Me and mom, 1979
Note: This post was scheduled to run last Wednesday but I whisked away on a surprise vacation so there were no posts last week. Here is this one week late.
Today is the third anniversary of my mom’s passing. I don’t want to bring down the room, but I would like to take this chance to introduce you to the real inspiration for Your Mom is So Berkeley.
My mom moved to Berkeley in 1957 and she never lived anywhere else after that. She graduated from Berkeley High in 1970 (where she had Donald Schrumph and, I believe, Mr. Panasenko) and from Cal in 1974. She became a Berkeley mom four years later. Growing up in that time put her right in that classic Berkeley wheel house of being young and rebellious in that “Berkeley in the 60s” time period. She spent a year without shoes, grew hair down to her waist, and experimented with drugs while listening to “Sergeant Pepper’s.”
While I was growing up she had a string of interesting boyfriends, actors, painters, writers and randomly, a lawyer who was my favorite. Because of these connections I was exposed to a lot of really cool things as a kid. One of the random byproducts of her relationships is that we are both painted into murals in the east bay. I ended up in the Jewish Heritage mural
in downtown Oakland and my mom is in the mural at the Berkeley Amtrak station
(on the far right).
As a Berkeley mom my mother allowed me to spend my Saturday’s gathering signatures for the GE boycott, which I begged her to let me do. As a single woman inclined towards the arts she signed me up for dance and painting and theater as a kid. I didn’t play organized sports until I was in high school and I don’t think she ever understood why I did it.
Over the years she became a locally known journalist writing for many of the local print outlets. She also did TV stints on local news and round-table type programs. She chronicled my teenage years in a column she wrote for Diablo magazine which was fine until a girl I knew suddenly knew a lot more about me than I’d told her. Through her writing and her great love of people, art, and her community my mother amassed an eclectic and loyal circle of friends. During the 1990s her annual September Party became an underground legend for the 30 and over set. One YMISBer even remembers my mom’s parties in the 70’s:
Rebecca Saulsbury: My mom is so Berkeley she used let me fall asleep on Chiori and Roberto Santiago Senior's
bed at when the parties ran too late
When my mom was diagnosed with cancer in 2006 the community she had been a part of for so long rallied around her. Her friends in the arts community put on a benefit for her at La Pena
to raise money for her medical bills. People brought meals for her and my brother so she wouldn’t have to worry about cooking while she was going through her surgeries and treatments. One day we were going through Tupperware to return to people and one of them a asking tape and marker label with an “eat by” date and the name of one of our local food luminaries. It was pretty cool since I don’t think my mom knew the person who had provided the dish. The calls and emails from well wishers and people wanting updates on her condition became so overwhelming we had to set up a website and email newsletter to keep people apprised of her condition
When she died in 2007 she was surrounded by her family and friends. She was remembered at a public memorial at the Oakland Museum and with a few articles and obituaries
. These all covered the particulars of her life much as I’ve done so far. But to me all these things were ancillary. I never understood the impact my mom had on others until she got sick. To me she was just mom.
Sure, I looked up to her for carving a career out of the cold hard rock that is freelance journalism. I admired her for buying a house in Berkeley and essentially raising a family on one income while never clearing more than $60,000 in a single year. But to me she’s the mom who played “Peter Pan” with me in the environmental yard at Washington Elementary. She’s the mom who taught me how to grow strawberries and pumpkins. She’s the mom who tried her best to play catch and basketball and take me to A’s games even though her only athletic pursuit was swimming laps at the Y and jazzercise. (Oh, there was also her stint in an all women’s Greco-Roman wrestling league. I thought that was pretty cool.)
She’s the reason I’m not afraid of losing anything. Because after watching her lose and build and lose and build again I know that happiness comes from hard work and good friends. She was the woman who exposed me to the arts and to all the career possibilities outside of the traditional world. She’s the reason I’ve been a writer and an interpreter and a teacher and an actor and a lecturer and everything else I’ve been. I’ve been these things because she showed me that you’re never stuck being what you are and that it’s fulfilling to take risks, to try to make your career what you want it to be.
She’s the reason I’m writing this right now and the reason you’re reading it. If the YMISB book ever becomes a reality it will be because I had such a great Berkeley mom. Thank you for helping me share what she gave me.
A few posts about my real life mom:
Your mom is so Berkeley…
…she’s gotta name the car. Her photo albums have the car listed along with the people in the photo.
…she hijacked a PTA meeting by speaking only in Spanish and only taking questions and comments in Spanish to show the parents who DIDN'T speak Spanish why they should provide interpreters.
…your after school snack consisted of frozen peas in a cup and powdered milk. Ah childhood.
...you used to carry a wicker lunch box
...she says the cop that just pulled her over "was a dick when we were in high school too."
...she used to sell weed to the other cop that just pulled you over.
...you fell out of a tree at school and no one got sued.
...she pronounces sherbet with an r before the t
...she knows at least one person painted into a mural in town
I know this post has been long and not very funny but here’s one last story about my mom from YMISB member Debby Segal:
Roberto, so glad to meet you in cyberworld, and to tell you something straight from my heart. Roberto's Mom, the irreplaceable Chiori, was so Berkeley, that before there was a young Roberto, she adopted me: As my Big Sister via Big Sisters of America. She took me on and under her wing when I was a troubled teen (75 or 76?), who had a difficult home life. She was nonjudgmental, inspirational, fun, and kind, when I needed it most. One of my fondest life memories I have was of Mission district Carnival, a Bay Area tradition which she (and R.S. senior), were instrumental in spearheading. I will find a picture of me and her that RS took during that time, and somehow get you a copy. Much love, from the bottom of my Berkeley Heart. Greetings to RS senior.
Thanks Debbie. And thank you YMISBers. You all have turned this into the best way I’ve found to honor my mom and all the Berkeley moms out there.