I Go Back

By Erika Hoffman

I remember Mommy. She’s squeezing her accordion in and out for all its worth, seated on a folding chair with a blue three sided cardboard stand unfolded and erected in front of her. She’s playing in the hallway of our split level home in Plainfield, New Jersey. The intense expression on her face bewilders eight year old me. It’s a stifling summer day. Above her upper lip, she sweats. She bites her bottom lip. Totally absorbed in the sheet music, she pounds the keys as the huge contraption pinches the flesh on her thighs. Mommy’s wearing shorts and espadrilles. Back and forth the pleats collapse and expand. The screen door allows in a tepid breeze. Mommy doesn’t want us kids to bother her. She’s in another world. We’re supposed to go out and play. Which suits me. I watch a moment.  With gusts of concentrated energy and zealous enthusiasm, Mom belts out “Val-de-ri, Val-de-ra.” I follow her fingers as they mash tiny buttons. She sings aloud: “I love to go a wandering…” With a flourish, she finishes, inhales, blows out the breath, looks up, takes me in, and turns the page to start anew.

“Mommy! Mommy!” I shout over the bouncy tune. She glares at me, “What are you doing, Mommy?”

“I’m playing my accordion.”

Her eyes never lift from the sheet music. I wait. When this piece ends, she looks up at me with uncertain eyes as though she’s never seen me before, like I’m an alien. “I used to practice two hours a day,” she mutters. I’d never seen her with the instrument before let alone witnessed her intensity tickling the keys and pushing the wind out of the thing as though her life depended on it. “I was really good, once,” she says solemnly. “I played with Charley Nunzio.” I stare at this stranger. But, she makes no eye contact with me. I notice sweat drip onto the white and black piano-like keys.

“Aren’t you hot?”

“So what?”

“Why are you doing this now?”

She shrugs.

“It’s a good day to go swimming,” I meekly suggest.

She fixates on her page. She arches her fingers; she shifts the weight of the monster on her lap. “Maybe later.”

I sigh.

“I was an only child,” she adds. “This accordion kept me from being lonely.” She squeezes the boxy device again.

I meander outside to join my brother and sister. “Let’s get a Good Humor down at the park,” I say. “I’ve a can of nickels and dimes.”

“I got a silver dollar,” my sis says. “Aren’t we going to the shore?” she asks hopefully. “Will she take us?”

I hear strains of “Moon River.”

“Nah.” I look at the door; I gaze back at Mom hypnotized, in another world.

The screen door slams behind me, and I take their hands.

I realized then Mommy had another life before us. She was different from what I thought she was. She had passions, needs, memories besides this “now” situation of three little kids, a hubby, a mortgage and a pile of laundry sitting next to the mangle. All of this was a revelation in 1959.

Now I have lived longer than the age Mom was when she passed. I so wish I could go back in time and tell her I understand now how a woman wants hobbies, friends, a career – basically a life besides being “Mommy.”

And whenever I hear an accordion belt out a melody, I go back to that split-level, that un-air conditioned house, and I remember a woman, a smart, accomplished, ambitious woman, who was also my mom.

About this writer

  • Erika Hoffman Erika Hoffman views most travel experiences as educational experiences and sometimes the lessons learned are revelations about oneself.

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10 Responses to “I Go Back”

  1. Lola De Maci says:

    Erika,
    What a lovely tribute to your mom. Thank you for sharing her with us.
    Lola De Maci

  2. Donna Atwater says:

    Erika:
    What a wonderful and interesting story! It took me back to the days my mother played the piano by ear in our living room. Thanks for the memories which I treasure forever!
    Donna Atwater

  3. Susie Park says:

    Hi,
    You never told me your mom was a musician!
    Enjoyed the story and wish I had her passion.
    Susie Park

  4. Cora Brown says:

    Erika’s story is a wonderful reminder that our moms were “people,” too, with childhoods we never knew about, interests, and dreams.

  5. Rose Ann says:

    Your essay brought back memories of my father’s face as he picked up the accordion again! I finally understood the concept that if you want something bad enough, you do the work to get it done. Our parents taught us a lesson at the same time they were learning theirs! A well written essay of understanding.

  6. Carol Trejo says:

    I used to play the accordion. Ms. Hoffman’s story made me want to go dust off the case and play again! It helped to remind me to not give up my hobbies, even though I am so involved in the lives of my children. Reading this brought me laughs and great memories. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Barbara Margolis says:

    Your piece brought to mind some stories about my own mother that I had not thought about in a very long time. What a lovely snapshot of the 1950s too! I had to look up the word “mangle” because we didn’t have one. My mother ironed sheets with an iron, and it took her a long time to get everything done. All women have special talents and passions about which their young children know nothing. Thank you for giving us a glimpse of your mother’s heart.

  8. Erika Hoffman says:

    I hope ‘”mangle” was the right word! LOl That is what my mom called it, and I recall her elation at getting the huge contraption. It sat in the basement. She used to press all the sheets and pillow cases. Mom even ironed underwear!!! I am so much lazier than she was! I recall too that when we moved to a larger home when I was in 9th grade, we left the “mangle” behind! What we remember of our childhoods— funny and strange!

  9. Jane W says:

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful piece of your life with us!!

  10. Linda O'Connell says:

    This was a wonderful reminder that moms have interests, too. I can see your mom lost in her music.

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