Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A man may work from sun to sun...

FIRSTLY, today would've been my Mom's 90th birthday*, and as I woke up and thought about that, it occurred to me that I almost never write about her. (Here, however, is a loving but probably too-sentimental piece I once did for the Los Angeles Times Magazine.)

In truth, I didn't have that much active interaction with my mother, certainly not when I was growing up. My relationship with my Dad consumed just about all of my time and then some, whether we were playing catch at the park, bowling, working on the math problems he'd devise for me, walking to the ice-cream shop for a malted* or engaging in the free-ranging discussions that, one might say, foretold this blog, many years before blogging existed. But make no mistake, my mother was the glue that held our family together, and our passive interactionsin the form of the ambient, loving tone she set for the householdwere as indelible as the ever-present scent of simmering tomato sauce. Even when our family's financial goals dictated that she should take a job outside the home, Mom found work on the graveyard shift at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York; that way she could still greet me when I got home from school, make dinner, and be there for the early-evening hours till my sisters and I went to bed (i.e. what became known as "quality time" among the have-it-all set.) Then my father would drive her to lower Manhattan. Come to think of it, I wonder when she slept, exactly...?

In time, my mother became the first female department head at FRB-NY, working directly for the man who would later become the chairman of the entire Fed system
at which point she was out-earning my dad by a substantial sum. So in a sense she was both a liberated woman and a stay-at-home mom; I don't know if she "had it all," but she certainly did it all.... Anyway, you can read more about all this in the above-linked piece, if you care to.

Happy Birthday in Heaven, Mom, as Kathy would put it.

More later, as time permits, on an eye-opening new poll that supposedly documents the role "racial prejudice" is apt to play in the forthcoming election.

* a not-unattainable milestone for many women of her generation, though she left us at age 77, in 1995.
** no wonder I weighed 150 pounds by the time I was 12! And I wasn't even that tall, yet.


Cosmic Connie said...

Steve...what can I say. Your post, and the article (and the jazz tribute)...all of it, lovely.

So, as Kathy would say, Happy Birthday in Heaven to your mom. My mom celebrates her first birthday there this November. Haven't been able to write about it yet, though. I guess these things take time.

Elizabeth said...

Well, it's about time! ;)

(Couldn't resist channeling a Universal Mother here.)

Seriously now, Steve, your mom was an amazing woman. I wondered myself why you never write about her...

I agree with Connie, it is a lovely tribute altogether.

And Connie -- I'm sorry. I don't know what else to say other than it must be really hard.

Cal said...

As a person who is interested in economic history, was her boss William McChesney Martin?

What would she say about the current economic crisis? I mean did she respect Wall Street? Or did she consider a lot of them money-grubbers?

Steve Salerno said...

Cal, she worked for Paul Volcker. Loved and deeply respected the man.

Anonymous said...

"Cal, she worked for Paul Volcker. Loved and deeply respected the man."

You know one thing about this whole economic slush that bothers me is the belief that a good banker/business person is an oxymoron. One of the reasons I get so upset about our economic situation is due to how many good business/banking people now have muddy reputations. When I was working in investment banking and corporate America, I actually met some truly great people. They were not motivated by greed, but on nurturing businesses and being excited about new ventures. Yes, there were greedy folk, but the good ones reigned them in. Some of them became my most loved friends and hurts to see how tarnished business, investing, and banking has become. It seems the worse got a hold of the madhouse.

ellen said...

Your mother sounds like quite a lady, Steve.
Your tale of the black dress hanging ironed and ready reminded me of the burkha hanging ironed and ready in my wardrobe. I bought it when it was first mooted here that, given our large muslim population, it would be a good idea to introduce Sharia Law. I'll be the first to put the shroud on, I just haven't yet decided what I will be packing underneath it.

RevRon's Rants said...

Had to wait a bit before commenting on this. My own mom has been gone for 17 years now, but still very present in my life.

She was always around, even though she was the primary breadwinner in our family. She spent my early years keeping my father off my back, until I turned 14, and she morphed into a referee, trying in vain to calm the frequent fights.

She was a crusty old broad (a definition in which she took significant pride), and I was fortunate that we were able to evolve into dear friends in her later years. We disagreed on many details, as she was an arch-conservative, while I leaned to the left of center, and she was a staunch Baptist who - after many years - learned to appreciate my own gravitation to Buddhist philosophy. But these were only details; We each knew the other's heart, and respected each other's values, even in the midst of some heated debate.

She never cared for my ex, for reasons it would take me a decade to understand, but I'm certain she would have adored Connie (and Connie, her).

The night she died, I had sat up with her in her hospital room, silently watching her as she lay there, unconscious. At about 3AM, she just quit breathing. I went out to the nursing station and informed them, whereupon they jumped to initiate the "process." I told them that I needed a bit of time alone with her, and that I wanted 2 cups of coffee. Naturally, they granted me my wishes.

I returned to her room, set her cup of coffee on the tray table, and began to casually drink my own, recalling our best times together, which were spent in the hours before dawn, sharing coffee and discussing topics great and small. Memories. Dreams realized and unfulfilled. The topics were irrelevant. All that mattered was that two beloved friends were sharing each other and reminding each other of a bond that had been many years in the making, and would never be broken by such trivia as ideas or perspectives. That early morning, I cried, for perhaps the first time in many years as I bid her goodbye. And recalling the tenderness of those moments, I find my vision once again blurred.

Thanks for the gentle prod, Steve, and for rekindling feelings that I seem to work very hard to keep locked away. Now, I think I need another cup of coffee...