The Memory of Mado’s Smile

When I walked through the front doors, my mother's smile lit up the lobby with more wattage than the ginormous crystal chandelier above.

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Mother and Daughter on helicopter tour of Grand Canyon
The author and her mother on a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon

My mother died in 2011. She was 87 and an amazing woman and mother. She was one of the first women to have access to the Stock Exchange floor; the first woman to dine in the Stock Exchange Luncheon Club before they even had a designated women’s rest room. She loved New York City, where she was born and lived all her life, but once she retired she no longer wanted to put up with New York winters. Instead she would come out to Los Angeles where my brother and I live and rent a place from November through March. She’d play bridge, see friends, and spoil her nieces, nephew and her beloved granddaughter. Nothing made this generous woman — whom we all called Mado, short for Madaleine — happier than taking us all out to dinner and picking up the check. She had worked hard all her life and now she wanted to live comfortably and enjoy the rest of it.

The winter of 2009-10, Mado rented an apartment in a senior living complex in Westwood, CA. Her lovely suite had a view to the ocean and the complex had an active bridge club. She was so happy to be reunited with my brother and me.

She arrived at night, a few days before Thanksgiving, and when I spoke to her the next day, I couldnt understand a word she was saying.

“I poked the poody in the carmen!” she kept repeating, over and over.

It turned out she had had a stroke and was now suffering with global aphasia. It was a small stroke, in fact if it had been anywhere other than smack dab in the middle of her speech center we probably never would have known she had had a stroke.

After a hospital stay, she was able to get the last bed at the UCLA Neuro Rehab — a facility with only 11 beds at the time. She spent a few weeks there getting back her strength and learning to communicate as best she could, which was not very well at all.

As her daughter, we found we could communicate on levels that did not require language. Though she could no longer play bridge, she could play gin rummy and do 20-piece jig saw puzzles. She could not read or listen to books,, or watch TV, which came across as a constant verbal assault.

But she was with her children and that made her so incredibly happy. And Bob and I really showed up for her. We joked that we were the best kids in the place. Every day one of us stopped by to check on things and join her for lunch or dinner. Wednesdays were reserved for her granddaughter, Ashley, who would sit outside in the couryard with her or accompany her on slow walks around the neighborhood. Mado loved driving with me down San Vicente Boulevard in Brentwood to see the bright orange coral trees. Afterwards, we’d park above the ocean and stare out at the waves.

Mado’s smile. credit photo: Roger Bobley

But my most vibrant memory of my mother was her smile. Not just any smile. Not the smile I’d get if I brought her a new outfit from Chico’s or a new shade of nail polish. I’m thinking of the smile that would light up her face when I strolled through the automatic glass doors and into the lobby. If she knew I was coming, she would be seated facing those doors waiting for my arrival. If we were going to the Napa Valley Grill for a charcuterie platter or to Jerry’s Deli for a turkey sandwich or just staying in and eating in the dining room, she would be beautifully turned out, her red hair perfectly coiffed, her finger nails and toe nails that shiny Runway Red. And the moment she saw me she would light up; the most high wattage smile I have ever seen would spread across her face. It was a smile infinitely more incandescent than the giant crystal chandelier that illuminated the lobby.

“There’s my daughter!” she would tell everybody and nobody in particular as she got up from her seat. I’d take her elbow, kiss her on both cheeks and lead her back outside and to my car. She would be so proud, beaming and leading our way as we went off to our next destination.

I always wondered if I would ever have anyone in my life — a lover, a husband — who would look at me the way my mother did. Someone who saw me the way she saw me. Someone who smiled at me the way she did..

My mother died 18 months after she arrived from New York. And five years later I did meet someone who smiles at me like my mother did, who loves me like she did.

My only regret is that my mother never got to meet him.

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