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Reflections on the Death of my Mother

With my mom 65+ years ago

Published in ChicagoNow, April 27, 2015

My mother, Evelyn Levine, died April 19 just before midnight. She was 91 and the last member of the Greatest Generation on her side of the family. Her passing was a huge loss for me as well as the end of an era for my family. Please forgive me if all I can write about for a while is the death of my mother. She was a loving mother, grandmother, and great grandmother and (although she didn’t think so) a remarkable woman.

Mom’s life represented her generation in so many ways. The child of immigrant parents, she was born in Detroit in 1923, and was the surprise bonus child in her family. Thus, she earned the nickname “Babe” from her father, who she remembered as being sweet and loving. He was a skilled tailor who always dealt in cash. He put $5 on the dresser every morning for her mother to buy groceries. He had to do this daily because her mother was a fun-loving spendthrift who came from a family that loved to sing and dance.

Living through the Depression, times got a little tough and her father lost their house. But as Mom remembered it, their home was never lacking for food or clothing. Her father sewed her the most gorgeous clothing – suits and coats and skirts. At the time, she did not appreciate the quality of what she had and felt embarrassed about being “homemade.”

Mom took school seriously and liked it. She excelled in math and wanted to go to college, but when she graduated her father said he would only send her to a 6-month business school to become a secretary. She recalled this was the only time he ever disappointed her. Not going to college made Mom feel she wasn’t smart, but this was so untrue.

My mother met my father in May of 1941, just before she graduated from high school. The first time they met, Dad walked her to the bus stop and let her go home alone. Mom was not impressed. At the time, she had three criteria for guys to date: They had to be three years older than she, tall, and good dancers. My father had none of these. However, he was persistent, and the rest is history. They married on January 30, 1944. Seven years and three kids later, like most women of her generation, my mother was now what she called “just a housewife.”

Mom never thought she was smart because she had been denied the opportunity to go to college. Like most women of her generation, she took care of hearth and home. But she was the one who thought of opening an art gallery and started the business with a friend. While she brought Dad into the business because he was a self-taught art expert as well as an accountant (and to give him something to do when he retired) she became very knowledgeable about the art world. She was the people person who actually sold the art and was the face of the gallery. So, as she entered her 60’s, my mother reinvented herself. What a perfect role model for me. We now have a name for her kind of smartness – social intelligence. And we know that it usually trumps college degrees as a measure of success in life.

Like most of her generation, the Depression left its mark on Mom. She always loved a bargain and worried about money. In any family disaster, she focused on having enough to eat. She loved jazz, big band music, and Frank Sinatra. A lifelong FDR Democrat, she voted in every election. She dressed beautifully; I never saw her wear denim and she fretted up to her last days that it was hard to find pants with perfect creases. But she was also amazing in her later years at embracing change. She loved every new family member, regardless of race or religion. She even loved seeing the musical Motown at age 91, music banned from the house when I was in high school. Mom played bridge on her computer with people all over the world, and she adored Facebook because she could see pictures of her grandkids and great grandkids in action.

My mother had an amazing life filled with many blessings. She was married for 68 years to a man she adored for his brilliant mind. She lived long enough to touch the lives of eight grandchildren and nine great grandchildren. Mom enjoyed so much happiness from her ever-growing family. And the love she gave to all of us came back to her. I will miss her forever.


by Laurie Levy
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