Sunday, March 16, 2008

for Sylvia

On Palm Sunday, my thoughts turn to those who, for some inexplicable reason, have decided to resign from life--some young, some older, as well as others for whom destiny is a new deck of cards there for the shuffling. I think about those who find a way to keep their heads above the water, help others to make it through and, most importantly, manage to dance through it all. My father's only sister, my Aunt Sylvia, is such a person.

Born more than ninety years ago, Sylvia survived the flu outbreak of 1918, the stock market crash, the great depression, and more than seventy years of marriage to a wonderful man named Ellie. She survived the loss of two children, and there can be nothing worse, but she has not only taken refuge in laughter, but can play a mean hand of poker.

A few months ago, when her local newspaper, in Florida, ran a column called "I Remember," in which people over 80 shared their recollections of what life was like back when, Sylvia was unable to submit her own memories because her hands are ravaged with arthritis, so it's an honor to post them here:

"I remember going on the subway to meet Ellie when we were going out. It was 1 A.M., and I was alone, and had no fear of being attacked.

I remember before refrigerators, my mother calling out 'The Ice Man is here!'

I remember my father giving me 35 cents to go to New York. I took the train (5 cents each way), and for 25 cents, I bought 3 pairs of panties, and had lunch in Horn and Hardie in Macy's.

I remember pushcarts in New York selling sweet potatoes hot, and chestnuts."

Whoa, things sure have changed. For openers, when someone yells "The Ice Man is here," chances are they're referring to Immigration and Customs guys, and afraid of deportation. The average lunch costs about what a carton of cigarettes did ten years ago, and anybody on the subway at 1 A.M. is probably packing.

But, one thing hasn't changed, there are those who have the gumption to stare adversity right in the eye, and not blink; those who value laughter more than gold, truth more than diplomacy, who don't wave the white flag of defeat every time something seemingly insurmountable is placed in their path. Sylvia is surely one of these and, she promises, there will be more to follow.