Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Happy Birthday, Aunt Sylva! By Aunt CB and Kathryn Barron

Aunt Sylva, By Kathryn Barron:

My Mother (Gladys) was the baby of her family. She had three older sisters. The oldest of them was Leona and then Sylva and then Phyllis.

My mom told me that when Aunt Sylva and Uncle Freddy went on their honeymoon, she went with them. I remember visiting Aunt Sylva and Uncle Freddy a lot when I was a child. Our family would drive up to Edmeston during some weekends in the summer. I know that we stayed with Aunt Sylva when some of the babies were born. When Laurie was born, Gail, Michael, and I stayed there. This was a great visit. I remember exploring her house as much as we wanted. She had two pianos and we were allowed to 'play' one of them. Aunt Sylva seemed to have unlimited patience with us.

I loved to cook with her. My Mom was never a great cook so Chic and I learned how in despiration, but Aunt Sylva was a great cook and baker. During this visit she made a "Chocolate Crazy Cake" with "No cook Custard icing". She let me help her a lot. I loved it and I loved the cake. She gave me a copy of the recipes before I left. I later used that recipe to make a cake for my parents' 50th anniversary. I made sure to tell Aunt Sylva that I used her recipe and she made sure that I knew that it wasn't her recipe. She got it from Esther. So, to her, it was Esther's recipe. Even more special. Esther was Sylva's 'special' cousin.

Ruth and Leona, Esther and Sylva, Doris and Phyllis, and CB and my Mom. Lil and Ethel were real considerate to provide all those girls! They were always there for each other. Still are. CB is/was awesome to my Aunts.

When I was a teen my Mom and I clashed often. Whenever I saw Aunt Sylva she had a sympathetic ear for me. I could gripe all I wanted and Aunt Sylva listened lovingly. She probably got the other side's point of view too. She loved me and she loved my Mom.

I remember how heartbroken she was when my Mom died. In the turmoil after, she always let me know that she loved me. She was solidly supportive. The pictures I cherish the most from this last reunion are the ones that Chuck Lockner took of Aunt Sylva with my daughter Beth and her family. Chuck got a few and they are priceless.

By Aunt CB:

It was 21 years ago that Sylva had cancer of the stomach and had some removed (thereafter requiring 4-5 meals a day). Ruth Taylor Maney started to write her a letter weekly at that time to show her love and support for her. Thus, when Sylva was ill and looking for an assisted living spot in the Lutheran Home, from a sporadic letter writer I changed to a weekly one (sometimes two!), to show my love for her and keep her spirits up. It became a 2 way street of love and upholding spirits, past memories and genealogy!

During one of these exchanges we’d discussed teeth and she was losing another of her very few original ones. Thus, when Jack and I stopped in on a visit, we were met with:

“Your teeth are like the stars,” he said
And pressed her hand so white.
He spoke the truth, for like the stars
Her teeth came out at night!

This was typical of Sylva, the only person I’ve ever known who could store doggerel in her head and retrieve it in an instant at the appropriate time! Intelligent, clever, handy with any craft, professional sewer, organist and piano player, good cook, just an all round wonderful person, she’d “come a long way, baby.” Married at 15, this quiet, shy girl had matured agonizingly into a self sufficient adult, who with real reason requested that the final song heard at her funeral’s end was, “I did it my way.”

During her housekeeping years she’d coped with kerosine lamps, sad irons, pumping well water, a wood cook stove as well as heating one, and out houses (vessels under your bed as Grandma Baker would say).

At the age of 14, when the hired girl was let go, she took over the job for the summer, (Leona was already helping a couple in a nearby village) getting up at 6:30 a.m., building a fire to cook breakfast for all, cooking all meals and cleaning, doing the wash, ironing, all this with no inside water. (She did have electricity at home though.)

She never had much money to work with. While expecting Freddie D., she and Fred came to visit us in Geneva for a small vacation. Clothing was getting to be a hardship for her as her girth had expanded but her pocket book had not – so Mom (Ethel Taylor) looked in her church rummage sale room and found a lovely blue print cotton dress that fit with extra room. Sylva and Ruth found a couple yards of ruffle which they sewed from the neck line to the hem in front (carry the eye up and down, NOT sideways) and with another hand me down she was all set and happy as a lark!

The Howland and Taylor families were always close. Ruth, Arnon and Leona, Esther and Sylva, close in age and both piano players and organists, Phyllis and Doris and Gladys, Harold and me. We have always meshed! Being a farmer’s wife offers no vacations, so Sylva encouraged us to come to her for ours, then she took hers with us–and many came and enjoyed.

Philly’s girls, Gladys’ kids, Carol Ann Maffei, any of them might be there but somehow there was always room and food for all–and most important, a willing ear and open arms to help another over a rough spot.

Sylva was no stranger to adversity. She had learned to go around obstacles rather than through them to achieve her desires and meet her needs. But she never lost her understanding heart. For that we will always miss her.



CB said...

I am absolutely BOGGLED by NO comments regarding Sylva!!! Where are all our cousins who profess to LOVE this Blog?? Too busy? Maybe they wait for the weekend. and I spoke too soon!!

Susan Kinsella said...

I've been thinking about Sylva all week. I remember visits to their farm, walks in the pasture to the creek (watch out for the cow pies!), family reunions in the front yard with long tables laden with food, watching Freddie (did he spell that with a "y" or "ie"?) milk the cows, not being sure I wanted to taste the still-warm milk in the milking can, playing with Christine and thinking that Linda was already all grown up (when she was probably just a young teenager) . . .

But there was so much about Sylva I didn't know because I was a kid and we didn't see them often. Stories from my mother have brought Sylva more into focus for me, and I love what Kathryn and my mother have written here.

I feel like I keep ending up realizing that I wish I could go back and get a "do-over" with many of my relatives, now that I understand more who they were and now that I have more of a capacity to "meet" them.

Alas, I regret that that's not possible. But these stories make me proud that Aunt Sylva and Adin and Wendell and Annie Hawkes and so many others are part of my family. Hey, everybody, stick together. Hugs to you all.

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