Hi, Mom!

     My Mom will be 80-something on Monday. (A gentleman never tells.)
     Some readers may object that I use this public forum to write a love letter to my Mom.
     I invite these people to go into a quiet corner and have sexual intercourse with themselves.
     My Mom would not approve of that statement.
     But I’m beyond her control now.
     Mom was a child of the Great Depression. When my brothers and sister and I reached the age of disconsent, we made fun of her for one story she told us, so many times, about How Good We Had It.
     When She Was A Girl, her mom would give her a penny, once in a while, to buy an apple from a street vendor.
     That was a big treat for my Mom.
     Mom’s story enlightened us as she meant it to: 1) Don’t trust your luck, Buster; 2) You ain’t so hot; 3) Don’t take anything for granted; 4) A penny saved is a penny earned; 5) Avoid clichés.
     OK, maybe Mom never told us that last one. But we learned it.
     I remember lying on our living room couch in the late 1960s, me in high school, arguing with Mom about “Portnoy’s Complaint.” I hadn’t even read the book, though I didn’t tell her that.
     Mom said there was something perverted about Philip Roth.
     I assured her there was not.
     I did not know, at the time, that Roth’s hero had masturbated into his family’s calf’s liver before his mom cooked it for dinner.
     How could I know that? All I knew, at the time, was that Mom was wrong. I would have defended that to my last ignorant breath.
     Today, at my gruesome age of 60, Mom still alive – Hi, Mom! – I too think that Philip Roth is a bit of a pervert. I think it will keep him from winning the Nobel Prize.
     Roth is surely the greatest living novelist in the United States. His last 10 books prove it. But the Nobel Prize is not important, and if Roth never wins it, too bad for him. The perv.
     I have been sidetracked into this digression because of my Mom. She has morals, and she taught them to me.
     Don’t do wrong, even if nobody’s looking.
     Tell the truth even if you have to suffer for it. Lots of other people did, and they lived. Or not.
     If you don’t know the answer, don’t lie. Keep your mouth shut.
     Treat girls with respect.
     And so on.
     Sometime after World War II, my Mom married my Dad. He had been a master sergeant in the war. I remember the way his old green uniform smelled. Kind of smoky.
     I was born because Mom had a crush on another guy.
     Mom was the first member in her family who ever went to college.
     She grew up in Cleveland, the oldest daughter of a steelworker.
     Tuition at the University of Chicago back then was $50 a semester.
     My Dad, home from the war, was a doctoral student, or a post doc. He and the guy my Mom had a crush on took her out one night, and Mom drank too much.
     (Sorry, Mom. Vide supra: The Things You Taught Me.)
     I don’t know if it was the first time in her life that Mom boozed it up, but it may have been. The guy she had a crush on waltzed on out of there, leaving my future Dad to walk my future Mom up and down the beach on Lake Michigan until she sobered up.
     My Dad was a nice guy. Smart and funny too. That’s how he won my Mom.
     He died when I was in high school. A few years later my Mom married another guy, also smart and funny. Ira died a year ago. He was a good guy. So far as I see my Mom was happily married twice, for more than 50 years.
     So this is a lesson to girls: Pick a nice guy.
     And this is lesson to guys: Be nice. It might get you a girl like my Mom. And a son like me. Whether such a son is desirable, I have no idea. But I hope that in my own actions I left the world a little better than I found it. That’s all Mom would want me to do. If you disagree, vide supra, paragraph 3.
     I imagine my Mom is crying as she reads this, and I apologize for that. But – trust me on this – she’s a tough chick. She can take it. It won’t be the first time I made her cry.
     Mom loves a joke. So here’s one for her.
     Why is 6 scared of 7?
     7 8 9.

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