My mom on some long-ago Mother's Day morning, reading a card presented to her by my sister, Betsey.
I don’t know what awards my mother might have won in high school – something tells me maybe none, since she was too busy getting expelled for things like sneaking downtown to dance on the American Bandstand TV show.
But if awards for given out for vivacity, boldness, audacity and the sheer love of fun, my mom, Carole, surely would have won them all. She gathered friends and admirers around her like the Disney version of Snow White and her birds and critters of the forest.
Carole dancing with a long-forgotten neighbor or friend in the kitchen in Larchmont.
“Sock it to the world!” she’d shout, cranking up the volume on the stereo. Cigarette waving, she’d dance into the living room, grabbing my hand. “Let’s dance!”
Carole was at her happiest when surrounded by people. Gesturing vividly, she could tell story after story, her resonant laugh ringing through the room. She charmed everyone around her. I guess she just had a gift for making people feel good. Basking in her radiance, they could rediscover their own zest for life.
In seventh grade when I arrived home in tears because I hadn’t been invited to the first boy-girl party, she snapped her fingers in dismissal.
“Don’t you worry,” she declared. “You’re going to have your own party!”
The following Friday as the cluster of adolescents milled around our living room in bewilderment, wondering what exactly we were supposed to do at such a party, Mommy burst in and cranked up the stereo.
“Hey guys, time to dance!”
Within moments we kids were shaking it up to “Bad Moon Rising,” by Credence Clearwater Revival – forever after one of my favorite dance tunes.
My mom didn’t care a whit about what other people thought. “Screw it!” she’d say when I hesitated about squatting by the side of the road during a long car trip. “If they haven’t seen it once, there’s always a first time!”
I always longed for her spirit, for her boldness and her ability to shuck off concerns about what other people thought. It’s funny how as I grow older I’m able to access some of those qualities that she surely passed on to me both through the umbilical cord and by example.
Somewhere in Europe, circa 1972
She spoke both French and Spanish with fluency, and during our years in Europe she collected friends with ease, chattering away with enthusiasm even when she didn’t know the world. She loved nothing more than making people comfortable and happy. Carole gave and gave – of herself and of everything she had.
Carole in L.A. during the early '80s.
Passion could have been her middle name. Exuberance her handmaiden. When I find myself sinking into the practical, left-brain, analytical side of my nature – to the point of feeling bloodless – I turn up some music and invoke Mommy’s energy.
It’s been almost 30 years since I lost my mom, since the world lost Carole. She left us far too soon as she was barely blossoming into her 40s.
Like so many others who said goodbye to their mothers too soon, no matter how much time passes the pain of missing her still persists. Maybe not so sharp as in those early years, but a dull ache that I will carry with me till my own time comes.
Happy Mother’s Day.
Here she is (on the left) with her best friend Ann Arfea - maybe early '60s? Always beautiful