Born to Run (2016)

BOOK THREE

LIVING PROOF

SIXTY-TWO

EASTERN WOMAN

When my mom went to California, she didn’t return to New Jersey until thirty years later, after my father’s death. A lot of water had gone under the bridge, but for my sister Virginia and me, our father’s primacy was a bitter pill. He came first . . . always. My mother has great and profound love for her children but she will tell you to this day, those were her choices; they were all she knew how to do.

My mother had married my father by the age of twenty-three. By her generation’s standards, this was when people began families, went to war, went out on their own. When she left, my sister and I were eighteen and nineteen respectively and living under rather harsh circumstances. We had our lives handed to us. We took charge of them. My mother was married. Maybe she figured my father just needed her more than we did. Without her my dad’s illness could’ve killed him or left him living out on the street. More likely, he just would’ve come back home or would never have left. My dad was ill but wily. He held us all hostage for many years—in my mom’s case, right up until he died. And she never called him on it.

The other life my mom seemed built for and could’ve had, the life of dining, dancing, laughter, adult partnership, the equal sharing of life’s burdens, she was not compelled to pursue. We don’t always want what seems best suited for us; we want what we “need.” You make your choices and you pay the piper. She chose and she paid. We all did.

My mother stood behind my wildest dreams, accepted me at face value for who I truly was and nurtured the unlikely scenario I held deepest in my heart, that I was going to make music and that someone, somewhere, was going to want to hear it. She shone her light on me at a time when it was all the light there was.

When I hit it big, my mom believed the saints had come marching in and blessed us for the hard times we’d endured. I suppose they had.

Amongst many things, my mother taught me the dangerous but timely lesson that there is a love seemingly beyond love, beyond our control, and it will take us through our lives bestowing blessings and curses as they fall. It will set you on fire, confuse you, drive you to passion and extreme deeds, and may smite the reasonable, modestly loving parts of who you are. Love has a great deal to do with humility. In my parents’ love, there was kindness, a beyond-human compassion, an anger, a compulsive fidelity, a generosity and an unconditionality that scorched everything in its path. It was exclusive. It was not humble. It was their love.

My mom remains magic; people love her when they meet her, as they should. At ninety-one and battling Alzheimer’s, she delivers a warmth and exuberance the world as it is may not merit. She continues to be filled with an indomitable spirit of optimism, a heartbreaking toughness, no cynicism, laughter and great humor (for Christmas one year she gave me the complete third season of Columbo—“You know, that guy in the raincoat!”). To this day she can give me a true, deeply hopeful feeling about life over the course of an otherwise-ordinary one-hour lunch at a local diner. My mom is very, very funny, always bringing laughs. She is a natural show woman, a dancer and stylishly put together to a T for even the most casual outing. She is democratic, egalitarian, without a clue as to how those words might pertain to her. She is heart, heart, heart. Since her return to New Jersey, she has learned (not easily) how to place herself amongst my family. We had our small showdowns, even an afternoon of some yelling (very rare in Springsteen households). Then I watched her work, contain herself, use her intelligence and love to give herself to us. My mother and father had outlaw in them, and despite my mother’s great warmth, such things don’t necessarily come easy to outlaws. Her resilience, good soul and desire to do right still guide her. She settled in as Mother and Grandma. If you met her, you would know her in an instant . . . and you would love her. Like I do. She is a raw, rough wonder.

Shortly after my pop passed away, I met “Queenie” (my mom’s childhood alias) for the first time. It was payback time, and my mom enjoys the good life as much as anyone. She’s occasionally traveled around the world with us. She takes pride in the accomplishments of her children, her grandchildren—my youngest sister’s motherhood and photography career; Virginia’s motherhood, grandmotherhood and work life; and the exploits of her guitar-playing son. We share the laughter, memories and pain of the Freehold days and we take pride in the survival of our love.

My youngest sister, Pam, still lives in California, where my mother visits often. My sister Virginia and I see my mom quite regularly at our Sunday evening family dinners, just after she’s returned from the headstones at St. Rose of Lima Cemetery, visiting my dad.