Mama passed away in 1982. This story, with the poem and art work, was published in
The New York Times on Mother's Day in 1986.
REMEMBERING MAMA -- BELLE OF THE BALL
We all agree that our mothers are special. Like all the others, my Yiddishe Mama was a star whose invincible spirit affected everyone around her.
I lost Mama shortly after we celebrated Mother’s Day in 1982, but the memories of her will always be with me.
As a child, I remember watching Mama grate potatoes and pluck chickens by the kitchen sink. I didn’t realize until many years later that the cooked chicken did not necessarily have to come with a few feathers that you pulled out before eating.
I also recall Mama warning me when I cried that my face "was going to freeze that way," and relaying her message to a person on the other end of the phone that "Mama can’t talk now. She’s in the washing machine."
Even after we grew up and were the mothers of grown children, my two sisters and I were still Mama’s little girls.
I remember coming home one night after she had tried to reach me on the phone from her room at the Isabella Nursing Home in New York, and finding a note on the door from the local police.
"Your mother is trying to reach you," the note said. "She is concerned about your welfare."
Before I called Mama, I contacted the police to let them know I was fine and that I was also a grandmother perfectly capable of taking care of myself.
Mama was a perpetual matchmaker who always tried to find prospective husbands for unmarried women. Her conversations with the young men she came in contact with inevitably included the phrase, "By the way, I have a lovely granddaughter."
A few years before she died, I wrote an essay about Mama for a writers’ workshop.
Mama is 81 years old, and she’s going to wear a strapless dress to her grandson’s wedding next June.
Little and round, she loves to dress in bright colors, and uses lipstick to paint her lips and cheeks.
"How do you like this pants suit?" she asks, her hazel eyes twinkling.
"Stunning Mom," I reply. "You look good in that shade of green."
"But I’m worried," she says. "I’ve been losing weight. I’m down to size 18."
"It’s better this way, Mom," I say. "You don’t need the extra weight."
Women who weigh less than 150 pounds are, according to Mama, "dying ducks." If they reach the far side of the 150-pound mark on the scale, they are transformed into "blooming roses."
"I don’t know what’s the matter with your older sister," Mama says. "She’s too busy for me these days. She’s become such a social butterfly."
My sister is extremely prudent, polite, proper and prissy.
"Maybe she’s having an affair," I reply. "Still water runs deep."
Mama’s got a tinkling laugh.
"You are impossible," she says.
"The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, Mama."
I remember receiving a telephone call from Mama a few weeks before she died. "The lights are glaring right across from the George Washington Bridge," she said. "I talked about you today. They all want to meet you – my daughter, the writer."
I was asked to write something for her funeral service, and decided on "a few words that would make us all feel better.
"As much as we will miss her, this can’t be a day for tears," I wrote. "My mother, who lit up every room she entered, wouldn’t have wanted it that way. Let’s remember how our hearts were warmed at every wedding and every bar mitzvah when Celia Pollack, with her invincible spirit and beautiful smile, danced for us. May God bless her."
To the memory of my mother, Celia Pollack, who was the belle of every ball she ever attended.
Long red skirt and blouse to match
Gold necklace and rhinestone earrings
Complementing her white hair,
White shoes, her badge of honor
From the days she did baby nursing.
I am a Registered Nurse, she tells the world.
A glowing peacock among 200 little white wrens
In the sanctuary.
There’s a Hanukkah show –
Two yamulked young men sing and play guitars,
Break into strains of "Hava na gila."
Her white-clad feet tap to the beat of the music –
Go ahead Mama!
Hands on hips, she saunters
To the front of the auditorium.
Two hundred little white wrens clap their hands
As she dances to Hebrew music.
The Star of Isabella Nursing Home.
GRANDSON ALEX AND GRANDAUGHTER EMILY CELIA. WHEN EMILY WAS BORN I WAS SO HAPPY TO LEARN
THAT HER MIDDLE NAME IS CELIA. MAMA WOULD HAVE LOVED HER.
ME, MAMA AND MY SISTER MICKEY, CONEY ISLAND 1977
REMEMBERING MAMA -- BELLE OF THE BALL, Edited for Mother's Day 2011