A matter of priorities

AS a widow with two young children to support, solely dependent on her own earnings, Mother was forced to operate within a tight budget. Given these circumstances, her spending priorities might be considered frivolous by some. First and foremost came education. No one could challenge this. But following education, her priorities were these: travel, restaurants, and the theater. In most respects, we lived a frugal life, renting an apartment and never owning a car. (Mother couldn't drive, anyway.) Such modern conveniences as a dishwasher, laundry machine, air-conditioner, or even a television set (that is, until the start of the televised Army-McCarthy hearings) played no role in our lives.

Mother did not stint on education. My sister and I were sent to private schools in New York City. I experienced a thoroughly modern upbringing. Had the class teacher asked who among his students lived with a working mother in a one-parent home, I would have been the only boy to raise my hand. Today, a forest of hands would shoot up.

Mother ensured that we received the finest possible education; an undertaking as luxurious as owning a house, but a lot more lasting. I agreed with her other priorities, as well.

The nature of her work, writing and lecturing on international relations, necessitated extensive travel. I was fortunate to be included as a luggage-carrier on trips to Asia, Africa, and Europe. The fact that my mother was Russian-born also drew her to Europe. Here she could speak French, which she had spoken from childhood, and enjoy the delights of foreign travel. Delights, I must confess, to which I am totally susceptible.

We had a fine housekeeper during the week, but on weekends Mother would have to fall back on her slender culinary skills. They consisted of broiling lamb chops and burning frozen string beans. The alternative, preferred by the three of us, was to go to a restaurant. Through this enjoyable arrangement, I became familiar with the cuisines of various lands. (While at college I was made to feel dissolute by my Puritan New England classmates because of a fondness for restaurants.)

Mother loved the theater. At college she had performed in plays. Indeed, she was a theatrical person, with a sense of drama and skill at holding an audience's close attention when she lectured.

I certainly benefited from this interest of hers. ``Oklahoma!'' served as my introduction to the theater. Not a bad way to begin! This was the golden age of the Broadway musical. ``South Pacific,'' ``The King and I,'' ``Kiss Me, Kate,'' ``My Fair Lady,'' ``Candide.'' And also the golden age of American playwrights Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams.

Mother bequeathed no real estate, but she did provide me with a solid education and a deep appreciation for travel and culture. These intangible possessions, called ``unreal estate'' by Vladimir Nabokov, are a lifetime gift.

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