On August 25, 1940, 74 years ago today, Harriet Carole Gaba was born to two proud parents: Tillie and Dr. Howard Gaba. She was a breech baby and needed surgery to fix a condition when she was younger, but she was a feisty little thing even back then and thrived. Her parents were a hard-working couple and Tillie helped Howard run his physician practice, which took place in Hazel Park, Michigan (one of the only locations left that needed physicians - he had missed the pick of the locations because he fought in WWII in the Philippines, but worked his tail off regardless).
Harriet was their first and she was adorable. Dark curly hair and dark eyes. Because they didn't have a lot of money, the Gabas lived with Tillie's sister, Rose, and her husband Harry Saltzman. Those two couldn't have kids so they helped Tillie and Howard raise theirs. Harriet and Lawrence were born before Howard fought in the War, and Arthur and Joanne were born after he came back. Howard was never the same and had a temper at times, but he did the best he could, raising the four kids with his wife and playing chess. He eventually became a Master and ran his own chess tournament in the Detroit area.
Harriet was a good kid, and would sit quietly for hours as her aunt would curl her hair in the mornings before school. Each summer, they would meet their cousins from Chicago in South Haven and spend the entire summer in the water. She loved South Haven and had great memories from there.
Harriet loved art, folk dancing, and traveling. She lived in California in the 1960s and even painted a mural on a cafe wall in Los Angeles. She made good friends wherever she went and people would always remember her. One of her close friends, Murray, even asked her if she'd design he and his wife's wedding bands. She did and they still wear them.
|Mom dancing with Murray at his wedding|
In the early 1970s, she moved to, and lived in, Israel, with the intention of making Aliyah. She started by drawing caricatures on the street, then worked in a PR and advertising firm. She was close to Avi Shochat and we all remained close with him and his family for years.
|Mom dancing with "Big Avi"|
Harriet and Michael
Eventually they got closer and, in 1973, he visited Israel again. While there, he spent a lot of time with her, and while she was sitting in her chair in the PR firm in Tel Aviv, he asked if she'd like to get married. She said yes, then asked if he was serious. He was. She got excited and called her mother. He didn't. She asked Michael if he was going to; he said, I'll send her a letter. And so he did... It was their first argument and they kept each other on their toes for the next 40 years.
For him, Harriet moved back to the United States, and on November 18, 1973, Harriet Gaba became Harriet Drissman.
They had five kids, and Harriet was a part-time teacher and a stay-at-home mom. She took us to camps in the summer, taught us to paint and would have us draw/paint canvases. Those would be hung on her walls in her house. She'd make us lunches for school every day and write our names and grades on the front of the paper bags. Her father, Howard, taught us chess, and we'd practice with our Abba (Michael).
She argued with my school when they wanted to hold me back a year simply because I was young. She won that argument. She arranged for my brother Avi to get advanced math studies in middle school because he surpassed all the 8th graders' capabilities and she made sure we attended all of his award ceremonies (even if we were late - it was tough getting all five kids to move on time). Mom tried making all of us readers by finding out what each of us was into. She took us to the Brandeis Book Fair and we could buy WHATEVER books we wanted. She would push the cart for us and we'd run out and back with more and more choices.
She taught us to swim at the Jewish Community Center pool because she was terrified that we'd drown. My dad had never learned to swim so she took us religiously and taught us different strokes. We had to complete ten full lengths each summer night during our visits to the pool in addition to our playtime.
My mom took care of my dad when he had a major heart attack in 1984; she held strong in taking care of her mother when she was sick with cancer in the mid-80s, and when both her parents died in 1987. She remained the family rock when her Aunt Rose and Uncle Harry died and when my dad's Aunt Selma and Uncle Ruby died - also in the late 80s. She kept going when my father had a major stroke in 1989 and was off work for 12 years. She made our finances work somehow; 5 kids in a private day school and a recovering husband. It was a rough decade for all of us, but especially for her.
She decided that life was too short to wait for recoveries and so we started our family vacations. We drove all over, seven of us in a minivan. New York, Toronto, San Antonio, Washington, D.C., Palo Alto, Orlando. We Drissmans saw the country. She gave us games to play while we were driving and had patience even while we *really* had to pee between highway exits.
In 1991 we went to Israel because my dad's Russian cousins escaped Russia. She helped arrange the trip and made sure everything ran pretty smoothly. In 1992, she helped bring my two cousins back to the US for a summer trip. She argued with Washington because they didn't want to allow two Russian brothers to come here at the same time; they figured they wouldn't want to leave. My mom won that argument and we spent a great summer together (we are still close).
She wanted us to love being Jewish so she made each holiday special. We dressed up every Purim (she'd go costume hunting after Halloween) and she made the story of Passover come alive with frogs and ping pong balls and wild animals on our table.
She would take us into the voting booth with her, had us join her when she would "plaster" cars with flyers and defend her role as a mother when others would question her actions. She was fierce.
The Curiosities of My Mom
My mom loved Michigan. She loved the land and the people here. She liked Kid Rock and Eminem. She thought they were talented and it made her happy that they were proud to be Michiganders. I even played her Kid Rock's song about Northern Michigan. She wouldn't necessarily listen to it, but she loved it.
My mom loved the Summertime bc she got to spend time with us. The back-to-school commercials upset her because she felt that parents should want to spend time with their kids. She didn't make us go back to school before her birthday because it was still summer. She preferred to buy Michigan-made items first, then American-made items, but Israeli-made items trumped them all.
My Mom, Complicated and Layered
My mom wasn't perfect. She had a temper just like her dad, which she hated. She told me that each generation should be better than the last so she was glad that, even with her temper, it was still less than his. She felt bad every time she lost her temper. She knew she wasn't perfect, but she tried every week to find the positive. She even made us, every Friday night, come up with the Grateful Policy. We had to list three things we were grateful for; they had to have happened in the last week and they couldn't be sports.
She didn't understand all of us. She insisted that we all get along. It broke her heart to see us fighting. But she and my dad created five very different people, and it was bound to happen that she didn't "get" all of us. She tried her very best, but even at the end, she worried that she didn't do enough for us.
To others, my mom was always smiling, always pleasant. She wasn't always like that.. she was under a lot of pressure and stress. She tried to keep a positive face but it just wasn't always possible. Not many people knew but that was because it wasn't anyone else's business...
She taught us to keep judgments to ourself. If we wondered about other people's finances, she'd say, oh, you know what's in their bank account? In that way, she constantly reminded us to not judge others and to give them the benefit of the doubt.
She taught us many lessons (I just didn't always learn them well), including priorities by making us to do our have-to-dos before our want-to-dos. When I questioned the size of our house, she drove me to the smaller neighborhoods and showed me what others have so that I knew how lucky I was. I never complained again.
My mother's spirit was strength, fight, and light. She did her best to always be there for us and for our family. She was chipper and tried to be understanding. She loved kids and spent as much time as possible with her grandkids. She never tried to set us up and stayed out of our love lives because she trusted us to know ourselves better than she did. She loved us.
She loved others. She bought gifts for people when they had kids. She helped others financially. She drew the Ganeinu logo for the synagogue camp (which is still being used today). Many things I only found out after she passed.
My mom loved my dad and he loved her. They didn't always get along, but they worked hard together. They started dating again when I was in high school and would walk around the mall together. She'd make him take her to dinner and would put up with him when he wanted to stay home and watch a cartoon (usually "The Incredibles" or "Shrek"). She made him lunch to take to work every day for decades and explained that she did that because she was his wife, and that's what she was supposed to do.
My Mom's Sickness
My mom lived with diabetes and chronic kidney disease for years. She didn't tell us all her problems because she didn't want to worry us. She fought and beat kidney cancer. I didn't find out she would need dialysis until I was on my honeymoon. She refused to take any of our kidneys and everyone at her kidney clinic loved her and her positive attitude. In her last year and "the summer that never was," she was diagnosed with colon cancer and meant to fight that too. She never got the chance, but I believe she would have beaten it as well.
Who Was My Mom?
My mom was a complicated person, but really was very simple. She loved art, dancing, traveling (even went by train when my dad stopped flying), teaching, children, and her children and family.
She was feisty and fought for what she believed in - for what was right. She was happy and private. She bragged about her kids (but only to those who had smart kids as well because she didn't want to make others feel bad). She always tried to have something nice to say to others.
I am a mini-me of my mother. People have recognized me as her daughter without knowing who I am - by my dancing, my face, and my attitude. I know I turned into my mother at the age of 8. I have her temper as well, but, like her, it is lessened and I do my best to work on it.
My mom will forever be 72. She was taken before her time, but she will forever be in my heart. My son is named after her; he looks like her. He has her spirit, both the feisty and the smiling sides. I will teach him what my mother taught me, by words and by actions. I miss so much about her and every time I think of something else she loved, I write it down so I don't forget.
She was so strong and amazing. Our rock and our light. Not perfect, but who is.
I would be quite proud if I became half the woman my mother was.