Mother’s Day


“Mom, I can’t talk now,” said David, “ I’m at the airport.  I’ll call later, O.K.?”

Much later, David called.

“Mom, I’m in St Louis.  Had a great interview at Washington University.  I think the job is mine.   You should see the place – reminds me of Harvard.  But I can’t talk now; I’m at the airport catching a plane.  I’ll call later when I’m home, O.K.?”

“I’m so happy for you,” I said.  “I know you’ve been looking for a position like this for a long time.”

I hung up the phone and burst into tears.

SUNY Albany, where David was professor of physical anthropology had been a disappointment for him for some time.  He took the position there as assistant professor twelve years ago only because he and his wife Paige had had an informal pre-nuptial agreement that they would always live on a farm where she could keep horses – she could not imagine life without them.  The area around Albany had been ideal for horse farms, so when SUNY Albany offered a tenure track position to David shortly after he received his doctorate, he felt obliged to take it and hoped that somehow he could find fulfillment in a department and university that he felt was lacking in certain basic essential elements such as funding and interest of colleagues.

For everyone else, David’s tenure at SUNY Albany had been ideal.  Paige had the horse farm of her dream.  As for me, an eighty two year-old widow, what more could I have asked for?  Their house was less than an hour from our Hudson River country house  – the location of frequent family gatherings  – and only a little more than three hours to New York City where I live.  For twelve years, I had taken for granted that I would always be a physical presence and actively involved in the lives of my children and grandchildren.  The sudden news that this would end was devastating.

Then I thought, “It was just a matter of time for this to happen.  I will adjust. “

I immediately turned to my computer, searched Google for the flight time from New York City to St. Louis, and read, 2 hours 11 minutes.

“It’s do-able,” I said to myself, “not much longer than the drive from New York City to our Hudson River house”.

In my head, I was already planning trips for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring Vacation and birthdays.

A few weeks later, Paige was in New York City for a visit. She immediately told me that David had been offered the job, that David would accept if she consented, that they were in the process of selling their house and farm in Albany, that they were looking for a similar piece of property near St. Louis, and that she was very, very distressed about having to move.  We hugged, held each other tight, and burst into tears.

“But, Mommy,” she continued, “ we will not buy a house that doesn’t have a room where you can always come to and stay, a place that is yours alone.”

I was deeply moved.   For days afterwards, the most prominent thought in my head was, “I am a fortunate woman. I will not end life in a nursing home.  David and Paige will take care of me.”

Yet, even as I was comforted, a dark thought was lurking in my mind. What would I do in that room of my own in rural Missouri?  Was that my destiny?  Could I continue to be me if everything that defined me were ripped from my life  – the quiet moments I spend alone in Central Park, my participation in the intellectual and cultural life of New York City, and perhaps most importantly, my many New York friends cultivated through fifty-eight years of living in that city?  These troubling thoughts became a menacing presence.  Were they irrational?  Like unwelcome strangers, they disrupted even my most private moments.

A few weeks later, on Mother’s Day, my son Paul, who is an emergency room doctor currently, practicing in Wisconsin, was in New York City.  He and I would drive to our Hudson River house to spend the day with David, Paige and the grandchildren.

As usual, Paul and I chatted about family matters as he drove.  On this occasion, we talked about David’s new appointment at Washington University; how exciting it was for David; how upsetting it was for Paige; how wonderful it was for me that they would find a place with a room where I can always go and stay; how grateful I was that I would not end life in a nursing home; and how much I would miss New York City.

I was continuing on in this way when quite unexpectedly Paul turned to me and said, matter of factly, “Mom!  You don’t have to go anywhere!  We’ll come home.  I can always work in New York City.”

These words rang like church bells in my head.

Suddenly, like boulders crashing down a cliff and out to sea, all my anxieties of old age were swept away.

We arrived at our country house.  From the edge of the river where he and the grandchildren were skipping stones, David saw us coming and called up in his big cheerful voice, “Mom, Happy Mother’s Day!”

Moving To New York

I moved to Sutton Terrace on York Avenue and East 63rd St. in October 1967. My husband John had found the apartment, a short walk from Rockefeller University where I would be a postdoctoral fellow starting November 1. Although the rent for the two-bedroom apartment was $425 a month, more than four times that of our spacious six room Boston apartment, we felt very lucky. A terrace looked down on a large enclosed garden area where the children could play. As friendly doormen manned the exits to the street, it would be safe to let the children go back and forth to the garden by themselves, a tremendous boon to a busy working mother.

Amy, Andrew and I had stayed behind in Boston when John left to begin work at the New York Times. I packed up the house and arranged for movers. It was fun to have John come back on weekends to regale us with exciting anecdotes about famous writers and editors. I was full of anticipation about our New York life.

The last day at the lab was tough. I went into Dr. Nauta’s office to tell him I was going. He stood up and formally shook my hand and wished me good luck. Tears welled in my eyes as I realized an extraordinary chapter was closing. We had all shared a paradigm change in the scientific exploration of the mind. Due to discoveries in this lab, we could now chart the fine detail of neural networks for thinking. I had had daily contact with young investigators who would go on to be pillars of the new field of Neuroscience. I knew I was losing something irreplaceable.

On our last night in Boston, I took Amy, age 1 1/2 and Andrew, age 5, to the International House of Pancakes for a valedictory dinner, before taking the night train to New York. On the bus to South Station, I was appalled to discover that the antique setting on my engagement ring had vanished, uncut diamonds and all. I realized that the handle of the sturdy Mexican raffia bag that carried our travel essentials must have carried off the setting on one of the many times it had slipped over my left wrist on the way to the bus stop. Although the ring wasn’t really my engagement ring, it had symbolized my commitment. It was a family heirloom that had been given to me by my Brazilian aunt when I was nine. She had told me that it was made of uncut diamonds and was very precious. I had switched it from my right hand to my left in college when I had fallen in love with John. Later he had given me an engagement ring that I hadn’t liked so after a couple of years I had gone back to wearing the antique ring instead. Now I felt that I had lost my childhood. I showed Andrew the hole in the ring and we considered whether we should get off the bus and retrace our steps. The train didn’t leave until midnight. But it was getting dark and a search with two children in traffic would be dangerous and probably pointless. It occurred to me that the loss could represent the final break with our former life. We had been poor struggling students, now we were part of the New York literary crowd. It was appropriate for the slate to be swept clean. I wore the ring with the empty setting for years.

We didn’t sleep well on the train and were a disheveled lot when we reached the station. Instead of getting breakfast, I bought coffee, orange juice and doughnuts to go and took a taxi to the apartment looking forward to being welcomed by John. But when Andrew ran into the apartment shouting for his father, there was no answer. He had already left for work. We were all disappointed. He had not shared our vision of a triumphal family reunion to start a new life. I had wanted recognition for successfully negotiating the move and this big trip by myself. Crestfallen, I took the children out onto the terrace and opened the orange juice. A dark flake of soot floated down into the cup. I looked at Andrew and Amy and said, “Welcome to New York.”

Anya’s Thumbprints


Anya’s Thumbprints

Nancy Orans Eder



One eight-year-old granddaughter

One seventy-seven-year-old Nana

Two sticks of butter

One half cup of sugar

A bowl of patience

A bundle of enthusiasm

Sprinkled with joy — oh boy.


Two cups of flour

Keep it in the bowl

Don’t let it fly to the floor


One teaspoon of vanilla

Some apricot jam

Can’t help but think

How lucky

I am.


A few thumbs and fingers

— Sticky at times —

Go into the making of

These lines of rhymes.



And figures

Steady as you go

Just follow directions

Just go with the flow.


Hold that spoonful level

Check the measuring line

Sit straight on the chair


Pay attention to your elbow there.


Put into the fridge

Hold the tray steady

Cover and fold

Get the soft dough cold









Finally Anya’s thumbprints

Pressed into each ball

Filled with apricot jam

Popped in the oven

Bake them all

The cookies are leavened

They’re done in ten minutes

The scent is from heaven


Now write it

Erase it

Change the fraction

To half

First comes the draft

The final version is aft.


While cookies are baking

Sweep up the bits from the floor

Left in the path

Of two happy people making cookies as planned

We’ve got enough recipes to beat the band.


A recipe book is brewing

We’re cooking with steam

It won’t be long now

We have a fond dream.


Markers and pens

Measuring spoons and cup

Parchment papers all crumpled

There’s a lot to clean up.


Cookie pans and

mixer blades collide

with spatulas and knives

butter wrappers and

jam pots


Fly into the sink

The oven is heating

Our cheeks have turned pink.


It’s hot in the kitchen

Anya is through

The cookies come out lovely

What else can we do?

Complete the page with a drawing

Let the cookies cool on the counter

Eat one Gobble two

We are done for today.


The cookies will be devoured

The memory shall fade

But for now we are happy

The cookies are made.