I haven’t been writing much lately, for which I apologize to those who look forward to each wonderful new bit of drivel from this old Turkey. This is not the usual hiatus between the regular season and the bowl game inspired by sheer laziness. I wish it were. My mother passed away in Ft. Lauderdale this week at the age of 90 after a long decline in health due to COPD. I’ve been doing other things besides writing this blog, as you will well understand.
I’m sad and I feel hollow, like something that has been a part of me for my entire life has been lost and will never return. Mom and I had our ups and our downs, but I knew that she would always be there for me no matter what — no matter where I was living, and no matter what I did. I could do ridiculous things, too, and often did so in my youth, but I was always forgiven. Mom was unwaveringly on my side. Now, suddenly, that’s all gone. There is something comforting about having parents, even for an old fowl like me. I lost my dad in 1999, although he and I had been estranged for years. Now this, and I am parentless for the first time in my life at the tender young age of 65.
I won’t drag you through the sadness, though. That’s mine and my brother’s to bear. I’ll just tell you a little bit about Mom, or Martha, as she was known to everybody.
Martha was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania in 1921 to a middle class family. She grew up there, graduated from Altoona High School in 1939, and attended junior college nearby. I can vaguely recall that she went to Leland Powers acting school in Brookline, Massachusetts, but I do not believe she finished a curriculum there. She returned to Altoona during World War II and became a volunteer with the Red Cross. She had a younger brother, Ben, who was studying engineering at Penn State when he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He was killed in action on Martha’s birthday in 1945.
When Irvin Goldfarb, a high school classmate, returned from the war, Martha and he dated and eventually married in August 1945. They moved from Altoona to Pittsburgh, where they proceeded to crank out two young turkeys, first me, then 16 months later, my brother Joel. We lived in Pittsburgh until the summer of 1961, when we picked up stakes and moved to Florida. Shortly thereafter, Martha’s father, Harry, died on December 7, 1961, Pearl Harbor Day.
It was around that time, too, that Irvin, then 41, fell into some of the untoward habits of adolescent middle aged men everywhere: drinking, gambling, philandering, and whatever else he felt like doing to evade his family responsibilities, which he never really felt comfortable discharging. Some would say that Irvin never grew up. My personal assessment is that he did, but he became more self-absorbed as each year passed. By the time we reached Florida, his typical day after coming home from work would be to eat dinner, take a bath, and go out, sometimes not returning until after dawn the next morning. I was happy about that, because if he was out losing his money gambling, getting plastered or laid, or some combination of those three, he wasn’t giving me a dose of his crap. In fact, I was disappointed when he stayed home at night, which fortunately wasn’t often. I was in high school by that time, so I knew I’d be out of there before long. Irvin was never much of a father to me; instead, he was more of a hypocritically tyrannical absentee ruler. In any case, his irresponsibility, immaturity, adultery, and mental cruelty (as they used to call it back then) led to a divorce in 1966.
I had already left the house and enrolled at Penn State at that time, but Joel, living with Martha, had to bear the full force of the battles between Martha and Irvin. Irvin continued to feel his oats, hanging out with a number of floosies, a few of whom he married along the way. His typical pattern was to create a business with ill-gotten funds, run it for a while, and then tire of it, which was similar to his approach to being a husband and father. To complete the picture, I’ll tell you that he actually thought that he could earn a living playing poker in Las Vegas; he tried that for a while, but not unlike all his other ventures in life, he was destined to fail. But I digress.
Meanwhile — and I really cannot recall the details of the genesis of this thing — Martha had been seeing a man she had known in Altoona, I suppose while she was up there visiting her mother. For some reasons that will always remain unknown, she quickly jumped into a marriage with this guy, Howard Brett. A few months later, she just as quickly jumped out of the marriage with an annulment, and both went their separate ways. Martha came back to Florida, never to marry again. She did, however, have a boyfriend or two through the years.
After Irvin predictably fell into debt, in particular owing some money to the type of wise guys to whom you don’t really want to owe money (if you know what I mean), he moved to Phoenix, and later, after having screwed up yet another business there, he moved back to Ft. Lauderdale with the last of his wives. They lived there until 1999, when he died of lung cancer — a popular cause of death for people of his generation, having smoked most of his life — just ten days shy of his eightieth birthday. He requested that he be cremated and his remains sent to Arlington National Cemetery, which represented the recognition he wanted for serving during the war in Europe. His widow of the time, Dorothy, made sure that his wish was granted.
A year earlier, both Irvin’s mother and Martha’s mother had died within weeks of each other. Martha’s mother, Emma, was 102, and Irvin’s mother, Lena, was 98. You see, the women in my bloodline get the good genes. The men get the short end of the stick. Irvin’s father (another smoker) died in his 50s. Martha’s father, a diabetic, a drinker, and a smoker, died at 69. Neither of their wives smoked.
Having started smoking in her teens, Martha finally kicked the filthy habit about fifteen years ago, but by that time the damage had long since been done. She had been a heavy smoker for damn near 60 years. She was diagnosed with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), which would gradually consume her ability to breathe. For the past few years, she had to be on oxygen around the clock. Ultimately, she just could not breathe anymore. Joel and I were at her bedside as she quietly drew her final breath on December 7, 2011, the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day and the 50th anniversary of her father’s death.
Had she not had those strong genes, chances are good that she would not have lived past 70. However, her longevity was a mixed blessing. It was difficult to watch her bearing the ravages of COPD for so long. I simply cannot imagine what life would be like struggling for every breath and getting winded just walking to the bathroom. She put up with it somehow, incredibly. Martha had a remarkable will to live and a great capacity to endure hardship.
While Martha was fortunate in never needing to work for a living, she enjoyed volunteer work in many different areas. She was a competent knitter, and worked at various arts and crafts at various times. She loved to read as well.
If she could spend time anywhere she wanted to, it would probably be at the beach. For years she had a condo a couple of miles away from Dania Beach, where she often could be found.
She loved babies and small children. Later in life, her great-grandchildren, Jason and Cindy, brought her great joy.
She was a lifelong animal lover who had many pets through the years. Until she was in her 60s, she was mainly a dog person, but she turned to cats for their aloof companionship in later years, with three felines roaming around her little two-bedroom condo at one point.
Martha was great at picking up strays, and that referred to people as much as animals. She was as much of a comfort to people with handicaps and disabilities as she was to mistreated animals.
She was a generous person with her time and her money to the extent that she contributed to a large number of charities, many having to do with animals or disabled veterans, rarely saying no to anyone. The last person on whom she wanted to spend her money was herself. I would have to fight with her to buy her lunch or dinner. She always wanted to pay the bill. Even as I became a grey haired old geezer, I couldn’t leave her house without her stuffing some money in my pocket.
Even with food, she would offer her dinner companions what was on her plate before she even ate any of it herself. Moreover, if one of us took her shopping at the mall, for example, all we would have to do is pick something up and look at it for Martha to quickly offer to buy it for us.
Another one of Martha’s traits was her quirkiness. She would blurt out the strangest things at the most inappropriate times. (Kinda like this Turkey, I hear you saying.) One day back in the 1980s she accompanied me and my girlfriend of the time to a flea market that was known for selling knock-off watches. Authorities at the time were cracking down on those things, so I’m sure Martha, who read the newspaper religiously, knew that was the case. Imagine what happened when we were looking around and, having not found the guy(s) with the knock-off watches, Martha asked a vendor in a voice that could be heard by half the people walking around the flea market, “DO YOU KNOW WHERE THE FAKE ROLEXES ARE???” Merchandise started disappearing below tables, accompanied by some uncomfortable glances.
As quirky as Martha was while her mind was functioning well, as dementia set in, she was even quirkier. Then, it was humorous to engage her in conversations in which she made up stories that would seem perfectly coherent to outsiders, but that we family members knew were impossibly fantastical for various reasons. It was sad to witness this decline.
Martha is survived by Joel and me, daughter-in-law Janet and girlfriend-in-law Jenny, one grandson, Marc, his wife Jennifer, two great-grandchildren, Jason and Cindy, and her beloved tiger striped kitty, Samantha, who has been adopted by Marc and Jen.
And now, the following public service message is sponsored by The Nittany Turkey.
Please do yourself and me a favor: If you are a smoker, stop now! If you are thinking about smoking, think again! Please do whatever you can do to avoid the ravages of that stupid-ass habit that has killed so many people in such cruel ways at the behest COPD, lung cancer, stroke, etc. — and for what? A temporary buzz? As a son with both parents now gone due to the effects of smoking cigarettes, I’m begging you to give it up!
Back to Turkey business, I will have to be out of town over the next couple of weeks attending to the responsibilities associated with my mom’s passing away, so my postings here will likely be infrequent. Writing for me is therapeutic; if and when I find the time, I will write. Thank you all for understanding my lapse!