The kids in my neighborhood on Staten Island referred to their maternal parent as Ma, and sometimes Mom, but never Mother. Mother was reserved for rich kids and sissies. My neighborhood had neither.
In my immediate family it was Heyma. "Heyma, where's my hat?" or "Heyma, when do we eat?" Heyma took no offense at this appellation and none was intended. The term just evolved. Besides, Heyma was usually too busy looking for lost hats and getting three squares on the table each day to pay much attention to protocol.
We looked to Heyma for physical support when injured or ill, and moral support when in a bind at school. We always got it. "Heyma, I cut my finger and it hurts," was heard frequently in our house from me or one of my six brothers and sisters. Out came the gauze, salve and the sticky adhesive plaster. Band-Aids had not yet been invented. In no time at all Heyma had a beautiful bandage around the wounded finger and the patient was back outside displaying it to friends.
Heyma was the source of knowledge on all subjects. She also had X-ray vision. "Heyma, I can't find my homework assignment," was a common complaint. "Look in your book bag," came the reply. Sure enough, it was in the book bag. How did she know?
"Heyma, who followed Wilson as president of the United States?" The reply came quickly, "Warren G. Harding, and the next time look it up in your book." Of course we did, but only if Heyma wasn't available. She knew everything, even though she never went to school in this country. She came from the "old country" in the early 1900s.
We leaned on Heyma for comfort in a crisis. She provided us with guidance when we faced a dilemma. It was her advice that got us out of predicaments, and she arbitrated our arguments. When all other means failed, she meted out justice and restored order with a hard whack to the behind. That always brought quick results.
Heyma was the financial manager in our home. Money was usually in short supply, which made her management responsibilities that much more difficult. But from long experience she developed a degree of know-how that would have done credit to a Wharton School of Business graduate. And all without benefit of credit cards.
Heyma's thoughts on interior decoration tilted noticeably toward chairs, to the exclusion of almost everything else except such essential items as tables and beds. She filled our house with chairs which had three things in common. They were upright, of solid wood construction and completely free of any hint of upholstery. No derrie re ever made contact with a padded surface in our house, nor could anyone ever claim that there was no place to sit.
Obviously, a room with little more than upright chairs did not lend itself to much imaginative arrangement. At best, the interior decor of our living room with all its chairs spaced uniformly around the outer walls, could best be described as "contemporary stark."
Heyma was an advocate of the open-window, fresh-air school of health. Once a week the furniture had to be polished and the floor waxed, with the windows open, of course.
Although our house was never unclean, it could be as strewn with debris as a Genghis Khan field of battle. This was especially so following a session of hockey, boxing and dance in the living room. That waxed floor was magnificent. Fortunately, with only chairs to move, order could be restored quickly, which makes me think that perhaps Heyma knew what she was doing all the time.
Mother's Day was recognized by the United States Congress in 1914 and is generally observed in this country on the second Sunday in May. I don't recall anything special being done on Mother's Day in my home years ago. We ate dinner as usual and, also as usual, Heyma did most of the cooking and clean-up.
Today, things are different. Witness a report I received from Florida where all of my brothers and sisters now live: On Mother's Day they and their spouses will dine out, not eat, mind you, but dine. They will go to a beautiful restaurant high up on a roof-top. They will select delicacies, never seen or heard of by Heyma in her lifetime, from a menu as long as a nutritionist's dissertation.
I think I'll take my wife, mother of my children, out to eat, not dine, but eat. I know a place nearby where one can, without benefit of a menu, choose and enjoy the finest home-cooked food to be found in these parts. Heyma would have liked that very much.