The picture above is of my mom, Jana, at the ripe age of 17 with a note she wrote to her beloved aunt Mirriam, on the back of the picture.
Mama was a character. There was only one like her and truly there never will ever be another. If you had to pick one thing about her that was most defining it would have to be her love of dogs. One of my most vivid memories of her was a day she was driving up St. Charles Avenue with me and three dogs in the back seat. On the side of the road was a homeless woman with a skinny little dog at the end of a rope with a sign that read… ” help” written in big letters in what looked like crayon on cardboard. She took a hard U-turn across the streetcar tracks, right into the path of an oncoming car. She froze in place for a second, and dashed across the street to the K&B’s on Broadway and t0ld me to stay in the car with the dogs. She ran in to the store and emerged with a bag of dog food. She quickly drove back to the woman on the side of the road and silently, wordlessly, handed the bag lady a bag of dog food. The woman looked into my mothers eyes as she began to cry, softly pulling her dog closer to her and whispered “thank you”.
That simple understanding that passed between their eyes still haunts me to this day.
Mama died in her early Fifties, an unfortunate victim of severe OCD that focused on hoarding and eating. Her food addiction and fears may have taken her life, but her love for dogs will forever be her defining trait, not her fears or failures, and it lives on in me.
When I placed her urn into the family crypt, I also placed five other urns I’d found in her house. The urns of the ashes of her beloved dogs. I’m sure that my Aunts and Uncles thought I was nuts for putting them in there, but the truth is that they were her family and stood by her more than even I ever could or would.
As an middle aged man, with health issues and a love of dogs, I understand her in a way I wish I had been personally evolved enough to understand as a young man and as a child… She was just a woman who lived in fear of being alone who had her faithful companions to comfort her. Without them, she would not have had the strength to even get out of the house much less go to work to support me and my sister.
The day she passed away, the hospital called me to explain that due to her extreme morbid obesity, her heart simply gave out. When I went to get her personal effects from the hospital, They handed me a purse, covered with dog hair, with a button on the flap that read… ” if you ever need a friend, get a dog.”
I did, Mama.
I got a dog.
and that dog?
She saved my life. Just as that homeless woman once whispered to you on that corner I now whisper to you every time I look into your picture on my desk… Thank you.