David L. Robbins
Novelist, Educator, Playwright, Essayist
Native Son #7
by David L. Robbins on May 19th, 2014

When loved ones die, there’s a checklist.

Did I say goodbye? Did she know I loved her? How do I go on? Your list may not be mine but you have a list.

When I got the call in 1996 that my mother had passed away in the cardiac ICU at age 70, I remember an odd calm. The falling dominos of scrutiny about my performance as a son flowed by. None carried a barb. I felt no wish to replay some episode and do better, speak more mildly, love more plainly. Nope. Mom and I were cool.

How lucky, how marvelous to feel sadness without regret. I inherited the best of her, and did not lose it when I lost her. So she was only kinda gone. She’ll be fully gone, I think, when I go.
Carol Robbins was a full-blown nut. In the WACS, her nickname – a play on her middle name Gladys – was Happy Bottom.

She didn’t graduate high school. She lied about her age to join the military and serve at Pearl Harbor to finally meet the 28 year-old sergeant she’d been corresponding with for a year (my father won young Carol Jacobson’s Pittsburgh address in a poker game at Scofield Barracks from her soon to be ex-boyfriend.) She worked for years in public schools and recreation centers. She taught me to play tether ball, make moccasins, plastic wallets, ice cream stick mansions, and to see the world as if my mind’s eyes were crossed.

I watched her bribe a casino maid to vacuum extra around whichever slot machine had been getting the most play (so was nearest to paying off; Mom won two grand that time). In her 60’s, I found her in the Carytown Ukrops parking lot at a card table selling peanut brittle. She made a few hundred bucks for Atlantic City, then packed up. When I was ten, she asked me in the Thalhimers elevator if I knew where “it” was, “it” had jumped out of her pocket. I pretended to look for “it” among the fine folks’ shoes until we both exited and left a gaggle of shocked shoppers behind. She believed God spoke to her through bingo; when she won, the two of them were on good terms When she lost, she’d call to ask if I was upset with her for any reason.
Make up some goofy stories for an old Jewish lady and my mom either did them or could have. Then give her a son she never embarrassed.

At her funeral, a sunny August afternoon, my brother Jeff from Denver insisted on delivering mom’s eulogy. Jeff was in Toastmasters. He’s a stick in the mud and of a different clan than me and mom, but he grieved, too.

Jeff delivered his speech from 3×5 cards. He read his mother’s name, birth date, hometown, family, vitae, life. He couldn’t extemporize.

I agonized that these would be the last words uttered over this woman before closing her grave, this insane, wandering Jew of the imagination. I got to my feet.

I told the crowd of 200 the lies mom always told about them. Mr. Shevitz was not 5’8” but 5’4”. Mrs. Gordon’s latkes were not like butter but concrete. My brother Doug didn’t play pro baseball, I was not a genius. Dozens of exaggerations she told her whole life with a straight face and a blind heart. She was deluded, indeed, by love for us all, so much that she could not see our real dimensions. She saw better.

Finished, I grabbed the shovel jammed into the clay pile. I tossed in the first dirt. Before I could jab again, a friend stopped my arm, took the shovel and threw clods over the pine coffin. He handed the tool to Mr. Shevitz, then old Mrs. Gordon, then the principal of Highland Springs High School, then many more, all who dropped a tear with the earth onto Carol Robbins.

I took hugs and kisses. The gathered said goodbye to me as if to mom.

What could I say? What can I say now?

Only this: regret must be buried early, before death seals it in place. Those we love in life will return the favor in memory.

Yes, she’s dead. Others will follow before I join the parade. But mom I recall with a smile, at the bottom of a grave filled by her friends and mine. Forever Happy Bottom.

Posted in Boomer Mag, Boomer Articles    Tagged with boomer magazine, native son, richmond, funeral, mother


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