In Memory of my mother

As many of you know my mother passed away on August 2, 2021. I took care of her for 10 years and miss her. I will resume writing for my blog in September but for August I thought many of you might like to read the eulogy my daughter, Sheryl Parker, gave at my mother’s funeral.

Frances Mendelsohn at 107 years
  • Good afternoon everyone.
  • How do you sum up 107 years of life in just a few minutes? That’s the question I asked myself as I sat down to write these remarks.
  • My grandmother was born in a remarkable year — 1914 – which marked the start of World War One, Babe Ruth’s major league debut and the inauguration of the Panama canal. 
  • She died in a remarkable year – marked by an unprecedented attack on the US capital, a global pandemic, and the inauguration of our country’s first female vice president.
  • In between she witnessed the kind of history most of us only read about in books, the passing of the 19th amendment, the great depression, World War 2, The Civil Rights Movement, the Moon Landing, Watergate,  9/11, the advent of technology and the list goes on and on.  
  • In all of that my grandmother – by force of will – engineered an island of order, calm and stability.
  • My grandmother was born in Pittsfield MA.  She was proud of her family of 6 girls (or as she would say as one word – BellaBettyMarthaRuthFrancesRita) and spoke about them often in the stories of “olden times” she told me as a child.
  • In those stories her childhood sounded like great fun – She played sports with her 5 sisters.  Helped out in her busy home (where her sisters often found ways to get out of their chores).  Worked in a shoe store.  Dated boys. Sang in the Choir.  Went to college in Lowell while living with an Aunt. Taught. Laughed – I think of her as someone who loved to laugh.
  • And then she met my grandfather Lewis – a brilliant and complicated man.
  • They moved to Lynn, MA where they had my Mom – Alvah – and where my grandmother was the quiet and persistent force that made life happen in their home.  
  • My grandmother lived by a clear set of rules – Take care of family. Do your chores. Love your friends. 
  • Within this context there were several versions of my grandmother.
  • My mom describes my grandmother as the original helicopter mom – present, watchful and quick to step in when she felt her help was needed.
  • My brother and I were familiar with that version of Frances.  She was the grandma who – after my parents divorce –  picked us up at school every day, drove us to lessons and sports, made sure we did our homework and chores.  If there was something that needed doing, our grandma was relentless about making sure it got done – she’d ask nicely, then ask again, and again and again – until even the most willful teenager (that would be me) would give in and do what needed to be done. 
  • There was also the version of Frances that was filled with fun – who patiently taught me to read – and regularly took me to the beach, for ice cream and to hit golf balls at the range.
  • And there was the fierce version that stood up to my father’s new wife at my brother’s bar mitzvah and told her she wasn’t welcome there.
  • But my favorite was the grandmother of my early childhood – 
  • I went to her home often when my parents needed a “break” from their precocious and hyperverbal daughter.
  • I loved spending time with my grandparents. I got to play with the odd assortment of cooking implements that lived in the drawer under the stove, wash dishes endlessly at the sink, and frequently head to the beach with the ice cream tub and large kitchen spoon that were used as beach toys in my grandmother’s house.
  • My grandfather would read me a story every night.
  • And best of all, my grandmother would give me what she called a beauty treatment — a bath, followed up with an application of her fancy lotion and powder, then a manicure and finally I’d slip into the bed she had pre-warmed with a heating pad.
  • That bed was a metaphor for what my grandmother’s house was to me as a small child – comfort, warmth and love.
  • My grandmother loved many things – 
  • She loved her closest friends -she had many over the course of her life – Bea Katz, Henrietta Vernick, Ruth Green, Belle Brown, Sylvia (I don’t know Sylvia’s last name – but let’s call her white or black)  She talked about them and to them all the time. They brought great joy into her life.
  • She loved bird watching, singing, fishing (no one could gut a fish like she could), and always an exciting novel, a sale or a bargain.
  • She loved to have people over for meals – and never served a dinner without a beautifully set table and a delicious dessert.
  • And in her later life she loved bridge (she was a popular — and extremely competitive bridge player well into her 90’s).
  • She loved her annual birthday celebration at Congregation Shirat Hayam – where there were always roses and a beautiful cake.
  • She loved her caregivers – Irma, Virginia and Josette.
  • Most of all however, she loved her daughter.  She was my mothers fiercest champion (frequently telling me I should be nicer to her) and her greatest source of pride.
  • And my mother has been an incredible daughter to her – taking care of her for nearly 10 years.
  • My grandmother lived a long life, a full life, a good life, a life that she shaped with her quiet, strong will. 
  • May her memory be for a blessing.
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