My mother is a subset of the category of Typical Jewish Mother--she's elegant and tasteful, The Jewish Jackie Kennedy, my cousin has called her for decades. She's as anxious and fearful as the stereotype, or more so, but she relays her doubts not in a whining, gratey New York voice, but in an olderish-but-not-creaky Southern Lady accent. The accent is not Deep South, and not light, but more medium Texas drawl. She has lived in only two places her whole life--Dallas (smaller, more snobby about its culture) and Houston (where she moved as a bride, and found you didn't have to wear white gloves as often).
The last person I met with a whiny-New York voice was a German with at least one American parent. So you can never rush to judgments with accents.
I was talking on the phone with my mother, who had just returned from a sibling arts-outing to Marfa, Texas, and I mentioned that I had a dental implant, my first, coming up later that day. She's had her troubles with implants, including one that made a side of her face swell up. The reason for mine is that a root-canaled crown fell off about a month ago and so the remains of the tooth (a shallow, uneven ring coming out of the gum like a worn-down wall) must be pulled, for about $300, of which my insurance will pay a portion. Then the periodontist will insert a metal cylinder into the jawbone, which will grow around the implant. Insurance will not pay for any of that, which is of course the more expensive part.
Our conversation ends. Then she calls back: She forgot to tell me [again, imagine the voice of a Southern Jewish Lady Mother] about Sonia's antibiotic. Sonia is her friend who had a lumpectomy many years ago and lymphoma recently. Sonia (or S) finished chemo about a month ago, about the same time that her husband died. S just went to the dentist for a cleaning and was chided in the office for not pre-medicating. The message is that I need to take an antibiotic before my dental surgery in order to avoid infection. I told my mother that I didn't need an antibiotic. When I was accused of having a mitral valve prolapse, I used to pre-medicate, but then some other doctor along the line asserted that I didn't have the prolapse. I reminded my mother that I didn't take an antibiotic before my root canal when I was going through chemo, that no one ever told me I needed an antibiotic before a dental appointment--not the dentist, not the oncologist. Undaunted, she said, Check it out. I said OK, which she knows is noncommittal.
She calls that night to see how the procedure went. I tell her that the surgery was postponed (because it happens to be true) because when I got to the periodontal office, the receptionist said my appointment wasn't on the office calendar. She said, We wondered why you were on the doctor's calendar, but not the other calendar. She wondered? If she wondered so much, why didn't she call me? The periodontal office person said she was on the brink of calling my dentist. Which, neatly enough, is how my family works, through indirection: If A is upset with B, A will automatically turn to C to discuss it, and maybe C will pass B's words along to A. I asked the receptionist about antibiotics and she said they weren't necessary. I tell this to my mother. But S's doctor..., my mother says; but everyone I talked to..., my mother says. She doesn't see that I am not the same as 80-something S, that my breast cancer is not S's. My mother was accidentally prescient about one piece of medical advice. Before I had cancer, when I was just your average gal with lumpy breasts from fibrocystic disease, my mother told me that S's doctor told her she shouldn't have soy, and therefore I shouldn't. I said no one had told me I shouldn't have soy, that my knots weren't cancerous, that there was no reason to do as S did.
And then I was diagnosed with estrogen-munching cancer, and my oncologist told me to avoid soy because it resembles estrogen.
A few months ago S sent me an article from the New York Times about eating to outwit cancer. I was skeptical of it because the author of the article asserted that cancer feeds on sugar, and no one had told me that. But then I mentioned this to an expert who said, yes, sugar causes inflammation which can lead to cancer. So score one for the Southern Jewish Mothers of Houston.
My surgery is planned for tomorrow, and I will not be taking an antibiotic beforehand. When I was in third grade or so, we had to write about intangible gifts, and I blazed forward and wrote many little essays about these gifts, and by the time I got to the fourth or fifth one, I was writing about the gift of worry. Worry (A), my mother (B) and I (C) go back a long way. Or maybe worry is (B), which my mother transmits, or worry is the medium through which other messages are conveyed. It is complicated.
My cousin (by marriage) D has created the term negative R--- attitude, to describe the fear and caution that my mother's family (the family R) carries in its genes. Forty years ago, my grandfather R told my cousin (the one who later married D), that he would pay for her undergraduate education if she would only opt for the University of Texas instead of the dangerous radical Northern school, the University of Wisconsin, where she was bent on going, and did in fact attend and graduate from. And she went to graduate school in New York City, and lived in Boston, before finally returning to Texas, with D. Luckily, her mother had married a man who was not afflicted with NRA and who calmly allowed his children to venture hither and yon. And yes, Madison was radical in those days and when anti-war activists bombed the physics building, a researcher died and four others were injured. NRA can sniff out danger. The problem is the bar is set very, very low.
Accents can be misleading. Last week a downtown panhandler threatened an 80-year-old Chicagoan with a knife before the cops shot him. I heard the older man on the radio and he said fest instead of fast, sounding to me like a guy with a Yiddish accent, like someone who came here straight from Ye Olde Shtetl. It turned out that the man left France at age 25 and his last name sounds Armenian, not Jewish. Many years ago my friend P wrote to me from college in New York about a conversation with a little old man with a Yiddish accent, and noted that there are fewer and fewer of these people and accents who are around. Which was true then, and true now, though now and then you hear a Soviet emigre with that accent. I'm not talking about a Slavic accent, but one spoken by someone whose first language was Yiddish. Which has been dying out, we've been told, for at least 100 years.