Monday, April 30, 2007

Words for Mom


Mom 1917-2007

“How feeble these words, billowing

in this aftermath, how ineffectual

this utterance of sorrow.”


She was just a housewife. You know, something simple and not too self-important. She was happy to be humble but reasonable and quiet about most things. I guess that's nothing much… but it was everything to us. So these words are not about how grand she was or how she stood above the rest. I am not here to build some kind of marble monument but only to give praise to the one who gave us everything and asked for very little. She was never perfect nor did she expect us to be candidates for sainthood either. This is about someone who was like us, with maddening faults and weaknesses and the occasional streak of wonderful. A person rich with those veins of golden pure human goodness that make the evil in this world fade away. For lifetimes she was content to stand stage left and let the others go their way until they turned to her for help. Then she was always ready.
She was my balance, my place to go where I felt safe, and my lighthouse of brilliant, warm understanding. Her voice at the other end of the phone was as comforting as a childhood blanket and a constant reminder that we were safe in this family, secure in love and special in her eyes forever. When stages of our lives crumbled around us and the whole world was just a town where no one knew our names, you could still count on having this steadfast lady in your corner.
Mom was a creature of routine, a homebody and steady on through every crisis we faced over the last six decades. When she slowed in these last few years it made everyone take a long look at the clock and realize all the more, how precious her company was at each and every family gathering. From the sweet-faced beauty in those 8 millimeter home movies of the 1950’s to the wry old lady with the walker just months ago she was a force to be reckoned with and the engine that drove all of our families here today. Websites might not appear in her honor, miniseries will not be produced and granite monuments shall not be erected in her likeness. Except in our hearts, where grand obelisks of memory will rise, strong into our futures, standing through generations, indestructible and shimmering with love. In real life there is a big difference between famous and important. She made her mark with flesh and blood virtue, the best kind of contribution one can make in this world. She is still here in every one of us.
Let us not think of her as the fragile creature who hobbled in her last days, trapped in silence but of the strong woman who lived a pretty full life. In her day she was actually quite a character and her dry sense of humor could be hilarious and insightful. Once, as I sat near her at Thanksgiving and the great-grandkids were running wild (as is the family tradition) one zoomed past bumping a table between us filled with glassware. She leaned forward and asked me “anyone have some chloroform?” Another time when I was out to dinner with my parents , a sexy lady passed our booth in daisy duke short-shorts. She looked across the table at my Dad who was wearing an eye patch from retina surgery and she remarked “you can put your eye back in the socket now Ben!” She enjoyed life and experienced things most people on the planet can only fantasize about. She traveled to exotic places, ate at some great restaurants, drove a Cadillac or two, lived in comfortable homes, wore beautiful clothes and witnessed some of the most remarkable entertainments of her era. This included theater, film, and sporting events from Rose Bowls to World Series to multiple Super Bowls all over the country. Once upon a time she smoked, she drank, she showed off her petti-coats and was quite a live-wire. Look at the little video today and notice her central position at parties in the salad days of her social set. In her single days she traveled to in-crowd Catalina and danced at the Casino to Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller while sipping coca-colas right from the bottle.
Not bad for the little girl, born Charline Grace Hurt in Denver on July 13, 1917 who was forced to move constantly from place to place following her telegraph operator father. To Long Beach where she was little Tiny Day Hurt, to Casa Grande Arizona where some of the happiest days of her youth were spent and finally to Los Angeles and a long, productive life we sadly saw finally come to a close last Monday. She was the little girl in the always white dresses who was not allowed to play outside where there was dirt so she read and studied instead. She was a fine student at Los Angeles Polytechnic High School, graduating with honors in 1934 and had planned to attend the new UCLA but her mother’s illness and her father’s lack of character forced her to take a job as a telephone operator instead. While she may have lost out on her higher education she learned instead from the handsome and worldly Benny Creason. They met in a Hermosa Beach watering hole in 1941 where she said “he talked too loud and his nose was red…I wasn’t impressed!” Gee, I wonder why? Later when his nose was not so red, the smitten Ben showed up at the telephone offices in his new Chevy coupe and a crisply pressed suit. Pretty, young Charline looked out her work window to spy her future husband of 51 years shining his shoes with a hankie while leaning on the running board. He fell in love when she finished off her steak with gusto on their first date. She often told the story about sitting around with his pals as a newlywed, hearing many stories of his exploits and thinking to herself “what did I get myself into?” What she got herself into was a colorful but certainly splendid family life in South Gate where they raised four children and lived as close to the American dream as existed in our time. When I say they I mean he brought home the dough and my Mom did the rest.
This brings up the big question we all keep asking “what did she give us?”
First: Have you ever been at a public function with the Creasons? We are the animated ones yakking to each other, hugging one another and punctuating our conversations with raucous laughter. We genuinely love to hang together. If you have ever shared a Christmas at my Mother’s home you would have seen happiness unalloyed and bonds of love so strong they will live on for many more generations. Money can’t buy those feelings, that support, that sweet affection. A large part of that flowed from my Mother. She is still here in every one of us.
Second: our uppity women. The girls in our family are strong, smart, opinionated and thoroughly capable. Check out my sisters or Tricia, Michelle, Jill, Stephanie, Sunny and on and on. She showed them that the sisterhood was powerful way before Betty Friedan.
Third: fealty to furry creatures. For some five decades we saw her suffer discomfort so that her dogs or cats might not be disturbed. She sat on the edge of her chair at the dinner table for God’s sake so that her poodle might snooze behind her as she dined. She made attaining cat milk her raison d’etre in her last years and each every family member here serves the animal kingdom in some way. I have five cats myself but don’t sit on the edge of my chair. Stormy, Fritz, Hansel, Gretel, Eloise, Bridgette, Cognac, Frou-Frou, Fred, Alice, Maggie, Abby, Scooby, Grover, Peggy, Amber, Sally, Cowton, Honeymuffin, Peppermint, Bon Bon, Butterscotch, Alice, Jumpin, Big George, Desiree and many more were waiting for her at Rainbow Bridge where she was rewarded with much more than cat milk.
Four: recipes. She was a fantastic cook in her day and has left us a culinary legacy. Some of us can make them but all of us love to eat the multi-cultural menu she taught us to prepare. Who would expect the child of a British woman would make killer enchiladas, superb Polish cabbage rolls, Australian style leg of lamb, English Pot Roast with kosher egg noodles, tacos garnished with parmesan cheese, white folks wonderful cole slaw, potato salad and BLT’s to make you weep with joy. She was, as my Dad said while gaining a hundred pounds “one helluva cook!”
Sort of Five:High Cholesterol: well, not everything she gave us was good but she showed them doctors by living 89 LDL rich years.
Six: Stop and smell the double-delights: Mom took it slow, studying everything around her, savoring the experience and never hurrying. She spent an hour eating dinner, did her famous “turtle-walk” through stores, and exercised her household routines methodically and with great clarity. She could de-flea an entire dog with a pair of tweezers and a cup of coffee. Up until her last two weeks on earth her mind was a steel trap and her nerves were as steady as a surgeon’s. She also believed in taking a moment to study that sunset over the Pacific, to sip the fine cabernet slowly and to smell the double-delight roses when you had a chance. She got her money’s worth at her own pace.
Seven: Athletics: she loved sports and excelled in them in High School where she was captain of the speedball team and despite her own Mother’s over-protectiveness she competed with vigor. She was a religious to the rules golfer and always played better in the clutch. She bowled in her days in South Gate and could practically play any sport she chose. While she wasn’t as fanatical as her husband she liked to watch sports too especially, golf where she got little carried away, tossing hexes at Vijay Singh and rooting for the likes of Gene Litler or Arnie or that guy named Tiger. Participating in sports has always been a family diversion and indeed she is the grand matriarch of the Strange Heads, our family formed softball team that has endured for thirty years!
Eight: Motherisms: Now this could go on for pages and pages but I’ll settle with just three.
“You slop in, you slop around and you slop out!”
“I just should have raised poodles!”
And “I hope you have kids just like you!”
Last: Devotion to Family: Most of us are familiar with the Harry Chapin song “Cats in the Cradle” about a father who reaps the bitter harvest of being too busy to raise his son. My Mom was the antithesis to this story. She was at every sports banquet; Boy Scout meeting, open-house, birthday picnic, baptism, ballgame, graduation, every opportunity to cheer on her own. She was at Daylon’s pop-warner games, at Stephen’s senior league softball, at Katya’s ballet recital, at Papa Romo’s Passover dinners, at Cheryl’s graduation from nursing school, at Shaun and Jeff’s free throw triumphs, at Julia’s games in blistering heat and Jill’s Wilson High heroics. One of my best moments at Central library was when she joined me for the “Shades of LA” reception and we stood before our photograph in the exhibit, taken a half-century before. It never seemed like a chore to her, she went willingly and with great pride. Even as her hearing began to fail she sat serenely in the middle of our hooting and hollering in the den smiling, feeling the glow of love. This family is built on a bedrock of love and she poured that foundation with plenty of hard work and attention. This is her legacy, one of solid gold Mother’s love.
Yes, she didn’t care much for widowhood and she was a rose with needle-like thorns on occasion. Mom journeyed on after Dad died for fifteen years but she wasn’t all that comfortable in her place in this disjointed world. She tested us and sometimes exasperated our intentions but she was as she herself might say “as independent as a hog on ice.” Family here today can tell plenty of stories of happiness and affection that is especially treasured as it was gathered in this sweet bonus decade and a half. Yet, those who lived with her after my Dad passed can tell us of the old widow’s wrath if you put a mixing bowl back in the wrong cupboard. She had her system and the devil take you if you violated Mom’s protocol. I can guess that Jill, Corry and my sister Cheryl are nodding in agreement here.
We have learned from her on both sides of the ledger. We learned to tenderly comfort and to care for our loved ones. We also learned to be stubborn and self-defeating and exasperating in our reticence to act in our own self interest. Hopefully, along with all her recipes and golden advice we will also take a determination not to waste a single day in self-pity or fear of embarrassment or failure. We will not be adamant or vexed by trivialities and hold out our own fragile hands to others in the family. That we will accept comfort in sad times and accept our own failures without condemning others around us.
Some day soon we will be here too, and as it always was, she is just showing us the way. I can understand as with her blood I share many of her attitudes. She was not a joiner but did so against her grain, always rising to leadership roles because of her intelligence and willingness to roll up her sleeves and focus on the task at hand. She was president of the Mother’s Club at St. Helen’s parish and the Ladies Golf Association over at her beloved Rio Hondo G.C. She was one of the super-six Moms of our South Gate youth and stood with Grace Sheehy, Olivia Whitney, Margaret Knowlton, Kathy Carroll and Sighela White as concrete proof that woman are smarter and the real centers of family life. If there is a heaven four of those ladies have greeted my Mom with celestial coffee and cigs already.

Mom’s paradise must certainly be a place where animals share her space, there are soaps on a big TV and coffee and chocolate is at hand. It might be like the back nine at the old Rio Hondo Golf course on an autumn day with the putts all dropping and good pals standing at the tee waiting. Of course, she is would be up because she played well and never cheated on a single stroke. Dad called her a square apple and certainly her morality guided us onto the fairway where his strayed into the rough occasionally.
This raises one more question: what did she love most down here? The obvious is that she loved her family and her home but there is a list of other things she expressed admiration for once or twice.
*Her bratty grand and great-grandkids, especially one certain young man named Daylon.
*Key lime pie.
*The chicken dinners at Knotts Berry Farm
*Playing golf, talking about golf, watching golf on TV, watching golf with her son Stephen.
*The Soap Operas, as if being around my family wasn’t drama enough.
*A clean house, especially shower doors
*Shopping for bargains…with coupons!
*Gardens in springtime
*Coffee with half and half
*Chocolate malts made by her son Stephen
*Rachmaninoff
*Gless Ranch Grapefruits
*Broadway musicals, especially at the Biltmore Theater
*Gewurz Traminer with cheese and crackers
*Reading her newspapers cover to cover
*Red cabbage
*Solo piano
*Double-delight roses
*The combination plate at the Taco Kid on Long Beach blvd. circa 1957
*Frisky pups.
*…and…Yammering on the phone with Christine

Some things book ended her span like dinner at Lawry’s where she spent her first date with my Dad and her 80th birthday with her four children. She was born in Denver and her grandchildren came here from Denver to bid her adieu. She was born to a Mother who loved her and she died a Mother who was loved. She passed through life a very active participant and like the song goes: she sailed down her golden river and was never alone.

Down that golden river and she was never alone, not after 1941, not after Ben and the kids, not after Michelle and Steve and Jill and Lori and Paul and Tricia and Shaun and Jeff and Katya and then another generation with Stephanie and Maya, Caleb, Daylon, Amanda, Holly, Sunny, Ivy, Anthony, Julia, Sara, and darling Dahlia. No, she was never alone except in her thoughts in the den without Ben. Now, finally she can see him again.

When I was a little boy I had the good fortune of taking a trip with my Mom to the Coronado Hotel in San Diego. The stars were all aligned perfectly and it was just the two of us. There in family lore is the story of how I sailed my little hound’s-tooth matching cap from Robinson’s Department store into the bay during a harbor cruise. The trip is golden in memory. Early on it became apparent that I had a hearty breakfast appetite that Mom satisfied by ordering me adult sized servings of flapjacks, Denver omelettes, and bacon, the food of joy. When we checked out the staff knew us as a Mother and son who fed the squirrel, Nutty Jimmy out on the lawn and ate the big breakfasts on china plates. As we dawdled at the front desk, a staff member mentioned my status in the dining room and she took my hand tenderly and said “yes, he’s good boy!” It was then I realized what I enjoyed for the rest of my sixty years with her, that she loved me. Nothing ever came close to being that valuable for me. For all the stupid, insensitive, coarse and selfish acts I have committed, for the hundreds of times the raw old world bruised me to the bone I could hold to those words and remember the softness of her voice calling me “sweetie” even when I was as sour as lemon rinds. My dear friend Lucinda expressed it well when she predicted a joyous reunion on Rainbow Bridge for my Mom where the crowd was large but she added “on this side there is just sadness and a hollow feeling left by the passing of a great soul. “ Yes, Indeed.

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