Fridays before Mother’s Day, I frequently write about my late mother, Thelma Neworth. Because of her public speaking skills for political and social causes, she crossed paths with luminaries from many walks of life.
The list includes: MLK, Eleanor Roosevelt, RFK, Rod Serling, Daniel Schorr, Margaret Mead, and Wayne Morse, the first Senator to oppose the Vietnam War. Only in her last years, however, did I discover her oratorical talent began when she was a mere child.
In the 1920’s, decades before TV, neighbors socialized by visiting each, generally after dinner. They would usually gather in the parlor, often the fanciest room to reveal the relative prosperity of the host. It’s impossible to imagine in our i-Phone world but the art of conversation was often the sole entertainment.
My grandfather Louie, who passed long before I was born, was extremely proud of my mother who would read book passages or even tell stories. (Slightly like what I do here each week, except, hopefully, without the cornball jokes.)
My mother confessed her older sister, Amelia, was more glamorous and her younger brother, Irving, was more charismatic. But she got praise from her oratory. It explained why in my youth, when I would hear her speak before, to me, frighteningly large groups, she always remained poised. (Then again, when in just talking to me she occasionally lapsed into more formal speech, I would jokingly turn around as if looking for the crowd that must have suddenly come into our den.)
Once my sister, Brenda, 14 at the time and I was 10, attended a 65th birthday party for my Aunt Lilly. (To my cousins possibly reading this, longevity doesn’t run in our family so #65 was a big deal.) At one point, everyone at the party stood and, somewhat nervously, said a few words in honor of the occasion. My mother, on the other hand, rose and gave a speech reminiscent of FDR.
Also her expansive vocabulary included a few words that hardly anyone, including us, knew the meaning of. One such word was “behoove.” On the way home, as we chatted in the backseat, we intentionally included behoove in the conversation and giggled. My father must have been working because we never would have joked like that if he was there. To this day, if my sister and I catch the other pontificating, all we have to do is say “behoove” and “pontificating party” is immediately outed.
Growing up, my mother seemed like all the other housewife moms. She was our Cub Scout Den Mother and a perennial PTA President. But a tip off to me something was “special” was when her photo was often in the local paper extolling her grass roots political organizing.
But in the photo above taken at an alligator farm in Los Angeles, she was just a regular mom. My sister, 8, is blithely sitting atop a 500 reptile whose mouth thankfully is roped shut. (But how strong is the rope?) Meanwhile, I was 4, stylishly (?) attired in shorts seemingly held up by one suspender and donning the “fashionable” striped tee shirt of the day, frantically looking for the nearest exit. Meanwhile, always poised mom looks as though she could launch into an impromptu speech on the evolution of the alligator. (In sum, sis is content, mom poised and I’m freaked.)
Keep in mind, less than 12 years later, mom, 45, would be shaking hands with Senator John Kennedy, 43, and his younger brothers, Robert and Ted. She was in charge of the seating at the L.A. Sports Arena, home of the 1960 Democratic National Convention. As such, she conversed with, every important Democrat. She even attended JFK’s exclusive nomination party at Peter Lawford’s Santa Monica beach house.
If my mother had been born in a later era, I think she might have been a Congresswoman. (She could have been too busy to take us to the alligator farm, which, frankly, would have been fine with me.)
There are so many times I remember mom. For example, in school, when I’d struggle spelling a word, she would wisely say, “Sound it out slowly.” Over the decades, I can’t tell you how many thousands of times I’ve “sounded it out” and each time I can almost hear her voice. (I certainly can’t say that about spell-check.)
With Mother’s Day on Sunday, it would behoove me (sorry about that) to mention how much pride I always felt that my mother was so well respected. (My father, too, for that matter.) It’s actually always been a very high bar but one I still strive for.
I close by saying how much I miss and love my mother. But then, I hope you already knew that.
To hear Thelma Neworth introduce MLK in 1960, Google “King speaks at Temple Isaiah,” or click on the following link http://templeisaiah.com/MLK_Speech.php Jack can be reached at email@example.com.