“Bruce, is that you?…”
“You have a minute?”
“What’s the matter, Sonny? What do you need?”
“Nothing…just wanted to talk.”
“Oh please, a mother knows her son–you never call without a reason.”
“I love you Mom.”
“What’s the matter—was your father at lodge meeting?”
“Can’t a son just call?”
“Was the coffee shop closed?”
“OK, I’ll play your game.” she said. “What’s new?”
“How’re the kids?”

There was silence. Not knowing how to start, I went for the laugh:

“Mom, you there? Should I call back after ‘Jeopardy’?”
“Patience….I was fixing my hearing aide.”
“Sorry,” I offered. “Didn’t think you needed it up there.”
“Bruce, when you going to learn everything is not a joke?”
“You’re 62. When you going to grow up?”
“Mom, I didn’t call for this. I don’t need a lecture.”

More silence—deafening silence. How many times in her lifetime had she spewed that question? Had she not been paying attention? Had I not GROWN UP?

Her words, like the passive-aggressive wisdom of an ex-spouse, left watermarks.

“The baby’s beautiful,” she said, ending silence.
“I’ll be out there next month.”
“All your kids are grown—that’s wonderful.”
“Yeah, Mom….”

(I wanted to tell her why I called. The words wouldn’t come).

“Are you seeing anyone?” she asked.
“Jewish girls don’t want fat guys without money!”
“I married Ed!” she reminded (as we both laughed).

More silence for a bit, and then, even long distance, it began to feel like communication. She knew I had something to say and I knew that she knew I had something to say, and we both knew that at some point I would. (A mother knows these things).

“Out with it,” she urged.
“Mom, I’m scared.”
“I know.”

Suddenly I felt not only warmth, but memory. Memories….of the times growing up when, riddled by fear, I’d reach out to her. Truly in her prime, she always had the answer, and it was always the same. Time and again she’d smile—these were her most maternal moments—and quote FDR, the hero of her generation:

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” my mother told me. I considered it her sacred pledge.

My mind flushed with flashbacks…

Hit-by-pitch in Little League and the ER at Huron Road…and the time I lied to her and was playing night football at Bexley Park. A cross pattern had me running smack/dab into a “No Dogs Allowed” sign, and Bobby’s father drove me home and she took me AGAIN…to Huron Road.

…And the time years later—it was a Sunday morning. I was catching and some clown came in high at the plate. I made the tag but broke a rib…and Malkin took me to
Euclid General Hospital…I was married then and the pain did not lessen once home: “When you going stop this nonsense?” the wife asked. “You have children. Isn’t it time to grow up?”

OUCH! The memory snapped me back, and I was still on the phone with my mother.

“Call me next weekend,” she told me. “Everything will be fine.”
“You have to run?” I asked. Indeed, now I felt like sharing!
“Be well. And don’t forget me….” Her voice was fading.

Talk concluded, I did feel better. A mother’s calm will do that.

Bolder, even fortified, at least for the moment nothing bothered me. (Not even, I might add, the sound from the phone just before she hung up. From the background I heard it: soft but recognizable. It was the voice of Alex Trebec).

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