MAMA INHALED deeply, eyes slowly closing.
“What do you think, Lynn?” asked her 30-something buddy Bud, looking at her anxiously across the dinner table, as if she were assessing his first attempt at making a brisket.
“It’s good,” she said thoughtfully, “but not as good as the Colombian we had last week.”
And so it was I learned my mother was smoking marijuana.
Shocking to think my mother was a few years younger than I am now. At the time I thought her so . . . mature. I learned to make latkes from her, as well as the aforementioned brisket, and chopped liver, not to mention matzoh balls as light as air, and how to dry napkins so they scarcely needed ironing. (Fold and stretch while they’re still damp,, lay flat to dry.)
She was, in short, a mother. Always serving two vegetables along with the meat. Throwing out my old jeans laced up with rawhide where the zipper had busted. Yelling at me to clean my room. Sewing silk palazzo pants for my senior prom when I couldn’t find what was in my mind’s eye.
Unless they lived on a commune or were having a Georgia O’Keeffe moment, 60-something-year-old mothers did not smoke grass in 1977, which is about when all this took place.
So to say I was shocked as the joint passed its way from Bud to his girlfriend Astrid to Mama and then me would be an understatement.
“What the hell is going on?” I squawked, too stunned to smoke.
My dad had died a couple of years before and Mom had moved to a smaller apartment right next door to the one I grew up in on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. She had two terraces that scalloped along the 18th-floor roofline, with not another tall building within 10 blocks. There was an unobstructed view of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings.
This was fortuitous, since it turned out that she wasn’t just smoking marijuana, she was growing it, along with her shrubs and bulbs. She was a fine plantswoman.
“I have a southern exposure,” she told me by way of explanation, which wasn’t much of an explanation. And I had visions of helicopter blades thwap-thwapping over the terraces, cops with bullhorns: “What’s that you’re growing, lady?”
I was separated from my first husband, living cool in an old apartment building in Washington DC’s Adams Morgan neighborhood and selling esoteric remaindered books for a local company. As usual, for me, it was a job that paid virtually nothing and had no future but had a great fringe benefit: shuttling to New York for a week every month or so.
Mom was curious about marijuana. She knew I smoked some, but I hadn’t flitted off to San Francisco. At 29, I was on my third or maybe fourth career, but I was managing to support myself. So my brain had not imploded.
It was Michael who initially turned her on. He and his wife Astrid (yes, the same Astrid we met above with Bud) bought our old apartment and became Mom’s surrogate kids. He was a stockbroker who’d made his millions and more or less retired, keeping a few clients that he handled from home. She was a free spirit, designing edgy clothing for Norma Kamali.
Mama fed them, picked up their packages and mail, and watched their hermit crabs when they were vacationing in Aspen or Rome.
Then Astrid ran off with Bud.
Michael and my mom grew closer. They’d ride to restaurants and the theater on his motorcycle; she’d take him chicken soup and fluff his pillows when he was ailing.
The building gossiped about them; it was very Harold and Maude.
Her smoking grass came about this way, he later explained: One sunny April afternoon they were hanging out at his place when Michael lit a joint and passed it to her, as he’d done several times in the past. She as usual declined, he as usual urged her to try it. “The worst that will happen is you’ll fall asleep,” he told her. So she did.
Then the phone rang—a client, he told me—and he was on the phone for a while, watching as Mom went to the fridge and took out a container of Cool Whip and, sitting on the floor, ate it with her finger (a scratch cook, I doubt she knew what it was).
Then she passed out smiling on the sofa. A totally satisfactory first experience, I’d say.
Meanwhile, Astrid and Bud, who remained close with Mama, were living in a dismal flat around the corner with a view of an airshaft.
It was somewhere between my visits that Bud persuaded her to plant his scavenged seeds—and such fine bushy plants she grew! Pinching them back and drying leaves on paper towels she kept in the bookcase, a different towel for each variety, each neatly marked, they tasted and judged. Bud continued to buy weed for their experiments.
And everyone got happily stoned.
Leaving her after this trip, she pressed a bag into my hands. “Here’s a little pot for your new kitchen,” said the tag.
LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” is part of the hippie fringe of MyLittleBird. In her city garden she grows things other than marijuana.