TRIBUTE TO MY PRECIOUS LITTLE MOTHER
I’ve begun this tribute to my precious little mother, May Rose Salkin, several times, but just can’t get through it in one sitting. As I speak with the oh-so-many people who loved her, new thoughts come to me to share with you.
So, I’ll do my best right now, but I have a feeling that I’ll have to post addendums to the tribute as the year goes one. I was just penning a letter to the editor of the Aspen times, because they did a write-up on her yesterday, but as the reporter and I missed each other by phone, so much of what made my mother the “legend” in Aspen that she was (the declaration of others, not me, although I whole-heartedly concur,) didn’t make it in there, and I want people to remember some of the highlights.
I actually loved my mother even more now, a tad frail and in need of assistance, than I did when I was little and relied on her to laugh at my shenanigans. I’ve been looking at younger pictures of her, when she was seriously absolutely gorgeous, and I’d really rather remember her the way she looked right up to the end, with age spots and white hair. I just lament that I never took pictures of her beautiful profile because if ever I do get brave enough for plastic surgery, I’d bring it in and say, “Make me look like this, please.”
My little mother, the actual most adorable woman who ever lived, would not want us to be sad about her passing. But I’m crushed, as everyone who knew her is. Many people asked to speak at her funeral, and each one had a different wonderful aspect of her to point out. I had brought a pen with me because I thought I would have to cross out much of my own speech, as it covered so much of her, and I figured speakers before me would get to them first. But then, we all came up with something different, which underlined just how special my mother was. One former student, a nurse and Ph.D who had become a life-long friend, pointed out that she was his only “safe haven” as a gay teen-age boy before it was cool to be one, and my teen-age boyfriend told us that, since he was from a poor working-class background, to be not only accepted by my educated teacher parents, but loved by them, gave him the confidence to go on to become a doctor.
Another pointed out that as her teacher, my mother had not only guided her, but elevated her social life, (including introducing her to yours truly to be friends, though in actuality that helped my life more than the already-cool girls’.) Yet more speakers pointed out that she was always kind, excited for even the smallest of kindnesses, (such as someone bringing over a pizza,) never jealous, always happy for each person’s success, always observant of something to compliment each person on. Even in the last days, she was telling the “pretty doctor” how lovely her sweater was!
As so many of my friends tell me, she was the mother to all of us. Not in the cooking sense, of course. (I learned how not to have that skill from her, and we’re proud of it!) But in every other way. For everyone who came into the house, she told me to “feed them already,” regardless if they were the delivery guy, her own aide, or a worker. She always ordered extra bags of chips and such to have goodies for the many neighborhood children. She even used a local Kosher (read “extra-expensive”) grocery to be sure the observant kids could eat them with their parents’ blessings.
My mother was the strongest person I’ve ever known. Seriously. And I’m so grateful that I got to tell her that many times in the last few years. Yes, she rarely left the east coast, yes, she went to the same restaurants over and over, and yes she was content to stay home and watch old television shows; but I still marvel at the fact that she was able to live alone for these dozen plus years since my father died. And never tried to give any of us guilt about it! On my many visits to stay with her each year, I always offered to stay longer, but she always insisted that I leave. Well…that could really be just about me.
Everyone who’s ever met her, or even heard or read about her, knows that my mother was the funniest person, so it’s hard to decide on just a couple of her bon mots to cite here. So many of them have been spinning around my head since she passed on Christmas, her favorite time of year. I may have to do a whole column of just them in the near future. She had us laughing up until her last day on earth, for which I’m more than grateful.
No one has ever marched to her own drummer, in a good way, more than my mother. Here are two quick examples. One is the famous Halloween story, (best recounted here: www.itsnotaboutme.tv/news/2011/10/31/holiday-happy-halloween.) And here’s another of my faves, that I never wrote about before: I got sick when I was a young girl living at a small apartment in West Los Angeles. My mother had never been on a plane, but she and my father had just driven down to Florida when a friend of mine got in touch with them and said that they must fly out immediately to take care of me, which they did. I got better, and was sleeping on my couch early one week-end morning during their stay when a pal called for my mother. She didn’t answer my shout out, but I could hear her outside my window, so I assumed she was on the way in. I vamped on the phone for a bit, but then I went to the window to see what was taking her so long to get inside. And what sight awaited my weary eyes??? My little mo, on the tiny patch of grass in front of the small building, holding a garage sale!!! She called up, “Hi, Lovey, come down and see my flea market!” I couldn’t imagine what she had to sell, as my parents were already traveling in Florida and came out to LA with just one suitcase each! All of a sudden, she burst though my door, demanding, “Give me your jewels! They already bought all of mine!” Unique mom, to say the least.
As her many fans know, May Rose was a poetess supreme. Not only was the New York Times happy to often publish her entertaining and sweet little poems, she was considered the Poet Laureate of Aspen, and caused quite a stir there for years, with the whole town talking about them. It was crazy what they carried on. [Note: I’m planning on publishing some of her Aspen hijinks in the next couple of weeks. There are too many to list in this space today.] In recent years, her poems were also featured in a humorous advice book by a Big Apple author, (who begged her for the use of them,) and never one to understand money, (a trait my mother and I share, unfortunately,) she spent at least fifty times her pay on buying the books to give to everyone!!!
It worked the same way with her beautiful little watercolor paintings. She’d pay to sell her work in art shows on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, and then, if a customer was “adorable,” she told them to just take it. But if she didn’t like someone, she wouldn’t allow them to purchase any! What a great business mind.
As a junior high, and later high school, teacher, she helped out all of her students. And the community at large. Growing up, I thought it was normal for teachers to have their families put together massive numbers of goodie bags to bring to children in hospitals. And to put on shows with their students to entertain those children. And to go to every sports game of the school they’re teaching at to support the teams. And to buy donuts with their own money, then sell them to the teachers and give the money to the school. And visit pupils who were under the weather. And give some of them clothing and food. And lend their families money. And find them boyfriends and girlfriends.
She even fixed me up a few times, but my mother and I had way different taste when I was in my early teens. Thank goodness we agreed wholeheartedly on my three main boyfriends of life, even still being friends with my teen-age beau, and the family of my college one. I’ve always been so proud of the fact that she loved Mr. X so much; whenever we were planning to visit her together, my mother always asked how many days until she was seeing Mr. X, not me. And all I cared about was getting to spend as much time as possible with the fabulous May Rose Salkin, and then having wonderful tales of her to share with my friends, viewers, and you. She always brought a smile and laugh to everyone, and we were all incredibly lucky to have known her, or even of her.
On one afternoon in what turned out to be the last week of her life, my mother was entertaining us by reciting one of her favorite poems that she wrote very many years ago. Mr. X and her aide and I were all amazed at how perfect and adorable that recitation was. It was a wonderful moment, so I’d like to close by sharing that rhyme with you:
by May Rose Salkin
Coffee-and has been my plight.
Coffee-and from morn to night.
Coffee’s one thing I can’t stand;
I drink it merely for the and.
Rest in peace, little mo. You deserve it.