June 2, 2009  
Arlene, My Yiddishe Mama

Adam, our eldest son, had read my article about my Mom titled  “My Yiddisha Mama” and he too had stories to tell when the subject quickly changed to  Arlene, my beautiful wife,  his Yiddisha  Mama.  Here is HIS take on today's Yiddisha Mama.

“It’s OK, don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine”, Arlene, my Yiddisha Mother used to say. Actually, that’s not even slightly true. She grew up in 1950s Brooklyn but doesn’t always fit the Jewish Mother stereotype.

A few months ago Dad asked if I could elucidate differences between the modern Yiddisha Mama, and generations past. Of course I jumped at the opportunity but decided to wait for just the right inspiration to hit. That inspiration, along with 11 voicemails saying “It’s OK, don’t worry if you can’t get to it, I’ll do it myself” (Yiddisha Dad's can also give Jewish guilt shtick quite effectively) helped set the stage for what follows.

Would you care for some fruit?

Some of my favorite memories as a kid growing up were summers spent in Fort Lauderdale. Grandma treated us grandkids like gold, and in return we tried to follow her rules, and requests, no matter how strange they seemed at the time. I soon realized it was impossible to win when the subject was food.

On most days 15 meals were served, not including snacks. If you left anything on the plate it was grounds for interrogation. “What’s the matter, I didn’t cook it right?” No Grandma, it’s great but my stomach only holds so much.” “You don’t like it” she decides, and there’s no convincing her otherwise. Later I eavesdrop on the MacYetta Report to my parents. “He didn’t finish his _______. I’m really worried about starvation. Do you think he could be sick?”

My mother was a bit more reasonable when it came to portion size, and frequency. Typical fare were chili, hotdogs, PB&J, and burgers. There was always a bowl filled with fresh fruit on the kitchen counter for a snack. It was rare to see whitefish staring back at me from the table, if you know what I mean. That privilege was saved for holidays, and weekend visits to our relatives in Queens, NY.  Then it was a smorgasbord of potato pancakes, tuna, lox, and salmon croquettes. I’m ashamed to say it, but somewhere along the way I got addicted to challah. I would polish off half a loaf with each piece slathered in butter until I was about to burst. It’s a gateway food that can lead to other issues down the road, sometimes involving gefilte fish.


I can’t recall Mom ever putting a guilt trip on my brother Lew, or me. Raising two boys three years apart must have given her thick skin. I remember punishments being handed out for each infraction, but then we quickly moved on. At the time I was naive to think the rest of the world grew up the same way, Jewish or otherwise. Only years later did I learn to appreciate the head-games my Mother was nice enough not to give us.

Where have you been?

One day a friend and I got the bright idea to drive from Long Island, NY to DC to buy fireworks for the 4th of July. The plan was to make believe we were going to high school, but then head over the bridges, out of NY, and down I-95 South. If everything went well we’d be back before the end of the school day, and no one would be the wiser. Of course an accident at the Baltimore tunnel took hours to clear so we didn’t make it back until midnight. But Mom was cool as a cucumber. Sure, we got punished for being out late (at the time I told her we were at the mall) but it wasn’t the end of the world. Years later I finally told the truth, and how that trip ultimately took us to Virginia, and back. She just smiled and said “Yeah, right.”
To this day she still doesn’t believe me.


I’m confident that newly developed DNA tests will prove our family genes are rife with non-life threatening, and annoying but exceptionally rare, and difficult to diagnose maladies. Combined with folks living long lives this often results in a case of chronic kvetch.

On any given visit we compare ailments and schedules. “Mom, how are you feeling?” “The specialist cancelled the last 2 appointments but next Thursday might work if they can fit me in. Apparently Blue Cross will only cover treatment if administered during a full moon.”

How about you son? “That rash I told you about is now the size of Seattle. I go back to the Doc on Friday. Last time I overheard him telling the nurse he’d never seen anything like it before.”


I used to think everyone owned dogs, and cats, and they were just part of the family, right? Grandma felt quite differently. “Feh, the animals are dirty, Melvelah throw them outside where they belong”. Most of my other relatives had the same outlook with maybe a goldfish or two among them.

Our house today is a veritable zoo full of giant dogs, crazy cats, kamikaze birds, and other assorted creatures. I place the majority of blame on my wife but also believe Mom should take a little credit. When my Mom married my Dad they lived in a tiny studio apartment where a small pet was all that would work, so they had Barney the Guinea pig, whose cage was a lot bigger than he was. My Dad's Yiddisha Mama Grandma Yetta told my Mom that she wouldn't have a need for  animals in the house once the baby (me) came. By the time the baby (still me)was toddling, we had a house, and cats, kittens, and a large formerly homeless dog of unknown origin, who sat on our front lawn for days til she was invited in to become part of the family. I thought every toddler had a kitten to taunt, and tails to pull.


If I close my eyes I can still picture the plastic covers on Grandma’s couch like it was yesterday. She kept her A/C a bit warmer than most so your legs would start to perspire and eventually stick to it. In the beginning it was fun making raspberry sounds but eventually I’d abandon the couch, and sit on the much more comfortable floor for our visit.

Mom, I just want to say thanks for not putting plastic on the furniture.  

I love you,

Until next month, enjoy the beautiful weather, and remember…eat kosher.

Mel (the fat guy)

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