Every day at exactly five in the afternoon me Mum took her medicine. She got it from our local pharmacy where it was kept behind the pharmacists counter with locked glass doors.
Me Mum had to take another dose of her medicine at eight and we had to be in bed before that. Rules were rules.
She’s gone now but we were the only kids in our Brooklyn neighborhood to call our mother Mum. It had something to do with England and the Queen’s Mum.
We were Williamsburg Jews and in those days pharmacies were allowed to sell pints and half pints of liquor for supposedly medicinal purposes.
“Mum,” I asked. “How come you don’t take pills like the other kids’ mothers instead of drinking that smelly medicine?”
“Oh, so you’re a doctor now,” she’d come back with. “The fact is that after your father left I got sick and this is the only kind of medicine that helps.”
I ran into my father on the subway years later and he said he left because she was drinking too much and he couldn’t live with her anymore. I said, “What about us kids? We didn’t drink. Couldn’t you live with us?”
“Don’t be a wiseass,” he said and got off at the next stop.
Mum’s medicine put her in the hospital and from there to the cemetery. By that time I was eleven and my sisters nine and eight and we were all parceled out to different family members. The girls went to Connecticut and lived in the same town and had good lives and married locally.
I drew the short straw and ended up with our one Orthodox family in Brooklyn who thought of me as indentured and needing discipline on a constant basis. Finally at sixteen I joined the Army, faking their signatures and learned how to drive a tank, shoot a rifle and fight – mostly with other soldiers who wanted to feel the Jew horns on my head and use offensive slang for my nickname.
When I finally got out I visited my sisters, but not Williamsburg, and together we went to the cemetery to visit Mum’s grave. They hadn’t been since the funeral and were surprised to see the headstone I’d ordered and paid for.
Sent here by bad medicine
That was followed by the usual Hebrew words and birth and death dates along with her full name.
I reached into my back pack and brought out three nips of Mum’s medicine and we each drank ours down and left the tiny bottles on her gravestone in lieu of the more traditional stones.
published 17 July 2013