Today marks the 4th anniversary of my mother’s death. I wrote this song to myself, in the weeks after she died..
Judith Wegner was a force to be reckoned with. Always hungry for knowledge, she studied & researched her way to TWO doctorate degrees (law and religion), at a time when women were generally expected to forgo career ambitions and instead become devoted housewives. During my childhood, she was a professor at Harvard Law School, served as Assistant Attorney General for the state of Rhode Island, and wrote a book on women’s roles in Jewish and Islamic law… all while raising four children. A true feminist trailblazer back in the golden era of “women’s lib”.
On top of her own academic pursuits, my mom was always on mission to educate the world around her. She regularly corrected people’s grammar (as a native Briton, she proudly spoke the “Queen’s English”), and was not shy about imposing her vast knowledge of history, religion and culture on everyone who crossed her path. Newspaper & magazine editors would often get letters from her pointing out inaccuracies, grammatical errors and misspellings. Even in casual conversation she always uncovered a lesson to be taught, an historical perspective, a linguistic anecdote to be shared. Judith Wegner was a walking encyclopedia, a hurricane of information. I used to compare her to the “Tasmanian Devil” character from Bug Bunny, because of her boundless energy and her lack of concern for offending others.
Suffice to say, being her child wasn’t easy. She was deeply ambitious, relentlessly self-determined and strongly opinionated. And all those traits were incorporated into her parenting style. Her academic expectations of my brothers and me were over the top; anything less than top honors at an Ivy League university she would have considered a personal affront to her legacy. So when I explained to her after high school that instead of going to college, I planned to move to a small Southern town to play in rock n’ roll… that didn’t sit well with her.
But I managed to follow my own path as she continued to follow hers. She did was not in favor of some of my life choices – playing in bands and managing a small grocery co-op – but living 1000 miles apart kept us at a safe distance. Over the next 30 years, we worked out our differences and found a way to accept each other. She would visit every Thanksgiving (and would always bring paper plates & plastic cups). Eventually she did begin to see some value in my “simple life”.
For most of my adult life, we only saw each other once or twice a year. But when she died suddenly and unexpectedly on Groundhog Day 2017 (from a torn aorta – hence the “broken heart” lyric in the song), her absence was felt very profoundly. Which, of course, made me have to write a song…
Apologies for the heavy dirge-like vibe. Don’t listen to it unless you’re “in the mood” :-).
MAMA'S GONE What you gonna do now that your mama's gone? What you gonna do now that your mama's gone? There is no one to come to dinner now With the paper plates and the plastic cups Ancillary stuff Well she's gone And there is no one to tuck you in now It's a crying shame, but she had to go Couldn't let you know That she'd be gone What you gonna do now that your mama's gone? What you gonna do now that your mama's gone? The hurricane winds are dying The destruction is everywhere Papers over there Well she's gone A broken heart can do you in now When the beating stops There's a peaceful fall Solitude calls And she's gone She gave you life She gave you warnings She gave you hell And she gave you one last breath And she was gone What you gonna do now that your mama's gone? What you gonna do?