Moms gone, but shes still a favorite on my iPhone

At 3 years old, I repeated saying our phone number until my mom was satisfied that I could easily recall it before she let me go out alone to play with the other children in our Bronx apartment courtyard.

Ruth Saperstein (age 92) passed away on Oct. 13, 2010. Like many New Yorkers of their generation, she and my dad moved to Florida to live out their retirement years. My father, Harry Saperstein, passed away 20 years ago, and so she lived almost a full generation as a widow, among many other Jewish widows, in their apartment complex.

Like many in my generation, I moved from New York to the Bay Area to make my own life far removed from the East Coast I knew and the parents who loved me. For most of my life, we had a long-distance relationship with phone calls, occasional visits and shared lifecycle events, such as my sons’ bar mitzvahs.

Every one of my birthdays, my mother would call and gleefully retell the same story: how it was snowing the day I was born; how small and perfect my little hands and fingers were; how my two middle toes on both feet were webbed, how the doctor asked if he could cut the skin between them, and how she refused because she did not want to cause me any pain. Rolling my eyes, I listened, answered that I knew the story, thanked her and tried to get off the phone quickly so I could get to the next set of tasks on my checklist.

Now there is no one who knows what the weather was like on the day I was born, the way my fingers looked or why I still have webbed flesh between two toes on both feet. When we lose our parents, we lose big and small things that seemed not to matter until we feel the absence when they are gone.

I said Yizkor for a year after my mother died, and we had the unveiling of her stone last year with my wife, sons, daughter-in-law and a few extended family members who gathered as I spoke about my parents’ lives. How inevitable and shocking it is to see two plaques on the ground as all that is left of lives so much a part of our world as we know it.

I have many roles in life: husband, father, grandfather, professor, friend, etc. I used to be a son, but no longer … or am I still?

My mother’s name and address keep reappearing to me like a cyberspace dybbuk in reminders from florist sites,, food companies and other websites and catalogs. I would send her gifts from different sources to her delight — always earlier than her birthday, Mother’s Day or Jewish holidays, so her anxiety about whether the gift would come would be relieved and she would have bragging rights among her friends.

Her name still appears in my iPhone contact list among “My Favorites.” While it makes no sense, I defer deleting her name on any of the sites or on the iPhone I look at many times a day. Perhaps I keep her name on as a reminder to me — a little, visual cyber Yizkor. While I can no longer call, I still can recall.

Jeff Saperstein
lives in Mill Valley and is a member of Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon.