Legacy

Last weekend, I went to see the Broadway musical Carousel. I had been anticipating seeing it for months. Three bars into the opening number, The Carousel Waltz, my eyes filled with tears. Not because I was anticipating the sorrowful plot elements or the poignant ending (though of course I was). I was moved to tears by the beauty of the music.

My reaction was visceral. In the space of a few seconds, I felt the gorgeous music take root in my gut. It surged through my chest as if it were a powerful river tossing my emotions in a rushing current. Moved and overwhelmed, I wept.

I know that this must sound like overwrought hyperbole. I promise it is not. To say I love music doesn’t come close to describing its effect on me. I don’t just listen to music. I devour it. I experience it with all my senses, not just my ears. It takes me out of the here and now. Unlike most people, I can’t have music playing in the background while I work, or tidy up, or have a conversation. The music commands my full attention, pulling me in and enveloping me.

When I was growing up, the house was filled with music. The phonograph played all day long. It was one of my mother’s greatest joys. She could fall into music as if down a rabbit hole in the same way I do now.

Mom played many different types of music. There were the Yiddish songs of The Barry Sisters, World War II-era popular music such as The Andrews Sisters, classical music, even some soft rock such as Simon and Garfunkel or Don McLean. She didn’t expose my brother and I to this variety of genres and sounds with the conscious intent of providing us with a solid music foundation. She simply played what she loved, what made her happy, and shared it with us because she wanted us to be happy too. I know you can’t teach someone to love music. However, by creating a musical environment in our home my mother most definitely nurtured and reinforced an innate predilection.

The deepest musical bond my mother and I shared was a love of Broadway show tunes. We played the same albums over and over and over, inhaling the songs and learning every single lyric. Our standard rotation included Carousel, Oklahoma, The King and I, West Side Story, The Music Man, Guys and Dolls, Finian’s Rainbow, Camelot, My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, The Sound of Music, and The Man of La Mancha. You can see she had great taste. These are arguably the greatest musical scores in the musical theater canon of that era (from the 1940s through the early 1970s).

While our passion for music created a bond between us, it didn’t follow that I appreciated it. When we went to see a musical play or movie, my mother would inevitably sing along. Every. Single. Time. Not loudly but most definitely audibly. Typically, she was set off or inspired (depending upon your perspective) when the actors performed one of her favorites, either something especially upbeat (think Seventy-Six Trombones) or intensely poignant (The Impossible Dream). Every time, her behavior annoyed and embarrassed the hell out of me. I would tap her on the hand, and if she didn’t get the message I would hiss at her, “Shhh! You’re disturbing everyone.” I knew I could have said it in a nicer, gentler way, but I didn’t care. I thought a grown woman should know better. Now I wish I had been more generous of spirit.

In the late spring of 2011, my mother was diagnosed with a virtually incurable type of leukemia. One day I will write of her courage and grace during the 14-1/2 months she lived after her diagnosis. The chemotherapy and clinical trials (eight of them) she underwent during that time required many lengthy stays in the hospital. Since my mother felt fine until the last two months of her life, she was bored to tears during these periods that she was trapped (as she justifiably called it). My father and I were there nearly every day, but there was no escaping the ennui. We passed the time with small talk, reading, watching sitcom reruns, and staring into space during periods of silence.

One early evening, the three of us were sitting in her hospital room watching an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond that we had seen at least twenty-five times before (if not more). There was a knock and in walked a young man holding a guitar. He introduced himself as a volunteer and asked if we would care to hear him play on the guitar and sing for us.

My swift and cynical reaction, one I fortunately kept to myself, was no I don’t want to listen to some corny amateur musician. I groaned inwardly at the prospect of having to plaster a fake smile on my face while he performed.

My mother, on the other hand, replied, “Yes, thank you, I would love that.” I looked at her and saw she was beaming with delight. When he asked what she wanted to hear, mom thought for a moment before she asked, “Do you know any Simon and Garfunkel?” “Of course,” he replied. “How about The Sound of Silence?”

That was one of my mother’s favorite songs. Throughout the performance she was smiling with her entire face, and singing along, which made the young man smile back at her. Swept up in the moment, I sang along too. He played a second song (I don’t remember which one) before he left. My mom’s smile and upbeat demeanor lasted the rest of the night. To this day I thank the Lord that I didn’t voice my contemptuous view about an experience that gave my mother such joy, as music always did.

During the last few hours of my mother’s life, she was uncommunicative. I remembered someone telling me that hearing is the last sense to go at the end of life. It was possible she could still hear the world around her. I positioned myself on a chair near her head and tuned in to the music I had stored on my phone.

There were a lot of songs from which I could choose, from many different genres. In many ways the music collection on my phone mirrored the musical life she and I had shared. I turned up the volume and held the phone to her ear. I played some classical music. Then I played some country music, a genre she and my father had come to love later in life. Finally, I played If I Loved You from Carousel. Soon after that she died. I hope the music she loved was her final awareness of this world.

Thank you, mom, for a gift that has transformed and enriched my life. I miss you.

………………………

Most of us have memories of our mothers, whether they are still living or have passed on. Memories may be happy, sad, heartwarming or any combination of emotions. These memories–not material items–are the true legacies our parents leave us. In honor of Mother’s Day, it would be great if you would share a memory of your mom in the Comments section below. Thanks and to those of you who are mothers, Happy Mother’s Day!

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

13 replies
  1. Margo
    Margo says:

    My favorite mommy memories are from when we were down the shore. We took endless walks on the beach collecting shells, feathers,and everything else. We would come home and then make collages together with all our new found ‘stuff’. She taught me to seek out the beauty in nature and then transform it into something even more meaningful.
    Mother’s Day is very bittersweet for me,as you know..
    The smells and tastes and sounds and overall beauty of the shore will always bring my mother to life for me…..

    Reply
    • Rhonda Silver
      Rhonda Silver says:

      As I think I have told you, my memory of your Mom is when she took us to see Tosca at the Met (I had never been to an opera before) and the woman in front of me turned around and gave me a withering glance with I made noise opening a candy. It makes me laugh now because when people do that around me in a theater my head explodes. But I remember your mom being so lovely and telling me a lot about Tosca and opera in general. Your beach memories of your mother are lovely. It sounds as if you can draw them up for comfort when you need it.

      Reply
  2. Beth Neiman
    Beth Neiman says:

    I love reading your posts and identify so strongly with so many of your memories and messages. I too grew up in a house full of music, and many of the same show tunes. When I brought my own mother to her final hospital admission, 10 days before her death in 1998, we were waiting for the helper to bring her to her room when we heard the news on the waiting room tv about the death of Frank Sinatra. She was so moved by the news and looked so sad as she watched the retrospective about his life. As she watched she told me for the first time ever about the night of her Eastside High School, Paterson, prom after which she and her date and friends went into Manhattan to see Frank live. FRANK SINATRA in person! She could hardly contain her excitement as she recalled the evening. The story and her memories sustained both of us that night and made an otherwise horrific evening a very special time for us. Thanks for the memory.

    Reply
    • Rhonda Silver
      Rhonda Silver says:

      Oh Beth, what a deeply beautiful story. It will stick with me for quite a while. I can imagine the scene vividly as I had similar moments with my mom; the performer she was most excited about seeing was Harry Belafonte. Several years ago, Tony Bennett gave a concert in Montclair and I took my parents to hear him. They were transported back to their youth. I am happy for you that music got you and your mother through a horrible night. And thank you for reading my posts. I really appreciate it.

      Reply
  3. Kevin Ledwith
    Kevin Ledwith says:

    Rhonda: What a warm and genuine passage. It is strange how things always seem to turn out for the best and your passage truly pays homage to your wonderful mother. More than likely, SHE is why, you are you! One of my most favorite responses to someone, anyone, who acknowledges something I do, like holding a door for a women or giving up my seat to an elderly or pregnant person, is “Don’t blame me, it’s my Mother’s fault. She raised me this way”. My response always brings a warm, comforting look on the person’s face as if they too are thinking of their Mother for a brief moment. I believe this is just my subtle way of honoring my Mother and keeping her in the forefront of my most cherished memories. We lost my Mom on September 10, 2001, yes the day before 9-11. Each year I’m torn between solely thinking about my Mother and my loss, and thinking about the thousands of Mothers, Fathers, Sisters and Brothers that journeyed through the terror of a lifetime. More often than not, my heart and mind eventually migrate to thinking about others horribly touched by 9-11. Don’t blame me, it’s my Mother’s fault, she raised me this way.

    Reply
    • Rhonda Silver
      Rhonda Silver says:

      Kevin, thank you for reading and for your kind words. I love that you shared with me the effect your mother had on the man you are today. You last line is sweet and touching.

      Reply
  4. Shelley Phillips
    Shelley Phillips says:

    Rhonda, That was absolutely beautiful! You write so well…a special talent! My mom is now gone too…and every day I wish I could ask her how to cook something, how to take out a stain, how to plant something, actually anything! Remember that you were really good to your mom and even the annoying things were special!

    Reply
    • Rhonda Silver
      Rhonda Silver says:

      Thank you, Shelley, for your kind words. I know you and I have discussed how close you and your mom were, and how it is a bond unlike any other. Thank you for saying I should remember I was good to my mom. I need to remind about that frequently.

      Reply