David Bruce: The Funniest People in Families, Volume 3 — Mothers

Mothers

• Balanchine soloist Barbara Milberg almost didn’t survive to become a dancer. Dysentery at age four left her weighing only 15 pounds. Her mother stayed with her constantly, feeding her the only food she was allowed: little bites of raw apple. During the time young Barbara was ill, her mother’s hair turned white on one side. Later, it grew in again, first grey, then its normal brunette color. Her mother definitely took care of her when she was young, even teaching her chess as soon as she was able to learn to play, and letting her win — until she was 12. Then, figuring that Barbara was old enough to be beaten in chess, her mother defeated her quickly. Twelve-year-old Barbara was so surprised and shocked that she upended the table, scattering chess pieces everywhere, and then she ran out of the room. Barbara’s mother also had an interesting childhood. Growing up in Czarist Russia, Barbara’s mother remembers when her father took her to the home of a rich man so she could see a light that did not burn: an electric light. She was even able to touch it. (It did not burn her, as it was only about 15 watts.) In his village, her grandfather was known as Beryl Schreiber — Beryl the Writer. (His real name was Beryl Marantz.) When people in the village needed a letter written, they went to him to write it for them.

• Professional women’s basketball player Lisa Leslie was tall from a very early age. In fact, in the second grade, she was already the tallest student in her class; she was even taller than her five-foot-two teacher. Of course, her height — and that of Dionne, her older sister — was no surprise. Their parents were both tall. Their father, Walter, was six-foot-five, and their mother, Christine, was six-foot-three. (Lisa’s adult height was six-foot-five.) Their mother wanted the two sisters not to feel conscious about their height and often told them, “Being tall is nothing to be ashamed of.” She also told them that being tall was a sign that they were descended from African royalty. One of the things that their mother did to make them feel good about their height was to hold an at-home fashion show at the end of each summer when she bought them their school clothes for the upcoming academic year. Both sisters would take turns modeling their outfits. The training their mother gave them paid off — Lisa later did some professional modeling in addition to playing in the WNBA.

• Pablo Morales won Olympic swimming medals for the United States team in Los Angeles in 1984, but failed to make the United States Olympic swimming team in 1988. This devastated him, but after his mother died of cancer, another thing that devastated him, he decided to attempt to make the team so he could compete in Barcelona in 1992. On March 2, 1992, he competed in the United States Olympic trials in Indianapolis, hoping to swim well enough to make the Olympic team. His father, Pedro, was in the stands, watching. His father says, “I was there with my daughter. I asked my daughter whether she had brought a picture of Mom. She took it out of her purse and handed it to me. I held it up during the entire race so that she would be watching Pablo.” Pablo swam well, winning both his race and a spot on the Olympic team. And in Barcelona, he won gold in the 100-meter butterfly.

• Sometimes it is very difficult to protect children from knowing more than they should. After Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941, Tomie dePaola, who was then in the second grade, was scared. His school practiced air raid drills, although no one was willing to tell him what an air raid is. At a double feature at the movie theater, young Tomie and his mother and a young friend and her mother enjoyed an animated feature titled Mr. Bug Goes to Town, and then a newsreel came on that showed London during the Blitz with lots of air raid sirens, explosions, and burning buildings. Of course, the two mothers got their children out into the lobby as quickly as possible and talked to them. Tomie’s mother told him, “I’m sorry. I didn’t want you to see that!” Mr. dePaola’s 2006 book about the beginning of his war years is titled I’m Still Scared.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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