George Balanchine soloist Barbara Milberg almost didn’t survive to become a dancer. Dysentery at age four left her severely underweight. Her mother stayed with her constantly, feeding her the only food she was allowed: little bites of raw apple. During the time her mother spent caring for her, 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, scattered chess pieces everywhere, and then she ran out of the room. Barbara’s mother also had an interesting childhood. Growing up in Czarist Russia, she 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.
Tommy Ramone worked long and hard to make the Ramones a success. He continually called music critics Danny Fields and Lisa Robinson to get them to come to their concerts. Because Tommy was so persistent, Danny and Lisa decided that one of them should attend a Ramones concert. Danny was covering another concert, so Lisa went. After the concert, she told Danny, “You have got to see this band. Every song is fabulous, and nothing is longer than 14 seconds. You will love them.” Danny went, he liked what he heard, and he offered to be the band’s manager. Johnny Ramone replied, “Well, that’s very nice. But we really need a new set of drums. Can you buy us a new set of drums?” Danny visited his mother, and due to her generosity, the Ramones got both a new set of drums and a manager.
Comedian Adam Sandler had a good relationship with his mother as he was growing up. In the first grade, he would sometimes ask the teacher to excuse him, but instead of going to the restroom, he would go home. His mother never criticized him; she would simply make him a sandwich, and then walk him back to school. When Adam was eight years old, he entered and won a Punt, Pass, and Kick football tournament. However, because he wanted his mother to be proud of him, he waited for over 20 years to tell her how he won — he was the only competitor in his age group. Later, after he became a class clown and started getting poor grades, his mother yelled at him: “Why don’t you ever try?” Adam recorded her, and then played the recording back to her. He says, “She laughed for half an hour.”
Margaret “Peg” Cohn, Dean Emerita of the Ohio University Honors College, remembers car pooling with other mothers. On one occasion, she had a carload of children when they came across an intersection in which someone had written in large letters a four-letter word beginning with “F” and ending with “K.” Ms. Cohn’s seven-year-old carefully said each letter aloud, and then asked, “Mom?” Ms. Cohn braced herself, afraid that she would have to give a sex education lesson to a carload of children, but fortunately her seven-year-old asked merely, “How did they do that without getting run over?” Ms. Cohn answered that question, happy that she had remembered “a cardinal rule for parents: Be sure what the question is before you give the answer.”
Martina Hingis’ mother (and coach), Melanie Molitor, raised her to be a tennis star. Not only did Ms. Molitor name Martina after her favorite tennis star, Martina Navratilova, but she also did everything she could to make her daughter interested in tennis. For example, when Martina was only two years old, her mother gave her a special tennis racket — a light one that was for adults but with a specially shaved-down handle that allowed Martina to grasp it. Ms. Molitor would throw tennis balls toward her daughter, and her daughter would try to hit them back. By age 10, Martina was embarrassed because she was beginning to beat her mother in tennis games and so she wanted to play left handed against her so her mother would win.
When the mother of science fiction writer Anne McCaffrey died, she was cremated, as was her wish. Ms. McCaffrey was then living in Ireland, but she wanted to take her mother’s ashes back home to the United States, so she loaded the urn into an old camera bag of her son’s and got ready to travel. When Gigi, her daughter, asked if she could carry anything, Ms. McCaffrey handed her the camera bag, and when Gigi asked what was in it, she replied, “Mother.” Gigi was so astonished that she almost dropped the bag.
The parents of comedian Chris Rock greatly encouraged him and their other children. One day, Andre, his brother, had an assignment that required him to complete this sentence “My Mom says I’m….” The other schoolchildren wrote sentences such as “My Mom says I’m a slob” or “My Mom says I’m late to dinner.” Andre, however, wrote, “My Mom says I’m the best thing that ever happened.” His and Chris’s mother, Rose, is especially proud of that and has never forgotten it.
Comedian Don Knotts grew up in Morgantown, West Virginia, during the Great Depression. He got his first experience as a comedian making his mother laugh as he reenacted scenes from the Abbott and Costello and the Laurel and Hardy movies he watched. After he became famous, he was asked how an impoverished kid from West Virginia ever came to think that he could become a famous entertainer. Mr. Knotts replied, “My mother told me I could.”
© 2015, David Bruce, All Rights Reserved
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