Yesterday was the two-year anniversary of the passing of my amazing mother Adele “Dulie” Nahem. Below is the blog I wrote after she died in celebration of her life. I still miss her very much and think of her everyday.
My mother, Adele "Dulie" Nahem, passed away Monday, June 18, 2012 at the age of 85 due to complications from non-Hodgkins lymphoma, which was diagnosed in April 2011.
But I am not going to write about her death, I am going to write about her special life and who she was for me.
Adele was born on April 12, 1927, the seventh child of ten, and daughter of Frieda and Joseph Missry, Sephardic Jewish immigrants who came to Brooklyn New York in the early 1900s from Aleppo, Syria. They struggled but lived a good life in the Bensonhurst area of Brooklyn, like most immigrants of the time during the Depression. Her early nickname Dulie, derived from her Syrian name of "Adoolah", stuck with her the rest of her life. As a child, she was lively, popular, vivacious, and a tomboy, always playing sports. Even as an adult, she played tennis and racket ball frequently, and still played doubles tennis a few times a week up until about two years ago. She was excellent in English and writing in school and won writing awards.
She married my father, Abraham Nahem, at the age of 18, after a brief courtship. Abie, as we called him, was 11 years older than my mother. Dulie was a great beauty, a knockout, a looker, a cross between Zsa Zsa Gabor and Debbie Harry. She loved beautiful clothes and to get dressed up.
She had her first child Sonia, at age 20 and had three more children, Edward, Joe, and I was the baby of the family. She still called me her baby when she introduced me to people until she died.
She was the life of the party, always the center of attention, an entertainer at heart, and one of her strongest and most memorable gifts was her storytelling. Whether it be stranger or close friend, she loved to impart her wild and funny stories of her life. She had an extraordinary memory for details and when she told a story, there were so many things she remembered that I didn't even though I was there at the time of the event. Yes, she took some artistic license and exaggerated and embellished a bit, but it was always for entertainment value. Dulie also loved to tell dirty jokes, and her legendary swearing could make even a sailor or rap singer blush.
Her life wasn't always easy, and for many years she struggled to take care of my father, who was ill for a good part of his life, and also raise four children. She would work long hours and sometimes two jobs to support the family but she never complained or was bitter.
Dulie was an unbelievable saleswoman and sold everything from 50-cent rubber flip-flops to porcelain vases worth tens of thousands of dollars. She worked in retail stores most of her life and still worked two days a week at a local linen shop up until five years ago. She could sell you the Brooklyn Bridge and you would buy it from her without question. My brother Ed remembered some of her funnier words of advice to a customer she was trying to sell something to: "Hon, if it's too big, it will shrink; if it's too small, it will undoubtedly stretch; I guarantee it".
She loved to dance and at every occasion from bar mitzvah to wedding and even to random music on the street, she loved to strut her stuff on the dance floor. She would always clear the dance floor and would dance wildly without shame or inhibition, while people would cheer her on and clap.
She loved games, especially Scrabble and cards. In fact she was a serial card player and took her card playing so seriously that it was a mortal sin to disturb her while she was playing, even if you had a life or death emergency. She also loved game shows, including Wheel of Fortune and loved it so much you couldn't interrupt her when she was watching it. One time recently after traveling over 14 hours by plane, bus, and taxi to see her, I arrived when Wheel of Fortune was on, and she shushed me and said not to talk to her till it was over.
Another passion was traveling and adventure, and Dulie had traveled to every continent except Antarctica. She felt at home on cruise ships and had taken over 20 cruises in her lifetime. Her favorite pastime on the cruises was to enter contests, and won many prizes and trophies for her over-the-top hats and crazy costumes.
Dulie was a big fan of Paris and had been there four times, the last time in 2005 to visit when I first moved here. One of her favorite stories about Paris was when my father took her shopping during their first visit in the 1970s. My father used to love to buy mother nice clothes and one day they were walking on the rue Faubourg St. Honoré, the upscale shopping street of Paris with many designer boutiques. My father saw a chic black velvet pants suit in the window of a boutique and thought my mother should have it. My mother was a size 14 and she said that the pants suit, probably a size 4, wasn't big enough to fit her ankle or even Twiggy. My father forced her to go into the store anyway and the saleswoman said that their expert tailor could alter it to her size. Because my mother was a super saleswoman herself, she was more than skeptical and thought the woman was pulling a fast one on her. Never one to back down from a challenge, she made a deal with the saleswoman: they would alter the suit first before she paid for it and if it fit, she would take it. So Dulie returned the next day still unconvinced, and low and behold the suit fit perfectly and she wore it for many years to come.
Although she was a free spirit, keeping the traditions of her Jewish community was very important and sacred to her. She wasn't religious but she strictly adhered to the customs of Judaism by keeping a kosher household and observing the holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Passover.
Family was of great importance and she was very proud of her children's accomplishments over the years. She boasted about us to her friends and family but not it an obnoxious way, just out of pride. Besides her four children, she had three grandchildren, Sarah, Elie, and Joachim, and three great grandchildren, Matthew, Avery, and Sebastien. Her most treasured possessions were the hundreds of family photos and photo albums. She was very independent and never demanded much of her children and in her older age did not become needy or complain her children didn't visit her, for she was far too busy living life to the max.
My mother and I were close and we shared many of the same loves and interests. When I lived in New York we would go to the theater almost weekly together. In recent years I would call her and she would say "I can't talk long, I'm running out". I would ask what are you up to today and she would reply "I'm going to exercise class first, then to play bridge, having lunch with the girls, then swimming, going to a museum exhibit, and to dinner and a concert tonight". At my present age I couldn't do all that in one day without being exhausted. She taught me so many important things: how to have fun for fun's sake, to be daring, to be adventurous, to be game and open to anything. I inherited her love of travel and adventure, a smidgeon of her great story telling, her love of entertaining and performing, and of course her good looks. I most surely inherited her love of food and to be able to eat at any given moment. Most important of all she taught me to have an endless zest and insatiable appetite for life no matter what the circumstances are and no matter how old I get.
My mother was very loved by her friends and family. She was very close with many of her numerous nieces and nephews, was truly their favorite aunt, and they would practically fight with one another about who would have her over for the Friday night Shabbot dinner and other Jewish holiday meals. In fact one of her great nieces named her child after Dulie.
Dulie truly loved life like no other person I have ever known. She lived life to the hilt and if I could live even 10% of my life the way she did, I would have a remarkable and fulfilling life. I wish you could have met her but hopefully you get a sense of who she was.
I am proud and honored to be Dulie's son and baby forever.
A special thanks to my cousin Joyce Lieb for providing the photos.
This is a photo portrait Vincent my partner created of my beloved Dulie and I look at it everyday.