By Jeanette Katzir
WOODLAND HILLS, California–My Momila would have been 80 years old this year, but a stroke took her from me five years ago. For many of us baby boomers, if we have not lost one or both of our parents already, we will within the next twenty years. Once they are gone, other than missing our parents like crazy, I wonder if we, the adult children who are left behind, will truly realize the impact they have had on us.
My Momila was a funny bird. She enjoyed removing all the jellies, jams, and assorted spices from restaurant tables and putting them in her purse. I am thankful to say that is something I never repeated, but there are those small quirks I did inherit. I know that in the finer restaurants, Vichyssoise, a fancy name for cream of potato soup, is served chilled, but not in my house; as my Momila taught me, it is served hot.
For countless years, I have used a sprinkling of Momila-taught words to color my talk, but it is only now that I have learned that these words, which I refuse to stop using, are not Yiddish, as my Momila had always told me. Sadly, they are no language at all, but a hodge-podge of Yiddish, German, Polish, and who knows what.
Only once a parent is gone, do we suddenly see how much of an effect they have had on us. There are the facial expressions—the way my eyebrows crunch up and the way my voice goes up at the end of an angry question. These are all Momila-influenced mannerisms. Issues with money and strangers are all a la Momila. The impact of our parents upon our children, their grandchildren is also evident. Sometimes I like Mom’s effects on my children and sometimes I don’t, but it always makes me smile. I have a daughter who has inherited my Momila’s refusal to throw anything away. My Momila’s house was packed to overflowing with stuff. Needless, useless things that weren’t worth the cardboard boxes she kept them in. My daughter has better, fancier boxes, but she, too, likes to keep useless stuff.
I have a grandson now, and though my Momila never had the honor of meeting him, I am sure he will still inherit her traits via my daughter, so in a strange way, Mom’s oddities will continue on.
My Momila’s birthday fell near Thanksgiving, and that made the holiday season bittersweet. She wasn’t sitting at the table in her favorite chair, and she wasn’t there to proclaim her very loud opinion of the deliciousness of the turkey. When Chanukah comes, she won’t be here to make her much beloved potato latkes, which she always topped with sugar, not applesauce or sour cream. No, making potato latkes is my job now, and I will fry them up and serve them to the family, but they won’t taste the same. In a refusal to allow the Momilaness of the holidays fade, my family continues to prepare her trademark dishes for all the Jewish holidays. Whether our spouses like it or not, we serve Gefilte Fish, Chopped Liver, Noodle Kugle, and Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls. Serving these foods brings Mom back to the table with us.
Once our parents are gone, only then do we get a semblance for how much of them has morphed into us. On one occasion, I was cautioning my children about something and they warned me that I sounded just like Grandma. It had happened; Momila’s essence was here in me, in the way I spoke, the way I reacted to things and probably even the way I walked. It seems that no matter how much I raged against her ways, I just couldn’t fully escape being like her. Our parents’ effect upon us is undeniable and unstoppable, but if you really think about it, is that so bad?
Jeannette Katzir is author of Broken Birds, The Story of My Momila, a memoir about two Holocaust survivors, their five children, and life post World War II.