Do your readers know about Sally?” an East Coast reader recently wrote. “I hope so, and if not, they need to know about her. Good things need to be shared.”
This reader, a longtime friend, knew Sally almost as long I did.
So, though I thought this month’s column would be about the America’s Cup races – those impossibly beautiful, tall, blond, and fit foreign sailors; all that corporate presence; those imposing instant-village structures that transformed the Marina skyline overnight and just as instantly disappeared once the races were over – instead I’ll tell you
about my mother.
She was a pretty impressive structure as well, with an immensely influential shoreline of her own – one from which my selfhood was launched, and whose silhouette I’ve never lost sight of. Since moving to San Francisco, I think about her every day.
Before her death in 1999, we used to sit and talk about it. I wanted to know how to feel about what would be her too-soon passing, and all she had to say was that she wasn’t afraid of it. She also added, “But I will be sad to miss what happens for you next.”
Well, Mama, San Francisco has happened to me.
After she was gone, I went on to perform more NYC shows (how she loved coming from Chicago to see me perform); I became a director and teacher of NYU students (something she’d have loved even more); I married that handsome second husband (who she did at least meet) and I cultivated a vital friendship with my first husband (whom she continued to adore, no matter what). But the thing I really wish she didn’t have to miss?
Because if she could have come here to live with us – in the cunning, garage-level apartment of our Page Street house – she’d have known all she needed to know about the woman I’ve become. And that would have made her happy.
She would have actively responded to San Francisco’s beauty, of course. Mama was a walker, and the flat terrain of both the Marina and the Haight would have made it easy for her to quickly make all neighborhood shop owners her friends for life, even the guy selling chic hemp products a couple of blocks away. This time she would have boasted to them all: “Oh, my daughter lives nearby – she’s a writer, you know,” instead of, “Oh my daughter lives nearby – she’s on Broadway, you know.”
I used to call her MBC: the Mother Broadcasting Company. No matter what, she would have developed warm friendships in no time flat. A one-woman United Nations, my Mama. So, S.F.’s diversity would have thrilled her no end.
But most of all, she would have loved this town for two reasons: I now live here, and I’ve made a happy home on Page Street with a beloved modern family consisting of my dear husband Peter, my former husband Paul, his magnificent partner Stephen, and our two dogs, Cyrano and Sally.
Yes, we named the girl pup after Mama, so I’ve been saying her name out loud (sometimes yelling it) a dozen times a day, and thinking of my mom each time. She would have kvelled over that little detail. Kvell is Yiddish for “to be extraordinarily proud of.” It was a favorite verb of my mother’s, and her favorite state of being as well.
She would be proud of the adventures that brought our Page Street family together, all the happenstances that added up to our sharing this home. She would have cooked special meals for all of us, in either of our wondrous kitchens. She would have cuddled her “grandpuppies” on her lap as she sat watching the world cycle by on this particular stretch of the Wiggle, and eventually adapted to the Chronicle as her daily newspaper. She would have called the Giants her team, retaining loyalty to her Cubbies as well. Mama’s heart was large enough to contain two major league teams in two separate divisions.
But mainly she would be part of what happened to me next, though, in so many ways, she still is. So many ways.