Bowling with Trudy and Roger

Turkey Mountain

roger.mom_.1971One of my sisters suggested I write about my mother and bowling. I was resistant because I don’t particularly remember the details. Where did she bowl? How good was she? Who, besides her good friend Pat, was on her team?

But I capitulated in large part because of one true thing. She and I were the only ones in our nuclear family to join a bowling league. My sisters bowled occasionally. Did my father bowl at all?

As a result, mom and I had a shared lingua decem paxillos. We could keep score by pencil; this was before those sometimes flawed automatic scoring machines. It’s not particularly difficult, but my mom and I liked the math exercise.

And when I was a tween, I was rather good at the game. I once scored a 186 when I was ten, which was pretty impressive, actually. The terrible thing, though, is that I gave it up after only a year or two, and I don’t recall why. But my mom, it seems, continued for quite a while when she still lived in Binghamton.

BTW, I don’t remember where I bowled either. The lanes on Laurel Avenue, where I sometimes went in high school? I have no idea.

Peaking in fifth grade

Oh, I never did get much better than my grade school pinnacle. At college, I would play occasionally with friends, but I broke 200 only three or four times. My all-time high score was 222 when I was 22. Seriously. It was the day after Candid Yam, her brother, her sister and I went up Turkey Mountain – how appropriate! – in 10F weather, consuming brandy.

Then I’d play irregularly until my left knee became so sore that I couldn’t release the ball correctly. My mother, I’ve only recently learned, had to give up bowling when her hip began to hurt her.

Today would have been mom’s 94th birthday. I picked this picture from c. 1971 because my sister says her favorite of my mother and me together.

Pinochle with my mom and dad

a hundred aces

PinochlePinochle is “a card game for two or more players using a 48-card deck consisting of two of each card from nine to ace, the object being to score points for various combinations and to win tricks.” Within the game, it was also specifically “the combination of the queen of spades and jack of diamonds.” It’s pronounced PEA-knuckle.

I’ve participated in lots of card games in IRL: canasta, bid whist, hearts, spades, casino, gin rummy, 500 rummy. Yet the only game I have on my phone is pinochle. I’ll play it just before going to bed, or maybe as a diversion from the frustration of the day.

As I figured out, it’s because it is a thing that I played with just my mom and dad. This went on from when I was about 10 until I departed I went to college. And the double-deck version, which is my preferred iteration to play, is a game I’ve only ever played with my parents. It didn’t involve my sisters, just the three of us.

Cut-throat double-deck pinochle involved holding 26 cards in your hand. The nines are removed from the deck, and the person winning the first trick got the two-card kitty.

Jack of diamonds, queen of spades

So I think it is the case that pinochle is a reflection of my parents. One can have a lot of points (meld) to bid. For instance, a pinochle is worth four points, but a double pinochle is worth 30. A triple pinochle is 60, and a quadruples is 90. A double set of jacks are worth 40, a double set of queens 60, and a double set of kings 80.

But then you have to take enough points via tricks to actually save the meld, or you forfeit it. A hand with multiple pinochle or two sets of face cards don’t have a lot of power. For that, you want several aces and/or length in a trump suit, preferably both. My dad was the flashy high-meld hand, while mom was the one who always tried to make sure that high-bid hands weren’t for naught.

This is, I recognize, an imperfect analogy. One can have hands with lots of points and power (double sets of aces are 100 points, double runs of JQK10A are 150). But my parents seldom had an easy time of it. So when I fritter away my time on pinochle, I’ll think of mom and dad, who had gotten married 71 years ago today.

Gert and Gertie – make that Trudy

the anniversary of my mother’s death in 2011

Gert and TrudyThis a picture of my mother as a child. She’s with HER mother, Gertrude Yates Williams. Like Lorelai on Gilmore Girls, Gertrude and Clarence Williams, if he had a say in the matter, named the girl after her mother. (Clarence was apparently quite marginalized by my grandmother’s mother, Lillian Archer Yates Holland.)

There is an odd thing in the photo. My mother looks rather sad, but actually, that often seems to be the case in pictures from this time period. The real revelation is that my grandmother looks happy! In all the time I knew her, she never looked particularly cheerful. Maybe that’s because as long I knew my grandmother, she told us she was on death’s door. She also had bad teeth, if memory serves.

My mother was working outside the home, at McLean’s department store in downtown Binghamton. So my sisters and I would go to my grandma Williams’ house for lunch. This meant we went to Daniel Dickinson in grade school rather than Oak Street. This, of course, fundamentally changed the trajectory of our growing up.

At some point after she married our dad, mom stopped being Gertie, a term her remaining cousin Fran still uses. She became Trudy. As best I can recall, I never asked her why she changed her nickname. Perhaps it was obvious, to distinguish her more from her mother.


When I was an adult, I did talk to mom about all the scary stories her mother would tell to keep us in line. Tales of boogie men, real and imagined. (Grandma’s next-door neighbor, Fred, was pretty terrifying when our ball would inevitably land in his yard.)

My mom acted surprised that her mom would use fear to try to control us. And BTW, Gert’s tactics worked pretty well with Leslie and me. Not so much on baby sister Marcia, who could see through her lies. Mom probably knew what was happening. I suppose she thought that Gert’s sister Deana would be a mitigating force against Gert’s BS. It was somewhat true. I loved Deana dearly, but she died in 1966 before she turned 60.

Anyway, today is the anniversary of my mother’s death in 2011. It recently occurred to me that this is also around the time my grandmother died. It was January 24, 1982. I only remember this because my father (I think) called me during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVI, when San Francisco 49ers beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 26-21.

The parents’ balance of power

Married 1950; dad died in 2000, mom in 2011

March 12, 1950: Bride Trudy between Les (left, behind her) and Gert (to the right, dark hat)

My parents were married seventy years ago today. I think about them, individually and collectively, a lot. I’m sure that I’ve mentioned that, when I was growing up in Binghamton, I felt bad for my mom. She was often left out of the balance of power, as far as I could tell.

Mom was squeezed between her mother, who owned the house we lived in and resided a half a mile away, and her husband, who had an outsized personality. As I noted eight years ago, my mother telling secrets to her kids was the great equalizer. They were stories about my dad that he had presumably told her in confidence.

At the time, I was thrilled to get the insights. He was born out of wedlock? The guy I knew as my grandfather wasn’t his biological grandfather? Dad hated Christmas because a drunk relative toppled the Christmas tree when he was seven? That explained a lot.

It was only after he died in 2000 that I fully recognized my discomfort with the setup. My sisters and I couldn’t ACT on the information. We couldn’t ask him about so much because we knew things that he didn’t know we knew.

How would we be able to explain knowing what knew without ratting out our mother? And what would have been the repercussions on her?

There were two times when I saw her with the upper hand in the relationship. One was when my father moved to Charlotte, NC and she took her sweet time following him down. My mom’s aunt Charlotte, for one, was not a fan of my father and actively campaigned for her to stay in upstate New York. Eventually, though, she, and my baby sister, and eventually my maternal grandmother all moved down to North Carolina.

The belated 1996 Christmas

The other time she had the balance of power was so out of the blue. In January 1997, my sisters, their daughters and I were all down in Charlotte. My father was brooding all day, doing what my sisters and I called the “black cloud,” a sulking so intense that it almost felt that he literally sucked the air out of the room.

Finally, that evening, Dad explained that he thought the daughters of my sisters were being disrespectful and not too big to spank. Leslie, ever the diplomat, expressed her appreciation for his sharing, but kindly disagreed. I followed her lead.

Then my mother launched into a tirade – or as much of one as she could muster. It was about how he had taken out a lot of money, five figures, from their joint bank account without her knowledge. Money that he spent for items for his various businesses.

I should note that he was notoriously bad at record keeping. He probably could have written off some losses if he could be disciplined enough to submit receipts to their beleaguered bookkeeper, Cecil.

In any case, mom’s complaint about the money was valid. Those losses affected her for years after he died in August 2000. Yet, in that moment, I felt badly for dad, who had been expressing his feelings but totally shut down after that. Perhaps that was why he was so secretive about the evolution of the prostate cancer that killed him. That was HIS power.

And yet it was obvious that, after all of that, they still loved each other. He worked hard to arrange a surprise party for her on their 50th, and last anniversary in 2000. And by arrange, that included doing the bulk of the decorations. Presumably, he was in some physical discomfort.

Long-standing relationships can be complicated, I suppose.

How news of Mom’s death spread

before you post another RIP on social media

Trudy.Green_dress This Groundhog Day I get to relive the day my mom died in 2011. I stayed in her room overnight on 1 February, and she died early the next morning. My sisters were already on their way back to the hospital. I suppose I could have called them on their cellphones, but I didn’t see the point. They walked into the room less than five minutes after she died and I got to tell them the news.

As I’ve noted, there was a certain symmetry to this. My sisters were present when my father died in 2000. My mom and I were in route to the hospital. I signed some legal document at the wrongful death lawyer office, as the correspondent of her death, as I was for my father – the joy of being the oldest. The hospital contacted the funeral home, and eventually we went home, shortly after noon.

As it turned out, I had written a blog post, a few days earlier, about my mom’s stroke and me taking the train to Charlotte. Eventually, I checked my email. Denise Nesbitt, the doyenne of ABC Wednesday asked how my mom was. I told her that Mom had died.

She must have shared the news somewhere. Within 15 minutes, I started getting comments that switched from hoping my mom was getting better to condolences regarding her loss. I suppose it’s bizarre to note it’s the post for which I received the greatest number of comments.


I was reminded of this article, Please read this before you post another RIP on social media. The piece doesn’t apply to my situation, but it was nevertheless instructive.

In fact, my grief was documented in several posts that month. My sisters and I have to write an obituary? Post it on the blog. We have to come up with the program? More blog fodder. I still remember someone referred to me as “dispassionate” because I was doing one post in my Joe Friday mode. “Just the facts.” It was/is my coping mechanism.

I’ve been dealing with death for a long time, it seems. My father’s mom Agatha died when I was nine; she lived upstairs from us. My mom’s maternal aunt Deana passed when I was 11; I saw her almost daily. Agatha taught me canasta, which I taught to Deana. I was very fond of both of them.

Groundhog Day is the day I relive when my mom died. I think about how I’m now an Orphaned Adult, a book I recommend, BTW.