Thursday, September 4, 2014

When Your Mother is a Tough Broad: A Letter to Melissa Rivers

It was while watching Melissa Rivers co-host a red carpet event with her mother, Joan Rivers, that I first recognized the look on Melissa's face as her mother spoke. Joan was a ball of energy, revved up and spitting out barbs... most of which weren't PC. Melissa slunk down, and Joan went on. There was no stopping her and I watched Melissa wince in the presence of her mother's take no prisoners sarcasm.

Joan Rivers was being the Joan Rivers that the world knew, but at the same time, Joan Rivers was also Melissa's mother, and I could feel the lifetime of growing up with what I had had; a mother who never censored or kowtowed to anyone. No one and nothing was safe from my mother, as was with Joan. You could not describe either woman without the words ballsy, fearless, a force of nature. There were other words, too, like annoying, frustrating, bull headed, stubborn.

I often felt like Melissa Rivers with my own mother. I didn't love it at the time, but I came to love it as my appreciation for what my mother's life was, grew. The out loud way of grabbing life and seizing opportunity, is what I eventually loved about my mother and about Joan Rivers.

Like her, my mother had a razor sharp rapid fire wit and when you were on her radar, you felt the heat. My mother, too, like Joan, was the widow of a man who had killed himself. Just like Joan, again, my mother did what she had to do, never saying no to work as she struggled to provide for six children. Of all the jobs that my mother had to work to support us, none was more important to her than that of mother. I saw that same thing in the way that Joan Rivers loved her daughter, Melissa.

My mother lived without apology. She didn't care who liked her or not, she did what she had to do, without a worry about fitting in with the women of our 1960s neighborhood. She worked at a time when women didn't and in the 60s, when in this city women needed their husband's signature to get a credit card, she talked the bank manager into allowing her one, for the necessity of her children. Never take no for an answer, my mother would have cross stitched that on a pillow if she were to ever sit long enough to be domestic.

Joan Rivers and my mother had an intuition about themselves, a bravery about who they were, resilient when life did as life does -- it was as if  any adversity that came their way just made them that much more sure of themselves. They spoke first, and then took full responsibility for any fall out, not ever seeking out a scapegoat. Both women were serious in their work and lived by a work ethic that was there seven days a week. Joan Rivers once said, "I knew I was funny. And that it was powerful." My mother was aware, too, that she had a brilliant sense of humor. She knew she was quick with a comeback and would press her lips together right before she was about to deliver a sharp-tongued gem... as if to say I can't stop myself, I have to.

To my mother, there was no such thing as a man's world. It was just the world, and she fought for her place in it as if she didn't think any reason existed for her not to. Seizing any and every opportunity, she showed her four daughters to say yes first, and then make damn sure you delivered. My mother had a saying during the 70s with the rise of feminism and Gloria Steinem, “These women, so silly, instead of spending time saying they're going to do something, they could be just doing it.”

I grew to love and admire my mother for the same reason that I do Joan Rivers. And I know I can say the same for the way Melissa Rivers evolved to see her mother through the years. As strong, beautiful, and needing no one's approval. Though there were plenty of times that I, as I would see Melissa do, would cringe from my mother's brazenness and intentional lack of restraint. But underneath everything, I couldn't help but admire her courage and her grit.

Both my mother and Joan Rivers were brilliant stars. When you watched them in their perfect moments of saying just what needed to be said, you felt it: they were irreplaceable.

When I heard that Joan Rivers passed away today, I thought of how I lost my own mother a year ago. And my heart broke for Melissa. 

Because when your mother is a tough broad, you kind of feel like they'll be here with you forever.

RIP, Joan Rivers. Give my mother a kiss for me, would you, and tell her that her daughter misses her.

* * *


  1. Beautiful Alexandra...beautiful...wiping tears now.

  2. nice tribute...not only to your mother...but to joan...
    we need strong women...

  3. Thank you, Brian, Thank you, Mo, it bothered so much while growing up . But over the years, I saw, she couldn't be any other way.

  4. Love this perspective! Thoughtful tribute to your mother and Joan.

  5. Oh, this is an amazing post! I am sharing this! Bravo!

  6. Great tribute to both women and food for thought for the next generation. There have been a million times in my life when I wish I was more like them. Good to know that at this ripe old age, there is still something to strive for.

  7. MommaFargo: THANK YOU. I tried to find you on FB, are you there?
    Barb Best: I appreciate you saying so, so much. Here's to the tough broads, the women ahead of their time.
    Diary: yes. They are/were incredible. Thank you.

  8. What beautiful words about both your mom and Joan Rivers. I also always admired Joan. I don't think anybody has ever quite put it the way you have though - brilliant. I can understand your connection to Melissa Rivers now. How cool would it be for you two to meet and share a meal and chat.

  9. Thank you, Tess. I appreciate your kind comments so much. I've been trying to find you, do you have a website, or are you on FB or twitter? Please let me know. xo

  10. I am. :) It gets confusing. I couldn't connect via FB here for some reason (probably me) so I'm connected via google and my google account is still on my previous married name - baker. My FB name is Tess Maucier-Walker.

  11. Tess: That's you? Laughing so hard. And feeling so lucky b/c now I know TWO OF YOU. ANd I liked them both!



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