Fashion Maven, Broadway Baby, Lunch Lady, Perfect Mom

momIn honor of my late mother, Gertrude Garsten, I am posting the eulogy I gave at her funeral December 26, 2007.

What a great Mom! fashion maven, social director, one-time buyer at a NY department store chain, mah jong mentor,  a little bit of yenta, (who isn’t?), political animal, admired school lunch lady, and probably the only one on Earth who could day in and day out, put together an outfit my Dad would agree to wear.

My mother had impeccable taste for almost everything…whether it was fashion, furniture, restaurants, music and theatre , and man, could she smoke out a deal. But most of all, she simply loved people, and wasn’t shy about interacting with them.

It wasn’t unusual to see her try on a top or a skirt and then run an instant “Gert Poll” among unsuspecting fellow shoppers asking their opinion of how the garment looked on her.  Invariably, folks who didn’t know better patronized her fawning over how nicely it looked.  Mom knew what worked and what didn’t.  She quickly cast aside the questionable concensus of her new acolytes, telling them, in her little baby voice….”nooooooooo…that’s not right. OK. Thanks.” …and head for a new fashion gene pool to play in.

Indeed, our Mom was whipsmart who knew what worked and what didn’t in almost every aspect of her long, wonderful life.

Her sense of fashion, trend and design turned our small 2-bedroom garden apartment in New York into something some makeover maven on HGTV would kvell from, pointing out new materials, window treatments, new ideas for the same old rooms. 

She loved working with kids.  Early in her career as a sometimes, but mostly not paid, aide, Mom served with honor as a lunch lady. But not just a lunch lady.  She came in dolled up with her hair freshly set, perfect accessories and makeup applied just so.  When me and my brother Joel’s lunches would accidentally get swapped, Mom swept into the lunchroom, looking luminous.  Kids would say “woo hooo…who’s the hot one?”  It was our mom…the damn greatest looking lunch lady in NY or anywhere else in the tristate area.  After retiring to Florida in 1988, she quickly caught on at a local grade school where she patiently gave her time to help children with tough family lives, catch up to their classmates. She would get so excited and proud when one of the kids she helped got a good grade on a test or assignment.

Above all, she and my dad made a dream team—opposites complementing each other to form a perfect match.  He was introverted with a great sense of humor, she was extroverted, quick with a laugh, reeling in new friends with the ease of someone who just loved to connect with people. Didn’t take but a few minutes before Mom became your best friend—or at least made you feel that way. That’s why they were never at a loss to find travel companions, canasta partners, or just wonderful friends with whom they could share a relaxing meal at a great restaurant or coffee and cake at home.

Our Mom was, as was my dad, unselfish with her time and her attention, especially for her grandchildren and great grandson, David. Their wish was her command.  When she found out my daughter, about 8 at the time,  was interested in this crazy toy from Japan called a Tamagatchi she ran all over town looking for the egg-shaped virtual pet—did she succeed?Of course.

She loved to sing…loudly…around the house in her operatic voice. Mostly show tunes, some standards. Didn’t matter that she didn’t know any of the words. But we knew when she was singing, she was happy. We kind of enjoyed her take on improv.

Even as her health began to fail precipitiously after my did passed away in March, Mom never lost her sense of who she was or the pride she took when the hair, the makeup, the outfit just worked.  So a few weeks ago, during a quick visit, her wonderful aide, Violet let me know Mom needed a little pampering to build back some of her self-esteem.  Over the course of four hours, Mom was the center of attention at the salon—a manicure, a pedicure, a hair styling and a little makeup, the works. She was that hot lunch lady all over again. It was a wonderful day.  It turned out to be the last day I had with her..and what a great day it was—my sweet little Mommy with her freshly coiffed hair, just –so makeup and really bright pink nails.  Was pretty perfect.  Just like her.

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