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Mom at 100

My mother, Sherry, died 29 years ago today. On this birthday she would have been 100.

Here’s what my sister-in-law, Meredith Sue Willis (“Sue” to us) posted on Facebook about her.

This would have been the 100th birthday of my mother-in-law, Sherry Weinberger, Andy and Ellen and David’s mom. She was a magnificent lady, a left-liberal activist, a folk guitarist and guitar teacher, a gifted friend. She used to put out a meal for twenty on the lake house porch, wearing hoop earrings a lavender and blue outfit, drinking a margarita and smoking a cigarette. Then the party started. She was what they call a balabusta in the home and an organizer in the neighborhood. I, like dozens of others, was fascinated and lifted up by her generosity and vivacity.  

Sue captures much of my mother in those few details. You won’t be surprised to hear that Sue is a wonderful and respected novelist.

I am loathe to say more because I won’t get it right, but I’m going to anyway.

She was a wonderful mother who sacrificed much to devote herself to her children. That includes giving up on a career she had just begun at The New Republic, which was at that time the intellectual center of the Left.

She was so, so social, hospitable to all, making parties but never pushing her way to the center of them. She was happy to talk, and laugh, and wouldn’t say no to a little flirting. So many people thought they were very special to her. And they were.

And when we said she was a balabusta, I don’t think we meant it in its actual Yiddish meaning (“homemaker”) which I just learned, but rather as a ball-buster: She didn’t take shit from anyone, especially from men. In the early 1950s (I was born in 1950) she was well-aware of the inequality among the sexes (as we used to say), including in her own marriage.

As Sue notes, she taught folk guitar, and she did so in the 1950s before the big Folk Music Boom in the early ’60s when Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul, and Mary were stars, and there were actual folk singing shows like Hullabaloo and Shindig! on the national networks.

She cared about folk music because it gave literal voice to Black people and to all the workers whose lives are so hard that we avert our eyes. She cared about folk music because it brought the world’s cultures into our community and household. She cared about folk music because it gave her work while being a “homemaker” and mother. She cared about folk music because it gave her a little financial independence from Dad. She cared about folk music because she was a proficient guitarist with a beautiful voice.

She cared about many other things and people, but always with the same mix of personal connection, love of differences, and a commitment to a world in which there is more music, more love, and more justice.

PS: She hated Donald Trump from the moment he got the public’s eye. I wouldn’t know how to break it to her that the worst person in America actually became president.

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3 Responses to “Mom at 100”

  1. Thank you for telling us about her, David. We’re with you.

  2. David, this is beautiful, I remember when your Mom died but I didn’t know all of this about her. E.

  3. Thanks Evelyn and AKMA.

    Over the past week I too have learned a lot about my mother, from a couple family email chains. Unfortunately, the voice that knew the most about her, my sister Ellen, was stilled a year and a half ago :(

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