I had to beg her to teach me astrology – she refused dozens of times. I simply wanted to know if all the physical therapy would work, and if I had a good chance of ever walking again. It took about 18 months of constant begging her to teach me, to get her to relent. She told me “astrology is not a parlor game – it is real and it is serious. It will require you study with me for 12 years, with absolutely no reading for friends in that time. (I reminded her that not being a student in high school meant I had no friends. I lived home, had a big metal brace on my leg, and was not going anywhere.) She finally agreed.
My mother told me we would study astrology, but also philosophy and religion. We would study how to communicate clearly as well, for she was concerned not only about saying the wrong thing, but also about my saying the right thing the wrong way – and hence, leaving the wrong impression, just as bad. Later, when I was to become known in the field, she said, “I wish I could have written books and columns. It was not to be in my day.” I assured her that I was simply writing her books and columns FOR her: “Little Mom, all that I say, and all that I know, is from you – these are truly your books. I am simply writing them down for you.”
She taught me the essence of love. Her love for my father survived his death two decades ago. My mother had a remarkable habit of talking clearly in her sleep. Her present day aid of six years, Annie, would occasionally tape those nightly episodes so we could hear what she had to say. Nearly every night for years, in her sleep she would talk about her need to rush home to cook, to set the table, and prepare a meal for father. I recently listened to some of Annie’s tapes of my mother’s nocturnal “meetings” with my father in her dreams.
Her conversation with my father might have centered on a world event, the motions of the stock market, or about the new law that was coming before Congress. (My mother’s mind chewed on weighty subjects). At other times, she would talk in her dreams about her four grandchildren or other family members. It was her way of digesting the things she heard and wanted to think about a bit more, and those dreams also seemed to serve the purpose of remaining close to my father.
Who is to say she did not have a mysterious window to the unknown, a way of reaching my father each night as she dreamed? As she used to say, we know so little of life, why we are here and what we must do while we are here. She always said the ways of life are mysterious, and she would remind me that we were but soldiers of God, awaiting our next assignment. She always encouraged me, even as a child, to begin thinking early about why I felt I was born, and how I could make my best contribution to the world, on a little or big scale. One was not necessarily better than the other. She never sought fame (although I think I did give her a measure of that), but she did strive to be the best she could be, and to give all to us, her family.
She lived her life generously and showed me we could always give to others, even when we had very little of our own to give. When my father and my mother heard of someone old in the neighborhood who needed to move because the rent had become too high or because the building was coming down, they would go out of their way to find that neighbor or customer a new apartment. I was 20 and just graduated from NYU and looking for my own place, but my parents kept giving away choice, affordable apartments to everyone who needed a new place.
I finally say to them, “What about me, can’t you help me?” My mother and father would remind me the person they had helped was old, or in pain, and they were more deserving of their help. I actually found their reasoning touching and irrefutable, and finally went out and found my first apartment on my own, also in the same neighborhood,
When the poor came into my father’s store, who were hungry and my parents knew could not possibly pay for what they needed, my mother would put all the food in a bag, and my father would say, “Let’s put this on the tab,” knowing full well that person would never be able to pay, nor would they be expected to do so. This allowed each person to keep his or her dignity – and feed a starving family.
My mother always gave my sister and I the most precious gift a mother has to give – unconditional love and her full attention. She was never distracted with other things; we were the center of her world. She made our childhood wonderful, and even though we were not rich, we were rich in other ways, with the positive, strong family unit she had created. We adored her and did anything we could think of to please her. She took care of us when we were small and we tried to return the love to her when she needed our help in her advanced age.
I always ended my visits with her by saying what she had always said to me when I was little, “I love you as high as the sky (raise my arms up the sky), as wide as the world (and extend my arms out wide horizontally) and as deep as the ocean (extending my arms down straight toward the floor)!” Later, when she lost her hearing due to the antibiotic to cure an earlier bout of pneumonia, we didn’t need the words anymore to our little traditional goodbye – we simply made those hand signals.
So, Little Mom, if you are watching me today from your spot in heaven, I will end my little talk about you in the very the same way we always did, with those little arm gestures. I love you as high as the sky, as wide as the world, and as deep as the ocean. It is a love so strong, it will go on forever in my heart, and in the world. We will miss you, Little Mom.
If you would like to send a donation to the American Lung Association in memory of my mother, Erika Trentacoste, her family would be grateful. October 1, 2012 is Little Mom’s funeral.
Susan’s mother died of pneumonia, and her father died of emphysema. Her grandfather had tuberculosis.
If you would like to send a card to Susan Miller and family:
Susan Miller Omni Media Inc.
Yorkville Finance Station
Post Office Box 286052
New York NY 10128