Retro Candy

Or: Why Finding Closure Isn’t for the Birds
By Dixie Feldman, Contributing Writer

Mama Peggy and her rootin' tootin' offspring
Mama Peggy and her rootin' tootin' offspring
I’d like to talk about my mother, and a parrot named Butch. But I’d first like to tell you why my mom was way, way better than us. Well, way better than me.She was also the kind of mother that left space for you to be yourself. For example, when it came to clothing, Mom was the classy type who once told me her favorite color was taupe. I, on the other hand, never met a rhinestone I didn’t like. Whenever we were shopping together we had an expression we’d use whenever one of us held up an item for the other’s inspection. “Isn’t this shirt cute?” I might say.

“I wouldn’t choose it for myself,” she’d charitably reply. And in turn when she invariably held up what as far as I was concerned might as well have been a burlap sackcloth, I’d answer, “I wouldn’t choose it for myself.’ And we’d each go on to buy our tawdry and tasteful frocks, respectively.

Mom was the kind of person who:

* Found a $20 bill on the floor in the mall and took it immediately to the nearest store where she turned it in to the cashier, “in case anyone comes back looking for it.”
* Would buy a second teddy bear for her car’s backseat window so the first one “wouldn’t feel lonely.” (OK, that I’d do, too.)
* Let her children have Jiffy-Pop and those little hors d’oeuvres pizzas for dinner on Saturday nights.
* Celebrated Valentine’s Day with gifts delightfully inappropriate for small children. (I still have the glamorous bottle of Calandre perfume I got when I was six.)

Peggy in her prime.
Peggy in her prime.
These examples speak of some of the things I most cherish about mom: her unfailing honesty, and her attentiveness to the really important things in life, important things like holidays, and the well-being of stuffed animals.

Even though I’m the kind of person some folks generously call “a character,” Mom always let me do my own thing, no matter how wacky, or unsettling. When I was a teenager Mom didn’t worry that I listened to Alice Faye instead of REO Speedwagon. She didn’t balk when I wore thrift store nightgowns to school, or plucked my eyebrows into Harlow-like oblivion. Mom wasn’t fazed when I had dozens of adult pen pals I’d met through the “Nostalgia Book Club” (a fine organization I’d encountered in the back of TV Guide.)

RetroRadar Editor Leslie Thompson with Dixie Feldman in her Manhattan abode
RetroRadar Editor Leslie Thompson with Dixie Feldman in her Manhattan abode
But it wasn’t just that Mom didn’t flinch at my unrelenting nuttiness, she was also really supportive well beyond the call of maternal duty. One summer she drove an hour to North Miami nearly every week so I could pick up one of a succession of hideous objets d’art I kept winning from this late night movie trivia contest on local TV. The first time we went to pick up the indescribable lampesque item I’d won, the store didn’t believe 14-year-old me was the Miss Feldman who’d known so much about Adolphe Menjou. When they questioned my authenticity Mom indignantly defended me, saying “Go ahead! Ask her, ask her anything!” To this day I don’t know when I’ve ever felt as button-poppingly proud.

Mom also supported my old movie jones by letting me stay up late to watch one of my favorites–and on rare occasions even stay home from school. Sometimes when I was very young she’d let me stay up past the “Wonderful World of Disney” to watch a socially relevant movie. This is how little girl me came to see Patch of Blue with Sidney Poitier, The Diary of Anne Frank, and, inexplicably, Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Our own Craig Thompson gets his teeth cleaned by a member of Dixie's menagerie
Our own Craig Thompson gets his teeth cleaned by a member of Dixie's menagerie
The Birds was scary, but The Diary of Anne Frank was scarier. It made a big impression on me, maybe because Mom had always made sure to impress upon us the tragedy of the Holocaust and spoke of her own family that perished during the War. After seeing the movie I dropped my previous imaginary friend, “Susie Chindergarten,” like a hot potato for my new non-fictional pal, Anne Frank. In retrospect, this turned out to be a mistake, as it’s hard to ask for sympathy, or complain about the horrors of recess, when your confidante is Anne F. Still, there was something comforting about my imaginary friend, this sad, sweet, silent companion who accompanied me everywhere like an invisible little black balloon.

Though I’m older and have outgrown a need for secret friends, I haven’t outgrown needing and wanting my mommy. Now that Mom’s lustrous soul has trailed Anne’s into some softer, sweeter world I have to face this new mommyless world where the sun will shine not quite as bright, I will sing not as often, and where Christmas can never be the same. But I’m comforted knowing that Mom is comfortable, finally, in a better, brighter place. And I now have a new hidden friend in whom I can reliably confide and find solace. I feel that Mommy will always be here with me, for me, when I need a friend. When I need my mommy.

There’s something primal about the word “Mommy.” It seems like a small, childish word, but there’s something there that’s deep and enormous and eternal. And sometimes, when life is like the ocean–rough, and salty, and threatening to pull you under–you can feel like you’re floundering in a vast sea that’s scary and deep and dark. But then something huge and smooth rises from beneath to lift you to a dry, safe shore. Some people call that glossy big-ness “God.” (Sometimes I call it God.) But always–that gentle, loving hand FEELS like–feels like “Mommy.”

The comfort of a mommy–and the longing for a mommy–is powerful, unalterable and universally understood. The words Ma, Mama, Mommy are the heart’s Esperanto, transcending time and culture. And perhaps more.

Which brings me to my parrot, Butch.

Like my Mom, I am utterly, constitutionally incapable of buying just one of something I like. She bought shirts in every color–me, I have five parrots. Butch is one of them, a talkative African Grey whose conversations are primarily confined to cashews and admonishing my dog, Lulu. But he also says important things, like “Good boy,” “Hello!” and “I love you.” But, as I sat and tried to write words that might sum up how I feel to be without my beautiful, beautiful mother, I found I couldn’t come up with anything truer than the words Butch says whenever I leave the room. These words tick loudly like a Metronome in my brain, and wail incessantly from deep inside my chest. Butch implores, over and over, “Where’s Mommy?” “Where’s Mommy???”

And Butch says something else. From the bathroom and the hallway outside my front door I hear this sad, simple message. I repeat it now, with all my heart:

Goodbye Mommy. I love you.

Dixie Feldman is a prolific writer and public speaker, popular television personality, and die-hard retrophile. She is currently working on a book about The Lost Art of Being a Dame.

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