My mother has been gone for 18 years and I still wonder why I didn’t ask her more questions about the life she led before she married. The little I do know, I learned from occasional remarks she made about her past. Why did I not use those opportunities to question her in greater depth about the young woman she once was: What were her dreams? What did she enjoy doing? Who were her friends? Over and over again, I now wonder, “Why didn’t I ask?”
When I was in elementary school, my parents were a constant, reliable source of comfort, as both were available all the time — my father had a butcher shop on the ground floor of our apartment building, and my mother didn’t work outside the home.
Many times, my father would relate stories about how he met and courted my mother, or funny episodes he experienced with her parents. I never thought to explore those stories further by asking him questions to gain more details. Was it because I was too busy with my own life? I now regret this.
I do remember how amazed I was when my mother confided she had desperately wanted a boy when she was pregnant with her first child.
“Why did you care?” I asked. “With a first baby it doesn’t matter.” My mother’s answer was surprising for a traditional woman born in 1906: “Because a boy can do everything; he has so many opportunities.” Then and there, I missed a chance to unlock secrets about my mother, to question her about her dreams as a young girl. What would she like to have done in her life that she couldn’t because of her gender?
She always read our textbooks with great interest, yet I never engaged her in conversation about them. Which subjects did she like best? What were her thoughts about them? Years after we all left the house, I suggested she take a part-time job as she was outgoing and cheerful, with a wonderful sense of humor. She loved to be with people and I thought a job would make her happy. She never followed up on the suggestion; I suspect my father would not have liked it.
I never asked if she had any other boyfriends before she met my father. She did tell me about the dates she had with him and the places he took her. There is a picture of the two of them in a car in Coney Island, and I have their wedding picture — that’s it. Were there other boyfriends, other crushes, other dates? I’ll never know.
Time goes by so quickly. Perhaps we always think there is time to ask our parents questions, time to discover the people they were before they were our parents. We are all so busy with our own lives, especially when we are young, anxious to experience all life has to offer. Suddenly, they are gone and we are left with the question, “Why didn’t I ask?”
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