Today, I’m sharing another installment of a humor series from my friend Pam Goldman, centering on a woman named Ramona, who tries to help… in her own way. If you’re new to this series: Here’s the previous installment. Read on.
Last Friday night my husband K. and I were with dear friends on our patio, relaxing on chaise lounges, all in a row, six feet apart, feasting on Rosh Hashanah brisket and noodle kugel and sipping Malbec. We were covered in faux fur ‘lap robes’ from Pottery Barn to protect us from the bracing September chill. If a black and white photo was snapped we could be mistaken for passengers reveling on the deck of the Titanic (before the iceberg).
My friend Abby’s arm suddenly went slack as she let her cell phone drop to her side. Without inflection, she stated, “Ruth Bader Ginsburg died.” And we all had the same sinking feeling.
I gasped. “How can this be? It’s too soon, too sudden! Not when we need her, not now!” Time stood still in the moments that followed as we tried to absorb the incalculable impact her passing would portend. Here was the whiplash of history slamming us when we least expected it. Shaken, we did a somber clean-up and everyone went home to turn on the news.
I went to bed but stayed awake thinking about the Notorious R.B.G. She came from humble beginnings in Brooklyn, born to immigrant parents who were shop owners. How had this small-boned woman, just shy of 5 feet tall become such a giant?
The answer in large part (and I know she would agree) was her mother, Celia. Born to an immigrant family in Brooklyn, Celia was whip smart, graduating from high school at 15 but denied the advantage of a college education, taking a back seat to her brother, who was sent off to Cornell. The only option for Celia was a job in Manhattan in the garment district, better known as ‘the rag trade.’
Celia married Nathan Bader and remained in Flatbush to raise a family. Tragically they lost their first child, a daughter, Marylin, to meningitis when she was 6 years old, leaving Ruth, 14 months at the time, a de facto ‘only child.’ It became Celia’s fervent dream to see Ruth fulfill her considerable potential.
Celia was ahead of her time. She didn’t buy into the antiquated ethos that “the man looks to the future and the woman looks to the man.” She believed it was a moral imperative for her daughter and all women to achieve independence.
Sadly Ruth’s biggest cheerleader died of cervical cancer at the age of 47, on the day before her daughter was to graduate with honors from high school, a profound loss for Ruth. There is literature on girls who have lost their mothers at a young age, in fact a whole book devoted to the subject. Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman, who lost her own mother when she was 17, documents her own experience as well as other womens’ reflections on the searing impact of their loss, many describing it as a wound that is life-long and never completely heals.
I believe Celia was the impetus for her daughter’s laser-focused ambition. I imagine Ruth powering through law school on the wings of the ephemeral hopes and dreams of her mother, all while raising her first child, a daughter born when Ruth was just 22 years old.
I love that Ruth and Marty met in college when she was a freshman and he was a sophomore and that they married soon after she graduated. I love that he was a really good cook and she wasn’t. I love that he became her biggest supporter and was secure enough in his own skin to take over household tasks and help with kids when she was studying. They were true partners, not in a law firm, but in their marriage. What a great template for their daughter and son.
RBG spoke deliberately and softly but was heard round the world. And she did it all with style. She even made some of the ‘best dressed’ lists. The word “grit” is overused in my opinion but it does apply to RBG. She said she battled prejudice and bias throughout her life and career on three counts; as a woman, as a mother and as a Jew. And later in life she valiantly battled several cancers until pancreatic cancer finally vanquished her.
Most women today are independent, in large part because of her efforts, but a core truth in my case. I have never been completely financially independent and I would like to have been. This may be true for many women of a certain age (older than 50). I confess I have always been grateful to be born female in the dinosaur age when women were not expected to bear the responsibility of putting food on the table and a roof over everyone’s heads.
I frankly can’t understand why more men don’t suffer nervous breakdowns daily under the weight of their dependents. I fear I would need to go somewhere to ‘rest’ for three weeks to collect my marbles if I was the designated breadwinner. Should I be embarrassed to admit this? I’m feeling a little bit embarrassed. Keep it under your hat please.
It can be quite humbling if you use RBG as a barometer for what you can accomplish in 87 years. She literally changed the world we live in, making it more equitable for women and generally better for all of us.
It gives one pause. What have I done? Well, I say to myself, “I’ve made calls to voters in Pennsylvania, Arizona and Texas to inform them about mail-in ballots. I sent a petition to everybody I know to hold off appointing a replacement for RBG until after the next inauguration. I donate to causes I believe in. On a smaller scale I fulfilled my granddaughter’s request this morning for a drawing in colored markers of herself and her younger sister wearing identical blue dresses, blue socks and blue shoes, climbing a green mountain together. And mailed it. I called a friend who’s going into the hospital. I made K. dinner. My most important accomplishment is that I raised two self-sufficient daughters, both accomplished women now, of whom I’m immensely proud.” I tell myself, “it all counts.”
I am not a giant. I am simply a human, living a medium-sized life, like most people.
Oh! I did a tally and this is my 20th RAMONA! Happy Anniversary to me! (If I didn’t have osteoarthritis I would pat myself on the back!) I do hope I’ve added a smile or a chuckle or a hint of recognition as you’ve followed my musings. We’ll get through these !!!#$#!!!&!! days because RBG would expect nothing less of us.
Rest in peace RBG knowing your life was a blessing to us all.
Onward we’ll go, following the giant steps you made to guide us.
The last word: VOTE.
This originally appeared on Medium.