Gifts From The Dead By Renee Jacobs

 

Gifts from the Dead

By Renee Jacobs

     Our relationship grew increasingly more strained over the years. My mother wanted to think

 

we had always been close so blamed my husband for turning me against her. True, my husband

 

had no patience for her lapses into sickness whenever she didn’t get her way. But the main

 

reason was his need to protect me from the psychic pain I felt with every contact. When my

 

mother called, I would often lay the phone down and iron, knit, do something to distract me

 

while I grunted “Uh-huh” every once in a while.

 

The conversations, or rather monologues, would be about her current illnesses. “I had a heart

 

attack yesterday,” or “I broke my back and can’t get out of bed.” “Mom, were you in the

 

hospital?” I would ask, only to learn she hadn’t even gone to a doctor. While she had many

 

health problems, I never really could determine what was real, how serious, and what was

 

hypochondriacal.

 

Her other frequent complaint was that my father never talked to her. He was an easy-going,

 

friendly person. Once they moved toFlorida, he had a regular group of buddies that he met with

 

several times a week for golf. The men loved to tell jokes and stories. When my mother, who

 

was not very social, would ask what stories he heard, he would give only a vague response.

 

Other than waiting on her and trying to fulfill her needs, Dad preferred playing solitaire rather

 

than sitting with her. Because Mom was so difficult and there was so much tension between us,

 

when my parents were coming for a visit or I went to see them inFlorida, I often had nightmares

 

for weeks before and after.

 

Pictures of my mother as a young woman gave me the impression of a vibrant, beautiful,

 

confident spirit, often posing with a boyfriend of the moment. My parents met when they were

 

assistant buyers at Gimbels inNew Yorkin 1943. She was twenty-six years old, my father thirty-

 

two. Dad said he was attracted to Mom’s spunk and style so, even though his father, an

 

Orthodox Jew fromLithuania, forbade him to marry a non-Jew, Mom converted and they were

 

married atTempleEmanuel, a famous reform congregation onFifth Avenuein the city.

 

She gave up her career, her religion and her identity, spending her married life trying to

 

prove herself. I believe in her mind she was never good enough. Unhappy with her life, I became

 

the daughter who was never good enough (“You are such a klutz,” “You have no sense of

 

humor,” were some of the labels attached to me) but who was also supposed to be her savior. If I

 

sometimes didn’t like the clothes she picked out for me or asked her to stop rearranging my

 

furniture, she would retreat to her bed in depression, telling me “If you don’t love me, I just want

 

to die.” I tried to find ways to be a separate person but simultaneously looked for occasions to

 

forge bonds with her, especially once the grandchildren arrived. Sometimes it worked, often it

 

didn’t.

 

Beginning in 1976, our family tradition became traveling to Montauk every summer for

 

one glorious week, my husband and I with our three children, cramped in one room of a motel on

 

the beach. Other times we would spontaneously pack up the kids on a Friday morning, brave the

 

CrossBronxand Long Island Expressway and drive up and down South Emerson until we found

 

a vacancy sign, just to squeeze in a few more days at our favorite place. We loved the time

 

together, the lack of any schedule, long walks on the beach, looking for shells and pretty rocks,

 

having great meals at local restaurants, watching movies and playing games at night. We were

 

enthralled with the huge expanse of sky during the day, usually cloudless and serenely blue, and

 

the sky at night, a blanket of stars. It became a retreat for all of us.

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