Mother’s Day is coming up and I wish I could call my mother. I can’t. She died 12 years ago.
Not that my mother, Frieda S. Rozen, would want to hear from me on that day. She wasn't keen on calls or cards.
It wasn’t personal. She loved me and I knew it. She just didn’t believe in Mother’s Day.
If I phoned, she made fun of me. “Caving in to a crass commercial holiday?” she would ask, before going on to happily chat about what I was doing, catching me up on the news of my five siblings and telling me what she and my father, Marvin E. Rozen, had been doing since last we had talked.
Getting her a Mother’s Day gift was out of the question. She didn’t want presents, flowers or chocolate. Strike that last one. She always wanted chocolate, the darker the better, but there didn’t have to be a special occasion to send it.
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Her attitude toward Mother’s Day mirrored my father’s when it came to Father’s Day. That's pretty much how they both felt about any and every holiday.
Growing up, we celebrated only Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Passover in my family, the major eating holidays. As adults, while my parents were still alive, all six kids would try hard to get home and we’d have a big dinner, stuffing ourselves silly. (A sister-in-law once complained, “All you do here is eat and shop.” We looked at her with puzzled expressions, unable to spot the problem.)
Birthdays were also celebrated with massive meals — we even had a special set of decorated dishes for the birthday child and would light candles on a frosted cake (or on a menorah for Hanukkah).
To this day, on a sibling’s birthday, we all call and wish him or her the best, but gifts are given only to nieces and nephews still under voting age. We have a running joke in the family:
“What did you get for your birthday?”
“The usual: nothing.”
It’s not that my parents didn’t give us gifts. They did, just not on holidays. “Most kids get presents only on their birthday and for Christmas," they told us. "You get stuff all year-round. Which would you rather have?”
That was a no-brainer. We’d rather get stuff all year-round — and we did. To their dying day, if my parents saw something they thought we would like or needed, whether a shirt, a book or a kitchen implement, they’d buy it and send it to us.
What it really all came down to was that my parents believed in celebrating life. You don’t need a special holiday to do that.
Both came from immigrant parents and knew that their lives as first-generation Americans had been infinitely easier than those of their foreign-born mothers and fathers. And they expected the lives of their children to be even better.
My parents had an idealism that I think has been denied to our conflict-weary and overly cynical generation. When I was cleaning out their house a few years ago, I came across an early version of my parents’ will, drafted in 1959. It specified that if the other spouse and all of their children (there were just four at that point) should for some reason already be dead, then the money was to go to the then-fledgling United Nations.
You really have to believe in the possibility of a better world to make that kind of provision.
So, Mom and Dad, here’s to you on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Yes, yes, I know that how family members treat each other every day matters more than their behavior on a single, arbitrarily designated, commercial holiday. Lesson learned.
But, still, I’d call you if I could and, despite your teasing and naysaying, tell you how much I love you and value each and every thing you taught me over the years. Instead, I’ll raise a glass in your memory, call up your grandchildren and tell them funny stories — about you.