Here, from seven years ago, a repost with the letter she left for her funeral.
And a just-discovered Pottstown Mercury news item from Oct 30, 1945, announcing that this 34-year-old Brooklyn transplant, who'd been in Pottstown less than a year and who had an 18-month-old child, would teach adult ed classes in introductory and advanced lipreading for three hours each Tues and Thurs night at the Y. My mom.
And now the blog repost from Sept 9, 2007:
Eighteen years ago today, my mother, Ethel A. Lipnack, died at the age of 78. This morning, I had the chance to stand on the doorstep where she had passed so many times--at the corner of Myrtle and Clinton Avenue, where she was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. A Connectict Muffin shop occupies the candy store that my grandparents ran at the edge of what was then a very posh neighborhood. I write this tonight from our daughter's apartment, just a few blocks from my mother's original home. In all the years since she died, this is the first time I've been nearby on this anniversary. Sad and happy, all at once.
My mother liked to say that she started working at age five, delivering newspapers along Clinton Avenue. She was just 20 years old when she graduated from Hunter College at the height of the Great Depression. With a German major and a French minor, there weren't many jobs available yet she managed to turn her love of language into a lifelong career. She was one of the first teachers of lipreading in Harlem, a skill that she took with her to Pennsylvania when my parents moved there in 1945, founding the first lipreading school in the Philadelphia area. Coincidence: I married a man with major congenital hearing loss (60% loss in the speech range). My mother called my husband one of the greatest natural lipreaders she'd ever met.
In her late forties, my mother turned her attention to teaching high school English, where she got to spend her days with the age group she loved most--teenagers. She taught for many years at Daniel Boone High School, in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, where she eventually chaired the English department. After she retired, she continued teaching reading and English. She was leaving the business school class she'd just taught when she had a massive stroke on March 26, 1984; she lived for five-and-a-half more years, requiring round-the-clock care, but never losing her sense of humor and or her love affair with cigarettes.
I found a letter she'd written for her funeral in a drawer the day she died. About the young people she so admired, she wrote: "Teenagers are great sources of joy, but most people don't know that. They should take time out to discover this."
One paragraph from her letter stays present across the years, the last sentence so compelling that we made it the epitaph on her gravestone:
My big fight with our society has been against bigotry. It is unfortunately pandemic. I wish I had had a magic formula for eradicating it. I didn't, but I do think I raised people's consciousness about it. So we're different from each other. Good! Let's learn about the differences. They're fascinating. At least I've found them so. This is my legacy:
Love each other despite differences and because of them.
And now my mother's letter in full, which my cousin read at her funeral:
Dear Family & Friends,
I hope this is not a sad day for you. If I were with you, I would not shed one tear. I would, instead, say that I am glad for her. This is what she wanted and she finally got it. One can live too long and I think I did. When I could no longer work, I felt no need to go on. Life seemed pointless and endless, let alone empty.
My children and grandchildren have been a great source of joy to me. They are beautiful people and should be treated like fine crystal. These are the true values in life. The rest is all hogwash. Along with them were my students. I hope they knew how much I loved them and how I profited from knowing them. Teenagers are great sources of joy, but most people don’t know that. They should take time out to discover this.
Grieve appropriately but not too much. Just be glad we knew each other.
My big fight with our society has been against bigotry. It is unfortunately pandemic. I wish I had had a magic formula for eradicating it. I didn’t, but I do think I raised people’s consciousness about it. So we’re different from each other. Good! Let’s learn about the differences. They’re fascinating. At least I’ve found them so. This is my legacy. Love each other despite differences and because of them.
Let’s not have any more wars. They seem never to solve anything. All they do is make a shortage of men for our beautiful young ladies. O.K., I think I’ve said it all!! Make love, not war, grow and understand. Be happy today and in the future. I wish you all well. I’ve had the best of it—my children, my friends. I owe you all a great deal. I hope I’ve been a good friend to you—I wanted to be.
If I’m in Pottstown, I’m happy. It’s where I wanted to be. It’s not Paradise but it’s been home to me for over 40 years. Brooklyn is where my heart has been.
Your confidences were always safe with me as I’m sure mine were with you. OK—get it over with. Do not cry. I’m relieved—truly. Please respect my things, my books, my art, my collections. I enjoyed them. I hope you do too.
Ethel A. Lipnack
PS. Try to find an alternative to nursing homes. To do this, you’ll have to take the profit out of them. They’re horrors in their present state. People are segregated by age and they have very little in common. I have found them a terrible home. I’ve done the best I could but that’s not good enough. Had I been in this last mausoleum much longer, I would have gone mad.