Deena Baird, 3 Years Later – posted 12/7/2013
It will soon be the third anniversary of my mom’s death. I got one of those blue notices from Levine’s, the funeral place in Philadelphia, announcing that yahrzeit for my mom is observed today, December 7. They suggested lighting a candle along with saying kaddish.
I remember going out to Roosevelt Memorial Park in north Philadelphia along with my brother Rob after my mother died. The lady behind the counter who was a no-nonsense type said, “You again?”. I had to say “yes”.
I personally find the time around holidays like Thanksgiving particularly hard. Not that I always went home to my parents for Thanksgiving but their apartment was a bit of a sanctuary. It was so homey and it offered the reassurance of family ritual. My mom knew how to do up holidays and her Thanksgivings were no exception.
When she cooked a turkey, there was no chance it would be dried out. She did a chicken liver stuffing that was uniquely her own. She had all the side dishes down. She usually had been working for a week non-stop to make it all possible. My mom was organized and she ran family events with a disciplined efficiency.
She always used to say she wasn’t going to do it anymore. It was always the last time she was going to do the week long cooking marathon. But then it wasn’t the last time. That happened so many times.
Without even trying, my mom (and my dad really) were good at creating genuine warmth and a sense of family togetherness. I miss that Wynnewood world and it is sobering to know those moments are gone. It is easy to take family and family gatherings for granted – until they are gone.
In my family, food has always been central. It wasn’t just special holidays like Thanksgiving. I think about Sundays when my mom would do a lox and bagels spread. My dad would send my Pop-pop off to Hymie’s Deli in Merion after he dropped us kids off at Hebrew School. My dad would give my Pop-pop money to buy lox, nova, kippered salmon, white fish and bagels. My mom would slice up bermuda onions and tomatoes along with the poppyseed and sesame bagels. That era did not have the great variety of bagels we now see.
Since my dad liked sweet things, there might be cherry or cheese danish. That usually got served with coffee. In the fall, this was usually a prelude to football. We were either off to the Eagles game or we were getting ready to watch the Eagles on TV.
My mom’s role in our family makes me think of a very Jewish word: rachmones. The word came up recently when a vocational expert I know mentioned the word in a different context. Rachmones is a Jewish word which translates literally as “compassion”. It also connotes soulfullness and wisdom.
In his book, The Joys of Yiddish, Leo Rosten had this to say about rachmones:
“This quintessential word lies at the heart of Jewish thought and feeling. All of Judaism’s philosophy, ethics, learning, education, hierarchy of values, are saturated with a sense of and heightened sensitivity to rachmones…
Note that the hebrew root rechem, from which rachmones is derived , means a mother’s womb.” The rabbis taught that a Jew should look upon others with the same love and feeling that a mother feels for the issue of her womb. “He is in such straits one can only have rachmones on him.” “The least one can show is rachmones”.
I think my mom would laugh that I used that word in connection with her. She was a critical thinker, not especially religious, and she wasn’t always easy on people. However, I think she embodied kindness and giving. She was thoughtful toward others and she was generous to a fault.
She cared for family and friends with unassuming devotion. Besides my sister, my dad and my Aunt Arline, in later years, my mom cared for Jane and Bud Fried and Ellie and Mort Keiser. All had health issues and periods of demoralizing decline. My mom spent countless hours visiting, caring, bringing food and talking to them. It was a labor of love. My mom was a hardcore friend and she demonstrated true loyalty. All that caring is part of the reason I do think my mom had rachmones. Even though she tended to be restrained, she was a deeply feeling person.
I don’t want to paint her in too saintly a light though. My other grandfather, Harry Keiser, known as Kize, used to call my mom “the Russian”. I always thought that was funny because i never saw my mom as too left. She and my dad were mainstream liberal Democrats. I am not sure if she ever was radical in her earlier years. I don’t think so. My sister and I pushed our parents. We did get them both to go to the massive Washington moratorium demonstration against the war in Vietnam in the fall of 1969. I always thought it was cool they did that because it probably was way out of their comfort zone.
My mom was a quiet person but she could be hilarious. She was well known for having a biting sense of humor. I have a funny memory of her commenting on a lawsuit in which she was a party. My mom was driving on Montgomery Avenue in Haverford on the Main Line. My friend Hank Fried and I were passengers in my mom’s Oldsmobile. At a pretty low speed, my mom’s car skidded on wet leaves and ran into the back of the car in front of us. That car had been at a standstill. I think it was very near the Merion Cricket Club. I remember skinning my knee but there was no big impact. The guy in the car my mom hit worked for a car dealer and he was delivering a new car. The guy sued my mom and he alleged impotence as a result of the accident. I remember my mom had a lot to say about that guy. The lawsuit got settled.
I am sorry my mom and my dad are not around to appreciate Nick Foles. My mom would be a fan. I know for a fact she would be rooting for the Eagles to beat the Lions tomorrow.
My mom was a drinker. It used to annoy the hell out of my sister Lise but my mom usually made martinis when my dad got home from work. I would say two martinis was the norm. My parents enjoyed drinking together.
I miss my mom, really everything about her. I wish she was around. She was great company. She did not sugarcoat anything. She knew how to “keep it real” long before that phrase became famous.