My father was a holy man. Although he was not officially a rabbi, people flocked to him as if he had a touch of the Moses in him. I think my dad was brilliant. He could remember details like no one and had tremendous judgment. He was the sole survivor of his family after living through the holocaust. He told me his mother’s last words to him as they were carting his family away were “Eli, I think you are going to make it. Remember you have an aunt in America.” That is how I ended up being born in Bronx hospital.
By default, my mother is also holy but although she is the cutest grandma in the assisted living, I don’t think she has the holiness aura of my dad. She has big blue eyes, a ready smile and wears my old New Balance sneakers. Like my wrinkled five year old, she holds my hand, trusting I will take care of her.
A few months before my Dad passed away, my brothers and I moved my parents from Riverdale to Gurwin Assisted Living at exit 52 on the LIE. As long as I can remember, my dad took care of everything. This was not unusual in the ‘50s but I don’t ever remember my mom being completely of this world. It’s as if her growing up was interrupted midstream when the Nazis rolled in and everyone she knew was taken away from her.
With my father gone, I am her primary caretaker since I live on the island. She is 87, and doesn’t hear too well but what she does hear is how I am in the Hamptons a lot. Having never visited because of my dad’s health (although she actually did many years ago but doesn’t remember) she wanted to see what “the Hamptons” is all about. My summers growing up were spent in bungalow colonies, upstate in the country.
So I decided to take her for a visit. I packed her suitcase and left Commack around 3:15. I then drove with her to Livingston, NJ during rush hour to an awards dinner honoring my brother.
We arrived at the ballroom at 6pm. My brother received three standing ovations and had my mom stand for an ovation as well. For someone hard of hearing, I never saw anyone stand up so quickly and with such pride. We kids are proof of her existence, that she survived and prospered and will live on through us.
The next morning I rushed packing her up for the next leg of the trip out east. It was a summer Friday.
I buckled her in and off we went. I wanted to go on 27 to show her the “shtetls”, small towns along the way, but it was a mistake. Traffic was bad and she became very agitated. She acted as if her husband was driving, lost in the Bronx, a fairly common occurrence. She closed her eyes and prayed aloud, “Oh dear God. Please get us there safely. Oh my dear God.” “Mommy, we are not lost. It’s just weekend traffic.” But she continued to look around anxiously for someone, anyone, to help us. “Stop and ask him to help us”, she pleaded to me when she saw a lone pedestrian.
When she was calmer, she pointed to PC Richards en route, “They have very big houses in the Hamptons”, she said. Finally, we arrived. “This is your house?” she said, her face lighting up. “I didn’t know what to expect; I thought maybe, it was like a bungalow.” She took a deep breath and relaxed.
Although she is still quite robust, the few steps into the house required our full concentration. She viewed the newly landscaped pool area and smiled broadly. ”This is so nice. I love the Hamptons.”
My daughter and her boyfriend arrived from the city in time for dinner. My mom was so happy to be among family and the kids were so good with her. I used two frozen bagels as challah rolls and lit tea lights on my shabbos candles. We wore napkins on our heads in lieu of a traditional kerchief and my mom and I said the prayer over the candles. We circled our hands three times in the air, covered our faces with our hands as we made a private prayer, then recited ” Baruch atah Adonai eloheynu…” “Good shabbos” my mom said, kissing me and my husband and the kids.
I told my daughter how making friends for my mom has been a challenge at the assisted living. My mom is so outgoing and smiley and the response has not always been reciprocal. Yet she has a best friend Louise, almost from day one. I tell Sam, “My mother calls Louise, Eugene. I don’t know why.”
So Sam says, “Bubbie (grandma in Yiddish), what is your friend’s name?” and Bubbie looks up, looks at me and says,“ Eugene”. We laugh and she laughs too. She is loved here.
Overnight did not go so well. We put her in the first floor office to be near my bedroom. We blocked the basement door so she couldn’t mistakenly open it and fall down the stairs. She sometimes wanders. My mom woke up three times during the night calling anxiously, “Lillian! Lillian!”
I ran to her side and she held me tight, looked deep into my eyes and asked,” Where am I? Lily, I don’t know where I am.” I said, “You are in the Hamptons, Mommy. You are in the Hamptons with me. Go back to sleep.”
The last time I saw my mother in the middle of the night was to tell her that her husband of 67 years died.
My mother gets up, gets dressed and goes to breakfast promptly at 8am every morning. So she got up and got dressed in the Hamptons around 7am. My husband was not happy. He uses his mornings to do work but there she was smiling, eager to chat.
It was drizzling. I decided the best course of action was to take her to shul. So off we went to Easthampton Jewish Center.
I hate to admit this was my first Shabbat there although I went to services after 9/11. Today it was full of regulars and after being warmly greeted, we went inside and prayed.
There was a Kiddush afterwards and my mom was very excited. I sat her down on a bench and brought her tuna and egg salad on a bagel. She tried to stuff some rugalech in my bag to bring home to the kids but I refused and she was mad.
By the time we arrived home, the sun also arrived, high and warm in the sky. I placed her on the wicker settee on the shady front porch, with a big pillow to support her. It was particularly difficult keeping an eye on her with my maltipoo puppy creating havoc, running into the street every chance he got.
So I took her to the backyard where my family was sunbathing. She sat on a chair with a small table for her swollen feet. I put on a baseball cap, smeared on suntan lotion and alternated her from sun and shade every twenty minutes. There was no way we could go the beach.
On the way back to Commack, I drove through Sag Harbor, past the glistening sea and there was no traffic. She liked this and we discussed how the Hamptons were just another version of the “country”.
I miss my mom when I am not with her and am preparing for her next visit to the Hamptons.