Black crowned night heron, Lindo Lake © Robert Sommers 2020

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Adelle Rhoda Roberts Sommers Fisher Manfred Rosenberg

Timing as they say, is everything. If I had knowledge that my late mother would expire a mere two hours after a post that portrayed her in what could be construed in some quarters as in a less than charitable way, I would have certainly put a lid on it.

I am reasonably assured that she didn't read the damn thing but we always did have the strange vibe thing between us. Footnote that, more later. Anyway after six months at if not death's door, the long hallway, how was I to know that this time she wasn't kidding around? Serves me right.

I loved my mother, for all her deficiencies and she loved me in spite of all of mine. None of us are perfect and I'm not just finding that out.  I am processing. Some people hit golf balls, some prop up on barstools, I write. If I have caused some tsuris I apologize.

I went to a funeral today and cried for my late friend Haylee, not yet twenty one years old, with a life ahead of her. I have not as yet cried for my mother, although I shed vast amount of tears when I last saw her and said goodbye to her. Was going to fly out once again this week. Now I can't. The tears are certainly coming.

I was nosing around for pictures of her in my files and pulled a few old ones up that many of my family may not have seen or remembered.

At left is mom in the ubiquitous thirties pony picture.

Everybody got a pony picture way back when and there is even one of me out there somewhere.

I believe this next one is my mother with her Uncle Sam, about 1933.

You will have to take my word for it though, I am now the oldest male in the immediate clan, now having lost my uncle, father not to mention my mother within three months. I guess I have assumed the mantle of keeper of the institutional memory.

I have been the only one with a seeming interest in family history and  genealogy these past decades so probably many of the questions will now fall to me.

I would like to talk about my mother, mostly only the good things, although there are certain parts of her life that will always be sealed behind a door that her children were never able to open. 

How the Moldavian jewish family of a furrier from Yednitz that settled in first Providence and then Los Angeles in the early 1920's could somehow morph into a christian scientist, gypsy family from Whittier is just another example of god's astounding miracles.

Hey, you can pretend your Catherine of Aragon for all I care and come to think of it, my oldest sister Lisa may have. Or was it Eleanor of Aquitane? Nothing like a good story.

Anyway what do I know about my mother that I am reasonably assured is the truth. She liked Raggedy Ann and Dick Tracy. She was a mean little scrapper and once pulled a girl's hair out in the second grade.

At some point she was an aspiring starlet I think, a graduate of UCLA's theater arts department. Was absolutely gorgeous, I remember one picture which I haven't seen for years. Don't know why she never pursued it. Met my father at UCLA and thought enough of him to get married and have four kids.

He says things went screwy with her after they moved down to San Diego and she went back to school at San Diego State, started hanging out with a liberal crowd who gave her strange ideas. Not sure what her version is but they split up in any case when I was about four and he got his own apartment near Collier. Liz says that he was unfaithful but I don't see how in the fuck she would know?

Mom got very interested in the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, we shall overcome. Embarked on a lifetime of activism for social justice. She was always a great cook, sewed expertly, made her own clothes often. What was it, the McCall's catalogue? Had three different scratch biscuits, could stretch a meal throughout the week and it was always good. Was an early adapt of Adele Davis, Elena's Mexican cookbook (the high style book from the District Federale), Joy of cooking and Beard. Drove a Pontiac Tempest, maybe a 1963.

She had a gourmet's sense of adventure very early on. We were served tripe and brains and liver and other mostly vile fare on occasion. Raised great danes and had a wonderful english sheepdog, Emily.

Mom married Don and the wheels quickly came off, for me anyway for reasons I don't need to get into. Don was an early aircraft and rocket designer and my life took me to a dozen different schools, roaming the country test firing missiles. Don was a very smart guy, in fact they were both geniuses. They weren't necessarily a good match but they did have a great kid, John Matthew.

Mom worked as first a high school french and history teacher and then a guidance counselor. She was going to New Mexico State for her psych credential when they decided to test me and found out that my Stanford Binet quotient was through the roof as was my WAIS was but that I had the hallmarks of a seriously troubled under achiever. I remember being in a hospital setting surrounded by people with white lab coats prodding me with pencils and multiple choice questions. Never did amount to much.

We lived in weird spots, Lancaster, Las Cruces, El Paso. Mom did some great things in the early years for us, mainly assemble a huge library and forbid television. Signed us up with the Blue Dolphin Swim Club, a necessity in El Paso. Encouraged a family of serious readers. Shuttled us through the Unitarian, Presbyterian and Methodist church, invoked the saints at every opportunity.

She got involved in left wing politics in Texas, worked for Gene McCarthy's presidential run. Later took us to the moratorium in Washington, other marches, worked for peace.

Due to a job change, Buzz, Don and I moved to New York in the late sixties and things got real bad, the nadir of my existence in fact. Holed up in a Howard Johnson's for three months with Buzz in Huntington, Long Island. The girls followed about six months later. It was not good.

Alcohol insanity on the part of the adults mixed with what was close to real poverty and the home was beyond toxic. I moved back to California with Buzz, for self preservation. My dad was now living his own life and had two kids and they lived in the lap of luxury. We didn't exactly fit into the new plan and were quickly shipped off.

I moved back to New York after a year at boarding school. My mother was now an Editor in Chief at Pinnacle Books which had their own porn division Bee-Line. Never forget the time Linda Lovelace came over to the house... Although she had a string of shitty boyfriends I loved my time living in Manhattan, the place I started into photography fairly seriously and met some amazing friends. New York schooled me and carved me up and made me the person I am today.

Mom quickly took over the city, reacquainted friends with her best pal for decades, Ida Barker and her two daughters, Lynn and Judy. She knew everybody. She had a seat at Elaine's and the Veau D'or, would wait in the car when her boss at the time D. Zentner would visit the local brothel. Worked for NOW, got involved in women's lib, made great friends in the gay community, like her best friend Terry. Loved Mitzi, she attracted wonderful people like bees to honey.

My mother was a brilliant editor, I often proofed galleys for her. She turned a 15 title company into a 65 title company in her first year, delivering forgettable pulp fare like The Destroyer by Murphy and Sapir, Pendleton's Executioner, The Edge, stuff that sold. She largely picked the authors and work and I remember reading and rejecting hundreds of manuscripts with her.

Mom loved the color coral, once caught the largest sailfish off of Acapulco, had a encyclopedic knowledge of the Civil War. Wrote the first african american curriculum in the state of New York. Later in life she even sold antiques.

She had the little problem and we moved back to California, Ventura County. Got involved with Don sort of and back in the Unitarian Church. Forgot what she was doing but she did save my life for the first and second time, hit a couple years in a row with chronic active hepatitis. I hated life there. I had a big fat and long New York ponytail and looked very strange, before it was fashionable and my little brother was too embarrassed to walk with me.

Mom took me to my first concert, the 13th Floor Elevators at Hemisfair 68 in San Antonio. She loved the Doors, later fell in love with Willie and country music. She took me and three friends to my first California Grateful Dead show in San Francisco. She was a nudist and liked to hang out at Summerland.

She went back east, I stayed out west and got my own place. Mom hooked up with ICM and became a huge success, the rock band Kiss's first agent and she also represented a string of newscasters including Roger Mudd (they loathed each other.)

She eventually became a major player working at the Conference of American Presidents, a jewish lobbying group which was a crack up with her own particular issues about a certain tribe. She knew Israel's Netanyahu, was very close to Bennie Navon, became a major player internationally.

After a short string of failed relationships and a marriage or three she met the love of her life, Murray, the sweetest guy you would ever want to meet. A reformed gambler, Murray loved my mom and never said a word about the crap she would and could dole out. Loved her to death. What a prince.

I'm probably forgetting a lot, distilling a lot, the wood schooner adventure with Lostritto, who dumped her and took off with the boat to the Bahamas. Walter the loan shark. Sal. Manfred. Too much to process.

Mom had a surrogate pair of twin daughters that she doted on Jessica and Susann, Lynn's kids. Jessica has been our salvation these last few years, the way she looked after the mother she loved more than her own. I'm glad somebody was there to deliver that which I could not.

It was hard for me to relate to my mom after things went to hell in Oxnard. We were more like soldiers who shared a foxhole together than mother and son. On many levels we were closer than close. I once had a dream where I woke up crying and she called me from two hundred miles away at five in the morning to ask me what was wrong. Things like that happened at least several times. She squared it up when I got booted from the Unitarian church for turning some of the older parishioners on to pot brownies I had made. I'm sorry, they looked like they were having a great time.

Mom loved my writing, loved reading the blog, always heaped large praise on me, thought I was brilliant on the keyboard. That meant a lot to me. I can't play piano but would pretend I could and play for her when I was a kid when she was half in the bag. I will never forget her telling me how much she enjoyed my playing when I couldn't play at all! Get drunk enough anything sounds good.

She loved my wife Leslie, loved to worry about me if given a chance. When I first got cancer she went and did the "black mass druid latin mourning" thing in my hospital room and I had to throw her out for sucking up all the oxygen. You couldn't tell her anything because she liked to overreact.

She had a string of dogs, from bloodhounds to hairy little things whose asses couldn't be easily distinguished from their faces. Loved her dogs tremendously, the houses always assumed the same stale canine scent which she was seemingly immune to.

Mom lived in the Poconos for years, with Murray, she unfortunately allowed several local miscreants to take advantage of her. Plied a small business in old harley davidson manuals and third tier american art pottery and depression glass. Couldn't believe what I would pay for things. She would hang out occasionally up at Woodstock and Rutland, Vermont too. I really enjoyed seeing her there.

Our house was never spotless but she had this things where she continually insisted that we wash the walls with spic and span on the weekends. Weird.

I owe a lot to my mother. I say in all humility that she carried very smart if not slightly manic depressive genes. You learn to develop a superpower defense system with such people or you get turned into charcoal. Stay quick on your feet.

It was always entertaining. You'd walk into a restaurant with her and it was nothing for her to engage everybody in the room. The Roberts side, we all should have been in vaudeville, all good at working the room.

I will miss her, the particular twists and turns and moments in history that could cause life to fashion such a unique person have long vanished. And so there will never be another.

(to be continued)


Sanoguy said...

Thanks for sharing, BH.... Quite a story, quite a lady! My condolences to you and yours!

Bethany said...

Beautiful, dear Robert. My heart is with you. You often spoke about your mom in short sound bytes...now they are connected. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Lovely. One of her finest accomplishments was the son she raised. Always here for you Robert. Love, Bill & Sue.

Jerry Hall said...

Dear Robert,
It's strange how my perspective about my childhood and my parents has changed as I've grown and matured, and continued to evolve even after their passing. I sincerely hope that you can find some healing and peace through this process. Wishing you and Leslie and your siblings all the best. Jerry

Blue Heron said...

I think I forgot a husband...seriously.

Douglas Keller said...

My condolences, Robert.

Kim said...

So sorry to hear about your Mom's passing. She was certainly a survivor. I think it is time to write the book.