Today I am reminiscing about my dear Aunt Sylva mostly because it’s Christmastime and her name sounded like it. She loved to entertain at Christmas.
She chose to marry an American, William Benkelman and move to Cleveland, Ohio. There she made her life.
They lived in an odd house, a boat house, with moorings underneath, on a lagoon, in a gated community on the Rocky River called Clifton Park, on Lake Erie.
Compared to my mother, I thought my Aunt lived a charmed life, full of adventure. Sylva and Bill had a big sailboat, a fast car, and their own airplane. They were skiers, hikers, figure skaters, swimmers, and square dancers.
Even though she had no children of her own she brought hundreds of babies into the world as an obstetrical nurse. I inherited many of her belongings when she died. I still have her Thirty Year Diamond Service Pin from Lakewood Hospital. And she was a community volunteer and very active layperson at Lakewood Presbyterian Church.
I think of her especially at Christmas because that was one of the few times she ever came back to visit. The years she didn’t come back to Canada she would faithfully send parcels full of presents. And she was particularly fair in how she gave. If she had been on a trip, then everyone got the same souvenir of that place. Some of these presents were very odd. The matching keyrings from Harrods, were noteably the most useful. Many times her generosity showed itself in paying a woman to sew clothes for us. I think it was more important for her to give that woman money than it was for us to have something well-made or stylish. Those outfits and weird souvenirs became the butt of family jokes.
Sylva loved to sing. She was a soprano. She and my mother grew up in a girls choir called the Triphonic Singers. She sung in her church choir. And for many years she was a member of the topnotch West Shore Chorale as well.
(second row, fourth from the right)
I went online to search for that group, to see if they still existed and, low and behold, found their website. And archival pictures of her in that group* and the photos of their 1988 pilgrimage to England to sing with John Rutter*. (there she is on the left side in the yellow shirt).
Today I dragged out an old cassette player and played a tape, Carols and Choruses of Christmas that was recorded by that West Shore Chorale in 1989. The tape nearly got eaten. As I listened to the majestic music of Christmas I knew that her voice was there, among those vibrations, somehow living on.
This is far from an exhaustive biography of Sylva Belle Carter Benkelman. She was such a good sport and had a joie de vivre. There is so much more I could, and should, say about my Aunt Sylva. And some day I just may try to piece together the enigma that was she. Today I celebrate her dedication, tenacity, and love.