Discover more from The LZ Sunday Paper
The "Good Queen" Edition
For those of you loyal subscribers who have come to know bits and pieces of my actual, ‘IRL’ life over the years, I’m sharing with you that my mother, Gloria, died last week. So, a special edition—a very special edition— for this week.
Here is the…
THE PIC(K) OF THE WEEK…
Gloria Zalaznick, 10/31/27—5/3/23
To the many, many of you who knew my Mom and loved her, you know that somehow she gave 100% to each relationship. She somehow found more than 100% for me, my sister and brother— and for each of our kids. But she also somehow saved another 1000% for our beloved Dad, Abbey, for close to 60 years.
And now, here is quite literally the actual most important news of the week about women in the world, one woman in particular.
These are the remarks I shared with family and friends on Friday:
Dearest Family and Friends,
I think I could write this eulogy simply by cutting and pasting the scores of emails, texts, and phone calls we’ve received in the past day. So many people knew and loved Gloria, from so many aspects and eras of her life. If you live for almost 100 years, I guess that’s no surprise.
Gloria didn’t actually start out as Gloria Zalaznick, and I don’t just mean because of her married last name. The story goes that her father, Alec Kastanowitz, wanted to name her Marilyn, roughly translated from the Yiddish from Masha, for his sister who perished in the Russian Pogroms.
Her mother, also a Russian immigrant, wanted the somewhat swankier “Gloria.” He overruled her. The birth certificate was issued as Marilyn Gloria Kastanowitz.
But from the minute she was born, she was called Gloria. By everyone, for her entire life, including her father.
Maybe that’s where Gloria first learned the fine art of the maternal pocket veto. Maybe that’s where she learned that identity is fungible, or even fragile.
Just 5 years ago, at 90 years old, who she really was, was still on her mind. On the occasion of her eldest grandson’s 26th birthday she wrote “I got not only a smart, loving, gentle, devoted, sensitive grandson, but also a new identity…Alex was the one to give me my new designation: Meema. I was so grateful: Grandmother doesn’t fit. Too formal. Grandma is too plebeian. And I don’t see myself as a ‘Bubby.’ ”
A friend who knew my mother since our early childhood wrote yesterday, “When I think of your mother, when I saw those pictures, I hear her voice in my ears.” Whether you knew her well or not, maybe can start to hear her, too.
While Gloria never lost her Brooklyn accent entirely, she appropriated a healthy dose of Mid-Atlantic movie-star-voice. “Mid-Atlantic” is defined “as a sort of American-British accent that relies on tricks like dropping the ”R” sounds and softening vowels, in order to convey wealth and sophistication.” From the name change onwards, that aspiration defined her life.
Things went from being simply beautiful to being absolutely “Gaaawhhhhr-geous!” Things weren’t just great, they were “Maaaahhhr-velous.” Her most frequent conversational emphasis: “Of cooooaahrse, Dahrling.”
On the other hand, there was a downside– it took my three kids quite some years to learn that the small, round, beautiful colored glass balls that they played with at Meema’s house weren’t actually called “mah-bles.” There was supposed to be an “R” in there somewhere.
Thank God she was Gloria. Without Gloria being Gloria, not Marilyn, we wouldn’t have heard our less Mid-Atlantic, more Bronx-Atlantic Dad say, maybe 1 million times or more, “Glooowwwhh-ria, I’m home!”
Gloria was born in Brownsville, Brooklyn, on October 31st, 1927.
She lived with her parents, grandmother, and truly beloved older brother, Harold, at 49 St. Mark’s Avenue. They were poor-- the kind of immigrant poor where she got a new pair of shoes every Rosh Hashanah, her one pair for the year.
She had a close knit circle of Aunts and Uncles – Sarah, Gertie, Fanny, Izzy, Tevya. And her cousins who served as her closest friends and early role models– Gladys, Leatrice, Elisa, Rhoda, Anna, and Dorothy.
While we did come to learn that there were some tangled webs and perhaps some other darknesses, for the most part it was pure matzah balls and sunshine.
She was an excellent student, graduating Thomas Jefferson High School at 16. Though her yearbook noted that she was headed to Cornell, she actually went– still living at home, via two buses each day– to Brooklyn College. She graduated at 20 with a major in English and a minor in Spanish with another name change—Gloria Kastan, shortened from Kastanowitz.
But it turns out she had gotten her true education from her neighborhood place of worship--not the local Temple--but the Loews Pitkin Avenue Majestic Theater. Finished in 1930 and seating close to 3000 people, on weekends and holidays she would go in shortly after breakfast, for a nickel, and stay all day, watching 2…3…or even 4 movies in a row.
She learned everything she needed to know about life—and accents-- from Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers, Busby Berkeley, Claudette Colbert, Norma Shearer, Ben Hecht, George Cukor, Bette Davis, and Lauren Bacall. Having no other role models who were 5 foot 8, blond and bony, she set her sights on becoming Katherine Hepburn, at least sartorially.
During her 20-something years, still living at home – remember it was the “NO Sex And The City” era of the late ‘40’s and early ‘50’s – she had great girlfriends. They went on cruises to Cuba and the Caribbean. And at one of their outings to a posh riding club upstate –the Walk, Trot & Canter, no less – she met the one and only Abner Zalaznick. He had dropped in for a drink while visiting his beloved Aunt Rose in nearby Croton-on-Hudson.
Abbey and Gloria courted for several years, during which they continued the movie set dreams of the era. They dined at The Algonquin, drank at The Stork Club, danced at the Copa Cabana.
This Bronx boy and Brooklyn girl somehow met urbane Europeans, and attended salon evenings where my mother slayed the Scrabble board, forever instilling upon us the shonda of failing to achieve a 500-point board.
Abbey and Gloria’s wedding was held at B’nai Jeshurun in Manhattan in August of 1952. Capping her “femme du cinema” persona, they spent nearly every nickel they had on a Grand Tour honeymoon in Europe. After a brief stint in their first apartment on Gramercy Park, they made their way to the suburb of Great Neck, chosen for its proximity to Manhattan and number-one ranked school system. 45 years later she would make her way back to Manhattan. But for now, she was exchanging ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ for Bagels at Tabatchnik’s.
Yes, leaving the City was tough for her, but the aspirational siren call of the post-War American dream, for this Depression-era kid, was real.
In those early years, that American Dream was real for us as kids, to. We were crafting, we sang folk songs which she strummed on her sonorous Goya guitar; the list of enriching activities was nearly endless: making home-made playdough, pogo-sticking, putting on puppet shows, practicing the piano, taking modern dance, learning to ice skate. That, plus our rigorous public school education, was the dream she had for us, her children.
For her– and maybe us– we often went to the City. We saw the Leonard Bernstein Young People’s concerts, went to ballets, Alvin Aily, museums. We saw every show on Broadway.
Back at home, finished with Julia Child and on to cooking her way through Craig Claiborne‘s ‘The New York Times Cookbook,’ watching Masterpiece Theater, tending her English garden… and reading, reading, reading. Both for herself and out loud to us, long after we could read ourselves.
Literally to her dying day, Gloria maintained that being a mother to three young kids remained the most joyous and satisfying period of her lifetime. It was true.
Once the three of us started to head up and out of the house ourselves, though, we realized that Gloria had other parts of her American dream yet to fulfill. She had gone back to school to become an interior designer. One of her favorite clients wrote yesterday, “her taste was always exquisite. And timeless. Like her.” She earned good money and continued to work for decades. She completed the biggest job of her career shortly after her 88th birthday.
But lest you think that this woman was a saintly, two-dimensional Mrs. Cleaver, she most certainly was not. She had the fiercest opinions, strongly held. She was the master of the eye-roll. She delivered a bon mot that you realized, after a beat, was a bit sharper than it had first seemed. And she had rules, spoken or tacit, for almost everything.
Yes, it was sometimes hard to live in Goldilocks’s, I mean Gloria’s, “just right” lane of approval.
On the subject of make-up: “Dahhr-lling, you look tired.” Translation: Not enough make up. Assessing someone across a hotel lobby: “She looks vul-gahr”: which of course meant “too much.”
On ethnicity: “Not Jewish?” Possibly, a person not to be trusted. “Too Jewish!”: DEFINITELY not to be trusted.
She did not spare those closest to her. On taste, when she was at the height of her decorating and design powers, I thought was real cool in my first apartment. I asked her a question about our potential curtains. She emailed back immediately, “While I love the idea in, say, The Four Seasons where they look great, in your apartment, kitschy.”
She was generous with memories of her early life, but never sentimental. My sister, who had borrowed a raft of her family photos, returned them promptly and neatly. To which our mother replied “Thanks. I’ll probably never look at them again, but I’m glad they’re coming back.”
Her writing skills and verbal acumen were unparalleled and the digital age suited her. Her hundreds of emails were generous, loving, kind, complimentary, and even gushing in their emotion and support. But the wit and often the bite were what we lived for.
So that was Gloria. For a long, long time.
Gloria certainly wasn’t herself towards the end of her life. But she actually wasn’t *not* herself, either. She was still Gloria.
Even when we thought our Mom had really begun to decline, others disagreed. Each nurse, aide, or administrator who would come into her room at assisted living while we were visiting would say something like “you know, I just come in here when I need a break. Your Mom gives great advice, always has a compliment, and tells me something I didn’t know.” That’s Gloria.
Everyone who came to visit in her final days…one visitor was more handsome–gaw-geous! and brilliant– so smahhhrt! than the next. That’s Gloria.
At the very end, she was struggling with words, but managed to tell me that she was also struggling to conjure up any images of her past. Her mind was blank. So I started re-telling her stories that she knew well and we both loved.
Our favorite: I conjured up the heyday of our beloved Boca Raton Christmas vacations in the ‘60’s and early ‘70’s. “Mom, we’re at the Beach Club, at our cabana. I’m next to you on the chaise with the yellow terrycloth cushion. You’re doing the New York Times crossword puzzle.” In pen, of course. “It’s hot and humid.” This was my mother’s Heaven on earth.
Suddenly, memories activated, she piped up in a clear strong voice: “Do you think I could get an iced coffee? And maybe a little bowl of ice cream?”
It came in minutes. I spoon-fed her the entire bowl in small bites. She devoured them. I put the straw to her lips and she sucked up every drop with gusto. She was palpably restored, even if just for the moment.
She reached out to put her arms around me. Tight. Like more than 50 years ago, we were on that chaise again, together.
I mean– there is so much else. How could there not be, in nearly a century. How about her Masters in Education? How about her passion for cracking and eating every last morsel out of a lobster claw? How about I never, not once, heard a curse word come out of her mouth? How about her ability to shop a sale down to the final, final, FINAL markdown at Loehmann’s? How about…how about…?
So that’s Gloria. Marilyn Gloria.
Or Malka Gittel, her Yiddish name.
Malka Gittel: The Good Queen.
Indeed she was.
May she reign forever and ever!
There will never be another edition like this one, that’s for sure.
If you aren’t already a subscriber, you should be.
If you’d like to share something with me, please do, at LZSundayPaper@gmail.com.
And if you’d like to tell a friend about the story of my Mom’s—Gloria’s— life, please also do that: