, but it still felt good for all of us to get some fresh air.
As I have written in many previous blog posts, I have been sorting through papers and mementos from Mom’s house in Florida and Aunt Clair’s apartment. It is a bittersweet process, finding loving letters but also evidence of loss, like my dad’s death certificate. When I come across something humorous or poignant, I often take a picture of it and text it to whomever I think might be interested. Sometimes I text Mom photos, but it is hit or miss whether she will successfully find it on her phone. I scanned the items I most recently sorted and found some things I thought would be meaningful to her for our visit. I selected some letters from Zada, Mom’s father.
After finishing our lunch on the patio, we returned to her living room. Mom settled into her recliner and the rest of us sat down around her. We took out the letters from Zada.
Though Zada didn’t have the opportunity to finish high school, he was a self-educated, well-read man who wrote beautifully. Mark read this one aloud to Mom:
I am writing one letter to my dear ‘aynklach’ (note: grandchildren in Yiddish). Because whatever I have to say, I must say to all of you. I cannot single out one. But first let me tell you what your letters mean to me. Regardless of your grammatical errors and your misspelling, the words you write are full of love and wisdom. My pride knows no bounds. You are concerned that I have a good summer, that I do not work too hard. That Terry is making proper meals, and that I should not be lonesome. How can I be lonesome when I have your letters to remind me how precious you are? So I count the days when your vacation will be over, and I will be seeing you in the flesh again. To be able to watch television with Steve (especially the programs he likes), also to hear the pearls of wisdom emanating from Mark’s mouth. And to be rewarded by my little sunshine although I hear she is not so little anymore.
Look boys, I cannot go into detail about the sporting events we are all interested in, that is why I had the Post sent to you, and when you get back (hale and hearty) we will have long discussions of all the things that have transpired while you were away.
I am also very pleased with the progress you are making with your swimming and Steve, if I am ever to see you dive, and do it well, my pleasure will be complete. Mark, my hand does not hurt, and I have plenty of writing time, but words, once my stock in trade, are wanting to commend such a good boy as you. So I keep thinking of beautiful things to say. My heart is so full of love that mere words would blemish my feelings. Linda, stay as sweet as you are always, never lose your vivaciousness, speak up at all times so I may see the sparkle in your eyes and the loveliness of you.
God bless my grandchildren. May you be happy always. Zada
Mom listened, a smile on her face, marveling at how well he expressed himself. We talked about the context of the letter, remembering our summers in Illinois (the first of three spent there) while Zada was home in Canarsie. We weren’t on vacation exactly; Dad was attending the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana to get his masters in economics. Mom remembers those days fondly. I brought a photo from that summer, which elicited Mom’s pleasure at how slim she looked in her bathing suit (see above).
Then Mark read the next letter, dated ten years later. This letter, written on her birthday just after the wedding of his oldest grandchild, my brother Steven, begins: From the president of the Feige Brody fan club.
Nov. 16, 1977
The purpose of this letter is to expound on the theory that it is far better to be 44 years young, than to be 44 years old.
You proved to me without a shadow of a doubt, how you deported yourself at Cindy’s and Steven’s wedding: In my eyes and probably everyone else’s you were the fairest and youngest of all.
Stay young Feige, your husband will adore you, your children will respect you, and I will always love you.
Love and Best of Days,
As Mark read the letter to Mom, she smiled broadly and listened attentively. “That’s my father,” she said with satisfaction. I think it is fair to say that Mom did as he suggested. She stayed young, at least until her 88th year when time is finally catching up with her. Her husband, my father, certainly adored her until he took his last breath, and her children respect her. Zada was prophetic.
As we said our good-byes, we reminded Mom that she is 88 years young.