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December 24, 2011

Use Cucumbers

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Well, it seems like this the season for goodbyes. But that’s how the universe works, doesn't it? In cycles. My mother certainly knew that. I said goodbye to her, too, a few weeks ago.

She was 84, and gorgeous. I mean—look at her! This is a very recent photo. She had multiple myeloma, and rheumatoid arthritis, and after a while,  nothing was really working very well. Except her brain. Which was, always and always, hilarious, funny sharp—and so self-actualized it’s hard to believe.

 She was in her twenties in the fifties—look at those eyebrows! I think this was her engagement photo. She met my dad in college, and they ran off to Chicago, where he was the music critic at the Chicago Daily News. She told us tales of their wild and cool life in the night club scene--hanging at the Blue Note with Harry Belafonte and Studs Terkel and the like.

Mom cu  She went to the Chicago Institute of Design and had a life-long passion for the arts and fashion and civil rights and politics. Later, she and my stepfather collected contemporary Russian art, and their house was an absolute gallery.

 Mamacita, as I called her, a remnant from all the family vacations we spent in Mexico--well, she was pretty amazing.

When I was a kid, she made sure I had the World Book Encyclopedia, and I read the whole thing (the white leather-like ones with the green trim) from cover to cover. A to Z.  She took us to the library, and hardly ever complained that I--a complete klutz and complete loner--never wanted to play outside.  She didn't rat on me when I sneaked Marjorie Morningstar and On the Beach and Ten North Frederick from their bookshelves. She knew they were too old for me, but it didn't matter, I was reading.  She put up with my addiction to MAD Magazine (what, her worry?) and my insane craziness over the Beatles.

 (Even when I cut my own hair in a Sassoon, up over one ear on one side and long on the other side.  'What do YOU represent?" my aghast step-father said when he saw me.  My mom just smiled. "It'll grow,  she said.)

(The photo below is my--fifth birthday? At our house on Cherry Lane in a Chicago suburb.)

 Her mantra to me, back then? “Go and find out.” ME: Do you think that drug store has Superman comics? MOM: Go and find out.  ME: What does this word mean? MOM:  Go and find out.  ME: How do I…? How do you…? Where do I..?"  She always had the same answer. She’d shrug, then tell me: “Go and find out.”

 Mom birthday party

And now I’m an investigative reporter. Huh.

  And I look back, now, amazed that she put up with all of us. When my sister and I would clean our room by stashing everything under the bed. Whoa, I bet she NEVER caught on to that one. And when we had to clean up the kitchen, I vividly remember one occasion when I asked: "Do I have to wipe the countertop?"

Yes, she said. You do. Do I have to wipe off the stove? Yes, she said. You do.   Do I have to wipe off  the kitchen table? Yes, she said, exasperated. And then she ended the discussion with:  "You have to wipe off EVERY HORIZONTAL SURFACE."  My siblings and I still say that to each other.

She had advice for EVERYTHING. When it came to love, she had LOTS of advice.   “You have to get out there. No boys are going to come knocking at your door asking “any cute girls live here?”   


When considering a beau for marriage, you must first see him drunk, sick, and with their mother, she warned.  “How he treats her,"  she'd remind me, "is how he’ll treat you.” 

She also said to watch how guys treat their friends. Would you like you kids to grow up to be just like him? she'd ask, raising that eyebrow.  If not, just say no.

And always her famous:  "Remember, it's not all about YOU."

There was the episode of the hair spray--we used hers (Adorn)  on our dolls when we weren't supposed to.  Somehow that was a big deal--I still don't understand it.  We were allowed to have one Coke a week. We could watch Perry Mason with my father if we DID NOT TALK.  

There was the year she said we had outgrown Christmas trees, and we were Jewish anyway, she reminded us, so no tree.  We did fool her on that one. (My sister Nina and I sneaked one in, in the middle of the night,  decorated with popcorn we got at a movie theater. It worked perfectly.)

There was the revelation of the Thanksgiving deception, when Mom admitted she'd been stuffing both turkeys with oyster dressing, but telling us kids one was plain.  ("You think I'm going to make two kinds of dressings? You're nuts, kiddo.")

Everyone in the writing seminars I teach hears one bit of her advice. When I was in the midst of writing PRIME TIME,  my first book, I got about halfway through and realized I had no idea what I was doing. Terrified,  I called Mom and said, "You know, I love my book, and I think it'll work. But I'm just not sure I can finish it."  Mom paused, and then said, "Well honey, you will if you want to."

Ah. And so I did.

She' s immortalized in PRIME TIME and the others in the series--now  it can be told--as Charlie McNally's bossy-but-fabulous mother, and she knew it.  (Now you're in on the secret, and might recognize some of her quotes in the books!) 

I never made a major decision without consulting her. She was always right. Just ask her.

She loved THE OTHER WOMAN, and I'm so happy she got to read it. "It's ABOUT something, dear," she told me. 

 A few weeks  ago she decided, as she told us kids, it was time for someone else to take her spot on earth. She had  "wrapped up her life with a big red  ribbon" as she put it, refused all treatment and stopped eating.   She was  absolutely (and I know this is amazing) not sad, not fearful, not
 upset, not sorry.   "I'm happy,"  she told me. "This has all been wonderful."

 So there I was, in the hospital in Indianapolis week before last, tears  streaming down my face. Getting ready to leave, knowing I would  never see her again.  "Don't cry," she said from her bed. "It'll make your eyes  puffy."

I burst out laughing.

Her voice was very soft by then, but she added:  "Use cucumbers."
A moment later, she opened her eyes. And said to me what she's said every time we parted for the last--oh, ever since I can remember.

"Vaya con Dios, honey."

"Vaya con Dios, Mamacita," I whispered.

To you dear Tarts, too, at this season of change. Vaya con Dios.

And use cucumbers.




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Beautiful, Hank.

Thank you.


It's too late to go shopping for cucumber . . .



Oh, Hank, your wonderful Mamacita, gone? I'm sorry. The holiday lights will likely be a blur through your tears this year, but she would want you to love every bit of light, I reckon.

I think it is wonderful that she felt complete with this life, and knew when she wanted to leave. I hope that will be a gift to you, when you miss her the most.

Cucumber. OK.
Sending hugs.

Oh Hank, what a beautiful tribute to your mother. You're such a good daughter! This really touched my heart and made me weep.

It also makes your recent email even more special to me and I'll cherish it forever.

Thanks for being you. At least we have JR and other places to meet in the future, but I'm so glad you became a Tart! Wonderful posts.

Vaya con Dios, Mamacita, and to all the TLC'ers.

PS--I try to always have cucumbers in the fridge for just that reason, but in a pinch, tea bags work too!

That was great, Hank. Your mom was a heck of a woman.

Thank you for sharing such a beautiful tribute. Perfect for Christmas Eve, the morning after Festivus, the 3rd/4th day of Hanukkah and whatever else you celebrate.

Your Mom certainly knew how to celebrate life!


Dear Hank... I am so sorry for your loss. Your mom was beautiful and wise. She will always be in your heart. You'll be in my thoughts.

My mom has a few of those sayings, too. My favorite (which turned out to be true) was, "Don't worry, college boys will like you."

TLC may be ending, but, I'm now feeling, not like a death or even a divorce. It's like we're all graduating from college. For a number of years, we all gathered in this common area and developed these bonds. The common area may be going, but the bonds won't. Just like all college grads, we just have to find new areas and ways to link up. And have an occasional reunion.

Such a beautiful tribute, Hank. Thank you for the tears ....

When I saw the headline, my first thought was the poster that was big when I was in college, "A cucumber is better than a guy because..." There is that book and cover thing.

Monday will be my extended families third funeral of December. Aunt Shy was very happy to have beaten her doctor's estimate and make it three days into Chanukah.

A good friend is not doing well right now. The Chemo has driven his cancer into remission, but I has taken his immune system with it. His annual book recommendations included three books on grieving, interesting advice from someone terminally ill.

I am going to take a moment and ask all of you to ask your friends to give blood or find your local Pheresis unit and donate there. After 20 years of faithful donating, I no longer can. Cancer and transplant patients need dozens of donors, and there just are not enough. Help if you can.

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, and all the best in the New Year.

Hank, darling, we love you so much. And your mom knew what she was doing, all right.--She raised a wonderfully lovely person in every way. You're such a dear. This must be a difficult holiday season for you, but she made you laugh at the end.

Alan, you went from cucumbers to heartfelt in a heartbeat. You rock.

My houseguests arrive this morning---must dash, but hopes that those who celebrate Christmas will have a merry one.

Hank, I am so sorry.

I should have known that a fabulous lady would have a fabulous mom. Hugs to you.

(See, THIS is why I'm going to miss Lipstick Chronicles.)


So sorry--but it sounds as though your mother lived her life well and left it on her own terms. We should all do as well.

And how lovely that she will live on in your book! (When I first read an excerpt, many years ago at an RWA meeting, it was so clear that the mother, and the relationship with Charlie, was based on a real example.) I hope she was pleased.

Hank - I had no idea. I am so so sorry.

Know what I will always remember about your mom (besides the wonderfulness of her in your books, including the Best Wedding Ever)?

The birthday cake she and your sister had delivered to the hotel during B'Con.

Sending every bit of love in my heart, sweetie. Hugs, always.

What a wonderful story.

Oh, thanks, you all. Yes, she's a wonderful example..and it's so dear to hear from you. She would have loved meeeting you all. (She could have told YOU what to do, too.)

And yes, Kaye, that was terrific..Mom and my sister Nancy sent a birthday cake for me to the hotel at Boucheron--it was LOST for two days in the depths of the hotel, and they kept insisting they couldnt find it! It had the cover of AIR TIME in some kind of spun sugar..and we all ate it in the lobby of the hotel when they finally discovered it in a refrigerator somewhere it-at like 9 Sunday morning!

Thank you Hank. My wonderful mother passed away on a Thanksgiving day many years ago. I'm left with a smile when I think of her. She, too, was an inspiration to me.

Oh that was so beautiful - as I sit here with tears on my face.
I'm so glad you got to have as long as you did with such a wonderful mamacita.

It reminded me of my mom - who also let me sneak Marjorie off the shelf and secretly (she told me later) was so proud of me and is immortalized in my name - she's J. Rose.

I have found that missing is loving and the loving gets you through it all. I wish you never losing a memory.

Thank you for a beautiful story.

Wow,Hank, what a beautiful goodbye tribute to your mom. I definitely could use a cucumber about now.

I'm so glad I got to meet you in St. Louis. As I finish reading your series I will picture your lovely mother.

Thanks for being a part of TLC and such a gracious person with your fans.

Beautiful story! My condolences. She sounds wonderful and the pictures priceless. Thank you for this.

What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful woman and mother to you. Her love shows in her children.

Hank, I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm glad you were able to spend some quality time with her before she left. She sounds like such a terrific woman and I'm sorry I never had the opportunity to meet her. But now I see that one of the reasons you are such a great friend is because of her.

Oh, you all. What dear friends. (MJ, that is so amazing!)

Thank you. You are making this so much better. And she'd have loved all the attention, right?

I also told her I had come to terms with the fact that she'd named me Harriet. I realize now, I said, it's a pretty cool name. And I apologized for pretending my name was Evangeline one year in junior high.

Mom sighed. "It wasn't always easy,' she said.

That was beautiful, Hank. Just as she knew it was time and she wasn't afraid, she knows she lives on in you and your siblings.

I'll miss you here,but will keep up with you at JR and on FB.

A beautiful tribute to a lovely lady by a lovely lady.
Godspeed, Hank! And thank you for all that you have done for us.

Hank, what a lovely tribute to your mom. I'm sorry for your loss.

What a lovely tribute, Hank. I am sorry for your loss, and hope these memories make you smile.

I am smiling at watching Perry Mason if you DID NOT TALK. Did we all have the same dad about that one?

Dearest Sweetest Most Wonderful Hank,
Thank you for sharing this with us. Your mom was a treasure for sure. Kind and loving and there for you. Who could ask for a better mom?
I so understand what you have lost and all the incredible memories you so beautifully brought to us today.
My mom and dad are 85 and everyday I walk next door and see how they are and what's going on. My dad asks for an itch (scratch his back)while I talk to my mom in the kitchen. She's out raking leaves as we speak and sweeping my walk for my Christmas kindness present this year. Bless her heart.
She was the exact same Birthday party mom as yours. I swear I have the same photo. She was always getting me interested in something and supporting my creativity.
Aren't we amazingly blessed to have such parents?
Her advice? "Don't forget to moisturize your neck."
Go with God. Be safe tonight everyone.

I'm so sorry for your loss and grateful that you shared this with us. Hers is a story of courage, grace, and spirit as she moved from this life that will stay with me and be there if I need it.

What a wonderful woman, Hank. And she created a daughter who is her equal. I am sorry for your loss, except your mother isn't lost, is she? She's with you.

Xena! HOw wonderful... (I have a pal whose mother told her--in the smae kind of circumstance--to use her inheritance to get her eyes done. There's cetianly a theme, here...)

And yes, as I told someone--it's not like our relationship is over, you know? It still eists. And if I need advice from her--I now realize I know exactly what she'd tell me.

Loving you all...xo

Her wisdom lives on with you. It's hard to lose loved ones . . . still missing my momma, especially at Christmas. Here's the last stanza of one of my Mom poems:

At the end, we sat by your bed,
Holding your hand, smoothing your brow,
Saying I love you.
Then we were sitting by your still form,
But you? Surely not still sitting --
Soaring, flying free
From this world to another,
Released from all bonds,
Too full of joy to sit.

Hugs to you and joy in the new year.

I absolutely love learning about her, Hank. Thank you for telling us!

A Christmas gift from John McCutcheon, free music downloads. I recommend "Christmas in the Trenches" and hope for peace on earth

Beautiful, and I wish you peace. She certainly sounds like she found the answer to enjoying life, and she gave you to us. Life has certainly got its cycles. It's just at we miss some of them more.

I just phoned my mom and her basement flooded last night. The washing machine worked fine, the drain didn't. Inch and a half of water. Her words of wisdom this morning included swearing.

Hank, I loved hearing about your mom and know her words of wisdom will always be with you.

What a moving tribute, I'm still crying.
And your mother: a lovely and fantastik woman who knew how to bring up another lovely and good woman.

Storyteller Mary your mom's poem is very beautiful.I'll keep it in mind for when I'm too sad from my dad's loss.

Hank, I read the blog first thing this morning, and as I have done all week, I immediately began crying. I wanted to respond but just could NOT do it right at that moment. On and off through the day I returned to TLC but still could not respond. I'm going to try now but I don't know if I will sound very articulate! I am so, SO sorry for your loss! My own mother died very suddenly fourteen years ago at Christmas time, and I now get weepy whenever anyone I know suffers a loss at this time of year. (This has a LOT to do with my daily tears this week over losing TLC, along with the fact that a friend lost a seemingly healthy sister unexpectedly the week before last.)

I laughed through my tears as I read your warm memories of your mom. You and I are blessed to have so many happy memories of our mothers. My mother had no idea that she would someday die suddenly, instead of after a slow decline like her parents did. After she died I remembered that there were times when she told us "now, I don't want you kids moping around after I die", to which Smart Alec Deb responded "not even a little bit?" and that got us all laughing. "Okay, a little bit,but I want you to get on with your lives."

Your sharing of your mom with us today reminds me that there are still things that I need to do with this blessed life that I have been given. Finding a creative way to mourn the loss of TLC is one of them. (Tomorrow I am going to beg for time on my sister's computer so I can "friend" and confirm "friend requests" on Facebook. I am estimating that it will take me two to three weeks to take care of this. I do not want to "lose" ANY of the people I have met here!)

So sorry to hear about your loss. Your mom sounds great--she reminds me a little of my grandmother Margery (also married to a journalist and someone who loved to frequent jazz clubs in Kansas City). She always thought people should just pull up their socks and get on when life. And she never met a stranger, at least not for long. I miss her a lot, but, like your mom, her big personality will continue to live on in everyone's memories.

so beautiful. I can hear her voice.

Thank you, Hank, for telling us more about your beloved mamacita. As everyone else has said, we'd already met her in Charlie's mother - and, yes. only "the good parts." :) I'm so sorry she's still not with you, but she'll always glow on in a cherished place in your heart. Now, thanks to your tribute, she holds a special place in our memories as well. May your Christmas be Merry and Happy and filled with many Blessings.

Oh, Hank, if I could, I'd come over with a bowl of soup, a bunch of cucumbers, and a hug for you. I love this, love your memories, love you, too, my dear.

Oh, and I have to ask . . . any chance the house on Cherry Lane was in the suburb of Northbrook?

Thanks, Danielle. I have put the whole poem and others in my FB Notes, or will email it to any who ask.
We honor our loved ones by remembering them. No one is gone whose story lives on.


What wonderful memories! My grandmother, my mother, and my father died (different years) over the holidays. It was difficult for me at first, but like you, I recall all the great memories. Thank you for sharing. I can picture everything you so lovingly described.


You touched my heart what a wonderful way to say goodbye and you"ll always be with me.
I lost my Mother to cancer a few months ago, she was 84 and one of the bravest and most intelligent women I know. I feel her with me and take comfort from all of the things she taught me, one was my love of reading. I remember from the time I was a small child she always told me that if you have a book you will never be bored of lonely, it's like having a friend to sit with and you will learn something from them no matter how important or simple. Your books Hank are some of those friends. I wish you comfort and joy in having such a wonderful women in your life.
Warmly, Janice Bennett

This is so beautiful, Hank. My mother, who also suffered from RA, announced during my first book tour that she was going to die on Saturday. Actually, what she said was: "Are you happy? Is your brother happy? Do you have everything you need?" When I answered yes, she said. "Okay then, I'm going to die on Saturday." Though there was nothing urgently wrong with her, I knew my mother's predictions well. We called her "the Oracle." I was supposed to leave that Saturday. Though I'm certain I looked a bit crazy to my publisher, I cancelled my flight and stayed with her until the following Saturday when she passed away. How do our mothers know these things? Thank you, Hank, for sharing this touching story.

Oh, I just got home to find all your dear messages. Thank you. Thank you. I wish i could write directly to every one of you..but know I am sitting in my comfy chair, reading and re-reading your comments. How amazing to have this community! I mena--t's astonishing.

Storyteller MAry, you are so right. (As always.) No one is gone whose story lives on. Thank you.

Deb and Christy and Tanya--thinking of you, too.

What a gorgeous story about an extraordinary woman. Thanks for sharing it, Hank. She is so beautiful!

Thank you Barbara..xoxo

Judy, it was--is--Lincolnwood. And back then, it was so sparsely settled, I think there were six houses on our street, and an empty field behind our back yard.

Beautiful, my fellow "H" -- it's easy to see where your own beauty comes from. I loved this essay and I'm going to adopt all your Mamacita's advice.

Hank, I'm so sorry about your Mamacita. She was beautiful. I can see why you are too.

My Mom is 87. I know when it's her time her expressions from her Irish mother will still be coming out of my mouth. They already do, and my friends and family laugh at me. Things like, "It's better than the blow of a stick", or "I haven't seen him since Hector was a pup", or "It's hotter than Dutch love in here."

Thanks for sharing this remarkable tribute with us.

Brunonia - your story of your Mom and Saturday gave me chills!

That was beautiful Hank. I'm sorry for your loss, but it sounds like your mother will always be with you. How strong and wise she must have been.

Brunonia--and now all you do makes perfect sense. I am--inspired. Thank you.

Laura in PA--isn't it amazing what happens to us? Such a circle

Harley, yes, it completely works. And your children feel the same way about you..

And thank you Betty. Yes, indeed.

I DO wish you all had met...

What a wonderful tribute to your mother. "Go and find out" what truly great advice. No dry eyes here. I will so miss your posts Hank.

Al, thank you...but we'll find each other, right? xoxo

Hi Hank,
So sorry to hear about your loss. She sounds like amazing woman. Your tribute was so moving. I find myself crying with a mix of tears of sadness for your loss and thinking of my journey to motherhood. I can only hope to be such a wise & caring mom to my child.
Thanks again for the words of wisdom & inspiration.
My best to you & your family this holiday season.

Hank, now we know how you became so amazing. Thank you for sharing this piece of you. Her spirit will be kicking around within you. You are very blessed.

Aw, Hank, I'm so sorry for your loss. But you're right, she was beautiful and obviously brilliant. This post is beautiful and brilliant too--as are you. xox

Hank, thanks for sharing this wonderful tribute to your mama. I remember her, also your sis Nina, so it was easy to picture her in your great recollections. Many treasures there that you will carry with you.
All the best--

How lucky you were to have her, Hank. And how lucky she was to have you.

An eloquent expression of a life to be celebrated. We should all celebrate life, it's too short to mourn with tears or regret. My heartfelt sympathies go to you and your family. I lost my own mother eight years ago and I still pick up the phone call her at times. They are never far away and I know that they are listening, laughing and loving along with us.

Best wishes...

Oh, Hank. It sounds like you and your mom had what I always wished for with mine - mutual respect. What a blessing. Thanks for sharing :)

Ah, it is such a blessing to have such wonderful friends. Yes, Teagen, celebrating...and I know what you mean.
I am so grateful to see all of your names...it is quite astonishing.

Hank, I just saw this this morning. What an honor you give your mother, your love for her is in every word that was printed above and it brought tears to my eyes. The loss of a parent is never easy I know, but oh my God the memories will ever be there to comfort us.
Hank Thank you for sharing this with us, it was beautiful, heartfelt and most of all a loving tribute to a woman who obviously influences you still.
My heart is heavy and my prayers are with you.

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