I know I am not the only one who, as a young child, thought his or her parents were the best in the world. From the time we are born, we look to our parents, our caregivers, to give us nourishment, nurturing and unconditional love. We trust them as we trust no one else.
I was the first-born to my parents, Morris and Dolores, and we lived in south Buffalo, NY with my maternal grandparents for the first nine years of my life. My sister, Diane, was born two years after me. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, my dad was a buyer for a department store chain that transferred him to Buffalo. He had four siblings – two older brothers, one older sister and one younger sister. By the time he returned from serving in the Army during World War II, both his parents, Jewish immigrants from Russia, had passed away. Oldest brother, Al, was married and teaching in New York City; his other brother, Harold, was also married, living in Chicago; older sister, Esther, was married, living in California and raising youngest sister, Elaine. Dad was welcomed with open arms into my mother’s family, and it seemed as though he “adopted” them as his second family. He respected mom’s parents, who had come to the United States for their honeymoon just as World War I began.
My mother was the youngest of three children; sister Nellie, twelve years older, was married, living in a suburb of Buffalo, and had six children by the time I was born; her brother, Joe, nine years older than Mom, was also married, living in another suburb of Buffalo with three children. Our household seemed to run smoothly even with in-laws living together. Until my grandfather retired from Bethlehem Steel, he and my father went to work downtown, while my mother and grandmother shared the housework and cooking. All our meals were made from scratch, with hours spent making all types of homemade pasta, sauces and desserts. My cousins, sister and I used to sit and watch them make ravioli from scratch. Once Grandpa retired, he planted and tended flower and vegetable gardens in our yard and at Nellie’s home.
When Nellie’s husband died suddenly at a young age, leaving her with six children aged 18 months – 14 years old to raise alone, our families became even closer. Besides the traditional family dinners on Sundays after church, we had dinners together once or twice during the week, especially when Nellie had to work an evening shift at the department store near her home. During summers, we took turns having sleepovers with cousins Audrey and Carol, who were close in age to Diane and me. Although Dad knew he could not take the place of their father, he loved and cared about their well-being and tried to give them advice and guidance as their father would have.
For the next five years, our family dynamics dramatically changed. My grandmother suddenly died of a massive stroke when I was nine, my grandfather, when I was thirteen. My youngest sister, Linda, was born when I was ten years old; my brother, Paul, was born when I was twelve. Looking to advance his career, Dad accepted transfers and new job offers, taking us from Buffalo to Lubbock, TX, and then Syracuse, Binghamton and finally Olean, NY.
It seemed we all made Olean our “adopted” hometown, living there for seven years. My dad managed the local retail store and joined several clubs with other businessmen. Mom remained a stay-at-home mom, forming coffee klatches with the other neighborhood mothers. They joined a dinner/dance club with five businessmen and their wives, who happened to live in our neighborhood.
Dad was a well-read, intelligent man who listened to classical music and collected coins and stamps. He was the go-to man. If anyone had a question, he usually had the right answer. He had a good work ethic and took pride in everything he did. He was a strict but fair disciplinarian, and encouraged us to study hard yet have broad interests beyond the classroom. He did not allow us to sleep late on summer mornings as our friends did because he did not want us to become lazy. He taught us to ask questions and to seek answers instead of letting things go. Dad had a dry sense of humor that served him well with friends, co-workers and family, though he rarely told an off-color joke. We children never heard him swear, nor did he raise his voice to scold us. My dad and mom may have disagreed at times, but never in front of us children. He taught me to live my life with respect for others and for myself and to try to live honorably. As time went on, I joined the same book clubs he belonged to and now consider myself well read. I continue to ask questions and find answers. In my older years, I have become the go-to person for my children, grandchildren and friends.
Mom was an easy-going, happy woman who looked for the good in people and usually found it. There were events in life that threatened her happiness, but she was always able to get past those times and regain her wonderful sense of humor. She kept a schedule for housework that never varied, and prepared dinner menus a week ahead of time so we never ate the same thing in one week. She was an excellent cook and was willing to try new recipes to surprise my father. She taught us how to clean house and cook so we could be self-sufficient when ready to live on our own. Mom listened to music and sometimes sang while she worked around the house. It seemed as though she was happy as long as her family happy and healthy. My mom supported my dad in all his decisions, though she did voice her opinions if she felt it would help. She did get upset with us if we misbehaved but she never raised her voice to my father.
Although my dad was the person who answered all my questions and taught me so much, my mom was the person who I believe was the “wind beneath my wings”. She listened to my problems without judging me, encouraged me when I was down, gave me advice after my divorce, and came to stay with me when I went through chemotherapy so many years later. She never asked for anything in return. We became more than just mother and daughter; we became friends. We cheered each other up, discussed children, grandchildren, doctor visits, a new recipe or even politics.
Dad was Morris, Uncle Morey to my cousins, and Morey to my mother. Mom was Dolores, Auntie Dee to my cousins, and Doe to my father. I am who I am because of them. This is my tribute to the wonderful, happy life they lived and to the values and memories they instilled in me.