2015-06-02 — When you lose an elderly parent, as I did yesterday, you don’t know how to feel. The mother you last talked to may have been gone a long time before she died. I lived 2,000 miles from where my mom lived and I had to rely on caregivers to put the phone to her ear so I could say, “Hi, Mom! It’s me, your favorite son.” And she would say “Who?” And I would say, “Your son, Steve.” And she would say, absently, “Oh, yeah.” And I would hear her say to her caregiver, “It’s my son, Steve.” And I would try to ask her how she was, but she couldn’t answer with more than a word or two because of growing aphasia. I told her a few tidbits about my life and about her grandsons. And she would say, “that’s nice,” but I never thought she understood. Her memory was failing her—not always gone, but often, so I would say, “I love you” and “I’ll talk to you soon.”
My memory isn’t failing me—yet.
And so I want to put some of those memories down—of how she was before. A child doesn’t really understand the life of a parent and isn’t old enough to remember the parent as a child. So this is not a life story. It is only memories.
My mom, Beverly Ruth Komsky, was born in Chicago in 1928. I know little of her time growing up except that she had four sisters: June, Elsie, Debbie, and Clarice. She was the baby, born 10 years after the next youngest. Her parents came from Russia with their first two daughters. The rest were born in the then-Jewish west side of Chicago, where they joined other members of the Komsky family. Yiddish and English were spoken in their home. She went to Marshall High School during World War II. She went a year or two to the College of Jewish Studies, later called Spertus College.
During the immediate post-war period, Beverly became very involved with Habonim, a socialist-Zionist youth group and began planning a move to Israel, which was just forming, at the time. My grandparents were appalled at this and thought they could dissuade her by sending her to live with her sister Elsie, who was then living in San Francisco. No luck. Beverly found a chapter of Habonim in San Francisco and renewed her plan to move to Israel. So my grandparent sent her to live with her sister Debbie, who was living in Dayton, Ohio.
In Dayton, Beverly met my father, Norman Froikin, and forgot her plans to move to Israel. My father thought she was the prettiest girl at the dance. His friend Harry Tarsky prodded him to ask her out. Soon they were married.
Then came three children: me, my sister Judy, and my brother Bruce. We were very involved in the Beth Abraham Synagogue, where she sang in the choir. Early in the 1960s a new Jewish day school opened in Beth Abraham—Hillel Academy. My sister and I were already too old, but my mom enrolled my brother and became a part-time secretary there. Before long, she was practically running the school. (Only her lack of a college education held her back.) Twenty-five years later she retired with my father and moved to Los Angeles to be close to my sister and brother who had moved there. I had moved to my mom’s home town of Chicago.
Family was always important to Beverly. In LA, she had her son Bruce (who later married Kacey), her daughter Judy (who was married to Rony), and Judy’s daughters Laura and Michelle. I wasn’t married at the time, but a few years later, I married my wife Kit and we had two sons, Nat and Cal. My mom was a wonderful and generous grandmother to all of them. In LA she reunited with her Chicago-émigré cousins Rae (and her husband Mel), Sonny (and his wife Gwen), Izzy, and Moe. She left behind in Dayton her sister Debbie and many great friends, Sam and Lore, Ellin, and many, many others.
I owe a lot to my mother.
I owe her for my love of music. Beverly was a classical snob. Back in the 1940s, when her contemporaries were bobbysoxers and swooning over Frank Sinatra, Beverly and her friends in Habonim were spinning 78s of Beethoven, Bach, and Brahms on their Victrolas. When she had kids, she made sure that we had solid piano lessons. She sang in the synagogue choir. I remember going to services as a kid and sitting by her side in the choir loft. I caught the bug from her. And now, so have all four of her grandchildren.
I owe her for her kindness and for my own concern about social justice. She wasn’t an activist, but was truly a good woman. An eshet chayil—a woman of valor. Her love for Jewish values were founded on a sense of kindness to all. This has always been my foundation, for which I owe her.
I owe her for my love of my family. We were everything to her. I’m not sure I understood this when I was a kid, but I realized my debt to her when I married and had my own family. She loved my wife. She loved my boys. Our too-infrequent visits to California to see her were always a joy. She always welcomed us. My boys remember the time at her swimming pool and the trips with her around California. Shortly before I was married, her doctor told her she couldn’t make the trip. She was not deterred. She demanded to have a stent put in. She couldn’t miss her son’s wedding. And so it was.
Thanks, Mom. I miss you.
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Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Long way from my home