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A visit to Brooklyn brings Mom back to me again

Anne and Fred Lefkof with daughter Phyllis Lefkof

Anne and Fred Lefkof with daughter Phyllis Lefkof Weinberger in 1993. Photo Credit: Weinberger family photo

My mom died May 14, 1999 -- five days after Mother's Day.

It took many years for me to find consolation in the phrase "Happy Mother's Day" even though I am a mom myself. My kids would bring comforting gifts, but my heart wasn't in it. My own mom was gone.

My parents, Fred and Ann Lefkof, are buried in the Star of David Cemetery in Florida along with so many of their generation who left Brooklyn to retire, buy condos and enjoy their remaining years in South Florida.

Although she wasn't physically active before, once she was in Florida, my mom became quite the athlete in her 70s and 80s. She would walk three miles at the crack of dawn, then put on a bathing suit and rubber cap to swim 30 laps in the condos' grand pool. Her routine kept her strong and physically healthy.

Dementia was her downfall. She had, well, what seems like a silly variety of the condition. She would sing and recite poetry. It got to the point where there was no talking to her. She would croon a tune from a Broadway show in response to anything you said. Our family would accept it and just go on loving her. It was astonishing how an accomplished accountant who ran an office on 34th Street in Manhattan could become Andrew Lloyd Webber's self-proclaimed singer of songs. It was a sweet silliness and at times made her even more endearing.

My way of paying respects to my mom is to visit the street where I grew up, Avenue M and East 18th Street in Midwood, Brooklyn. It's the perfect setting to pay homage to her. My husband and I take our annual Mother's Day drive to my old neighborhood so I can say a pretend hello to both of my parents.

I can picture my mom walking down Avenue M with her groceries from Waldbaum's after a hard day's work in the city. She left the house at 7 a.m. and returned at 5 p.m. like clockwork. I would meet her to help her carry her beloved fruits and vegetables. (She was way ahead of her time with nutrition. She didn't believe in bakery goods and sweets. That was dad's thing.)

I pictured her hustling to the train in the early morning. (No one in my family was ever late for anything.) A sewing store on Avenue M was her go-to place. She met Patrice Munsel, the opera soprano, there one afternoon and repeated every word she said to her for years. She adored each operatic moment on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

I am a young girl again on this street of memories as I picture mom holding my hand, whisking me to school with my Dale Evans lunchbox. She scolds me for jumping on each sidewalk crack and hugs me goodbye when we get there. She passes each store and mentions doing some shopping on the way home.

Back in the present, I remember her strength and confidence in everything she said and did. She had a self-assurance that even a child could admire. I had the best mom of anyone. I was proud to be her daughter.

After 16 years, I can now spend Mother's Day with my wonderful family in good spirits. My son and daughter have fond memories of Grandma, too. My granddaughter is named after my mom. She is our wonderful Annie.

Reader Phyllis Weinberger lives in North Woodmere.


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