When I was a child my grandmother owned a small hotel in the Catskills where my family spent idyllic summers. Sadly when I was 11 she was no longer able to run it and the hotel was sold. But when I think about the hotel, it seems only yesterday we were all there.
My father worked in the city during the week, and drove up to join us on weekends. On Friday nights I would stand beside the Neversink Road watching in anticipation for the headlights of his car.
My mother Jessie ran the hotel office and sat at a big roll-top desk with lots of little cubbyholes and drawers that I never tired of opening and closing. But when she wasn’t paying bills or checking guests in and out, she often could be found on the hotel porch playing cards.
In fact my mother was the only woman in the men’s pinochle game, and I remember watching in fascination as the men, many with thick European accents, called out the card tricks, and talked and laughed under a cloud of smoke that billowed out over the porch. To this day, the smell of cigar smoke conjures that happy memory.
And I also remember watching her play Mah Jongg with the women at a table set up out on the lawn, and the sounds of their voices, and the click of their coffee cups, and the clack of their ivory game tiles.
It was not only at these tables that my mother was game, she was game at life, willing to try everything and succeeding at most everything she tried. She was a talented artist, an inspiring teacher, a good cook and baker, could knit and sew, and was an outspoken political activist, lecturer and undeterred writer of letters-to-the-editor. She also once wrote a musical theatre parody.
Yet as accomplished as she was, Jessie was not vain. She cared little for fashion, and although she colored her hair when it began turning grey, she wore little make-up. But during her last hospitalization she surprised me.
She was critically ill when she asked if I would have the hospital hairdresser come to her bedside to color her grey roots. Of course I said I would, but it wasn’t to be. My mother died a few days later, just short of her 80th birthday.
But in my mind’s eye I still see her on that porch, a young woman playing pinochle with the men, and not a grey hair on her head.
– Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!
A really compelling story, Dana. You do a great job of conjuring an accessible image for someone who did not know your mother. And I love your phrasemaking – the click of the coffee cups and the clack of the tiles. Well done!
Thanx Tom, the Games prompt conjured my wonderful memories of those smells and sounds!
And if you’ve heard Mah Jongg players, you know the tiles do “clack” – at least the old ivory ones did. Alas the newer sets have plastic tiles, surely they don’r sound the same!
Looking forward to reading more of your stories!
I love that your mother played pinochle with the cigar-smoking men at the resort, as well as Mah Jongg with the women. What an advanced woman she was, Dana. And a wonderful role-model.
Thanx Betsy, looking forward now to reading your story!
So glad you’ve introduced me to this fun website! ❤️
What a beautiful tribute to your late mother, Dana. I can picture her playing pinochle with those men, and the images of her mah jongg games are very familiar to me from my own mother. I love how such an accomplished woman was also not overly concerned about appearances. May her memory be a blessing for you and your family.
Thanx Laurie, my mom was indeed a very special woman and this writing prompt helped me appreciate her anew.
Dana, this is lovely! What fun that you got to spend your summers in the Catskills until you were 11. I bet there are stories you could tell about your own adventures there. I love this portrait of your mother, playing pinochle with the men AND mah jongg with the women. Your descriptions are so evocative! And it sounds like she was a remarkable woman in many other ways too. Glad you figured out how to post a picture of her. Thank you for sharing her with us.
Thanx Suzy, and thanx again for helping me navigate the website!
What a great story, Dana, particularly since, as others have noted, it also told the even greater story of the amazing person your mother was. In fact, I think you should contact the writers of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ and tell them they need to create a character based on your mother for the next time they focus the series on a summer in the Catskills. And make sure that whoever portrays her doesn’t have a gray hair on her head.
Thanx John, and I’m delighted to have discovered this website, what fun!
What a beautiful portrait of your mother! And I love the blur of the photo…it seems to takes us back in time. What a feast for the senses–the smell of cigar smoke, the taste of the coffee, the sounds of the clicking and clacking and laughter. And I can almost see and feel that roll-top desk with its cubbyholes and drawers that you were so fond of opening and closing. I’m new here too…fun to have a fellow frosh.
Barbara, thanx for your sweet comments!
Sharing our stories is great fun and seems to be painlessly therapeutic!
Glad to know you!