December 5, 2014
My mother turns 80 today. And I, her son, turned 60 last August. Aging is a very strange phenomena. My brain is basically the same as it was when I was 35, but no doubt my body is very 60. Talking with my mom, I don’t feel that she’s 80. I feel like I’m talking to a 60 year old. Both of our lives are very compact, in that we both live in the same community, and we share the same supermarkets, as well as her being part of my cell telephone plan. I remember going to Ralphs not long ago and running into my mom in the coffee filter section. I never run into friends there, just my mom. I feel very close to my mom. The other woman in my life is my wife. Then there is my uncle and his boyfriend. That is essentially the unit.
The time period in her life I find totally fascinating. She’s born in 1934, and lived in Hollywood at the heart of the depression, and the War years came afterwards. Then experiencing the post-war years as a female, and dealing with the 1960s as well. And then being married to my father, well, that’s pretty hard work! My life was sort of the flip version of “Father Knows Best, ” in that my mom went out of the house to work, while my dad stayed home to do his work as an artist, as well as making meals for me. He was a horrible cook. I love him dearly, but when my mom was at home, that was cooking that was the best. I remember her singing songs to me, and she played guitar as she sang a lullaby. It was such a good sleep when ever she sang a folk song to me. For the life of me, I can’t remember the song. All I remember is the feeling of comfort and that my life will be safe, sound, and … sleepy.
She worked at various boutiques in the Beverly Hills area, and I remember that my dad (him driving) and I would go pick her up after work. Mostly we waited inside the car till my mom closed the store. I have faint memories of being at her work as she closed the shop. I felt a great deal of excitement as we head back home. I always liked it when we were all in the same room. Which is not that difficult since all our homes were quite small. The essence of my life is to be in a room with both parents there. I’m OK if I’m with my dad, or just with my mom - but when they’re together that was the big hooray for the day for me.
I have no memory of my father going to school with me. I remember him outside the school, or waiting for me in the car by the school - but never in the school. My mom on the other hand I do have a memory of being in school with me. She was good with administrators and had an understanding of how the world worked in such a fashion. If I had to choose who I would trust more, it would be my mom. My dad was good with the crazy stuff, but my mom had a well-balanced way of looking at the world. Also she is non-judgmental, so I never had to add that there was something else in the mix. I’m getting an opinion or a stance from her that comes from her gut. I trust her gut. Hell, she’s my mom. I trust her!
When my father died suddenly (and unexpectedly) she didn’t change, but I on the other hand became an adult. It was almost like watching Joseph Cornell’s "Rose Hobart," with the color filters being taken off. It was the same, but not. It was something else. My mom had to pass through a major change in her life, and even though I was there, it was something she had to do alone. When the ultimate happens, you can be part of a crowd, but one is very much separate from any grouping. Besides my wife, I totally admire my mom. Life as a female is quite challenging in any circumstances, due to the way the world exists - or to be blunt - how the Western world looks at the female.
In my youth, my mom was very much of an iconic figure owing to the photographs taken of her by my father as well as Charles Brittin and Edmund Teske. All three photographers were different in their approach to their art, but yet, their subject matter, my mom, is the same person in all the images. Her physical beauty is without question, but beauty alone does not make the picture. There is something compelling in the image of her that I think a lot of people find enticing. There is no separate image of her that is not her. Each artist saw something of her that they clearly understood and shared through their artwork. Very much the images of the woman in the photographs are clearly my mom. I have met people who are actors, and they are not the same as the character they portray in films - on the other hand, my mom is exactly the image that is reproduced in the photograph.
She has told me numerous times that she hates her photograph to be taken. It is usually the most photogenic who dislikes their image in a photograph. Perhaps that is why the images come out so cool, because she is cool. One thing I do know, is that my father wouldn’t exist without her. Scientifically I wouldn’t be either. But to be honest, beyond science, I need her in my life. I inherited a certain way of needing to examine the world, that for me is essential. I didn’t learn that in school or in books - but through my parents. My mother has a certain amount of genius in her, and I imagine if I can have her sensibility in whatever I do, I shall be OK. I love my mom. Shirley Berman is 80 today.