By Philip Drucker
After 96 years on this plane of existence, last month, my mother decided to call it quits. Or did she? In her later years she would jokingly promise that when she passed it was her wish and desire to haunt me. She got her wish. Not as the spectral figure floating in the house sense, but in her lasting impression that I think only one suddenly orphaned (Dad left many years ago) can begin to appreciate. They are not gone. They live on. In you. Among several recent existential crises, I am grappling with the realization my point of physical origin, my stargate to this realm no longer exists. What does that even mean? If anything? Throw another mystery log on the beyond the knowledge of mortals like us eternal fire. Back to the now, for now.
The unknown is a horrible thing. I have no doubt that fear of death is far greater than death itself. Cancer gives you a little insight into the devastating effects of what the dying cells inside of you, eating away your vital organs from the inside out. The physical pain is intense. The mental anguish is worse. Simple words, "there is no way to know", "we are hopeful but..." and the ever popular "we'll do our best" become the seeds of night sweats and fever driven dreams. How can you accept the unknown? Hint: You can't.
We are living in a time of uncertainty. We are living in the age of an outbreak, pandemic, a plague for which there is no vaccine, no cure. We are living in a time of political and economic insanity. A time where machine men with machine hearts and machine minds are calling the shots, or as it is, lack of shots. Mind you, a virus is nothing new. Political uncertainty is certainly nothing terribly unique. Economic hard times? Pffft. We know how to fix a broken economy. But still, all three, to such a degree, all at once. Again, the unknown raises its ugly multi-hydra head. Who is there to guide us? Well, how about a little lasting wisdom from my Mom? Let me tell you why.
Mom lived through the Great Depression. Mom lived through World War II. Thank heavens she just missed the Spanish Influenza of 1918 but I'm sure she lived through several dangerous, often contagious diseases. She also lived to see the eradication of polio, mumps and the measles. For the record, she would have despised the anti-vaccine movement. Why? Because she knew better. She knew the harm parents can do to their children through lack of medical care due to whatever idiotic reason.
At the age of 45 my mom went blind. She started listening to a lot of talk radio. She laughed at the right wing radio hosts. She thought Larry Elder was an idiot. I can't reprint here what she thought of Rush Limbaugh. Let's just say Rush wasn't right (in the ditto head). Like George Putnam in earlier Republican political la la land days, mom had no use for ideological demagogues with no actual, real ideas to peddle, hock, shill or most likely try to sell, to you, in the form of sensible, conservative doctrine. Needless to say, she wasn't buying. She hated Nixon.
She loved FDR and often spoke of the comfort and sense of security she and her brother felt when they listened to his Fireside Chats on the radio. She often lamented we would never see the likes of him again. She was right. That is not to say she always agreed with him. She never forgave him for waiting so long to get into World War II. A great deal of her aunts, uncles, cousins and still more distant relatives lived in Austria when the War broke out. Most of them were exterminated. My sister is named after my mom's aunt Gertrude who died in the Holocaust. Still, he did defeat Hitler and saved the world from the tyranny, death and destruction Trump, I mean Adolph would have, if given the chance unleashed against all who were not like him. The men, women and children, the helpless and importantly the innocent among us.
Further still, FDR was and would always be the hero who saved us all from starving to death in a world where there were bread lines until they ran out of bread. Soup kitchens that may or may not have any soup for the day. And, as my mom used to point out, "Yes, a bag of apples might have cost a nickle, but who had a nickle?" It was like that. It might be like that again, soon.
My mother was not a formally educated scholar in any sense of the world. She was proud she graduated High School. Likewise her formal employment. She was proud she worked at Hughes Tool & Die in El Segundo. The only "job" she ever held. She actually met Howard Hughes. But that's another story for another time. For now, know that she had no special respect for people with letters behind their name. Some of my friends have heard me say "the wise are not learned, and the learned are not wise." I got that from her.
She was not what you would call worldly. She only traveled out of the USA once, and that was to re-settle in the newly minted country of Israel. Even after the War, it seemed a fairly sensible thing to do. Hitler and his Nazis were gone, but prejudice, hate, anger, violence, memories of the Holocaust and yes, antisemitism in America was still accepted in social discourse as a "legitimate" topic for discussion in even the most polite of circles. Just like today.
Eventually my mom's family returned to the USA. Eventually, she married and had three children. She liked Palm Springs. Where I live today. As the years went by, she stayed indoors more and more. She watched TV, she listened to the radio. Going out to dinner became a social event. One by one, her friends all died. She outlived them all. None of us children were surprised. She was, as she called herself, one tough old broad. Yes, she was.
Tough you say? You would be too if you experienced and lived through the misery of the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, The Vietnam War, The Bay of Pigs, the Cold War, the Iraq War. She knew the inhumanity of inhumanity and how there were many would justified its use as a tool of social (and economic) engineering. She knew it was easiest to make the innocent suffer, and that she could not suffer. Never.
I was in the 5th Grade at the time. I was at home. The teachers in greater Los Angeles Area were on strike. There was a call for a picket line in front of my school. Mom told me, my younger sister and even younger brother we were going to go. This did not seem terribly strange to me. My father was a union guy, and my mother a good union supporter. But what she did next surprised me. She went into our garage and into my Dad's beloved man-cave tool shop. There, she found an old cardboard no-parking sign, a stick, a couple of nails, a hammer and a crayon. Red as I recall. She built her own picket sign. Not surprising, but what she wrote, was. In big scarlet letters she wrote.
"I PAY MY TAXES WHY AREN'T MY KIDS IN SCHOOL?"
In her mini-skirt and leather Nancy Sinatra boots my 5'0" (probably 4'11" I think she lied about her height) mom went to the protest, for wanting to re-open the schools, was perceived as taking the side of management, and roundly booed and scorned by the 50 or so active parents and teachers picketing. No Teamsters as I recall, but it would have made no difference to mom. With her holding my hand and me holding my sister's hand and my brother in her arms, she marched in a circle. Her own circle. A circle of one. Having made her point, we went home to cat-calls whistles and sneers of the righteous. I remember her being called a scab and not to come back.
At this point I was still surprised. Why would a for the people "we all do better when we all do better" Roosevelt Democrat shun a union? So I asked. Mom told me she did not disagree with paying teachers more money. (And you wonder why I have been a professor for over 20 years?) But, and I quote, "This is what happens when adults can't act like adults. They need to act responsibly and not make others suffer for their inability to agree."
I didn't get it. It took me many years to finally "get it." It was me, who was suffering. It was me who wasn't in school (not that I minded at the time, mind you.) It was me who wasn't learning. Me and all my fellow classmates. We were the ones who were suffering. And all because the adults couldn't agree. And, importantly, we, the children who were not in school and therefore not learning, were innocent. Because of her experience, she saw the bigger picture. She was, of course, right.
Today, mom is gone but not her philosophy or her legacy. It lives on, at least in me. If you want to fix a problem, you start with doing the most good for the most people. But, always, always make sure that the less fortunate among us, those who suffer from the effects of artificial, social, racial and economic disparity, the disadvantaged, through no fault of their own, the innocent, are not left out or cast aside as acceptable losses to yet another example of favoritism, elitism, privilege, sexism, prejudice, religious intolerance, in most cases stoked by nothing more than the love of money and the fear of losing it. It's called greed.
Mom, if you are watching (I assume you have your eyes back) or listening to the heavenly talk-radio show in the sky, know this. I, this will hopefully be your legacy, if not, at the very least a tradition worth keeping. I'll never let you (or them) down. Never. In a way, I'm glad that at the end you never did fully understand what President Trump is and what he is doing to us. I think it is enough to say you would not have liked him. Probably despised him. Once again, you would have been right.