This is how I originally began my eulogy to my mother: “Lee Satz was a strong-minded, strong-willed person, and at the same time, she was soft-hearted and loving. Lee was fiercely outraged when she confronted stupidity, incompetence, and red tape. And she had many prejudices—some based on experience, some ingrained. Occasionally she was petty, stubborn, and self-righteous. But throughout her life, she had one overpowering virtue…………………………….”
But after some soul searching and urging from my wife, I scrapped those thoughts and composed the following eulogy that I read at the funeral.
Lee Satz had many strong likes and dislikes. She liked applesauce, mashed potatoes (without gravy), cottage cheese, pea soup; Larry bird, Luciano Pavarotti, the Atlanta Braves, the Verdi Requiem, hospice workers; gossip, political scandals; bone china, Filene’s basement, Israel, and Boston. She disliked incompetence, spicy foods, red tape, Ronald Reagan (or as she called him, “that son of a **bleep**”), bugs, sand, cooking for herself, not knowing why something wasn’t working the way she thought it should, or why someone acts incomprehensibly.
But the most memorable quality about my mother was her tenacious loyalty to and her love for her family. Her devotion to them was unconditional—whether she gave silent guidance, vocal support, financial help; or countless, uncomplaining, vigilant hours addressing the well-being of those whom she cherished. She had an abiding concern for her two brothers and one sister, and their respective families. She was a best friend to and a dedicated advocate for her children, their spouses, and adored grandchildren. She cared so much for her honored husband that on her deathbed she repeatedly told her children to make sure to give Father the chocolate pudding in the refrigerator, and don’t forget the Cool Whip! It is rarely possible to repay the love that’s given to us—our responsibility is to pass it on to the next generation—as my mother did so selflessly.
An unsent letter to a woman who insulted my then recently deceased mother
Not wanting to disrupt the Chanukah party last night, I did not confront you about your disrespectful remarks regarding my recently deceased mother. What you told my wife was inappropriate and insensitive at best, and crude and vicious at worst. You demeaned my mother’s memory—even if what you said were true, that is, my mother was a “difficult” person whom “nobody really liked.” Well, I do know that she had no use for you because you always snubbed her at Hadassah sisterhood meetings. And your hateful comments about my mother show that she was a good judge of character. You are a disgrace to the Jewish community and to any community that values decency and respect for the dead.
Years ago, my mother adored the Toscanini live mono recording of the VerdiRequiem. She was so enthralled with it that she insisted that one of the soprano/mezzo soprano duets (“Recordare, Jesu pie....”) be played at her funeral. I didn't know what to make of my mother's strong prejudice. I too was very fond of that recording, but other ones had to be that good or better, considering the inferior sound quality of a live recording in mono, no less. Yet all the other versions that I have heard—and there have been plenty—lack the spark of Toscanini's rendition. They are too lugubrious and cumbersome. My mother, who died over 20 years ago, had great instincts when it came to the Verdi masterpiece. Our family paid homage to her when, at her funeral, we did play the gloriously uplifting section that she had always admired so much. I have another reason for being so fond of the Toscanini recording: it has my favorite tenore Guiseppe di Stefano and my favorite basso Cesare Siepi.
The BSO—AND MY MOTHER
I've always had a soft spot for Charles Munch and the BSO that he conducted for so many years when I lived in Boston and attended lots open rehearsals where I saw him inspire the hotshots: Samuel Mayes and Joseph D. Pasquale in particular. Two of Munch's recordings with the BSO that I think are masterpieces are Dvorak's8th Symphony and the BerliozRequiem. The third movement of the symphony is joyfully elegant, graceful, and spirited; it is a real gem that makes me want to sway my whole body in its embrace, as my mother used to do. I was always told that Munch's forte was French music. Well that certainly is true in his nuanced rendition of the Berlioz Requiem, a perfect blend of fervor and serenity. The “Offertory's” climax is especially rousing: it always gives me goose bumps.
There were two sociopathic things I loved to do when I was in junior high school: fling snow balls with rocks in them at cars and people, and light fires in the yards around my house. I lived in an apartment complex on a hill overlooking a fairly congested two lane road. In the winter, my favorite pastime was ferreting out rocks from snow banks, packing them tight with snow, and then throwing the missiles at unsuspecting drivers and pedestrians. Occasionally, I hit the target. Cars never stopped after I whacked them. Pedestrians didn't have much to worry about because my aim was pretty poor.
But one day, I got "lucky." I flung a blistering rocky snowball at a tall adult. It smacked him on the head, and he went down—but not for long. He got up, fumed, and started running towards me. I shouted that another boy, Paul (whom I despised because he was often mean to my brother) was to blame. The enraged man just sneered and continued the chase. I could see that he was bleeding around his ear.
Then I got really scared. I rushed up the hall stairs to my apartment, banged at the door, and screamed for my mother to save me. At the same time, the guy was literally close at my heels. My mother opened the door, saw him lunging at me, and grabbed my arms, trying to drag me into the house. My tormentor grabbed my legs and tried to drag me downstairs, where he would have surely hurt me. After a few seconds, the tug of war ended. My mother, who was no weakling, wrested me away from him and locked the door.
The man soon left but not until he bellowed that I was a “nasty little **bleep**er."
My mother, after interrogating me, whipped me across my arms with a belt (her routine procedure when I was bad). That day was the last time I ever threw a rock-filled snowball at any one or at any car for that matter. Nothing hath a fury like a mother's wrath.
In the summer, I liked to set small fires in the shrubbery around my apartment complex. After I successfully scorched the area around the neighboring Catholic Club, I decided to try to burn some thickets in front of the fence that surrounded my patch of the back yard. The fire soon spread all the way down to the other side of the compound. Someone called the fire department and the police. Fascinated by the hubbub, I stayed put. Eventually, some officers asked me about the blaze. I then told a whopper: still mad at Paul for bullying my brother, I revealed that Paul's old grandmother set the fire.
Even though no one believed me, I wasn't arrested. But my mother knew the truth. That afternoon, she gave me a comprehensive beating with the mother of all straps that she was saving just for this special occasion. I didn't light any more fires after that. I feared my mother much more than I feared the police.
Before she died from a bowel infarction at the age of 75, my mother was not so fearsome. She was awfully frail, not able to wield that strap even if she wanted to. When I reflect on the past, I appreciate how thoroughly my mother disciplined me. The welts took the rough edges off my antisocial antics. It civilized me. I have even forgiven Paul for messing with my younger brother—now that's real healing.
My mother liked to wear comfortable shoes around the house and when she had to do some walking outside. The only ones that suited her were clunky, nondescript black Oxfords that she wore until they came apart. My father, my brother, and I always made fun of her woebegone Oxfords that looked appropriate for a bag lady, not my otherwise stylish mother. No matter how much we bantered about her god-ugly shoes, my mother ignored us. She was undeterred: she swore by her Oxfords.
Well, today, the tables are turned. Around the house and at the fitness center, I wear a pair of black walking shoes that eerily resemble my mother’s Oxfords. These shoes are the only ones that I have been able to locate that are superbly comfortable and give me good traction. If I could find some more of them, I’d buy enough to last a lifetime. So far, no one in my chic-conscious family has dissed my Oxford lookalikes, maybe because they fondly remind them of my mother’s or because they don’t want to hurt my often easily bruised feelings. In any case, I will continue to follow in my mother’s footsteps.