It was summer 1974, the first and only time my mom visited me in Santa Barbara. I picked her up at the little airport, a role reversal after the countless times I'd look for her gold Toyota outside baggage claim in St. Louis. Serendipitously, I'd picked up two friends hitchhiking that day and when I told them of my mother's visit, the woman gave me the key to her apartment and said we could stay there and she'd stay with her boyfriend. The visit seemed already to be blessed.
I'd just completed my B.A. at UCSB in Sociology and she was a Psychology Teacher at Florrisant Valley Community College, about to branch out and teach courses in Women's Studies and Human Sexuality. She was five years into her life as a college instructor, having moved to St. Louis with my younger brothers in the wake of divorce and twenty years in Peoria, Il. One of the many reasons I loved visiting her in St. Louis was because her apartment would be filled with food and laughter on Saturdays as people from the Orthodox community she belonged to would drop by during their Sabbath walks. A number of 20-something folks in particular liked to come and visit with her. They were drawn to her good hearted irreverence and humor. They didn't know the half of how far her lifestyle extended.
We jumped easily into a back and forth "catch-up" conversation as we made our way through Santa Barbara's tony downtown. Mom was really excited to tell me how she was spending many evenings with a mostly African-American crowd who lived in an old section of the city. At the community college she had a number of older students, and one of them had brought her into this new peer group. She said that they smoked grass and then sat around talking about art, philosophy, and politics into the wee hours. She turned to me and asked if I knew how to get some of that stuff. We took a detour and got my mom her first "lid." Then we went to the drive-in movies, toked up, and giggled our way through one or two comedies whose titles I wish I could remember.
She died a short six years later, just after her 51st birthday, on another visit to California where she saw me in San Francisco and then my brother Josh in L.A. A drunk driver hit her car head-on on Highway 1 as she was making her way down to San Diego. I used to love to talk to her on Mother's Day. One year I made her a book of quotes and pictures pasted from magazines that I've since "inherited." Though I wish I had more Mothers' Days to connect with her, I consider myself the luckiest guy in the world to have had her as Mom, role model, and friend, serving me endless amounts of my favorite Jewish foods, going with me to hear Jerry Garcia laughing and buzzed, and jumping across all manners of social and religious boundaries to live a full and multi-dimensional life.