So Long Mom
© David Volk
August 17, 1934 - May 18, 2005
See Mom's Obit From the
hard to believe she's been gone a week.....
Those of you who met or knew her will appreciate my eulogy. Those of you who didn't will at least get a sense of who she was.
Lois Ackerman was not your average mom.
After all, how many mothers do you know who would tell their children dirty jokes? But that’s exactly what ours did.
Recently, for example, she told me the story of a young boy who was asking his grandmother why she hadn’t gotten a boyfriend since her husband died many years back. “The television is the only boyfriend I need,” she said. “Religious programs comfort me, and comedies make me laugh. I enjoy having the TV as my boyfriend.”
When grandma turned on the television, however, she couldn’t get any reception, so she started smacking it to get a better picture.
Just then, the doorbell rang and the boy answered it only to find grandmother’s rabbi.
“Hello, son, is your grandmother home?” he asked.
“Yeah,” he said, “She’s in the bedroom banging her boyfriend.”
I suppose I have only myself to blame. When I was in high school I once forgot my mother was in the room and told my sisters a joke with a punch line that used a four letter word. When we realized she was there, we held our collective breath until she roared with laughter a minute later.
This is just one aspect of my mother’s personality that you might not be aware of. Here are some others.
When my older sister, Valerie, was little, mom and dad used to change houses every year. When someone asked her why, she said she hated spring cleaning. That was our mother the housekeeper.
When I was a baby, my mom took great joy in sitting me in the middle of a room, throwing hats on my head and seeing my reactions. That was our mother, the performance artist.
When my younger sister was in kindergarten, she used to think her name was “Oh, Damn” because every time mom drove to work, she’d glance in the back seat, realize she hadn’t dropped Pam off at school and would look at her and say, “Oh, Damn.” That was our mom, the transportation specialist.
Many people didn’t know it, but mom was also a great cook. She whipped up a mean bowl of corn flakes, a great matzo brie and an amazing kugel….as long as you didn’t look at it because it always turned out a stomach-turning shade of green.
She was also a fashion trendsetter as we learned one Sunday when she sent us all to religious school wearing our shirts on inside out. That was no mean feat considering that Val was 12 and I was eight at the time and even mom’s blouse was on inside out.
There were serious moments, too, of course.
When she found out my first grade teacher told an African American child to hit me any time I spoke out of turn, she went on the warpath and immediately had the woman fired. That was mom, the enforcer.
The first time she heard me utter a racial slur after the event, she took me out to the area where my sister was bused to school to show me there wasn’t any difference between my nemesis and me. That was my mom, the educator.
As we grew older, we also learned a new phrase, “Use your own best judgment.” This didn’t mean weigh all the options and do what you think is right. No, it meant, read my mind, figure out what I would want you to do and do that instead. That was our mom, the communicator.
Just when we thought we had her figured out, she would surprise us with something completely unexpected. Like the day when we she and I were supposed to go on a driving lesson and I started the car while she was still in the house. I meant to impress her by backing out of the driveway, but put the car in reverse and had it stall. I shifted into neutral, started it up and threw it into gear only to have the garage begin moving closer. Panicked, I raised my foot off the accelerator and jam it back down…on the accelerator. When she came out and surveyed the carnage, she looked at the garage door, then at me, then back at the door again. Instead of yelling, she said, “I never liked that garage door any way.”
She was also concerned about her children’s futures. She agreed to pay for tickets to my first rock concert if I took a Jewish girl. And when she took a shine to a nice Jewish man who fancied Valerie, she even sent me to Tallahassee with a message for him to try to help push things along. Yep, that was our mother the meddler.
Most of you know her as a great business woman, but many may have forgotten that she had to sink or swim after our dad died and she found herself with three kids to raise on her own plus a gift shop and a pharmacy to run even though it was short one pharmacist. She not only hung on and stubbornly refused to sell, she eventually managed to expand the business to include three gift shops and an airport book store.
It was a sad moment, but she even managed to find something funny in that. Just days later, she read a book report I had written and burst out crying. At least, I thought she was crying until she showed me the sentence that had prompted the outburst. “Paul lived with his father, who killed pigs for a living, his mother and his sister.” She was truly puzzled at how a man could kill his wife and daughter as part of his occupation.
Many of you may not know that there was a time when the family was torn apart and her children would not speak to her. We had all learned the phrase “dysfunctional” and thought we were its poster children. It was a dark period for her, indeed, but she lived long enough to see us all back together because she knew something we didn’t. It takes a great mom to put the fun back in dysfunctional.
She became the glue that held our family together. For the last several years she started planning thanksgiving gatherings before we had even put our menorahs away at the end of Chanuka. She sent Pam airplane tickets when she was going stir crazy and needed to escape California, she rushed to Valerie’s side after shoulder surgery and she was on the next plane out when I had a major car accident in Oklahoma.
We may not have known it, but she was also our biggest cheerleader. She kvelled at the birth of each of her grandchildren, cheered the successes of her in-laws with equal vigor and she even took time out of her busy schedule to attend a book launch party for my first book, a goofy little quote collection that poked fun at reality TV.
In fact, when Walter Cronkite walked into her shop last year, she was so awestruck that she didn’t know what to say…until she remembered her son had a book out and she wanted the newsman to have a copy. The next thing I knew, Cronkite was on the phone calling to tell me he was in the store reading “The Tribe Has Spoken.”
And, we, too, were her greatest cheerleaders. We were all excited to see her prepare for retirement and launch her big new web site where she planned to sell collectibles, jewelry and all manner of unique gifts including feather laden phones, fake fur lined brooms and Jesus action figures.
The news of her venture onto the world wide web may have come as a surprise to those of you who thought she was a techno-phobe, but she wasn’t. She surrounded herself with technology. Granted, her digital video recorder and DVD player flashed “12” “12” “12,” but they were right twice a day. And her office was filled with computers…because she bought a new one every time she couldn’t get the old one to do what she wanted.
And yet she still got great reviews on ebay.
Yes, I know her death was tragic, untimely and sad. Yes, I know she was taken from us far too early. My sisters and I were just beginning to brace for years of visits where we knew she would irritate us by dispensing unsolicited advice, out-stay her welcome all while shamelessly doting on her grandchildren and now we’re wishing we had had that luxury.
But I know she wouldn’t want us to cry….too much. She’d want us to laugh and recall the rich legacy she left us. So, as you wipe the tears from your eyes today, I encourage you to tell each other tales and remember the Lois stories that made you laugh as you drive to the cemetery, as you head home and when you see each other on the streets.
I know I will.