Nobody Asked Aunty Sylvia
Oil on Canvas 30x30
Original Image Taken: 1977
Have you ever wondered about the unsung heroes of your life – the people whose efforts and quiet sacrifices are at the heart of your success and maybe even responsible for your very existence? For me, that person is my Aunty Sylvia.
When my dad and his sister Sylvia were small children, she saved my father’s life by feeding him bits of ice to keep him alive when they were hiding in the forest during the Holocaust. Zeidi and Usher had gone to get food from a righteous Gentile and my dad and Sylvia, only 9 and 10 years old respectively, were left alone for 24 hours as they waited patiently for their father and uncle to come back. Poor Aunty Sylvia. She was cold, hungry and terrified as she watched her little brother grow weaker and weaker in her arms. Sylvia did all she could do to soothe him and make sure he had tiny drops of water in his body to sustain him. Luckily Zeidi and Usher returned before it was too late and they nursed my father back to health.
After the war, when the family arrived in Canada, Zeidi and Usher were pretty clear about the role teenaged Sylvia would have in the family. My grandfather and his brother weren’t exactly reading Betty Friedan when they immigrated. Nobody asked Sylvia if she would enjoy or benefit from a higher education. That privilege (and all the generational opportunities it afforded) was reserved for my father. Sylvia was relegated to the kitchen to cook for the men and work in the garment factory to help pay for my dad’s tuition at Sir George William College while he and my mom read poetry and ate picnics on the campus Quad.