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Memories of Mom


My heart hurts. My mom died.

This may seem like a funny place to eulogize my mom — a video game column — but I wouldn’t exist here on this page without her.

I remember the only video game bonding moment we shared: Mom asks to see my Nintendo Game Boy. I show her “Tetris” on it.

“Just twist these blocks as they’re falling from the sky, so they will land safely together at the bottom,” I say.

She becomes obsessed with “Tetris.” I can see in her eyes what she sees in mine — staring at a screen, trying to make the world fit together better.

Mom was a teacher of gifted students, Dr. Julia Elfman, in New Orleans at Gentilly Terrace Elementary, across the street from where she lived her final 25 years. She was named one of the best educators in North America.

For her teaching accomplishments, she met President Clinton. She took a photo of him extending a handshake. Her photo is a comical close-up — Clinton’s smile and bulbous nose falling into her lens.

Mom was born in Little Rock.

“I saw Elvis in a barn when he had brown hair,” Mom boasted.

She went to Little Rock Central High at the exact moment racist white parents were taking their kids out of the school during its historic integration. She detested racists.

Mom would always ask me where I ate last, eternally concerned my meals had been tasty. Her diet caused adult diabetes, which did not prevent her from dying at 72.

Memories flood in.

I’m 4 or 5. I tell Mom I want to play piano music I hear in a movie. She finds me piano lessons, which turn into violin lessons, which turn into a music scholarship.

I’m 9. She makes me keep a diary, thereby brainwashing me into loving the art of writing, which leads to my cherished career.

I’m 10. She is singing me to sleep. An old song by Joni Mitchell:

“Bows and flows of angel hair, and ice cream castles in the air, and feather canyons everywhere — I’ve looked at clouds that way. But now they only block the sun. They rain and snow on everyone. So many things I would have done. But clouds got in my way.”

I’m 10. A single mother of three, she works three jobs. We live in poverty. Home looks like the cinder block walls of student housing at the University of Georgia, where she earns a doctorate in early childhood education.

I’m 12. Mom is driving. She is reciting all the characters and symbolisms of William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury,” to prep me for college someday.

Memories are echoes. But echoes are all I have now. Mom is a pocketful of echoes.

I’m 17. She says, “No one can make you unhappy. Only you have the power to make yourself happy. All I want you to be is happy, no matter what you decide to do.”

I love you, Mom. You taught me to piece together the world on my own. I’ll be a good boy, I promise.

(“Tetris” by Tetris Holding Inc. is a basic but free Web game at Tetris.com for PC and Mac — Plays fun. Looks old-school. Moderately challenging. Rated “E.” Three out of four stars.)

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Doug Elfman is an entertainment writer for the Las Vegas (NV) Review-Journal. Contact him at DElfman@reviewjournal.com