In 1960 Emma took in her Aunt Mary, who was 80 and physically declining. Aunt Mary was a kind woman and Emma had spent her summers with her during her childhood and teen years, coming down from West Philadelphia to Aunt Mary’s bungalow, with the little roadside produce stand and the blue hydrangeas beside the wooden steps up to the screened porch, on the little farm across Absecon Bay from Atlantic City. Emma dressed the farm cats in doll clothes and went to the beach with friends and cousins, where one year she got an awful sunburn resulting in sun poisoning.
Emma and I were good friends, mostly, but this one evening when I was at her home we had a terrible argument. It was dinnertime. Emma had just gotten home from work at her secretarial job and she and my stepfather were in the kitchen preparing dinner while she also attended to her small kennel of toy poodles she raised and showed, one becoming a champion.
After the argument, I carried Aunt Mary’s dinner in to her. “Don’t fight with your mother,” she said. “Be kind to her. Be kind to your mother.” The compassion in her gentle tone touched me heart. “Always be kind to your mother. Otherwise you may regret it someday.”
Emma’s love for the sand, surf and the regenerating pine and salt air of the Southern New Jersey shore never ebbed, and she bought a summer home right on the beach in Avalon, south of Atlantic City. To this day, her family — children and grandchildren — and her friends (those still living), whom she hosted over weekends, cooking all the meals herself, reminisce about the Avalon house and the fun times we had there.
You could take long, meditative walks on the Avalon beach.
After Emma and I moved into our Victorian home in central Delaware in 2002, I continued to work, at a hair salon and writing newspaper and magazine feature stories. One night I came home and she said, “There’s something going on out there. Something’s wrong. I’ve been looking out the back window upstairs and the sky’s all red. What’s happening?”
“It’s just the lights of the stores over on the main road reflecting off the clouds,” I explained, though she wasn’t totally reassured.
Soon after that, I asked her why she didn’t finish her daily newspaper crossword puzzle. She said, “Oh, I don’t know. I just didn’t feel like it.”
Some evenings I worked in the hair salon until seven or seven thirty. I would tell Emma in the morning that I’d be late coming home. By 2007, she’d greet me angrily as I came in. “Where have you been? Why don’t you think of me, waiting here alone for you?” It was just she and her sweet, blue, teacup poodle, Jetta, sitting on the loveseat in the living room, waiting.
She still played her electronic organ, with the control panel, all lit up, bearing a grand resemblance to an airplane cockpit instrument panel. She read the sheet music. She had played piano most of her life, teaching it before she married, and she taught me.
I quit my hair salon job, as soon as I reached 65 and could collect Social Security; Emma needed someone with her fulltime. I continued writing, though.
Around then, for her birthday, I bought Emma a sketch pad so she could keep painting her watercolors that she framed and exhibited all around the house and had painted as gifts for friends; she painted a red rose for me.
One day she sat in the chaise lounge in the corner between the windows in her studio upstairs and began a sketch of a woman’s head. She laid down the pad and pencil and never returned to the sketch. That was her last drawing.
Story and Avalon, N.J., photos by Samantha Mozart
Thank you Samantha for this beautiful post. The photographs are quite lovely and remind me of Plettenberg Bay. Wider skies, wilder air, views that remind of Nature and her beauty.
Your post reminded me of a time when I was visiting my late mother in Cape Town. I was out for a bit and had said I would be back later. Well she was very angry with me when I got in … it was deeply distressing to me, and clearly to her as well.
Thank you for sharing your kith and kin with us in the gentle way that you do.
I just saw your comment here, Susan. I apologize for missing it earlier. Thank you for sharing your story about your mother. Mothers and daughters have very strong psychic, I would say, bonds.
Thanks for the view of your beaches, too. When my books become best sellers, I think I shall do a world tour of beaches.
I share this story in a “gentle way,” you say. I like that. I hadn’t thought of it specifically.
You do write a very loving description of your mother and aunt. It is wonderful that you had a wonderful relationship with these women. You are lucky. Your pictures of the beach and your family are lovely. I have always loved the ocean beaches as they bring serenity to me. Thanks for a loving and KIND post.
Thanks for your kind comment, Gwynn. Yes I am very fortunate having such a good family.
As you might imagine, I sure wish I were at the beach right now. Avalon, N.J., is such a quiet, relaxing town (on a barrier island). Regenerating. You and I could enjoy long walks on the beach there.
Your writing gave me the sense of being beside you. That’s great writing dear friend.
Your aunt was a wise woman. Who would have ever imagined, in 1960, one year after high school graduation, that our lovely mothers would age? Who thought our favorite family members would suffer from disabling health? These were vibrant people, full of love and caring for our young selves. Your life is completely out of your control when you love enough to care for them when the unexpected occurs. Asian families are prepared from youth to expect this way of life. To give up your life, as you know it, for an ill family member is devotion that many Westerners will hand over to others. God bless you and those who care for others enough.
My thoughts exactly, Marsha, re the unexpected way back in 1960.
Thank you for your kind thoughts, for sharing your knowledge and for you kind compliments on my writing. I love your insight on these issues.
First, these pictures are beautiful. Are they painted or photographs? They have a serene, quiet look about them that makes one want to relax.
Your mother’s aunt was a woman of wisdom. Those words of wisdom that she passed along to you about being nice to your mother were tiny diamonds which later influenced your life ,and how you dealt with your mother when she was on this side of life.
Finally one of the crippling things about diseases are they rob a person of their energy and their motivation. They actually become different people, concentrating only on a few situations. When that too dwindles, they may hold on for a while, but normally they choose to go home, and I can understand that.
This is another heart rendering post. Sometimes I think, if only we would open our eyes to see that true life is found in our respect and harmony with people and nature that surrounds us, instead of the number of things that we accumulate. After all, we can’t take that with us.
I am truly enjoying your series.
As I truly enjoy your series, Patricia. All that you’ve said above is wise and true, and, as usual, you are one step, one post, ahead of me. Tomorrow, the “Lion at the Gate,” and staying on that simple, non-accumulating path.
Those are photos, but I was influenced by my mother’s watercolors, and more so by a watercolorist named Carolyn Blish, who is part of the Andrew Wyeth/Brandywine School of artists, if you are familiar with them. I have a couple Carolyn Blish prints hanging on our walls, large beach scenes, that my mother collected. She is easily googled, if you are interested.
Thank you, dear friend.