Mama


My mom passed away last Wednesday.

I have not seen her in about a decade. And this was only for a very short time, and only because my brother arranged it.

I chose to not stay in touch. There have been too many incidents that made me feel hurt, psychologically as well as physically.

I could not get certain things behind me that should have been forgotten and forgiven and somewhat understood a long time ago.

But she was my mother.

Her passing was merciful, painless and quick. But she was all alone.

Everybody mentioned how this was the best for her. She is not in pain anymore (my mother was bedridden for years, and had many health issues). She is in a better place. She is not suffering anymore.

I thought about her life and remembered many things, the good ones, I had long forgotten.

Meet my Mama, Ilse:

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She stayed home to take care of the household and my brother and me. She was a very accomplished seamstress and sewed most of our clothes, especially dresses for me (which I was not very appreciative of at the time). On a few occasions, she would take in work from other people. I heard her often talk about attending the Modeschule Hetzendorf, a famous fashion school in Vienna. But that never worked out.

Mama also loved to cook and especially bake. Before Christmas, there would always be over a dozen different cookies, one more delicate and dainty than the other. To this day I cannot bake Vanillekipferl (Viennese Almond Crescents) without obsessing that they are all the same size and shaped in perfect crescents.

My parents had a little garden near Vienna where they grew vegetables and fruit. At the end of the summer, Mama would make jams and can all sorts of vegetables. There were always rows and rows of neatly labeled jars in our basement.

Holidays were always special. I remember an advent calendar she made for my brother and me from matchboxes, put on a board and painted, with a small wooden bead as handle to open each one. And there was a small yellow booklet with Christmas songs she would sing for us. On Christmas Eve, the smell of frankincense mixed with the one from our dinner, fish a la Bordelaise, her favorite Christmas dish.

We always had fondue on New Year’s Eve, a tradition that my brother still follows. It was a big procedure. Lots of different sauces had to be made from scratch and the meat cut just so.

For Easter, ‘the Easter Bunny’ painted eggs with intricate patterns and in a variety of styles. They were almost too beautiful to eat, little pieces of art.

Mama loved to listen to Dean Martin and classical music. Her taste in literature was equally eclectic: Dostojewski to Kishon to Sartre to romance novels.

Although she had a drivers’ license, I don’t remember her ever driving. Well, that one time when she scratched the car pulling into the driveway 😉 My father always drove Volvos, she said they are too big for her.

I also don’t remember her being involved in any sports. Except swimming. She loved the ocean but hated the mountains – she had a fear of altitudes and would get panic attacks when we stopped in the Alps to admire a view on our way driving to our annual summer vacation in Italy.

And she loved Italian shoes and fancy hats.

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There was always some sort of fad diet she tried. One time it was only grapefruits, the next nothing but hot dogs, hard boiled eggs, and bananas, and of course the cabbage soup phase!

My brother and I were taught to have proper table manners and good posture. There was no talking with food in our mouths or slouching. Mama sewed those little bean bags we had to balance on our heads while walking so we would have proper posture (worked, by the way!).

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Mamas favorite animals were parakeets. We only had one at a time, never a pair, because she said they will not learn how to talk when there is another bird. She taught them how to whistle and talk, and the door to the cage was open most of the time so they could come out whenever they wanted. They had odd names. There was a Pipsi, a Sepperl, and a Sockerl (little sock). How that one got his name, I can’t remember.

Mama called my brother ‘Peterle’ and me ‘Suserl’, sometimes ‘Pupperl’ (little doll).

These are the things I will remember.

Baba, Mama!

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