Stuff I Write, Stuff I Like

Stuff I Write: On Mother’s Day, Saturday Night Fever, Frankie Yankovic, Polkas, Writing, Ray Bradbury, and the Fine Art of Blurting

In Uncategorized on May 12, 2013 at 6:54 pm

This Mother’s Day is more bittersweet than usual for me. As you probably know — because I’ve been yakking nonstop about it — I have a new book out. The book’s about my mother, who was one tough broad, and it’s about me, who has never been as tough a broad as I pretend to be no matter how many leather jackets I own.


This book’s about coming to terms with being my mother’s daughter and caregiver while becoming a mother myself. Also, it’s about cheesy puffs, one peed-on chair, New York, Pittsburgh, and that old literary stand-by, love.

First, I’d like to apologize for my ramblings about all this. I’ll have another post soon about the neuroses that comes with a new book, and the way fear and heartbreak and dreams can make you go on dancing like a lunatic even after the music stops.

I do a great Chicken Dance, by the way, and a respectable Hokey Pokey, unless I’m on roller skates.


I polka, too, but it looks more like a seizure when I really get going. At least that’s what my father, Polish by birth and an excellent master of all things two-step, used to tell me.

“It’s not like you’re being electrocuted,” he’d say. “Relax.”

But I never could.

My mother, like my father, was a beautiful dancer. I remember her at family weddings, all high heels and swirl, backwards, forwards, never a missed step. I remember them both together, a pinwheel, more one person than two.

“Don’t overthink it,” my mother would say as she’d try to show me what she knew.

But my brain like my feet would never cooperate.

“Monkey mind,” the Buddhists call it when thoughts won’t hold still.


I think I will go to my mother’s grave today. I should probably talk with her about this book. If she were alive, she wouldn’t like me giving up her secrets. I’ll probably have to explain things.

We had a difficult relationship, my mother and I. Many daughters of fierce mothers will say the same thing. I loved my mother desperately. She loved me desperately, too. What you should know:  we didn’t destroy each other. We came to some kind of peace before she died. That is its own kind of miracle.

But the loss I feel, her absence, is still as palpable as her fingers on my pulse. She was a nurse, so she did that a lot. She’d check my pulse, my breathing, every vital sign. I never had a cold when I was young. I had upper respiratory infections. I did not have a belly button. I had an umbilicus. My mother’s notes for school absences read like entries in the Physician Desk Reference.

This is, of course, creepy, especially to a child.

Most kids think of the heart as love, something with a smiley face, not something physical, something mortal that can fail.


My daughter brought a smiley heart home from school the other day, a gift for me for Mother’s Day. The heart had paper accordion arms and legs. On the back, there was a message:  “Mom you make my heart dance.”

My daughter’s in second grade. She’s just now learning about the heart as an organ, as something fleshy and beating inside her.

“Gross,” she says, and holds her hand to her chest and presses hard, as if she wants to make it stop.

“Don’t overthink it,” my mother would say.

Ray Bradbury used to have a sign over his typewriter that said “Don’t Think.”


His idea:  the best writing is a surprise. It’s more like life. There’s no controlling it. It comes blurting out.

I’m still a terrible dancer. My daughter, who loves Justin Bieber, has tried to teach me the Dougie. We dance together in the kitchen, which was my mother’s kitchen because we live in the house I grew up in.


“No like this,” my daughter says, and giggles and can’t stop giggling when I can’t get it right.

Sometimes my mother would dance alone in the kitchen, a little polka from the sink to the table on Sundays, when the Pittsburgh radio stations would have Polka Hour and Frankie Yankovic would roll out a barrel of fun.

“Now isn’t that happy music?” my mother would say.

The only dance I ever tried to teach my mother was The Hustle. I’m not sure I ever had that right, either, but because I was very young in the 70s, she assumed I knew what I was doing and would follow along.

We’d dance to the Bee Gees. I had albums and posters and “Saturday Night Fever” was my first R movie. My father took me and a friend. He dropped us off and went to see “The Gauntlet” instead.

saturday night fever

“Don’t tell your mother,” he said.

I was very young then. I think I missed a lot of what that movie was about. What I knew:  I loved my father very much and when I moved to New York, the first thing I did was walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, and once, when I answered the phone at my friend Jennifer’s apartment, it was a guy who said he was the real Tony Manero and maybe he was because some days, like today, life feels very connected like that.

“I don’t take things for granted, because everything feels more fragile,” Robin Gibb said after the death of his brother Andy. “It’s made me wonder about mortality and how long you’ve got somebody in the world. I’m more fearful than I used to be.”

Andy Gibb was the most beautiful Gibb brother, my favorite. His death didn’t seem possible.


What I remember about my mother today:  she was beautiful. I miss her.

“Shut up and dance,” she’d say. “Before the song’s over already.”

  1. So here I am Lori, awake at 4am because Ive just had knee surgery and cannot sleep and wanted to read something that might make me smile. Your work is so wise, so witty, and yet so sweetly humble. So wonderful. Thank you.

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