Mom's Millennium Memoir
At the turn of the century my Mother gave me a fill-in-the-blanks book called “My Milleninium Memoir,” by Christine Tate. In the preface Ms. Tate writes that the purpose of the book is to “record how you began the 21st century and to assess what was, what is, and what will be.”
I recently used many of the questions in “My Milleninium Memoir,” as the basis of a 40-minute interview that I made with my Mom on a hot summer evening.
What follows is a transcript of our conversation:
Chuck: Today’s date is July 7, 2010 and I’m interviewing my Mom at her retirement home in Los Angeles. So Mom, what do you do to relieve stress?
Mom: Well, I put on some music that I like to listen to or I pick up the phone and call my children at whatever time of the day it may be, just so that I get away from what’s going on in this place . . . which is very nice.
Chuck: What’s your magic formula for fun?
Mom: For fun?
Mom: Well, because I am 96 years old I can’t do too much so I try and find something on the TV, some old movie that I like very much and that sort of helps.
Chuck: And what’s your idea of serenity?
Mom: I like to go down to the Pacific Ocean, to the beaches there or I like to sit in the park. We have a lovely park and I take some reading material with me or I just talk to some of the people here.
Chuck: OK, we’re going to talk a little about your regrets. Are you sorry you lost touch with anybody, and who?
Mom: Well, living here I had a couple of very good friends left in the Chicago area but they have passed away and so have a few of my other very good friends. So now it’s a matter of making new friends or just getting along with my life the way it is now.
Chuck: What was the most romantic thing that happened to you?
Mom: That was when I met my husband. We were in Chicago at that time and your father had some work to do . . . to deliver some of his materials and I went along for the drive. We went to Grant Park in the Loop, along Lake Michigan and stopped to watch the fountain that was spraying along with all the beautiful lights that were shining from out of the water. It was very romantic and at that point he proposed and asked me to marry him and I said “Yes, oh yes!”
Chuck: Do you remember the most romantic song you've ever heard?
Mom: I think I do. I like the “Three Coins In the Fountain.”
Chuck: Are you drawn to people’s beautiful eyes or to their smile?
Mom: I would say their smile.
Chuck: And what do you think the least important physical feature is?
Mom: I would say their mouth.
Chuck: How many times have you fallen in love?
Mom: Twice! Once to your father, Sam. And then, of course, there was Harry.
Chuck: And whose heart did you break?
Mom: When I was 21 years old I got engaged to a young man who at that time was working for Seagrams. He was an engineer and he was a little bit older than I was and he was my first date. Then after a while we became engaged to get married. A couple months later I realized I was not in love with him and I asked my Mother to break my engagement to him and she said “No, you break it: It’s your engagement!” So I finally broke that engagement and that was the first romantic affair I had.
Chuck: What’s your all-time favorite actress?
Mom: I like Betty White.
Chuck: And who is your favorite actor?
Mom: John Wayne
Chuck: What do you think the best show on TV is?
Mom: As of now: NCIS.
Chuck: Is there a show you wish they’d bring back?
Mom: I really do not have any favorites but I do like the old shows from way back.
Chuck: If you could be on a TV show, what would it be?
Mom: Well, it would be a funny show. I like the Golden Girls. And Ray Romano from Everybody Loves Raymond is my favorite comedian. I also relate to Doris Roberts who plays Ray's mother. She’s so obsessed with her children and she does have a favorite even though she doesn’t want to admit it: And her favorite is of course, Raymond.
Chuck: What’s your favorite foods?
Mom: I like vegetables. I like tomatoes, I do like onions, I do like cucumbers, oh I like a lot of them.
Chuck: What foods turn you off?
Mom: Smelly fish.
Chuck: What fish do you enjoy preparing most?
Mom: Salmon. Alaskan salmon.
Chuck: If you won the lottery, what would be the first thing you would do?
Mom: Well, the first thing I’d do with the lottery would be to pay off all my childrens' mortgages on their homes.
Chuck: And what first luxury would you buy?
Mom: I would buy a home for myself and keep it so that any time my children want to visit there’s plenty of space: A little house with two or three bedrooms. That’s all.
Chuck: What’s the most expensive gift you ever received?
Mom: My engagement ring: It was a diamond.
Chuck: If you gave all your money to charity, what charity would it be?
Mom: I would divide it among my four children and they could do what they like with it . . . Give it to whatever charity they like.
Chuck: What’s your favorite book of all time?
Mom: One of them is that book that Daddy tried to have us all read . . .
Chuck: The Count of Monte Cristo?
Mom: Gone With The Wind is another good book.
Chuck: What sport did you play most when you were younger?
Mom: Tennis and skiing.
Chuck: And what sport were you best at?
Mom: Skiing, I guess. Although I was a good skater. Well, I would say tennis.
Chuck: What sport do you wish you could play well at?
Mom: Tennis. I did pretty well at that sport.
Chuck: What’s the thing you like most about yourself?
Mom: That I have learned to have patience and be at peace with whatever has happened and will happen in my life.
Chuck: What’s the thing you like least about yourself?
Mom: That I can’t perform as I used to do in my younger days.
Chuck: What sort of things makes you happy?
Mom: When I know that all my children are happy and healthy: that is everything I have ever wished for, otherwise I have nothing.
Chuck: What’s the earliest clear memory you have?
Mom: It’s a funny one: When my Mother and Father celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They were not very wealthy. They were just poor, middle-class people and they decided to have a second wedding. My Mother got dressed up and for a bouquet they didn’t have the money to buy flowers but she got a cabbage and she made a bouquet out of that cabbage and they had the second wedding. That was really funny. It looked like a bouquet.
Chuck: Things were expensive back then . . .
Mom: Everything was according to the economy. Bread was at that time, ten cents a loaf. Luxury items were expensive and if you didn’t have it, you made it yourself. Everything was handmade then.
Chuck: What were you like when you were a child?
Mom: I was very content to whatever it was I was at whatever age because I was able to, at any time, play my tennis or go skiing or go skating depending on what the weather was. But I never seemed to be at a loss as to what to do and to be happy . . . I did like skiing.
Chuck: What was your best year you spent?
Mom: Well I think it was the day when I married your Father and from that time on all the years were happy ones.
Chuck: Do you remember the first Valentine you received?
Mom: Well now that was a mistake. My husband Sam, my childrens' father, didn’t remember that it was Valentine ’s Day. I guess he didn’t care that much about that. But I think that my oldest daughter, Selma, decided that in spite of everything she was going to call him and tell him that it’s Valentine’s Day and that he should send me something, which he did. He picked a rose from the neighbor’s yard and gave it to me and said “Happy Valentine’s Day!”
Chuck: When you were in school, what subject were you best at?
Mom: English literature.
Chuck: And what was your worst subject?
Chuck: Do you remember who your favorite teacher was?
Mom: Yes, she was an English teacher, teaching French and she was trying to teach us French. Well, it either went in one ear or out the other. I did not like to learn languages so I did not acquire a sense for it.
Chuck: Where did you usually spend your summer vacations as a child?
Mom: At home and usually playing whatever games that children do play but when I was ready and able to, I usually spent my summers either playing or going down to the beaches at the St. Lawrence River which wasn’t far from where we lived and we always found things to do because Lachine was known as the city of sports and there was always something for us to do.
Chuck: As a child you were popular because of what?
Mom: Well, I had a couple of girlfriends and we just did the things that came, like we played tennis, we’d go out swimming in the summertime and in the wintertime, whatever was available: Skating.
Chuck: And you were unpopular because of what?
Mom: Well, I was never really unpopular with the people that I lived with and surrounded with. I was just one of the party.
Chuck: When you were a child who influenced you the most?
Mom: My Aunt Jenny, my father’s niece. She and her husband never had any children and because we were a large family, I was her favorite and she tried to teach me all the social amenities that I wasn’t getting at home. She came over from Russia and, after she first landed in New York, she stayed with relatives there and they sent her to nursing school. She graduated as a pediatric nurse and then she came to visit my father, who was her uncle, and she married my mother’s brother, so it was a sort of entwined situation.
Chuck: An act that your parents caught you doing that you regret to this day is what?
Mom: I think I had a fight with my brother. Oh yes, my oldest brother, and he was quite a bully. He used to bully us all, especially me. So one day at dinner I had a plate of beans in my hand and he was saying something nasty and I picked up the beans and the plate and I threw it at him and I missed and hit the wall and he had a ball. He thought that was funny. And my father at that point, my father was mad at the both of us.
Chuck: You gave your parents the most joy when you did what?
Mom: When I got married.
Chuck: And you disappointed your parents when you did what?
Mom: When I broke the Sabbath and I went playing tennis on that one day. However, (my father) was a very easy-going person and as long as we didn’t bother him about his religious beliefs, he didn’t care what we did as long as we were honest and truthful about it.
Chuck: Your best friend is who at this time?
Mom: My best friends are my children. My best friend, who I was friendly with in Chicago, and we were friendly for 50 years, we never failed to call one another at least once or twice a month, she died about ten years ago. And that was my best friend: Frieda Anders. Do you remember the Anders on Bernard Street?
Chuck: What’s your favorite color?
Mom: My favorite color is a sort of a rosy pink.
Chuck: Of the four seasons, which do you wish would last longer is what?
Mom: I love the fall.
Chuck: What do you think the biggest problem facing the world is?
Mom: I would say religion.
Chuck: And what do you think the worst thing about growing old is?
Mom: The worst thing about growing old is losing your mind. And then again, for some people there are worse things, like losing your eyesight.
Chuck: What kind of car do you like best?
Mom: Well, I like the Toyota. The Chevys were good cars but I like Toyotas because they were one of the best cars made: Never gave me much trouble. I owned two of them and during those two times that I owned them, never had any trouble with them.
Chuck: What natural catastrophe do you most fear?
Mom: The thing I fear mostly would be heavy rainstorms: They can wipe out a city. When we lived in Warner Villa in the San Fernando Valley on your birthday in 1994, they had a big earthquake, the Northridge earthquake, while I was asleep. After it stopped I went to see what had happened in my apartment. The refrigerator, which was on one wall, waltzed all the way over to the other wall on the other side of the kitchen and everything in the glass compartments was on the floor! It was a terrible disaster. Did you feel the earth quake here today? We had an earthquake at dinner and everybody at the table felt it too.
Chuck: So you don’t worry too much about these earthquakes?
Mom: Doesn’t bother me. It is exciting but it is also terrifying because you never know if the building is going to fall on top of you. But with all the earthquakes we’ve had (and we’ve had a lot of them around our area) this place was never damaged.
Chuck: How do you feel about living for the moment?
Mom: Well, I’m not scared but I know eventually it’s going to end and I just don’t know where or when and that bothers me. But I can’t change it and whatever happens will happen.
Chuck: How do you feel about regretting the past?
Mom: Not at all except for one or two things of course, but mostly I had a very happy past.
Chuck: What are your feelings about the future?
Mom: Like everything other thing it’s unknown and I feel that what the future has in store for me . . . it’s not going to be very long anyways so I’m not going to worry about it.
Chuck: Do you think in the future people will travel to other planets?
Mom: I don’t think so. I think it’s a crazy dream.
Chuck: Do you think in the future, except for zoos, wild animals will be extinct?
Mom: Not if they continue to do what they’re doing now. But if they neglect them a lot of them are going to starve to death because there’s not enough food for them. Lately we’ve had mountain lions coming down from the San Gabriel mountains here and the lions are so hungry they’ve been going into the private homes and the yards and into the swimming pools: That’s the future.
Chuck: Do you think the future the world will face lasting peace or Armageddon, or do you think things will keep going on like they are now?
Mom: As far as peace is concerned, I don’t think there will be peace if they can’t control the religious elements, especially the ones in the Arabian countries where every little area has their own warlords.
Chuck: Do you think that the environment in the future is going to improve greatly, going to collapse or remain about the same?
Mom: Oh I think it will be about the same. It may improve a little but not much.
Chuck: In the future, how old do you think people are going to live?
Mom: Well look at me! I have my mother’s genes. If you believe in the ability of genes then when you have your parents’ genes you can continue to live to be 100, which isn’t always the best thing in the world. But there are plenty of people today that live close to 100. When people used to be old and decrepit at 50, today they live way up to their 70s and 80s!
Chuck: Do you have any major superstitions?
Mom: No. I guess maybe that’s why I’ve lived so long.
Chuck: What’s your sign of the zodiac?
Mom: I’m a Gemini.
Chuck: Do you think that sign is a reflection of who you are?
Mom: I don’t think so. It’s just something the astrologers have made up.
Chuck: Do you ever check your horoscope?
Mom: Yes I do.
Chuck: Do you believe in any of these things: ESP, card readings, psychic readings, crystals, palmistry, hypnosis, séances, numerology . . .
Mom: I do think that hypnosis has something to it, but nothing else.
Mom: Well, I know somebody who got so fat she went on a diet and that didn’t work and then somebody told her to go to a hypnotist and he put her under a spell and believe it or not, she lost 50 pounds! But then that wore off and she gained back the weight.
Chuck: What’s your lucky number?
Mom: I always thought that seven was my lucky number because everybody thought that with seven or eleven you’re going to win a fortune.
Chuck: Ever been to a gambling casino?
Mom: Yes, man.
Chuck: What games do you like to play?
Mom: I like to play the poker machine and the slots.
Chuck: Do you generally win or lose?
Mom: Well, sometimes I can play for almost a whole day with 50 dollars and have a great time and lose 50 dollars but not very much more. I allow myself that amount of money.
Chuck: Do you believe in a higher power?
Chuck: Do you believe in angels?
Mom: Well . . .
Chuck: How about Satan?
Mom: No, I just think that people who are criminals or murderers or things like that are a product of Satan.
Chuck: Do you believe in good and evil?
Mom: Yes I do.
Chuck: Do you believe in the power of prayer?
Mom: I think so. I think it helps people. Whether it helps people or not, people feel comforted by it.
Chuck: Do you believe in heaven and hell?
Mom: Nope. I think heaven and hell is made on this earth.
Chuck: And what do you envision heaven as?
Mom: Well, I think you’re asking what happens when we die. I think it’s just like going to sleep and never waking up.
Chuck: So you don’t believe in reincarnation?
Chuck: In a former life what do you think you might have been?
Mom: In what life?
Chuck: A former life.
Mom: (laughing) I don’t know.
Chuck: Do you think you had a former life?
Mom: No, I don’t think so.
Chuck: I think that’s about all the questions I’ve got to ask. Is there anything you would like to say to posterity?
Mom: No, except that I’ve been blessed with having the most wonderful children in the world and that goes for grandchildren too and I just hope and wish that everything they wish for, and good health and so forth, is with them all the days of their life. That’s it.
Chuck: Ok. I think we’ll call it day now. Anything else you want to say?
Mom: I want to say a good night to everybody and I love you very much and I hope that you come out to see me again real soon.
Chuck: Thanks Mom. It’s always a pleasure to come here. Love you!
Mom: And I love you, too: Very, very much.
Thank you for visiting Chucksville.