Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Tuesday, February 18, 2020


Today would have been my mom's 75th birthday.

For those who don't know, my mother passed away Thanksgiving morning, after a far-too-short battle with leukemia.

I won't recap her life story here, since my sister already did a phenomenal job of that in her obituary. Instead, I want to give you a taste of who she was.

Anita "Liar Woman" Wilson (I'll get to the nickname later) was one of the most selfless people I've ever known. She and my dad took in 5 foster children (adopting 1), and raised 13 puppies to be seeing-eye dogs (adopting 3 who didn't make the cut). She volunteered for countless organizations, not just offering her time, but often acting as treasurer, president, or some officer in between. She donated to all manner of charities. She gave blood till they wouldn't accept it anymore.

With us, she was even more generous. Many parents chauffeur their kids around, but she was my driver early every Sunday morning for 5 years as I delivered newspapers. She asked nothing in return. I know I didn't thank her nearly enough. I was a teenager.

After my son was born, my mom watched him two days a week for us, instilling in him her love of reading as she'd done for me decades before. And she almost never said no to a babysitting gig for her grandkids, even if it inconvenienced her. We tried not to take advantage of this fact. We mostly succeeded.

You know, I can't recall my mom ever saying something mean or vindictive about another person. (Well, perhaps about one specific politician... but never another person.) And she never swore, at least not in the presence of her children. Only once in my life did I hear her use even mild profanity, and that was right near the end, when I asked how she felt that day.

Of course, she wasn't a saint. (For one thing, she was Jewish.) Obituaries may be glowing on all accounts, but this is not an obituary. My mom had her faults.

For instance, she was terrible and being a Jewish grandmother. Don't get me wrong—she was a fantastic grandmother. We'd leave my son with her for the afternoon, and they'd play games and read dozens of books, possibly dozens of times. But would she try to feed him, even once? Nope.

On the topic of food, to this day I have a strange affinity for slightly overcooked vegetables. Especially broccoli. Thanks, mom.

And then there's all the stuff. You see, my mother was an amateur hoarder. Not a professional hoarder like you see on TV, but enough to lead to piles of newspapers and magazines and dangerous stacks of books atop bookcases. (She planned to read those later, but was always too busy volunteering.) Thanks to her charitable donations, she was inundated with free calendars, greeting cards, and mailing labels... none of which she threw away. Sure, her tendencies meant she kept our stories and drawings going all the way back to kindergarten, but it also meant she kept our clothes and our toys and our games. Oh, and one drawer in her jewelry box? Completely filled with baby teeth.

Okay, now you have a sense of my mother, the good and the bad. All that's left is the nickname.

I can't think of any lies she truly told, apart from that nonsense about the tooth fairy. But in the early 1990s, our family took a trip to Israel. In Old Jerusalem, my mom took some photographs of the Dome of the Rock, and a man nearby (who had previously tried to get us to pay him for a tour) began yelling not to take pictures of the Muslim women. She said she wasn't. He swore she was. They argued for a short while, eventually escalating to him proclaiming at the top of his lungs, "You are a liar woman! LIAR WOMAN!" Needless to say, we didn't stick around after that. (But of course, the nickname did.)

The last words I heard that liar woman speak were to my son, as we left the hospital near the end. I'll close with them, since they're also fitting for how I feel about you, dear readers:

"I love you, too."