To Mom With Love on Your 100th Birthday
My Mom, Aida Ennis Brodsky, lived 99 years, 9 months and 27 days. She would have turned 100 years old on Saturday, July 4th.
In loving memory of this wonderful woman, I’ve decided to publish the eulogies my husband and I read at her funeral service in May. Thank you for allowing me to share them with you.
The definition of the word “lady” in the dictionary reads “a woman of refinement and gentle manners,” and those words describe my Mom perfectly.
The dictionary says being a woman of refinement means she is “free from impurities.” My Mom Aida was very soft-spoken and I never heard her yell, curse or even come close to doing either. Her refinement was also evident in her poise, her un-hurried manner and her outer beauty. She had lovely thick hair (dark brown and then a pretty “white owl” gray), sparkling brown eyes and smooth, soft skin. Even into her 90’s her skin was relatively free of wrinkles, thanks to the religious use of Ponds cold cream, her favorite beauty aid.
She was gentle and pure from the inside out; ever classy, full of kindness, and always, always polite. She was truly the epitome of a lady in every way. Even in her final years, when Alzheimer’s disease robbed her of her ability to speak more than a few words, the one phrase her caregiver, Regina, told me she’d say to whomever was helping her was “Thank you!” She was simply amazing.
As my Aunt Eleanor, my Mom’s sister-in-law, remarked to me this week on the phone, my Mom had “an eye for quality. It was instinctual.” She could go into any consignment shop and find the special antique treasures amidst all the tchachkees [Yiddish for knick-knacks]. When I was a child we spent hours together in her favorite little consignment shop called “Gems and Junk,” because antiquing was one of her great joys in life.
Her deep love and constant devotion to her family was paramount above all else. During a trip back to his alma mater, my Dad, Al, spotted her in the hallways of Bushwick High School. Her family didn’t own a phone in the mid-1920’s, so he wrote her a letter of introduction and asked her out. The rest is history. They were married in 1928 and celebrated their 76th wedding anniversary before my Dad passed away in 2005. An enduring marriage like that is so very rare, especially these days. We are blessed to have had them as a role model.
They stood by each other through the good times and the harder times. When my Dad had triple bypass surgery at age 84, my mom quickly gave up her outside-the-home hobbies and activities to stay by his side and watch over him for not just months, but years. I have a picture of her in my mind standing by his chair in the living room in Florida lovingly stroking his head as he watched TV in his favorite easy chair. They were truly soul mates and I take some comfort in knowing their spirits are now reunited for eternity.
Growing up we always had family get-togethers – Brodsky “family circle meetings” in our basement, birthday parties, New Year’s Eve parties, and bar-b-ques in the backyard in Malverne. Almost every weekend included visits with some of my many aunts, uncles, cousins or family friends. And it was an extra special time when Mom’s California family came all the way to NY to visit! My mom was my first example of what a family caregiver does as we’d visit her father, my Grandpa Kiva in Brooklyn and later Far Rockaway, to check on him, help him, and bring him home-cooked rotisserie chicken several times a month.
I was born when she was 45 years old and they had already been married for 25 years!! Think about that for a moment. Most of us here are at least 45 now – can you imagine the overnight culture shock they must have gone through when I suddenly came along?! They gave me a charmed life full of only the best, yet they were always cautious about not spoiling me. My mom would often say, at the times she was most proud of me, “I don’t want to say too much because I’m afraid of giving you a swelled head.”
As I was growing up, we had loads of fun together as a mother-daughter team. She was a Girl Scout co-leader for several troops I was in; we collected coins and stamps together; she taught me the basics of knitting, crocheting, cross-stitch and embroidery. She was a fabulous seamstress, but that trait I didn’t pick up on, much to her chagrin. In fact, she saved me from a failing grade in Home Economics when I burned a hole ironing a yellow a-line dress I had just sewn for a final project. She quickly designed and helped me sew a yoke over the burned spot to cover up my blunder in time to turn it in the next morning! She took me to ballet lessons, made me take piano lessons, came to all of my dance, chorus and piano recitals, and also cheered me on while I was a cheerleader in high school! No girl could ask for a more involved and supportive Mom.
At age 80, she became a Grandma for the first time! Robbie, I’m sure she would say it was definitely worth the wait. When we’d visit them in Florida, she was so proud as she showed Robbie off to her friends and neighbors. I would tease her about the “Shrine to Robbie” she made on the wall above the kitchen table. It was a collage of Robbie pictures – some in frames, some just taped to the wall — skip the frames, just get them up there! And speaking of photos, she loved taking pictures ever since I could remember. She was great about taking her camera with her everywhere — capturing many family events, people and scenery on various trips. It wasn’t about doing photography with the latest and greatest camera as a hobby; it was her way of capturing family history in the making. And we have tons of photo albums to prove it.
One other quality I observed in my mom was her strength, both mental and physical. Her parents were Russian immigrants and everyone in their family knew you had to work hard to get somewhere in America. The children were sent to public school to learn English because Yiddish was spoken at home. After graduating from high school she was a legal secretary and stenographer for about 25 years, and then became a full time stay-at-home mom. Yes, she got to fully engage in both roles and didn’t have to juggle these commitments simultaneously as modern women do. She and my Dad were already married at the time of the stock market crash, the Depression and World War II. When my Dad was drafted, my Mom kept Amalite, his tool manufacturing business, going successfully for the years he was in the Army. She oversaw the office and the factory, all the while thinking constantly about her husband fighting a war overseas.
While waiting through the one year period for my adoption to become final, my mom worried so much that she developed very bad colitis. Her weight went down to about 85 lbs., and the doctor said she had to have major surgery if she was going to survive. She had the surgery, but then had to adjust to using a medical device for the rest of her life. This very difficult experience would test anyone’s mettle, and she showed great courage in facing this harsh reality head on.
Aside from that ordeal, she was physically very healthy the rest of her life. She only had two other relatively minor surgeries. I have to marvel that at age 99, the only medicine she needed was thyroid pills, which she took along with her daily vitamins. We should all be so lucky!
Most sadly, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in about 1998 and had to live for over ten years as her long and short term memories were slowly destroyed and her brain processing further deteriorated step by step. No one should have to experience this type of continuous decline, and no family should have to witness it. I pray they find a cure for this horrible disease soon.
But through all of the challenges my Mom faced, I don’t remember ever hearing her complain! She always told me we have to “roll with the punches,” and she taught me this repeatedly by the way she lived her life.
You will live forever in our hearts. I love you!
Okay, I’ll confess. I started writing my thoughts about Aida back when she was just a young girl . . . you know . . . around 87 years old.
Aida was truly a sweet and caring lady with dignity and class. She was pleasant. She didn’t nag. And she never made you feel guilty. That’s right…the ideal mother-in-law!
And thank God I liked her since she decided to hang around for 99 years!!
Of course, Aida had her amusing little quirks, too.
If she showed you one of her many vacation photo albums, you wouldn’t see scenic pictures of the coastline. You wouldn’t see photographs of Linda’s dad standing next to a famous statue. Instead, you’d see photo after photo of the paintings that were hanging in each of their hotel rooms.
During one of my last visits with Aida, it was a typical scene: her lying in bed, me holding her hand and trying to be lighthearted while getting a blank stare in return.
Yes, the same one most of you give me when I think I’m being funny.
As I was leaving her room, I stood in the doorway and blew her a kiss. She looked at me and in a clear voice, she said ‘Thank you.’
And that’s from a person that most of us would think was completely tuned out due to the nasty effects of the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
But I learned a valuable lesson . . .
None of us can know what a person can really see, hear, comprehend or feel no matter what condition they are in.
I would get frustrated at times watching Linda break down or be depressed after a not-so-pleasant visit with Aida. I thought Linda was wasting her time talking to her mom who seemed to be out of it.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I truly believe that the reason Linda’s mom lived as long as she did was because of the endless love and unselfish caring Linda showed her time after time after time.
Aida is so special that while others light candles for their birthdays, every year the nation lights fireworks in honor of her birthday. Yes, she was born on the 4th of July.
So this July and every July, when the sky is filled with beautiful fireworks lighting up the sky, take a moment to think of Linda’s dear mom, Aida. After all, being the wonderful person she was, always made the world a brighter place.
Happy Fourth of July weekend to my wonderful TLeC community! 🙂