A Master at Mothering

© Sasanka7 | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Sasanka7 | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Mr. Santa Barbara Remembers Jane Crandell

Though she’s been gone for more than 40 years, the memory of his mother still brings a twinkle to the eye of 84-year-old Larry Crandell.

“My best role was not as a father, not as a husband, but as a son. Of all the things I’ve done, I think I did that better from the time I was 15 until my mother died when I was 40-something,” he says, as he recalls his childhood with Jane Crandell, who, for the most part, single-handedly raised Larry and his younger brothers Sam and Marty.

Life in Newark, N.J. was tough for Jane, who provided for her three growing boys by working as a shoe clerk for $19 a week. She had to take two buses to get to her job, but according to Larry, she never complained.

“My father was an alcoholic who ended up in a veterans hospital,” says Larry, explaining that his father lived away from the family from the time he was six years old. “My mother was a third grade dropout.”

The family got by with help from government relief (the precursor to welfare) and Jane’s six days a week selling shoes. “The phrase, living hand to mouth doesn’t do it justice. She literally waited on, took shoes off and put shoes on people all day long,” says Larry.

But even though money was tight, ” I don’t remember my brothers or I ever feeling sorry for ourselves,” he says.

This is probably in part because Jane was so completely devoted to their happiness. “She used to be asked questions like, ‘you know you’re a reasonably attractive woman, why didn’t you date?’ And she always had the same answer: I found everything I could possibly want in life with you three boys,” Larry says.

Despite what was obviously a hard knock life, Jane saw her sons through rose-colored glasses. “She spoiled the daylights out of us. She saw us through the gauze of affection and love and in those days single mothers didn’t keep families together. I’m sure economic times were the cause of families breaking up,” says Larry.

“She had an automatic up-grader, so that whatever we did was that much better. The freedom I gained started with that she thought everything each of us did was perfect. That’s what she said and I never heard artifice from her,” he says. “Her most recurring phrase … ‘not because he’s my son,’ prefaced a million compliments that my mother made about one of us. ‘Not because he’s my son,’ that’s the way I remember her.”

Larry credits his mother for much of his self-esteem. “I really am surprised when people don’t like me–and that I got from her. I know that.”

It was also his mother who encouraged and helped develop Larry’s quick wit, which he regularly brings to Santa Barbara’s stages as master of ceremonies or auctioneer for more than 50 local charity events a year, tirelessly raising money for causes ranging from the YMCA, the Boys & Girls Clubs, Hospice, Hillside House, the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table and just about every other nonprofit in town.

“We lived in a fourth story walkup with the tenements and I have this vivid recollection of her trudging in with two bundles of groceries and I asked the same joke six days a week. ‘Is dinner ready?’ and she would roar with laughter, every single time,” he says.

The Crandell’s were an affectionate family, thanks in large part to the example set by Jane. “When we went to the candy store to lavish three pennies on candy, it became de rigueur to kiss her goodbye. The candy store was two doors down,” says Larry.

Larry says the only resolution he’s ever kept, since age 15, was inspired by his mother. “I decided that I would never show impatience. … Somehow I had a picture of a woman who worked 10 hours a day, six days a week and carried a sick husband and three little kids on her back … Yet, she was so empathetic and so desirous of us being happy, even for the moment. And so that as I reached adulthood, I vowed not to show impatience.”

In many ways, Larry celebrates his mother’s life every day, but her birthday, October 19, has a special significance. Each year on that date, he tries to spend an or so by himself, just thinking about her and all that she gave to him. “She would have been 111 this past October, but she only lived to be 67,” he says.

“I’m not doing it intentionally, I don’t think, but when I think of her, I smile. … I think the best part of me is like her.”

Originally published in Coastal Woman