“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Two days ago, my mother, Roslyn Gerard, passed away quietly in a nursing home at the age of 99. For the last several years of her life, she suffered from the effects of Alzheimer’s, a relentless disease that steals its victims’ memories and identities before it finally takes their lives. There is no cure and no way to slow down the progression of this horrific and terminal illness.
Before Alzheimer’s attacked my mother’s brain, she was a brilliant woman who loved books, Scrabble, cooking, her career, and her family. Her life was a reflection of the times. Roslyn Faust was born in June of 1921 and she grew up in Brooklyn, the younger of her parents’ two daughters. When she was a history major in Hunter College in the late 1930s and early 1940s, her life was forever changed when she signed up for a sociology class. It was then that she discovered her true passion, the study of society and of how people interact in groups. Until she was very old, she continued to see the world through a sociologist’s eyes.
My mom told me that, during World War II, she worked as a “Rosie the Riveter” person in a defense-related industry. “Rosie the Riveter” was a type, rather than an actual person, and she reflected the power of women to step into roles that were formerly denied to them. For someone who was fascinated by the functioning of society, being part of that sort of cultural shift must have been very fascinating.
After the war. my mom worked in social services, where she had a colleague named Ira Progoff, a psychotherapist who later created the Intensive Journal Method while at Drew University between 1959 and 1971. He was also very eager to exercise his matchmaking skills so he impressed upon Roslyn the idea that she really needed to meet his roommate, that they would be a good match. She resisted the idea, saying that she was perfectly happy being single. But the matchmaker would not take no for an answer. The determined single lady agreed to one date with Mystery Man in exchange for an end to the nagging. It was then that she met Roy Gerard, an economist who was working for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. She later described him as a math whiz who could add and subtract in his head faster than any calculator. Although she insisted that she would date the roommate only one time, she became enamored with his intellect and with his sense of humor.
Six months later, my dad proposed marriage in a most unusual way. “Roslyn, will you be my seventh roommate?” She agreed and the couple was married in city hall in New York City on June 23rd, 1951.
Roy and Roslyn Gerard began their married life in New York City but a few years later, moved to Syracuse with their two daughters, Laura and Vivian. My mom related to me that in Syracuse she saw families that had more than two children, and she decided that she wanted to have another child. Thus began all sorts of bargaining for another child, as my dad said that two children were plenty. She told me that my dad said, “If you learn to drive a car and if you get a driver’s license, you can have another kid.” So she passed her road test on a very wintry day.
“I just slid into that parking spot,” she claimed. Nine months later, her third daughter was born, which led to my dad exclaiming, “Another girl???!”
That other girl was me.
Nearly three years later, I became a big sister. With my sister, Diane, the family was complete, except for the addition of various cats. The cat that we grew up with was called Boy. He was a large cat that was at least part Maine Coon cat. Despite being allergic to cats, my mom was very much in love with this large red and white trickster. The cat liked food, his humans, and a few unusual hobbies, which included occasionally sneaking out of the house to chase a dog down the street, sitting on top of the refrigerator to bat people on their heads (at least the taller ones) when they least expected it, and pushing glasses full of orange juice off the dining room table.
After my younger sister was born, my mom decided to continue her education. She earned two degrees from Syracuse University: a master’s degree in social work and a PhD in sociology, and she went on to teach both sociology and social work at the university level. Her favorite subjects to teach were social problems and gerontology (the study of old age in society). She truly loved teaching and she put much effort into keeping up with her subject matter for the benefit of her students.
When she wasn’t at school or working on writing exams and lecture preparations, she cooked delicious meals. which, on special occasions, included her legendary sponge cake, her marble layer cake, and spritz cookies. My dad said that she was the best cook in the world. She was definitely the Queen of the Kitchen. She was a teacher in the kitchen, too, demonstrating to me how to make such things as drop cookies and brownies. I greatly relished that time with her. In later years, she was a big help to me with my writing, editing my articles before I submitted them to the local newspaper. She encouraged me to take up visual arts and was always very supportive of that.
After a few more moves, the Gerard family settled in western New York in the early 1970s. After raising four daughters, Roslyn was thrilled to become a grandmother and later a great grandmother. She retired in the mid-1980s to her new role of Granny. She was very encouraging of her two grandsons, who were truly the lights of her eyes.
As a retired person, my mom did some traveling with my dad. The two of them especially enjoyed a trip to Hawaii. Back at home, my mom enjoyed murder mysteries, which she managed to solve shockingly fast, Scrabble, Rummy Jack, card games, and Monopoly. She also loved to read a wide variety of books, including spy thrillers and historical fiction. She routinely creamed my father at Scrabble, and his consolation prize was a milkshake. The two of them enjoyed going out to lunch after a shopping trip, and they befriended a wide variety of servers and cooks.
They adopted two cats.
Zoey’s favorite hobbies were sitting on shoes, biting toes, and stealing seats.
Smokey’s favorite hobbies were chasing and playing with mice, sitting on my dad’s lap, and kissing his nose, which made him very happy.
Unfortunately, in 2011, Roy Gerard was diagnosed with bladder cancer and, a year later, he passed away.
After my dad passed away, my mom started writing a novel, set on another planet, that was very complicated, with many characters.
She was very excited about her story, which she told me about with much enthusiasm over many cups of tea. When she wasn’t writing, she enjoyed taking rides around the perimeter of Grand Island, and she had a special fondness for the trees, especially the weeping willow trees.
Unfortunately, when she was close to being finished with her novel, she started having difficulty with her eyesight, and she stopped writing. In January of 2017, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and was placed in Elderwood in Amherst. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she was unable to receive visitors at that facility or at Elderwood in Wheatfield, where she was transferred after Elderwood in Amherst became a COVID only facility.
My mom will be buried next to my dad at Whitehaven Cemetery on Grand Island. She and her blind date had remained married for 61 years before death separated them. The matchmaker would have been happy to have known that his efforts resulted in such a long marriage. The cemetery is filled with trees, near the river that she loved seeing on her car rides.