What My Mother Gave Me Before She Died

What My Mother Gave Me Before She Died

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reader's Choice 20th Anniversary Edition

What My Mother Gave Me Before She Died

God could not be everywhere, so he created mothers.

~Jewish Proverb

She’s the kind of woman who would say, “Ucch, what a depressing funeral.” And so the obvious thing to say is that I want to celebrate my mom. But what I really want to do is share my mom. Not the person who was here the past few months, but the woman who was here the past sixty-three years.

My mother fought to have me. She tried for three years to get pregnant. And I think that struggle always left her feeling thankful for what she had. It is, to this moment, the only rational way to explain the never-ending love she gave to me.

As I entered grade school, my father, who breathes baseball, signed me up for Little League. I lasted one year. But it wasn’t until a few months ago that I finally found out just who saved me from year two. Stewie, don’t make him play if he doesn’t want to play. Even back then, she knew me. And for all of childhood, she nurtured me, growing my little artsy side and always making sure that I could find my own adventure. And she fed it with one of the greatest seeds of imagination: Television.

This will sound silly and trite, but in my mother’s honor, I’m not apologizing for it. One of my clearest memories of childhood is sitting at the side of my mom’s bed — the side that faced the TV — and watching show after show with her. To be clear, TV wasn’t something that watched me — she didn’t put it on just so she could go do something else. My mother watched with me. Or rather, I watched with her. Old movies like Auntie Mame, and modern classics like Taxi, Soap, MASH and, of course, our favorite for every Wednesday night, Dynasty. (Please, what else are you gonna do with a son who doesn’t play baseball?) Some mothers and sons never find anything they can truly share. But my mom always treated me like an adult, always let me stay up late to watch the good stuff, and in those moments, she did one of the best things any parent can do: She shared what she loved with me.

When I was thirteen, my mom faced the worst tragedy of her life — the death of her father. My Poppy. Poppy would do anything for my mother, and when he died, I remember being at his funeral. My mom was screaming and yelling wildly because the funeral home had neglected to shave him and she wanted him to look just right. It was a ferocity she saved for people messing with her family — something I had never seen before and would never see again. And I know she put that one in me, too.

When I think of my mom — more than anything else — I think of the pure, immeasurable, almost crazy love she had for me. I remember the first time I gave her The Tenth Justice. It was my first published novel, my first time ever putting real work out for anyone to see. I was terrified when she said she’d finished it. And then she looked right at me and said, “Bradley, I know I’m your mother, but I have to be honest with you. This book . . . is the greatest book of all time!”

When someone was recounting the story to me a few days ago, he called my mother the queen of hyperbole. But as I think about it, he had it wrong. Hyperbole is a deliberate exaggeration. My mother never used hyperbole. My mother actually believed it. In her eyes, I really did write the greatest book of all time.

A few years ago, I went to the headquarters of Borders Books up in Ann Arbor. And when I was there the main buyer for Borders said to me, “Guess where your books sell more than anywhere else? Straight sales, not even per capita.” So of course I said, “New York.” That’s eight million New Yorkers in one city.

“No.”

“Washington, D.C.? I write about D.C.”

“No.”

“Chicago, the flagship superstore?”

“No.”

The number one place my books sell was the Boca Raton Borders, two miles from the furniture store where my mother worked. That means my mother single-handedly beat eight million New Yorkers. Messing with the power of a Jewish mother is one thing, but never ever mess with the power that was Teri Meltzer.

Of course, what made my mom my mom was the fact that that love — that love that burned in her brighter than fifty suns — was there even when times were bad. When The First Counsel was published, USA Today gave me a ruthless review. It was the kind of review that just felt like a public humiliation. The headline was: “Make First Your Last.” But when my mother saw it, she said to me, “Don’t worry. No one reads that paper anyway.” It’s the number one paper in the entire country!

And when the second novel had bombed and I was wracked with fear, I’ll never forget my mom on the phone — she said to me, “I’d love you if you were a garbage man.” And to this day, EVERY day that I sit down to write these books, I say those words to myself — “I’d love you if you were a garbage man.” I don’t care where she is — my mother is always there for me.

Let me be clear: All our strength, confidence, any success my sister and I have been blessed enough to receive, those were all watered and nurtured by the strength of the love that my mother showered on us. When I found out the last book had hit the top spot on the bestseller list, the first person I called was my mother. And of course my mom started crying hysterically. She was so proud. And when I heard her crying, I of course started crying. And in the midst of this tear-fest, I said to her, “Where are you now?” And through her sobs, she said to me, “I’m at Marshall’s.”

Of course she’s at Marshall’s, still trying to buy irregular socks for two dollars. It was my mother’s greatest lesson: Never, ever, ever, ever change for anyone. And her second greatest lesson: That Marshall’s just may be the greatest store on Earth.

In the end, my mother died the same way she lived. She laughed and smiled and enjoyed everything she could get from life, most of all, her grandchildren. They were the second great love of her life. When each of my children was born, my mother said to me, “Now you’ll understand how I love you.”

She was right. And it was the first time I got to see life through my mom’s eyes.

I don’t miss particular moments with my mother. I can always remember those moments. What I miss is my mother, and her reactions, and how she never hesitated to tell you whom she hated or what she thought, and most of all, how she loved me and my family with more love than one person should be able to muster.

She once said to me, “I’d saw off my own arm for you.” Again, not an exaggeration. Just Teri Meltzer being Teri Meltzer.

That love my mom gave me is my strength. It never. Ever. Wavered. It’s like the hum of an airplane engine — it’s there and it never lets up and it never stops — and you get so used to it, it just becomes part of the ride. But you’d know the second it was gone. My mother’s love for us never stopped.

It was a constant.

A foundation.

A law.

It is the pillar that has carried me everywhere and holds me up right now. Her love is a gift that she gave me. And it is the part of her that I hope I carry with me every time my child or grandchild shows me a picture they colored, every time I say thank you to the valet who parks my car, and damn well every time I drive past Marshall’s.

I miss you, Mom. And I thank you. I thank you for teaching me how a parent is supposed to love their child. And I hope you know that, in that and so much else, you live on forever.

~Brad Meltzer

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