The Swartz Family & Alma

All about Alma and the others Swartz family members in the photo below by Nadia Zonis & Ellen Feldman.
First, Alma tidbits- then I'll add or modify for each person mentioned that's in the photo. I am (Ellen Feldman) the youngest of the "Swartz" first cousins, and Alma was one of the oldest- so I really didn't know her very well as a kid. But I sensed that the "older cousins" did know each other somewhat better, at least when they were growing up. Unfortunately, as everyone grew up, they grew apart and many didn't see each other for years. The glue in the family over the recent 30 or so years was Aunt Roz- single, and loved all her nieces and nephews, she made it a point to have some kind of relationship with everyone and attend major life cycle events . When Aunt Roz died 9 years ago, I distinctly remember that as we were gathering at the cemetery, my cousin Richard (son of Eta and Jack) - who rode a motor cycle and had a pony tail- walked up to Alma and said "I don't recognize you without your guitar". So, I guess your mom played the guitar!!

Starting on the left side of the bottom row:
-- My mother. I don't know how much you know about her. She was born in 1936 and was 6 years older than Alma. Her name was originally Ella Joan Swartz, changed to Ella Zonis when she married my father. After they were divorced, she legally changed her name. She chose "Mahler" after the composer. My understanding is that both had a very difficult relationship with their parents and didn't want to continue to carry the Swartz name. While Alma rebelled against her parents' strict controls my mother sought to be a "good girl." She worked extremely hard in school and excelled academically. She graduated from Wellesley and got a Phd in musicology from Brandeis. She married my father, someone who grew up in the same community, who was Jewish, and who was accepted by her parents. Unfortunately through it all she was extremely unhappy just like, to my understanding, Alma was. Sadly neither of them seemed to break free from what seems to have been a very unhappy home. When my mother was 33 she had a stroke and has struggled with the consequences ever since. Shortly thereafter Eddy died and my parents were divorced. My mother was devastated by these three blows and became an alcoholic. She drank steadily for about 10 years before joining Alcoholics Anonymous. This year she is celebrating her 30th anniversary of sobriety. My mother was an ethnomusicologist and worked as a professor at various institutions including the University of Chicago and MIT. She  was unable to get a tenure track job and struggled with underemployment for several years before deciding to go back to school. She got a masters degree from Harvard Divinity School in her early fifties. Like Alma, she was a spiritual seeker. She worked as a hospital chaplain and also started a retreat for women at our summer home in Maine. Also like Alma, she seemed to have an impulse to bring people together in a healing environment. My mother is now 76, in fairly good health given her age and medical history. 

-- Our Great Aunt Rosalyn, Eddie's sister. Alma probably told you about her, as they were quite close. We were also the closest to her of all the Swartz siblings. Roz was the youngest. She moved to Los Angeles at an early age and worked in public health. She got married but did not have kids, and that marriage ended in divorce. In her fifties she took a cruise on the canals of France and met a British widower, Cyril Hewertson. They feel in love and got married and she moved to London. She worked in the city and they lived in a suburb called Saunderstead. Cyril was retired. Roz always new how to make a lovely home and they lived in a sweet little cottage. Like many in the Swartz family including Alma, my mother, and myself, she loved dogs and had a series of small dogs who slept in a basket on the stairs. Roz and Cyril were married about 15 years I think, and then he died. Roz had never felt 100% comfortable in England--she felt the people were not particularly friendly. So after her husband's death she moved back to California, to La Jolla. There too she had a charming home, this time an apartment surrounded by a lovely flower garden. She was retired at this point but had an active social life and a serious boy friend. She died of cancer about 10 years ago. Alma traveled from Poland to care for her when she was dying. Roz was a lively, warm person. She was very bright and very social. She seems to have escaped a dark quality which haunts many in the family.

Aunt Roz was actually my mother's best friend since they were little girls (and there was a third friend, Libby). So, when my mom (Bess) married my Dad (Morris),she was marrying her best friend's oldest brother. In fact, my mom was on the barge trip in France with Roz when (they) met Cyril, who was a doll.  I was extraordinarily close to Aunt Roz, and my family (with small kids in toe) visited them twice in London (Matt actually much more frequently because he had business in London). He truly bonded with Cyril. My sense  actually was that she did love living in England- just didn't like the weather. While there, she worked in public health, joined a choir, had her dog in her basket (as Nadia pointed out), and cared for Cyril during his battle with Cancer. When he died, my mother hopped on a plane and went to London to be with Roz as they walked through the streets of Sanderstead in the funeral.

-- Next to her is Edith, (bottom row- black dress third in from left). She is Robert's( they called him Babe) wife. They had two boys- Gordon and Gerald (neither in the picture). Edith was always a bit odd and I believe is still alive and she and Robert live in Florida now full time.

--The older lady is the Swartz matriarch is Grandma Jenny, mother to Eddie, Morris, Robert, Eta, and Roz. My understanding is that Jenny and her husband Samuel were estranged shortly after Roz was born (but he didn't move out- the dirt was that he slept with her sister). So, for most of Roz's life, her parents didn't talk to each other- very sad. While I might not have a lot of good things personally to say about Eddie (although my brother Michael would),  I can tell you he was very good to his mother (Grandma Jenny), especially in her later years. 

The little girl is Sheryl Katz, daughter of Eta and Jack Katz (they are in the back row- I'll get to them below). Sheryl has had somewhat of a hard life-  in fact, Nadia, I believe that Sherrie walked into an Alchoholics Anonymous meeting in Boston at one point and ran into your mother (her cousin!). Talk about one of those "small world" moments...Sherrie never married, although now lives with her partner Donna in Georgia. In her earlier years, Sherrie was a Speech Pathologist.  In later years, she moved to Florida and lived with/took care of Eta until Eta died last year. 

-- Next is Bess, Ellen's mother, who was married to Morris Swartz. Bess was a high school friend of Roz's and she was a really sweet and smart woman. When my sister got married she had a party in Boston for all of our relatives on our father's side. Bess was the only person from our mother's side who attended. She was a lovely person as you can tell from her kids Michael and Ellen who live in Chicago and are very close with my sister. She died about 5 years ago. My mom was wonderful. She went to college (unique in those days for a woman), and then worked as a biochemist. When she married and had my brother and me, she did what most women in that generation did and stayed home. But, she wasn't a "joiner" of clubs etc so she really wasn't stimulated enough. When Michael went to college I was in the 7th grade, and my mother went back to work- first to "secretarial school", and then got a job as a secretary working for a Biochemistry Physician at Harvard Medical School. She worked for him until she was 81 (34 years) and died 6 years ago.

-- Next to her is our Grandmother, Lena. Though both Alma and Ella had a difficult relationship with Lena, she was wonderful to my sister and I. She was a truly nurturing presence in our lives and helped us both get through very difficult circumstances including my mother's illness. We both adored her and were very sorry to lose her when she died in the early 1990s. She was a very smart, high energy woman who definitely suffered a great deal because of the sexism of the period. She was someone who would have been much happier with an education and a career. She also came from an extremely poor home and was never able to go beyond high school, which she regretted her whole life. Her frustrated ambition probably contributed to how unhappy their home was. I know she was very angry that Alma never went to college because she herself regretted that she could not go to college. As I understand it Eddie and Lena had a very unhappy marriage. He was an extremely difficult person--it's pretty much universally agreed. They divorced in about 1953. She went on to marry a man named Sydney Zion. A decent, quiet man whom we called Papa Sid. He was shy and retiring and we never really got to know him, though they were married before we were born. He died a couple of years before she did. My grandmother kept a beautiful home and, like Alma, was very skilled at the "womanly arts"--gardening and cooking in particular. She was a very skiled knitter.

-- Next to her is Alma, and Eddie is standing behind her. Eddie died when I was six and I did not know him well, but he was a loving grandpa who liked to spoil me and buy me toys. He had the Swartz animal-loving trait and bought me a turtle, a parakeet, and, one summer when he visited us in Maine, a baby goat. Not a very practical gift as we were returning to Chicago in the fall, but as you can imagine I was thrilled. Eddie came from a poor immigrant family, as Lena did. He was a very ambitious and talented man, but basically not a good person, though I don't really know the details. Stubborn, angry, and clearly made Alma and Ella and Lena miserable. He also had a drinking problem. He died of stomach cancer in 1972. Eddie was one of the earliest men to have a pace maker in his heart. He travelled all over the world with it, water skied, and interestingly enough it was the stomach cancer that killed him, not his heart. Eddie wasn't my favorite, but actually had a long period where he didn't speak to Eta (that family had multiple times when one sibling didn't talk to another). My dad was always playing the elder statesman to try to mend fences.  

-- Richard Katz, the son of Eta and Jack, who are also standing to his immediate left. I talked about his reference above to your mom's guitar. He was married to a lovely woman (Ellen), they had two kids Tracy and John, but divorced (I don't remember when). I believe Tracy and John (or at least Tracy) kept in touch with Eta up until the end. Richard died a few years before Alma, also of lung cancer I believe.

-- The woman in the middle in the back is Eta (not Edith) and to her left is her husband Jack. Both referenced above. There was a period that Eta and Roz weren't speaking, but they did resolve their differences before my Aunt Roz died. As I said, there were odd periods where one sibling didn't talk to the other. 

-- The guy next to her is Jack. Eta and Jack married young and I believe (as was also not unusual) moved in with Jenny when they were first married.

-- Next to him is Robert Swartz, the youngest brother, known as "Babe," who is still alive and in good shape for someone in his late 90s. He divides his time between the Boston area and Florida.

-- Next to him is Morris Swartz, the eldest brother, who became a doctor. He was married to Bess and the father of Ellen and Michael. By all accounts a nicer person than his brothers, though he died when I was a young child and I didn't really know him.Dad died 3 years after Eddie of a heart attack at 65. He was a good doctor, but towards the end of his life, he wasn't a happy guy. Unfortunately, I was 22 when he passed away so I never really got to know my Dad as an adult.

The information was written and sent to me courtesy by Alma's niece, Nadia and her cousin Ellen, September - October 2012.