Friday, March 25, 2016

March 25, 2016--Ladies of Forest Trace: Posthumous Lunch With the Ladies

"We're only here for a few more days and though I know it will be difficult," Rona said, "maybe it would be good, even therapeutic to visit Forest Trace one last time and . . ."

"But with my mother . . . why would . . .  ?"

"Closure, I suppose. We've been in Florida now for almost three months--for the first time with your mother not here . . ."

"Dead. Not 'not here,' but dead because that is what she is. Avoiding saying it that way has not been helpful to me. It's gotten in the way of my mourning because I expect to get a phone call from her and even be able to pop over to see her. Her being 'not here' means she's only away. For the time being. Not gone. Not final. Not dead."

"I get your point, but I think the anti-euphemism business is not helpful. I know what she is but it doesn't feel necessary to say it over and over again. For me . . ."

"For you, fine. For me, I think I need to think in these terms. But I'll try not to obsess about it. I do need to do some more grieving. I've been stuffing my feelings of loss. When we head for New York this time no one will care when we leave or what route we take or be waiting for a call when we arrive safely."

"We're more on our own, that's true," Rona said, reaching out to hug me. When she did I burst into tears. "But we're fine, as fine as we can expect to be right now. And we will be better. These last three months in Florida have been helpful to thinking about what was and what will be."

"It would help if we didn't know so many people in such dire circumstances and . . ."

"That's always been true. We're fortunate to know so many people and that means we'll always have someone struggling with mortality."

"Put me on that list," I said, still tearful, "I'm struggling big time."

"Is there something you're not telling me? I mean do you have symptoms I should know about?"

"None other than a heavy heart."

"I have an idea," Rona said, sounding upbeat.

"I'm open for anything that would help lift me out of this."

"Why don't we call a few of your mother's friends. Some of the Ladies, and see if we can take them out to lunch."

"I like that idea. Maybe to that wonderful dim sum place, Toa Toa, where Mom, six months before she died had her last meal in a restaurant."

"She loved that lunch. We ordered all her favorites from wanton soup to soy sauce noodles."

"She ate everything. So slowly that they had to reheat the food four times and it took her two hours to finish."

"I'll remember that lunch forever."

"Six months later she was gone."

"No longer here," Rona smiled, holding on to me.

So a few days later we were able to arrange for three of the "girls," as my mother referred to them, to meet us at Toa Toa where we ordered up a storm, including a sampling of my mother's favorites.

We wanted to talk about her, and though they were happy to do that, it was clear they wanted to do so for only a limited time.

Bertha said to us, "We remember her with love. She was a remarkable person, but one special thing about her was her not wanting to dwell on unpleasant things. 'There are enough of them at our ages,' she used to so. 'In our lives, in the world. So let's try to look for positive things to talk about. To think about the future, not just the past. Things we can feel optimistic about.' That was her in a nutshell."

"This is not always easy for us," Fannie said, "We all come from Europe from a  time when things there were not good for people like us and then here with the Depression, World War II, and of course what Hitler did."

They all nodded. But perked up almost immediately when the first in a stream of steamed dumplings arrived.

"She wouldn't be happy about the election," Gussie said.

"I thought we were supposed to talk about more optimistic things," Fannie said, at 97 managing her chopsticks quite well.

"We'll get to that," Gussie said, asking for a knife and fork, "We'll get to that. But, like I said, she would not be happy about that Trump."

"Who is," Bertha said. "such a bully. Such a bigot. Who says such terrible things about women. He claims he has Jewish friends and loves Israel, but I have my doubts."

"Though some of the men where we live, the few men who are still with us, some of them like him and voted for him in the primary."

"Did they tell you their reasons?" Rona asked.

"He can get things done, they say."

"Just that?"

"Just that. And most of the men think he knows what to do with the Muslims and Mexicans. I mean, the terrorists and immigrants. They talk as if they're one and the same."

"Did they say what they think Trump will do?"

"No. Just that he's strong and will keep them safe and build that wall."

"To tell you the truth," Fannie said, "These men are lucky to wake up in the morning or even know who they are. They're that oyver-botled. You expect them to know any specifics about Trump or any of the other ones? They get lost going to the bathroom." The ladies smiled and nodded in agreement.

"I love these chive dumplings," Bertha said, "These were your mother's favorites. In the past, when she was better, when she had lunch here, when she got back to Forest Trace she would go down the list of what everyone ordered and gave an analysis of each of the dishes."

Remembering that, when she was fully herself, really until not so long ago, when she was already 105, I began to tear up.

"I'm sure I know what she would be thinking about Trump," I managed to say, "Among everything  else she would have been repelled by his crassness, his crudeness. She never uttered a four-letter word even when that would have been forgivable. She was very proper and held everyone including herself to very high behavior standards. She could be quite judgmental about those kind of things."

"Do you remember the 2008 election?" Fannie asked.

"I think I know what you are going to say," I said.

"How your mother worked so hard to help Obama win the nomination?" I nodded. "How she worked on the three of us and dozens and dozens of others at Forest Trace. Almost all women, many who were born before women could vote, how she worked on us one by one to convince us that Obama would make a better president than Hillary."

"And how at first we all resisted," Gussie added. "It took her awhile but slowly but surely she persuaded almost all of us to vote for Obama. Which we did. She helped 125 of the girls fill out absentee ballots and then in huge shopping bags took them to the board of elections."

"I do remember that," Rona said. "I was so proud of her. She was a feminist in her own way. Very much so. But she put that aside because she saw more potential in Obama."

"And she was thrilled,"I said, "when he not only won the nomination but was elected. Not that she overlooked his flaws as president. She could be very critical. Tough-minded but fair. She never let anyone off easy. I can tell you from personal experience that she had very high standards and it wasn't easy to meet them."

"We held ourselves responsible for Bush," Fannie said.

"How so?" Rona asked.

"Those chads. Remember how in 2000 George Bush won Florida because of those hanging chads in Broward and Palm Beach Counties? That's where we live and I am sure with our shaky hands we by mistake pushed the wrong chads and wound up voting for that Nazi, Pat Buchanan."

"He's just an anti-Semite, which is bad enough," Gussie said.

"Well, your mother wanted to make sure that never happened again. So she had us fill out those absentee ballots. With her checking everything, I'm sure none of us voted for John McCain and that awful Sarah."

"And Obama did win Florida, by a comfortable margin, and of course the election. Your mother was very proud of that."

"So, here's the big political question," I said. They put down their forks and chopsticks to make sure they heard me. "How would she be feeling this time about Hillary?"

For a moment no one said anything. "That would be complicated," Fannie said.

"I'm sure she'd vote for Hillary," Gussie was quick to add.

"But with mixed feelings," Fannie said. "Though there's no one else she would even consider voting for." The other girls looked quizzically at Fannie, who added, "She might have been well over 100, but she had all her marbles and she'd be like all those young women not yet voting for Hillary. The ones interested in Bernie. I think she would have felt that Hillary takes for granted the votes of women just because they and she are women. Solidarity. A word we used to use in the labor movement. You know I was a member of the ILGWU. The ladies' union. Garment workers."

"Say a little more," Rona said, "We can ask them to reheat the food."

"This is more important than shrimp dumplings. For your Mom that would not have been enough. Just being a woman. To her as you said that was important but not enough to vote for a president. As with Obama eight years ago, she was only interested in who she felt would make the best president. If that person happened to be a woman, so much the better."

"Or a black man,"Bertha added with a wide smile. "And I agree, only if it's so much the better."

"She would have understood all these young women," Fannie continued, "How they don't want to feel pressure or obligated  to thank their mothers' generation for what is now possible for young women. Though that's to a large extent true--all the opportunities--these girls, and they are girls to me, are entitled to stand on their own two feet and accomplish all they are capable of accomplishing. And not feel they have to be beholden to anyone."

"But I am also absolutely sure," Bertha said, "that she would have said that it's important not to forget the past and all the sacrifices women made to blaze a path for their daughters and granddaughters. That's only fair. And in the primary we just had and in November, if she had only still been with us, she would've voted for Hillary. And proudly."

Bertha nodding said, "Can you imagine what your mother might have accomplished if she had all the rights and opportunities these young women have?"

"She would have been a school superintendent," Gussie said. "Running all the schools. Not just a first grade teacher. And a good one."

"She wouldn't have had it any other way," Rona said, "Only if she earned it. No special treatment or sense of entitlement."

"I'll drink to that," all three of my Mom's friends said, clicking tea cups.

"Do you think they could bring us some more hot tea?" Bertha asked. "We Polish girls like our tea very hot."

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