|Massacre of the Innocents, 54"x48",oil/alkyd/canvas, 1998|
It has taken me a lifetime to comprehend and feel compassion for my mother. Now that I am the age when her hair turned a radiant white, I finally can relate to her carefully led life. As careful as one can be in a world of lurking ambushes amidst the delights of a clear day with just enough breeze for your hair to tickle your face - a gentle reminder that you are not living in a vacuum - the outside world inevitably finds the cracks to enter your being.
I finally understand the stifling control my mother maintained in order to navigate the end of life - from the oft-handled, disintegrating black portfolio filled with instructional papers - the Will, lists of banks, insurances, the deed to the house, the keys to the safe where her coveted (only silver) jewelry was stored, and other innumerable directives written in an upright handwriting evincing her European roots. Today, I too am beginning to send loved one's lists of where the “important” documents of my life are to be found; being an artist - my not-too-distant future will consist of archiving the decades of making art in the hope that the work will not be thrown into the barren wasteland of oblivion.
I used to watch my mother place items at the foot of the stairs - waiting to be brought to the second floor, her legs no longer bounding the steps with agility as muscles and bones have morphed into a tired stiffness, in contrast to the alacrity of her still agile mind. Her implacable will propelled her when the body no longer had the strength. I have begun to do the same thing.
On my visits to our house in the Bronx where we moved in 1958, I often went downstairs to the basement where my mother still had her sewing machine, boxes of threads, beads and sequins, closets filled with evidence of her career working as a “seamstress” which in my self-absorbed youth is how I would derisively describe her; but in reality she designed exquisitely crafted embroidered gowns, working 12-14 hours a day in a small room in our apartment in Washington Heights where her wealthy Park Avenue clients were chauffeured to pick up the delicately fabricated clothes. The divide between rich and poor could not have been more obvious as the limousines were double-parked with the arrogance that often comes with privilege. In her later years, I would thread 7-10 needles poking them into a cushion with various length strings curling like vines waiting to be picked up and used if only to hem skirts or fix a dangling button about to drop off never to be found.
Though I am not a person with regrets, I wish I could gulp back time and spew out admiration and say thanks for infusing me not only with your genes (good and bad) but with values that respect the humanity of others, and your generosity in helping those whose lives were lived on a tightrope of need. I would tell you how much I miss your food, even if I teased you about the pies that were so wet we could drink them. The enticing scents of home cooking that floated into each room creating desire and solace - a comfort that will never leave me; in contrast, my home is a studio without a stove, smelling of oil paint and mineral spirits. Perhaps my love of diners is an indication of how much I still miss a meal which consists of a salad, meat and potatoes preferably mashed, and desert.
So Happy Mother’s Day to a woman who left my life 11 years ago. I never thought that you would still hover over each day; I never thought I would become my mother being both fearful and resilient.