MY MOM AND MY SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY
I run this column for Mother’s Day every year. It’s kind of personal. If you read it and it inspires you to think about your mom, that would be great. If you skip it and spend the time thinking about your mother, that would be fine, too.
MY MOM AND MY SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY
I want to write about my Mom. It’s Mother’s Day this weekend and I miss her so. This is about a Sunday eight or so years ago, when I drove back into my past ...
Now that I think of it, I guess it was because Mother’s Day was coming up and I was feeling sort of lonely that I went on my sentimental journey on Sunday afternoon.
I was alone, it was a pretty day, and in the afternoon, I jumped into my car, put on a playlist I call “Old Rock,” and I drove.
I like to do that sometimes. Just drive, listen to music, and think.
The sign on the West Side Highway heading downtown read “Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.” I thought, “Why not?”
In a few minutes, I was out of the tunnel and I had a decision to make: Would it be the Verrazano Bridge into Staten Island or the Belt Parkway into Brooklyn? Then the old song “Earth Angel” by the Penguins came on.
“Earth Angel, Earth Angel
Will you be mine?
My darling dear
Love you all the time.”
The song made the decision for me. I wanted to go back to the old neighborhood.
Actually, I wanted to be 16 again. But I settled for going back to the old neighborhood.
As I drove on the Belt Parkway, the water on the bay sparkled as the sun hit it at a perfect angle.
In the far distance, on my right, I could see the old Coney Island parachute ride looking tiny and red against the beautiful blue sky.
I passed Lafayette High School. I remember on graduation day, when I barely graduated, my Mom saying, “I think I went to this school more than you did.”
She probably did. Every time I got into trouble and was suspended, she would come to the school, walk into the office of the dean of boys and say, “He’s a good boy.” She was persuasive. I made it through school, thus becoming the first Della Femina in the history of the Della Feminas to make it past the eighth grade.
I cruised onto West 7th Street listening to the Fleetwoods singing “Mr. Blue,” and I parked opposite my old house. It is the tiniest house you have ever seen. It was perfect for us because, until I came along, the whole family was tiny.
My Mom was just four feet, 10 inches tall. My Dad towered over her — he was five feet, two inches tall. My Grandfather was four feet, nine inches. And my Grandmother was even shorter.
My family on both sides was tiny. When I was 16, I reached six feet tall. My family looked at me like I had turned into Andre the Giant.
My Mom never raised her voice, but she always got me to hear what she had to say. She arrived in this country many years ago and she really saw America as the land of opportunity. She was an immigrant and she didn’t get to become a citizen until many, many years after she got here. My Grandmother and Grandfather never learned a word of English and never became citizens.
I think of them when I hear these idiots scream and march and carry on against the latest wave of immigrants. As the son of immigrants, I say let’s give them all green cards, register them, and allow them to go to work. Someday their work ethic will save this country.
Life wasn’t always easy for my Mom, but she never complained, and she always found a way to survive.
And there was always the “cocktail ring.”
I believe the cocktail ring was passed on to her from Italy. I don’t know what it was worth, certainly not more than $100. But the ring kept my family going in the 1940s.
Whenever we were broke, or the rent had to be paid (it was $22 a month), or we needed food for supper, my Mom would take the cocktail ring to our friendly local pawnshop on Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island. The pawnbroker would give her $8 for the ring. He wouldn’t even talk, but as she came through the door with me and my kid brother Joe in tow, he would reach into the cash register for the $8. On pay day, when my father would hand her his salary, we would take another trip to Coney Island to get the ring back.
In 1967, I started my ad agency. I asked my Mom if she wanted to invest. At the time, things were pretty good for her and my Dad, so they invested $1,000 in the agency. The agency prospered, and then we decided to buy the stock back from the original investors. I went to my Mom’s house in Brooklyn and brought her a check for $22,000. It was the most money she had ever seen at one time.
She suddenly got very quiet. She had tears in her eyes.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
“No,” she replied. “I was just thinking about my old cocktail ring.”
I thought about the old cocktail ring as I sat in my car thinking about my Mom. My eyes filled with tears.
As I pointed the car towards Avenue U, Dion and the Belmonts were singing “When You Wish Upon a Star.”
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I miss you.
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