Saturday, September 30, 2023

Last Ride on the Merry-Go-Round

MY MOTHER IRENE KETOVER 7/23/31-11/9/19  (eulogy 11/14/19)

My mother was a realist undoubtedly a force of nature – the perfect 
counterbalance to the dreaminess of my father – between them they balanced my world.  My mother was the center of any gathering and frankly it seems ridiculous surreal downright silly that she is not here nodding her head as I speak. – Then again who amongst us knows for sure. She was certainly the loudest, clearest voice against any injustice personal, political or even in the case of her pond - duck related ..  Others have paid fitting tribute to her sass her strength her joy - her fierce loyalty to family, to the values which she felt in her unshakable moral core was the right thing -  All such tributes are absolutely true .. I stand by them as well .. and yet as children from time immemorial we all see different aspects of our parents.  I wrote something for my mother’s 85th birthday,  a sense of my mother who always had me feeling protective of this woman most viewed correctly as a warrior. I know she wouldn’t mind my sharing this personal take on my teenage mom, as I always thought of her, since she surprised me by reading it at her 85th party – and so with her tacit approval and just a few edits here goes… 

WITH A SMILE   … My teenage warrior mom
I watched as you proudly stood my stiff starched dresses to stand like soldiers in the kitchen - 
and you smiled
I felt your long fingers fumble through my hair twisting white clean strips of rags into wet curls as I stood watching out the window and you smiled
You smiled on your hands and knees scrubbing a floor, tush waggling long toes bare behind you, singing Que Sera Sera
You smiled patting endless perfect balls of chopped meat into magic fricasse
On Friday nights, dishtowel on your head, you struck a match with a shaky finger and lit candles, I watched your arms circling the flame three times, covering hands over your eyes, whispering something I knew had something to do with all of us, and then flung the towel onto the counter, called out Gut Shabbas, with what else – a smile.   
You smiled wiping out kumitz - cleaning heavy cut crystal dishes –until they shone with rainbow prisms, cooking, setting table with good silver, serving, clearing, washing, drying – still you smiled
You smiled singing Frank, and Nat, with my father, sang in your uniquely uniform continuously consistently off key fashion, 
you smiled as we rode off to where I do not recall - standing with me wind whipping your hair in the front car of a swaying wicker-seated-porcelain-railed train - the chain in front of us swinging against the blackness of the rushing tunnels  
You smiled bathing that new beloved-by-you baby brother splashing in a white vinyl bathinette as I stood and watched your face flush with a new softness 
You smiled swinging hands on the way to the park as we pushed that huge carriage - cold steel under my outstretched clinging hand walking in dappled sunlight singing A Tisket a Tasket,   
You smiled at walks end as we slid onto high stools to eat whipped potatoes, a stick pretzel, a chocolate malted – 
the baby asleep outside in his carriage- perfect 
Even if one that time, just that one time, we did forget the baby,
All the way home after running back and retrieving him you panting out of breath and deliriously relieved, smiled –
You smiled, needles flashing and clicking knitting long into the night 
and early at morning breakfast – your hair delightfully mussed, cigarette dangling from your lip you smiled.
Oh yes, you smiled, that mega watted klieg lit smile  
at your parents and inlaws and friends and passerbys and later you smiled at customers and employees that became so much more to you -
One and all individually and collectively they loved that signature smile 
Of course you smiled at my father in a way that set a template that made every Russian romance novel, every love poem, every lusted look and giggled pushaway known and familiar to me when I later met them – 
You smiled as I watched, lucky spectator with the best seat in the house – in the center of the love story that rose to the moon and stars and beyond
I inhaled the love and lust and passionate possibility of you - the dances you danced together, the secret looks, the arms around each other close, the whirl and whisper, the giggle and sighs the very magic of this love of you -

I too enjoyed all those smiles 
But there was more, seen in stolen moments when a slipped glimpse caught the shimmer of your bright tears 
those times in the quiet of a still afternoon 
those times in the dark of night when on bare feet I was drawn to the golden light of you sitting there in a cool room as you let your knitting drop into your lap and just for a moment let silent tears fall onto a doll’s dress or a sweater for the baby, – as I watched quietly and tiptoed back to bed-  
those times of quiet hidden tears, that I came to know –
the shimmering beauty of your courage – confronting and besting that Fellow, Death that, silent, shunned, and hidden boarder who lived with us. 
I remember and acknowledge and celebrate along with all the dazzle of your dancing smile- 
I came to know early on, consecrated in one precious singular sacred moment so very long ago when I approached you, and reached out and dared to touch a single tear easing its way toward your mouth – 
When that little girl me intoned "Don't cry Mommy" I came to know – 
the nature of my teenage mommy - 
the true majestic nature of those smiles 
that manifesting mystic magic, born and borne as a shining talisman protecting us all.
So long ago, in that cool darkened living room, the click of knitting needles, quieted , stroking the soft wool in your lap, the wetness of that brave secreted tear on my finger, you, my teen warrior woman, the powerful mother I adored, was revealed in all your vulnerable shuttered glory.
Then, now and forever as years float, tumble tossed through life and death  – I feel that smile, that chosen strength scored, seared, branded in my soul, side by side with my protectiveness of that secret girl under the smile, my love sealed forever and a day, for the who you were and the majesty of the who you chose to be, then, now and forever ...
And now the ride you both spoke about on the merry-go-round has stilled – the calliope quieted and yet I still feel the whirl, the wonder, the whisper and wallop of the girl who for a few short days lay with me alone in a quiet hospital room in a foreign state and chose to hold me close before going out to face the world with a smile 
The mold is now broken – 
The lessons remain –
The meaning of the song and the flash of your actual Smile 


  1. Pearl, what a wonderful, monumental tribute to an amazing mother. I love that she had such a good love story, and that, because of that love story, you were able to find yours. Beautifully written. I am glad she read it while she was alive.

  2. Awww Sherry thank you for your comments. The salient part of this tribute was, as you pointed out, that my mother was able to read this, and more surprising (to me!) that she actually did at her lunch. My mother was more the stereotypical no-nonsense paternal type figure... more likely to say 'very nice' at a poem or what- have you than rhapsodize .. I was entranced by my father... However, in her later years (which were mature years for me too given our close age difference) we bonded over politics and I, as I wrote had always seen her as my "teen-aged" mother, noted that behind the sparkling smile there was a vulnerability - even if she was noted for her indomitable strength. Throughout my life I often thought we were a mismatch - but somehow as years spun out I recognized and was grateful for the bond between us - As climate and political events unfurl daily, I miss her powerful outrage and our nightly conversations. So, no she was not the Emily Dickinson type of mom - but she was a powerhouse and yes, I grew in the whirl of a teenaged love-story which did have a profound impact on my vision of life. It was lovely to share a bit of this here. Hugs to you and again thank you so much for this wonderful site!

  3. Pearl, this was worth waiting for! What a stunning tribute to your mother, a mother I would have liked! You knew her so well, characterized her well, and to think that she read what you had written speaks reams about the relationship you and she had. A strong woman, yet vulnerable. Perhaps you, Pearl, are much the same as your mother's daughter. It seems as if the closeness in age to your teen aged mother worked well for you, that she and you were almost of the same generation or close to. I was really touched by this. I am wondering if you had other siblings, Pearl. Not related to this poem, but just wondering. Thanks for coming back and posting!

    1. Awww Mary your comment touched me. It's lovely that you did get my sense of my mother which was different from others who only the saw the constant smile and an attitude so positive that at a cancer diagnosis at age 46 she looked into the mirror before chemo and said "you will not lose your f-n hair" and did not... Others did not see the vulnerability that I witnessed as a tiny child and which had me feeling protective of her in a way (though no one on earth would think my mother needed protection). As far as the closeness of our ages - that was interesting to others and certainly interesting to me as I grew into womanhood, however as a child she was definitely a "mother" (though friends thought it was cool that she was so young) .. a mother of a decidedly different generation that enjoyed different music and in some ways a more traditional outlook - Overall the relationship that was central was her love for my father - again, given their youth , there was the sense of being a observer to a grand love story and my mother and I were very close when I was a young and apparently precocious toddler and young child - walking and speaking very early - You asked about a sibling... I had and still have a younger brother. At three and a half when he was born there was a shift - I became the big sister - considering myself quite mature and my mother adored my brother in a way I had never seen - my closeness with and for my father escalated and my brother was my mother's child and I my father's throughout our childhood - or at least it seemed that way to me - and quite fair.
      My brother and I are close though he has lived geographically far for most of his adult life. Well, now that you've gotten me started perhaps those four dull unpublished novels that I've pushed out should give way to a memoir that I'm finally old enough to write!
      Stay safe and well. Hugs- pearl

    2. Thanks for adding more details about your family, Pearl. It seemed that you had a very close family. Glad you are still close to your brother. Yes, do write that memoir!! When, if not now?

    3. Well... it might need to get in line with the 4 mediocre novels and the gigantic poetry collection ... but who knows? Maybe it would be more fun to move this up - even for myself to the head of the line... Perhaps.

  4. Pearl What a beautiful love story, it is good when our parents are loving and we take that with us all our lives. I think you Mother was sumed up in a smile. You must have had a wonderful childhood!! Thank you for such a wonderful poem!

    1. Awww Annell... I had to wait until I got to my computer to reply to you... Thank you so very much.. yes, I did feel as a tiny girl that I had a first row seat at a great romance. As far as commenting... I found that they only way I can comment as "myself" is to use Chrome browser and enter my google account. Hugs...

  5. I am not really Anonymous, but I haven't been able to fix it yet. annell

  6. ". . . I feel that smile, that chosen strength scored, seared, branded in my soul, side by side with my protectiveness of that secret girl under the smile . . . " How I love this entire poem, including the prose above it. O, Pearl, your mother shared the best of life with you, and you captured it in all its love and vulnerability and care for others. Thank you for writing this. God bless you.

    1. Oh Susan.. your comment touched me deeply ... I am moved that you seem to have felt the essence of my mother so clearly. Thank you for this wonderful response .

  7. What a wonderful life lived by your mother Pearl. You're indeed blessed to be her daughter. Your love and respect towards her shines in every line. How gorgeously you've portrayed her. We can see her vividly, too.
    "I still feel the whirl, the wonder, the whisper and wallop of the girl who for a few short days lay with me alone in a quiet hospital room in a foreign state and chose to hold me close before going out to face the world with a smile..." Very sweet tribute Pearl.

    1. Awww Sumana thank you for your lovely comment. My heart reaches out to you - I loved your tribute to your wonderful mother - they are the touchstones of our lives.