‘I remember Mama’

Published 8:58 pm Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Do you remember, “I Remember Mama?” The movie filled theaters in 1947, and it was followed by a successful 1948 to 1957 television run.

My mother was far removed from the sweetness-and-light variety. She was a pre-women’s lib woman, a take-charge, rule-the-roost individual, and I thought of her on Mother’s Day.

Her own mother died at a young age. Her father was a tailor who lost what money he had gambling. Family tradition has it that he was not a smart gambler. He could not provide for his family, so the state of Maryland carted her and her 11 siblings off to an orphanage.

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Since Sophia (a name that is returning to favor) was the oldest, she was put in charge of the rest of the brood. The old iron hand came into play and, for the most part, it worked out.

She put brother Lew through college, and he became a successful attorney. One sister, Ida (my favorite) had movie-star looks and wound up with a wonderful and wealthy hubby. Soren came over from Denmark and began the Bower Roller Bearing Co. The great Dane became a rich American.

My mother married a fellow orphan, Dave, who was the complete opposite of his spouse. He was quiet, a loner, who mostly enjoyed listening to classical music on the radio while conducting the orchestra with his smelly cigar. He had a one-man printing press creating pamphlet-type ads for businesses, including PRC, a Poverty Row movie studio.

It was Momma who raised me, although “raised” is not quite the word. She pretty much left me alone and, at the age of about 9, I was riding the subway around New York.

She was a nurse who eventually headed the nursing department at Queens-General -Triboro, one of New York’s largest hospitals.

She watched over me and, for a couple summers, got me a job there as a mailboy. Come vacation time, it was usually the two of us. She had a Hudson Terraplane and drove us all over the country, often playing the route by ear. She would, say, on a Tuesday, pack us up for a Wednesday trip. The tours usually lasted for several days, and we went as far south as Mississippi, as far north as Canada.

When I started high school, I traveled to Astoria (across the tracks from my Sunnyside home) and lasted less than one semester. It was a “Blackboard Jungle” type place, where the students threw erasers at the 75-plus year-old teacher. I couldn’t handle that.

Then, my enterprising mama found out about a private school that we couldn’t afford. But it was an all-girls school looking to go co-ed, offering a handful of scholarships to lads. I loved my school years.

Bentley was founded by John Bentley, the father of progressive education. We studied what was important to us. For instance, some of us had zilch interest in things mathematical, so we became business students, hitting the subway from West 86th Street to the wholesale district of The Battery.

We bought candy, cookies and stuff and sold it to our fellow students. If we made a profit and kept our books straight, we got an ‘A’ in arithmetic.

Our educational opportunities were unique. Nearby were the American Museum of Natural History, Children’s Museum of Manhattan and the Jewish Museum (which now includes a story I wrote about a Holocaust survivor), and others that people come from all parts of the globe to visit.

And, there was a YMCA nearby for swimming. For baseball, Central Park was just a five-minute walk, and, of course, the zoo was right there.

When I joined the Army. Momma was replaced by a sergeant and corporal for my basic training at Fort Dix, N.J.

She lived to be 98. Most family members made it to a ripe old age.

I remember Momma, but, probably not the same way you do.