For My Mom, Gertrude Stone Rubin
Her name was Gertrude Rubin. Most people called her Gert, a few called her Gertrude, her mother, my grandmother Sarah, called her “Gertie!” but to me she was always Mom. In her later years I would greet her with ‘Hello the Mama!’ don’t ask me why. And she would offer back happily, “Hello the Tata!”
Mom with her “Treasure Island,” my brother Bob.
Those who knew my Mom, loved my Mom. Many of you know why. She cared, she listened, she was all heart and steadfastly true to herself. She never lied. She never jumped to make judgments or spread malicious gossip. Mom was little Switzerland, at war with no one, at peace with the world. She was always ready to dance, even if she happened to be in a wheelchair. You could pin Mom’s body to earth, but never her spirit. Especially if you played the song “Y.M.C.A.,” and whisked her back to memories of her disco days. And oh those hot pants! Mom, please!
Mom was a hot ticket, always eager to laugh, sometimes surprisingly witty on her own. One time I was on the phone with Mom who was then in her late 70’s, kind of creaky and near blind. I was berating her for crossing Atlantic Avenue by foot, a dangerous 8-10 lane thoroughfare, especially after specifically telling her a number of times not to cross that dangerous and accident-prone road. Not even for a corned beef sandwich. “Why would you do that?” I questioned angrily. “It’s so dangerous. We’ve talked about this before. Why would you do it?” I pursued. “Can you tell me why?”
To which my mother answered sheepishly, “To get to the other side…?”
My mother was the one who stood up for the ugly ducklings and social outcasts. Immensely popular herself, down in her Florida retirement community, she would refuse to attend a movie, a girls’ night out or a mah jong game unless her friends, some of whom were social outcasts, were also included. “If Lillian’s not invited, then I don’t think I can go!” she’d insist. If Gert was your friend, Gert was your friend.
These last few days I’ve heard over and over that Mom was someone who listened. But listened with care and interest. My best friend Davey remembers Mom sitting with him as an eight year old when he was alone at his father’s funeral. It’s the little things we hold onto. Mom buying me presents when I was sick. Mom racing frantically to make it onto a subway train before it pulled out with me already on board. Mom also rescuing me, at age two or three, when my leg got stuck in a hot radiator. Mom always laughing when I clowned around. Mom painting my half-painted bedroom during my college days, the room left shabbily incomplete because I had lost interest in the project. Mom in her 40’s learning to cook, developing world class rigatoni that all of us still hungrily crave, not to mention a killer pot roast.
But first and foremost, Gertrude Rubin was a mother. In her final weeks, when she was mostly babbling to herself and to God, I heard her pleading with the Almighty to “keep an eye on me, her younger son, and to help me be successful…finally!”
Well maybe not in those exact words, but you get the idea.
Years ago, we three siblings, Bob, Mona and I, were talking about who was Mom’s favorite. And each of us thought we were the one Mom favored over the others. Well, she might have favored us equally, but I was the one Mom worried about. I was the one, in her eyes, most at risk. Perhaps because I was the one who, as a young boy, regularly stood up to my autocratic father; perhaps because I was the one whose marriage broke up; for whatever reason, Mom could not stop worrying about me. Was I keeping my job? Was I earning enough? And what was it I did, anyway?
The only reason Mom had been able to stop smoking years ago was because she made a pact with God about my finding a job. She would stop smoking, she firmly negotiated with God-in-Heaven, “if He would help her son Paul, her weak and most vulnerable child, find himself a job.”
Then, of course, I found a job. And suddenly Mom was trapped! Trapped between her cravings to smoke again and her fear of jeopardizing my new job. Obviously God wouldn’t stand by his end of the bargain if she abandoned hers.
And so I kept my job, and my dear mother stopped smoking.
Time for me to say, “Thanks” to my dear, sweet mother, who will always be with me. And “Thanks” to whatever cosmic forces helped make this wonderful lady my Mom. If it’s true, as I’ve been told, we actually get to pick our parents before we’re born, then you have to admit I did a damn good job.
Godspeed Mom! I love you! Thanks for everything!
And stop worrying about me. I’ll be fine.
The above eulogy was written for my mother Gertrude Stone Rubin and read at her funeral at Mt. Moriah Cemetery, on February 5th of this year.