Excerpts from…

Paula Silvers’ Legacy Profile

            

            I was 22 when I met Abe, right after I had my appendix taken out.  I’d gone up to Toronto to recuperate for a few weeks before getting back to my nursing job in Minneapolis. 

 

                There was a party one night, and I walked in with this guy, only a friend.  Abe was playing the piano at the far end of the room.  He looked like fun, so I went over and stood next to him.  He moved to the side a little and patted the bench for me to sit down close to him.  I did right away.

 

                He played and sang for a while. And then he looked at me and said, “I’m going to marry you.” Well, you know, it just seemed to fit!  It really seemed like we were following a script.

 

                I’d written a poem -- I used to write lots of poetry in those days -- that I sent in to a local radio station. They’d read poems on Saturday night that people mailed to them. One night they read mine. Abe happened to hear it. So when I told him my name that night at the piano, he said he remembered listening to my poem on the air. 

         

         That’s how we really got close, through poetry…

 

        It all just came together -- like a light got turned on, and everything suddenly made sense.  Isn’t that strange?

 

           What a precious person Abe was. His mind was so sharp. His sense of humor was so delightful.

 

                But then I didn’t see him for a long time.  He wrote me letters every day.  I don’t know where he got the money for stamps! He didn’t have anything.  The Silvers were very poor.  His mother was a young widow. All ten children worked…  

           

           Abe had a reputation for being a bit wild -- but I fell in love with him. Oh, yes, it was love at first sight. And beautiful. It seemed like we’d known each other all our lives. 

 

          But my family wasn’t happy about him. One time, we were kissing on the front porch – and it was about 40 below zero! You can’t do too much at 40 below zero!  But my uncle wanted to throw me out because I was “a bad girl,” coming home late, and then kissing! …

 

                When Abe and I got married, he was teaching at the YMHA in Toronto. He was the recreation director. We couldn’t even afford a phone.

 

            Sometimes he’d bring some soldiers home for dinner.  All I could do was add more bread to the table and put a little more water in the soup.  We had soup almost every night. It was the cheapest thing we could buy.

 

           My family came from more comfortable circumstances than Abe’s.  My dad and my aunt were very well-to-do. The Silvers were very poor. But that was part of their charm. Abe never finished high school -- he had to go to work to help feed the family…

 

                Before I met Abe, I wasn’t very happy at all.  My mother had died in the 1918 flu epidemic, when I was four years old. My brother Carl was six.  So I never had a mother. At least, I don’t remember having one.

 

                The only thing I remember is that her coffin was in the house.  A friend of my father wanted to pick me up so I could look down at my mother, but I didn’t want to. I started screaming and screaming. It was so awful.  I felt petrified.

 

           After my mother died, my father and my brother and I left Minneapolis for San Francisco. My dad was going to try a different life. So he checked into the St. Francis Hotel.  Boy, was he living high off the hog! 

 

          Even though we were Jewish, he put me in a Catholic convent  for about five years.  The nuns were very good to me. I loved them. But I’d see my father only a couple of times a month.

 

                He didn’t know how to be nice. He was so angry. I’m such a lovey, kissy person.  But my father was as cold as ice.  Carl, too.  Marrying into the Silvers family was wonderful – they were very warm, very kissy. You can’t expect it, if you can’t give it…

 

                I remember when I lived at the convent, I went to church one Sunday morning and all the girls were walking up to get communion.  So I got in line too. I thought you had to. All of a sudden, one of the nuns came over and flung me away out of line. “Not you!” she said, very firmly. So I didn’t go to confession either…

 

         All the nuns treated me very well. But one thing used to bother me a lot: I had long, curly auburn hair, and they liked to make big curls and play with them.  I didn’t mind that; but while the other kids were outside playing, I was inside with the nuns, who were making curls and having fun with my hair.

 

          Well, you know, I was an easy one -- I did whatever I was told. Except, I really wanted to be outside playing.  So one day I did a very terrible thing. I was sick and tired of having to stay in while everybody else was outside.  So I took a pair of scissors and cut off my long hair. 

 

           My father was so, so upset!  He loved my hair. It was the only thing he loved about me.  When he saw what I did, he took me to a place where they gave me almost a boy’s haircut. That was a punishment I’ll never forget!  I went back to the convent with this boy’s haircut. My father’s cruelty was a real heartache I had to endure…

 

                I remember getting my first period while I was living at the convent.  I didn’t know anything about that. No one ever told me. One day I was jumping on a bed, and I looked down there and thought: Oh my God! Am I dying? …

 

                After about four years, I moved in with my Aunt Sally in Chicago.  My father had lost all his money in San Francisco, so he went back to Minneapolis to start earning another living.  I’d go back and forth from Chicago to Minneapolis a lot. 

 

                I don’t think my family liked me very much!  It seemed to me that when I went to Chicago, my aunt would send me back to Minneapolis; then my father would send me back to Chicago. I knew the guys on the train much better than I knew my own family! They all said, “Hi, Paula!”

         

            Sure I felt unwanted. My father was a tough man. I guess he never forgave whoever it was for taking my mother. He never remarried…

 

                I am the most irreligious person.  I love the history, the traditions, but I’m not a God lover, whoever he/she is that took Abe so young. That was the end of religion for me.

 

                Abe and I had so many plans. We were saving up for the future.

 

                When he was dying, they wanted to take him to a hospital, but I wouldn’t let them because he wanted to die at home…

        

            I had a nurse for him the last three or four days. I remember a wonderful thing: He would go into sort of a coma for a little while, but then he’d wake up with a joke!  The nurse said he must have been lying there composing jokes!  He was a very, very funny man. The nurse said he’d never ever witnessed anything like it in all his years of nursing dying patients. It was almost like Abe was reading from a script -- but he was dying! …

       

                       My husband passed away in my arms. I went to lie down on the bed with him. He would have been 50 in a few months. That was awfully young, awfully young.

 

                We didn’t have much time together. We should have had more. We were always planning things, what we were going to do. Whoever thought of dying? That wasn’t on the circuit at all…

                                                                 
~ As told to Jane Wollman Rusoff