This eulogy was discovered while the webmaster was reorganizing her files. Hilda Reibel was Paula Schwartz’s (aka Elizabeth Mansfield) mother.
Our mother was a passionate woman. The kind of woman the Tolstoys and Checkovs made their heroines. Stormy, fiery, romantic. You can see it in the photos of her at twenty — the flashing dark eyes, the long, full, wavy hair falling over one shoulder. Anya in The Cherry Orchard. Wild, beautiful, made for tragedy.
Whatever she loved, she loved fiercely. And, as it turned out, what she loved most fiercely were her two daughters. She loved them with the instinctive ferocity of a tiger for her cubs. Two incidents from our childhood give a graphic picture of that passion.
One took place at the pond at our summer haven, Hartstein’s Bungalow Colony in the Catskills. The pond was small but deep, located at the bottom of a little dell. Ruthie was in the water with some other children, and several parents were sitting about on the grassy slope above. Ruthie must have slipped on the slimy mud bottom of the pond and couldn’t regain her footing she bagan to flay about, drowning. Everyone in the water and on the hill froze in horror. No one moved. But our mother, the tiger, leapt to her feed, raced down the hill with almost superhuman speed, charged into the pond and, without a shred of lifesaving science but simply by pure animal instinct, snatched her child from the jaws of death.
The other incident occurred at school during Paula’s second grade. During a fire drill, the child committed some infraction, and the teacher dragged her out of the line, thrust her into a broom closet and promptly forgot about her. Lunch time came and went. Mother became alarmed and, leaving her store in charge of a customer, went to school to find her. As she ran down the corridor she heard sounds emanating from a closet, opened it and found her daughter sitting on an upturned pail, sobbing. Without a word, she grabbed her daughter’s hand, dragged her over to the classroom where the teacher was sitting at her desk eating her lunch and , with those tiger instincts at full rage, whacked that teacher across the face. The act shamed us then, but not now. Now what we’d like to say about it is, “Way to go, Mom!”
She had the soul of an artist, but the times and circumstances deprived her of the opportunity to become one. But she bequeathed to her daughters some of that inner passion — her passion for music, her passion for poetry, her passion for dance. Glimmerings of that passion are visible and alive in her grandchildren, and the shine will surely continue for generations to come.
One of her favorite poems was a Wordsworth lyric that she made us memorize and that she herself would recite at the drop of a hat. So, mother, here it is again. If there is an afterlife, we hope you’re in a place with a host of golden daffodils. If you’re anywhere within hearing, we know you’ll be saying the words with us:
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills
When all at once I saw a crowd
A host of golden daffodils…
I gazed and gazed, but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought,
For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of soliturde…
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.