CINDY AND MRS. BERG: TWO OTHER MOTHERS WHO HAVE MATTERED
May 15, 2012
(Nov.6, 2009-the eve of my second wedding)
Tall, gorgeous Cindy came to my school, PS # 66, in the seventh grade. We clicked. Her giving nature was immediately apparent. Although she was part of the in-crowd and I was not, she liked my company. She was thrilled—actually, relieved—that I flipped over her sixth grade boyfriend, David G., who soon became mine. I was ga ga about him. She wasn’t even ga.
I teased her about her sweaters. Most were hand knit. Eight were navy blue. She said her mother moved onto ‘grey’ and invited me to her house to see.
That afternoon, I learned about apples not falling far from trees. We opened the front door and there sat Mrs. Berg, on the phone in the foyer, talking to her friend, Rose, while knitting and purling a charcoal grey cardigan. “Help yourselves to a little snack, girls,” she said when Cindy introduced us. On the living room cocktail table was a four-section candy dish, the size of a Buick, filled with nonpareils, licorice, bridge mix, and pastel M&Ms.
I helped myself. But that wasn’t our “little snack.” Wonderful cinnamon and chocolate smells led us to the kitchen where a freshly baked coffee cake and brownies were cooling. Mrs. Berg baked every afternoon. We helped ourselves, hung out in Cindy’s room, and kept returning to the kitchen to help ourselves some more.
Mrs. Berg checked on her brisket one of those times. I took a whiff. “Smells good,” I said.
“Nancy, why don’t you stay for dinner?” Mrs. Berg said that afternoon and regularly for the next six years.
I stayed. I stayed until Cindy and I left for college. I wasn’t exactly on the American plan, but I had a place at the Bergs’ dinner table and in their kitchen after school.
At Cindy’s, I fed my face. At my house, she fed her soul. Like my father, Cindy was a voracious reader. She borrowed books. “What should I take today, Mr.D?” she’d say. Together, they’d go through the living room bookcase. He’d pull out a classic and whatever current book he just finished. “You’ll tell me what you think,” he’d say.
Cindy’s mother took us to Rose’s pool on weekends. I did not have a Sweet Sixteen. For my seventeenth birthday, Cindy and Mrs. Berg threw me a surprise luncheon at their house. One afternoon, when Cindy was tired of her curly locks, we put her head on the dresser and I ironed her hair. Mostly we talked. All afternoon and on the phone at night.
Cindy talked to everyone. She was plugged into the main circuits every night of the week. Someone’s mother called her “the Hedda Hopper of Starin Avenue.”
But it was to me she bared her soul. And vice versa. “We’re Bea and Rose,” she said.
In tenth grade, she struggled with geometry. I found a math tutor to pull her through. When she got her driver’s license and came chugging down Covington Road in her mother’s noisy wreck of a car, with its broken muffler and bad brakes—the Bea Bomber, we called it–I was the only person on Planet Earth willing to risk my life by jumping into the front seat of her moving vehicle.
We both moved to New York at age twenty. I got married before she did. She was first to divorce. I plied her with Brandy Alexanders her first night alone. Smashed, we rolled on my living room floor, laughing. In the throes of mine, I did not want liquor. There with me in the trenches, Cindy asked, “What do you want?”
“Just let me cry.”
She did. Early mornings on the phone and when we got together. When I started analyzing what went wrong, Cindy shook her head. “That wasn’t it. He didn’t get how special you are.” That was the most loving comment a loving friend could make.
“Cindy knows just enough math to get by,” my father used to say, “but she knows what’s really important.”
When he died, she was the first person to send a food basket. For months, she called me twice a day. When my mother died, she flew to Buffalo the morning of the funeral, had lunch with my family, and flew back to New York that afternoon. For my book signings, she arrived at the bookstores early and took me to eat afterwards. On milestone birthdays and some in between when I was without a partner, she took me to dinner.
We’re still on the phone all the time. When we eat together nowadays, mostly we go out, sharing and splitting whatever we order. That’s one of our things.
All over Cindy’s living room are dishes with candy and nuts. On her cocktail table is one filled with pastel M&Ms. Every time I take a handful, I hear her mother saying, “Nancy, why don’t you stay for dinner?”