My Mom

Marilyn Ellen ‘Feldman’ Stearn June 28, 1926 – November 6, 2006

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Some things to know about my mother…

My mother was always self-conscious…she didn’t like people to look at her, notice her, or to have anything be too noticeable… but to me, she was beautiful.

When I was 5, we made mother’s day cards in school and were asked to cut out a picture in a magazine of a woman from an advertisement that reminded us of our mothers and paste it on construction paper – the one that I found was a beautiful woman with frosted hair – and she kept that for a very long time. 

My mother always proclaimed she preferred to stand in the back and not be noticed, but to me there are too many things about her we cannot forget…

Mindy

  • As the oldest of three children, growing up in the Bronx, she learned to play the piano, and Grandpa Sam had her playing Saturday mornings on the radio on “the Children’s Hour.”  She wasn’t self-conscious there because no one could see her.
  • She grew up in a very large extended family, with siblings and many cousins, who for the past 80 years have been more than just family — they were a part of her heart.  Because of geography, the phone became their lifeline to one another, and because they couldn’t see her fragility – talking with them gave her strength.
  • You didn’t count whether it was a first, second or third cousin in my mother’s family, because everyone was just family….and they all belonged.  They could talk and sing and cry together, and boy could they celebrate.
  • The Yiddish language too was a blessing for her.  It connected her to her entire family tree and most importantly, provided humor – even when the jokes were told in English, the punchline was always Yiddish, because “it was funnier that way.”  And the Yiddish music made her happy – reminding her of her parents, her sister, holidays, dancing and freilach …and even through nostalgic tears, she would smile and be happy. 
  • You might not believe it now, but my mom was an amazing dancer.  She could lindy-hop with my Uncle Shim like no other – and for years, it wasn’t a party until they did… in their younger days, they’d enter contests together and at my brother’s bar mitzvah and even my wedding, he danced on the table….reminding her and us all the joy in the simchas we shared together.  And with my Dad, it was the foxtrot – what a stunning couple they made on the dance floor, gliding and smiling – and with my Dad, she was never self-conscious.

She once told me that her greatest ambition in life was to be a housewife and a mother.  By today’s standards, most people might not find that too ambitious – but she did it for more than 50 years, far surpassing those with other ambitions.

When she met my Dad, she was already 21, and had come to California from NY for a two-week visit with family.  They met at a B’nai Brith social party – and she ended up staying 9 months!  He told her he was already 21 too, but the following March when he walked into a surprise party for his 21st birthday and saw my mom there, he decided he needed to walk her around the block and tell her the truth – and after 3 blocks, he finally did!  And he’s never lied to her since…

Throughout their marriage, they had something we all could only hope to achieve.  Maybe it’s because they grew up during the depression, and maybe because dreams were different in those days, but they started out young and stuck by each other and no one could take care of each other better than they did.  For 57 years, they held hands and hearts – they drove across the country, traveled to Hawaii, London, Switzerland and Paris – and always helped each other.  But to them, it was never about “stuff” or image, it was about family and being together – that was their greatest joy.  “Making memories”

10 years ago, when my mom turned 70, Greg and I played a game with my Mom and Dad one nite at our house.  We asked them both, if you could go anywhere in the world and money was no object, where would it be….My dad did the classic “I don’t need to go anywhere, just being with my family is enough.” But my mom – in a heartbeat blurted out “Paris, I’ve always wanted to go to Paris.” 

So, in honor of her 70th, we sent them to Paris, and as she always told me afterward, it was “the trip of a lifetime.”  She felt young, she saw the world, and on the River Seine she had a romantic dinner and dance with my Dad.

The things I remember most include the strength she always gave to me….as a child, I was lousy at jump rope….the kind when two other girls held and turned the rope…and no matter what, I just couldn’t jump in… well, my mother didn’t want me to feel self-conscious the way she did so many times, so when I’d come home from school, she’d tie a long rope to the garage and she’d turn – and together we’d practice so I could be comfortable jumping rope.

She never wanted ­ME to be self-conscious – she’d get me pretty dresses so I could feel beautiful…new dresses and shoes were so significant….when I started school, she started sewing, and though I’d always get the new shoes to start the school year, she’d make me new dresses to wear.  And each year for the high holidays, it was always important to get new shoes and new a new dress. 

When I graduated Junior High School, she and my Grandma Sally must have taken me to a hundred stores until we found just the right dress – and when it was Prom time, exactly the same… we shopped together, and we talked, and we shopped and shopped.  And when it was time for my wedding, she was with me again – but this time we found it on the very first try…all specials times needed the new dress.  She wanted me to be noticed…

She gave me the strength to grow up with an older brother…and though as he knows, I’d always say to him, “I’m telling on you Larry,” … I never told….the key was, that no matter what happened between him and me, she never took sides…in fact, she’d always found a way to make me see his point of view and to look through his eyes, and I imagine that when she spoke to him, she’d provide my perspective.  It taught me a lot about compromise and understanding others.

She did however always want my brother and I to get along…and it would make her very happy to know that we do.

If she were here, she’d also tell you she was very happy about the choices my brother and I have made in life…especially about our life’s choices…My brother has found in Lynn, another daughter for my parents…someone who has loved my mom and helped through so many tough times…but even more importantly, my mom would let you know how happy she was for how much Lynn has enhanced Larry’s life… and the enriched sense of goodness and family she has provided.  Earlier this Fall, Lynn met and bonded with my mom’s entire family at a bar mitzvah in NY – and I think she couldn’t have done a greater mitzvah for my mom.

As for Greg, he too bonded with my mom over family and a bat mitzvah…in fact, he flew solo with her all the way to Cleveland and back… and not only did they suddenly find in each other a captive audience, but he actually learned that in times of joy, she could kick off her shoes and dance like the dickens, as well as enjoy a good drink or two!  And when it was our time, she made our wedding from start to finish a dream come true.

My mother was there when I was in labor, and though she was even more of a “chicken” than my husband (if you could believe that!), she nearly even came along for the c-section.  When the Doctor said, “how about if your mom comes in too?” – she gave me “the look.” However, instead of coming in with me, she gave me her strength.

And she taught me strength when Jacob was a baby and she had cancer.  Because she wanted to come through it and watch him grow and be with him, just crawling on the floor.  He named her “Bana” something that meant nothing, and yet, it meant everything…and since he could talk, that’s what she’s become – she’s our “Bana” – sometimes she was “pajama Bana,” and sometimes it was “Bana, Poppa, Shmoppa,” but always Bana was love. 

For years, she and Poppa have spoken to Jacob nearly every day and I thank god for the goodness that together they have shared.

It’s been a mutual attraction – as they’ve overflowed with love from the moment he was “itty bitty” in my belly, to the care he took with her when she became more frail, and the pride he had when she came to his sporting games and school programs.

Yes, she loved her grandchildren – and when her first, Shannon, was born, the earth about stopped.  Nobody could have loved and cared for a grandchild more….and her scrapbooks really prove that….she was never too tired to hold her, care for her, help her with school and support her and most important “talk” to her. 

My mother once gave me a book, called “my mother, my self”… a heartwarming tale of the closeness women share.  I will never forget the pride in her eyes at my college graduation, under the hoopah at my wedding, and when she held Jacob at his bris.  Nor will I forget her smile and strength, or when she still held my Dad’s hand when crossing the street.

My mother thought things should be refined and dignified and to me, through her fragility and quiet strength, that’s how she closed her eyes…

My mother was a special woman – a woman of valor — she was a good wife, a loyal and true friend, caring daughter, sister — an unconditionally loving mother and grandmother and, she will always be, “such a Bana”…