Today is the 93rd anniversary of my mother’s birthday. Sadly, she died in June 1992 at the young age of 68.
Lorna Felix was way ahead of her time. She was an independent thinker and focused on breaking out of the stereotypes of women of her time.
She smoked cigarettes from a young age – something I learned a lot of younger women did back then to show they could – rebels they were? (As Yoda might say!)
She was in the audience for at least one Frank Sinatra concert where the screaming and pandemonium resembled what to a later generation became de rigueur at any show of The Beatles.
I am the guardian of two of my mother’s diaries that she kept when she was in junior high school in Rego Park (Queens), New York (then, it was grades 7-9). I’ve learned a lot about her, who she was, and what she was thinking from reading those diaries. I haven’t thought for a minute that she would be embarrassed to know that I’ve read it – in a way, I think she’s glad that I got to know her from her writings as she and I have many similarities - we are not great at following the rules!
Maybe that’s why our relationship was strained. We were too much alike.
Lorna grew up in a, for that time, middle-class family that wasn’t upper middle but definitely had some disposable income. Her father, Herman Silverman, was a furrier and while they clearly were not wealthy, they did spend summers at hotel in New Jersey – away from ‘the city.’
My mother was determined. She was going to make something of herself and not be relegated to remain a secretary, which is how she started her work career in an office in the Empire State Building.
When we moved to New Jersey, the day John Kennedy was assassinated, the world opened up for her. She got a job working for a travel agent and, after a number of years she opened Felix Travel in Roseland, NJ. My dad, Manney, and she were partners although my dad was a behind-the-scenes guy who worked there part-time (as you may know from this column, he was a professional property manager).
In looking back at family photos and movies (which I’m grateful my dad took) we appear to be have been a happy family. Those are my recollections as well. And, like I’ve learned, many men have difficulty with the relationship with their mothers - I am a case study in that. It’s something I’ve worked at figuring out since first starting to see a ‘counselor’ in 1991 and I continue that journey.
The first obstacle I worked at getting over is that my mother was not who I wanted her to be. That disappointed me and made me angry – especially after my sons were born and she wasn’t the ‘grandma’ that I would have liked her to be.
After a number of years of estrangement, even though we lived near each other in New Jersey, I had a break-through: I realized that she is who she is, not who I want her to be and that I had a choice: accept that or not.
When the brain cancer that did her in first reared its ugly head on Thanksgiving weekend 1991, I’m so glad that I did the right thing and was there for her. During that short time, between then and June 1992 when she died, I finally started accepting who she was. The sad part is that we never had time to become friends – something I truly regret.
Lorna Felix was a character; a large personality; a loyal friend to her friends and an adventurer. She travelled the world. I’m sure that that’s where my passion for travel and seeing the world and meeting new people comes from. When I got my drivers’ license at 17, I was allowed to borrow one of the family cars on the weekends. Through summer camp, I had friends (some of them my first girlfriends) in Syracuse, NY and Montreal and on many weekends, I’d jump in the car on Friday after school and come home on Sunday evening. My mother dubbed me ‘The Wandering Jew’ – which is a free-flowing plant.
My mother was the one that introduced the piano into my life. She played a little and as soon as they could afford one, bought a console piano for our apartment. That introduction to piano - even thought I wasn’t disciplined at all and never practiced and stopped lessons early – it couldn’t have become a more huge part of who I am. For that introduction to piano I have always been and will always be eternally grateful - I can't imagine what my life would have been like without music. I know she was proud of me.
I’m sure my mother is looking down on society today and smiling at how women have become more prominent in the business world. It’s been a long, slow journey and Lorna Felix, in her own not so quiet way, was there, at the forefront. She never backed down. She held her ground. She was an entrepreneur. She was an explorer. She was a good mother.
After she was diagnosed with brain cancer, my brother Jay and I asked my mothers’ doctor what would he do if it were his mother. The options were: try chemotherapy or let nature take its course. The Dr. said that given what he’d seen of the good-intentioned families of cancer victims, who encouraged the patient to try to extend their lives and didn’t realize the agony that comes along with that, he’d let nature take it’s course. And we did.
My mom died in June 1992. As you can imagine, it was not easy to watch her deteriorate – valiantly fighting the cancer’s effect on her brain. And, after she died, one of her closest friends, the mother of my best boyhood friend, told me, “Your mother knew you were there for her.” Tears come to my eyes right now thinking about Judy saying that to me. Of course, any good son would be there for his mom. In our case, due to the strained relationship we had, I guess it wasn’t a given that I would handle myself like a ‘mensch.’ Had I not, I would never have forgiven myself.
Tonight, I’ll raise a glass to toast to the life of my mother and feel grateful that I inherited some of her genes. Thanks Mom!
|Lorna Silverman - Atlantic Beach, NY 1946 (Age 22)|