I describe my mother, Eleanor Rosen, one of the main characters in A Brooklyn Memoir, as an obsessively clean housekeeper, an excellent cook, a lover of art and literature, a hater of Nazis, and a status-conscious woman who was dissatisfied with her lower-middle-class life in a shabby apartment on East 17th Street in 1950s and 60s Flatbush.
Today she resides in an assisted-living facility in West Palm Beach, Florida, and last week my wife, Mary Lyn Maiscott, my cousin Mark Coplon, and I visited her. Such visits are emotionally difficult, mostly because my mother is unhappy being "in an institution," as she puts it, and would like to live with my brother, Jerry, or me, which would be impossible. She's having memory issues and problems walking; she'd require a full-time aide. Even putting aside the cost of such an endeavor, neither Jerry nor I have enough space.
A conversation with my mother goes something like this:
"How old am I?"
"You're 96, Mom."
"That's old. Do you think I'll make it to a hundred?"
"Would you ever move to Florida? I'd feel so much better knowing you were near me."
"Our lives are in New York, Mom, but we'll visit you as much as we can. And so will Jerry and Cindy."
To distract my mother from her obsessions, we went outside to the patio, where I showed her the copy of A Brooklyn Memoir that I'd brought with me. Despite her failing eyesight, she recognized my father and me on the cover, and that the photo was taken, probably by her, on Church Avenue and East 17th, down the block from my father's candy store. Then I read her favorite passage, which begins, "Say what you will about my mother. She knew how to cook, and must be given full credit for her near-supernatural ability to transform the most ordinary cut of meat or low-budget piece of fish into something delicious."
My cousin Mark Coplon, a drummer in The Nickel Bag back in the day.
Later, Mary Lyn took out her guitar and sang for my mother, as Mark, who back in the day was a drummer in a suburban garage band called The Nickel Bag, drummed on the tabletop. My mother then looked up into the cloudless Florida sky and saw two hawks circling above us. It reminded her of a lyric from Oklahoma, which she and my father saw on Broadway before I was born. She asked Mary Lyn if she could play the title song from the show. So that's what Mary Lyn played. My mother remembered the words, and we all sang together:
Oklahoma, every night my honey lamb and I
Sit alone and talk
And watch a hawk
Making lazy circles in the sky.
And for a moment my mother was happy.
All my books are available on Amazon, all other online bookstores, and at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.