Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

My mother and I were close. We spoke on the phone every day; not out of obligation, but out of love. We always had something interesting or funny to report. Her life was full, as was mine, but we managed to get together for lunch every couple weeks.

She was a beautiful woman in every way. Heads turned when she passed; not just older men's, but the heads of young ones, too. There was something about her that attracted everyone. She had a rare and wonderful combination of stately elegance and childlike naivete. You never saw her without a smile on her face. She was sweet. She was kind, and she was loved by everyone who met her.

When she turned 62 my brother, Wayne, and I threw a surprise birthday party for her. It was a large party held at my house with good food, good music and a gypsy fortune teller we later discovered had reported terrible "truths" to guests; truths that included upcoming diseases and even deaths.

I hand drew the invitation, which was a caricature of her. It was a simple line drawing of her face that depicted her two outstanding features: large, almond-shaped eyes (which she accentuated with long, black, false eyelashes) and big blonde hair that swept behind her left ear and swooped into a deep wave above her right eye. It was a glamorous hairdo and quite flattering to the shape of her face, but it hadn't been popular since Veronica Lake sported a version of it back in the 1940s. In the late 1970s it was noticeably outdated. Nobody could convince her to change her hair style. So, because she was such a fashion icon, and exquisite beauty, she was able to carry it off with elegance and aplomb.

My mother loved the sun. If she passed a mirror and didn't like what she saw she'd say, "I'm ready for a tan." She circled the world four times with a goal of getting a tan on every continent. And when, heaven forbid, she couldn't get away from harsh New Jersey winters, she ventured out to her back yard, in the bitter cold, and sat in a beach chair under layers of heavy blankets with an aluminum reflector tilted to catch and intensify the sun's rays. I would scold and remind her that too much sun would make her look old and wrinkled. Her response was, "I'm 65. If I can't have wrinkles at my age, when can I have them? A tan will enhance them."

When she wasn't on some tropical island, my mother enjoyed the Jersey Shore, where she would walk to the sea's edge, bend over and gently splash water over her legs, arms and chest. But at no time -- and I mean never -- did my mother allow her hair to get wet. I couldn't understand why she felt the need to be cautious. Her hair was so heavily lacquered and sprayed there was no doubt that it was impervious to all forms of moisture. But she chose not to take a chance.

One steamy day as she and I lay basking in the sun at a posh Florida resort, she spotted a woman in the hotel pool, standing in water that came midway between her elbows and shoulders. My mother who, by now, was in desperate need of a dunk, raised herself from her chaise lounge and approached the woman.

"Excuse me," she smiled, "the water doesn't look terribly deep here. Are you touching the bottom?"

"Oh, yes, I'm standing here with no trouble," the woman assured her. Then she turned and swam away.

Anxious to cool off, my mother sat on the edge of the pool, and slowly and carefully slipped her body into the water where she proceeded to drop down, down, down, well over her head. I jumped up from my lounge chair to see if she had drowned.

Gasping and wildly thrashing her arms, she returned to the surface and latched onto the side of the pool. Her lacquered bouffant hairstyle had maintained it's original shape, just as I had always suspected it would, with each hair obediently glued in it's original location. The only difference was that her hairdo had shifted, en masse, to one side.

She dragged herself up the ladder and I'm quite certain I saw flames of rage shooting from her nostrils as she plopped down into her lounge chair and quickly wrapped her deflated hair in a large beach towel. This was a woman who had never even allowed her husband to see her without perfectly-coiffed hair.

It was several moments before she said anything. I could hear her hyperventilating as her eyes narrowed and scanned the pool for the "B*tch" who had deceived her.

And then she spotted her, walking in our direction.

As the woman came closer, my mother prepared to stand and lash out at her. But she suddenly stopped and lowered herself back down into the lounge chair. I saw her facial expression soften and her shoulders relax. It all made sense. The woman was roughly six feet, five inches tall.

My mother was five foot four.