Sunday, May 10, 2009
Two Mothers for Mother's Day
Some of us are blessed with a good mother. The very, very fortunate among us have two good mothers. I'm in the latter group.
My birth mother was a nut case, a walking demonstration of Psyche 101 and one of the funniest people I've ever known. She could--and did--often turn poverty, alcoholism, hopelessness and pain into a Henny Youngman one-liner, but she could shut off the lights as quickly as she could illuminate a room. I guess she taught me resourcefulness with all that. Maybe not. But she taught me and my seven brothers and sisters how to laugh, something we remember well. That, for my value system, is far better than leaving each of us with an island dotted with swimming pools and dancing girls. Uh ... let me think on that a minute ... nah, the humor's better.
I spent a good big of the first half of my memoir Burning the Furniture talking about Mom and if you're interested, you can follow it here. If not, take my word for it, crazy or not, I would not have traded my mother for anybody else's.
Mom died nearly 20 years ago and upon her death a wonderful woman named Betsy Gehman stepped in to take her place. Betsy has been a very different kind of mother: sane, disciplined (with her often wild-assed charges), instructive and patient. She is every bit as funny as my first Mom, but in a more intellectual way, a bit quieter, more refined and learned, though more cutting at times. She can zing one minute and reassure the next.
Betsy wrote the definitive book on twins (Twins: Twice the Trouble, Twice the Fun) in the 1960s after being blessed (?) with a pair and her life reads like a Golden Age Hollywood script (big band singer, performer on early live television, author, college teacher, Broadway singer, Women's Movement leader, magazine writer and on and on; you can even hear her voice in some of the music in "Singin' in the Rain"). Betsy got to know my mother when she helped edit my memoir and Betsy expressed considerable approval of Mom.
As interesting as all that is, Betsy's value to me has been far more direct and personal: she has guided me when I needed it, forgiven me when nobody else would, loved me without question and been a late-in-life mother to a guy who needed one.