Aisle Of Wit

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My Second Mother

My mother died again.

Let me explain.  I lost my own mother far too prematurely, 30 years ago this June.  Look no further than her psyche for the cause of death.  My mother was well-intentioned but self-loathing, addicted to food, high-tar cigarettes and a codependent relationship with my equally well-intentioned but otherwise flawed father.  She established one foundation of Leblanguage—the need to find humor where possible and to at least offer empathy to others.  But she was incapable of more, and so we lost her just shy of her 58th birthday, never to know the grandchildren she so desperately coveted the thought of (They’re great, by the way).

One of her strongest allies was a distant cousin who was far closer in geography (we were neighbors on the same block twice when I was growing up), nomenclature (they shared the same first name and the last four letters of their surnames) and marital unhappiness (her spouse of choice had many flaws similar to my father).  My second mother was physically healthier and spiritually stronger, and provided me an unwavering source of support and comfort when the dysfunction of my own household became overwhelming.  And that was often.

They preceded me in the move from New York to Southern California, tempted by the thought of better weather, an improved lifestyle and a fresh start.  While they got tanner, their partnership became more flawed.

We didn’t see them for eight years.  To save on writers’ cramp, we’d record audio cassettes with one hour narratives on all that was going on in our lives and send them back and forth.  It was a happy ritual to record (and re-record) our end and await the latest update from the Land of Milk and Honey in the mail.  Much like Zoom calls today, it provided a link to life that the written word just cannot.

Then we finally saved up enough to afford our first family trip.  They drove us to San Diego and we did the whole tourist trap thing with Seaworld and La Jolla and all else.  She and I bonded for the first time as adults on that trip (I was 19), sipping mai tais poolside way past others’ bedtimes.  Then she said “You’re an adult.  You deserve to know something I haven’t even told your mom.  I’m leaving my husband.  I love him but I can’t love someone who isn’t motivated to make their next day better than the one that just ended.  I’m urging you to live by that philosophy and I’ll hope your mother takes that advice too.

Your dad is holding all of you back.   You have the chance to not repeat history.  Take it.”

My mom didn’t listen.  I did.  I gained the courage to pursue my dream, move cross-country and start my journey.  My cousin moved on to other men, some husbands, some LTRs, but always first and foremost a mother, grandmother and eventually a great-grandmother.  She shared her younger daughter’s thirst for life and uncompromising quest for fulfillment, fun and love on HER terms.  She not only knew her children’s descendants she was a force of strength, confidence and support for them as she was me.  She was the ultimate cool relative.  The mom I wished I had had, or at least the embodiment of the qualities I wished my own mom had adopted.

She lived 89 years, but it wasn’t enough.  The pandemic prevented any sort of physical closure for me.  But we did have a zoom call last summer, and she looked vibrant and healthy then.  I got the chance to tell her what I felt and why, and she just shrugged.  “It’s who I am.  I’m glad you chose to be you”.

Very simple words.  But words that spoke volumes and that still drive me every day.

Choose to be you.  Choose authenticity.  Choose life.  Many days I forget her advice.  I won’t forget it at her funeral and I hope to not forget ever again.

Her name was Barbara, just like my mother’s.  They are together again.  I hope this time my mother takes her cousin’s advice and they go through eternity like Thelma and Louise.  Speaking LebLANGauge, of course.