My Mom, Sylvia
Readers may wonder why I pen a Mother’s Day tribute about my mother on a Website that publishes political commentary. The answer is easy: Sylvia was a political person.
Sylvia was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1921. She grew up in a family that did not want for much since Syl’s father, Bill, had a good job working as the superintendent at his bother’s textile mill in Rhode Island, where the family moved for that work. The mill was quite successful and produced dyed synthetic fibers. It was one of many mills that Bill’s brother operated.
Syl married my dad, Irv, in the early 1940s. Irv’s family owned and operated a family clothing business in the central Rhode Island town where the mill was located. Economic, if not political, times were good up until the late 1950s. By then, both the textile mill that Bill oversaw had left Rhode Island and Syl’s family opened a fabric store and then a luncheonette in the same town. The fortunes of the clothing store that my dad operated followed a similar trajectory as the mills in town. By the end the 1950s, it had closed.
Syl’s mother, Ida, was one of the kindest people I have ever met. We had a close relationship until her death. Despite living on a limited income, Ida managed a kind of generosity that outpaced her finances.
Syl was the most social person I have known in addition to her political bent toward liberalism.
By being social, I mean that our home was always open to strangers and friends and there were always visitors. When a relative was in trouble, Syl would unquestionably provide sanctuary for that person until the familial storm had passed. She, along with Irv, were also generous toward strangers in need of the same resources, and one troubled teen spent months in our home trying to find a balance in his life.
As a child, Syl spent time at a socialist camp in the Catskills of upstate New York. I don’t know how many summers she attended the camp, but I do know that she had strong feelings for social justice and peace. During the antiwar movement in the Vietnam War era, Syl protested the war and wrote letters and commentary to both the local and state newspapers about her antiwar attitudes. She appeared in a debate with a local pro-war individual and that interview in the town’s local newspaper drew lots of heat her way.
Syl and Irv took over my grandparents’ luncheonette after their clothing business closed, and the place was the center of much heated debate during the war. The thing about disagreements in those days was that differences were often left to heal rather than the distasteful climate of hate that is clear today.
Sylvia was a co-coordinator of two major political campaigns in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She helped run the McCarthy campaign for president in 1968 and the McGovern campaign for president in 1972. In 1968, the state Democratic Party asked Syl to travel to Chicago for the national convention, but she declined that invitation. Had she gone, her experiences during the police riot outside of the convention hall would have been interesting and illuminating.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Syl penned her tales—short stories—about the town in which we lived. I co-edited the collection of short stories and they are available on Amazon. Tales Of An American Shtetl is a well-written and entertaining series of fictional stories.
Syl suffered a serious heart attack in 1984 and a series of strokes. In the last year of her life, we sat together, mostly on Friday evenings, and talked head-to-head in the manner that became so popular during the 1960s. Our talks were more like the meetings of two close friends rather than between a mother and a son.