Beatrice Levinsohn Singer died February 14, 2014, in Natick, Massachusetts. She was 98 years old. For 81 of those years, with matter-of-factness and without sentimentality, she’d been the mother to her five orphaned siblings, her own daughters, and her grandson.
Growing up in Baltimore, childhood measles caused severe corneal damage. She decided to become an eye doctor and was accepted into a six-year medical program from high school. Then, during the Great Depression, her father and mother died within two years of each other. Six children between the ages of nine and 19 were left. Instead of becoming a doctor, Bea became a parent.
The local elementary school donated weekly vegetables, while she cooked, gardened, shoveled snow, sewed — though she could barely see — and made fudge cake no one was able to duplicate. She was 5’8”, big-boned, and intensely un-self-pitying. Until corneal lens transplants were invented, Bea wore contact lenses she had to insert into her eyes with plungers.
Yet she didn’t view life as tragic — she was too practical. Her love was tangible and useable. The man who patiently courted her had to wait until most of her siblings had been settled, and the two that weren’t came into the marriage with them. In later years, when the large extended family visited, she made one rare roast beef, one matzo ball soup, and many different potato dishes — never forgetting exactly who preferred which.
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Her children, all her children, were the world. Yet she didn’t brag about them, at least not where they could hear. She didn’t brag about herself, either. When she was 66, she took a bus downtown one day and got her first salaried job — entry level in the local bank. It was just another practical task, as she saw it.
In old age, disciplined Bea — who stopped smoking the instant the surgeon general’s report came out, who limited herself to small portions of Ben & Jerry’s fudge swirl ice cream, who sold her house at 90, then packed it up herself, who was unsentimental about loss and unfrilly about love — disciplined Bea grew tender.
In a family photo, she is smiling in the arms of her two daughters. Her dress is a little askew and the tag is showing, and she doesn’t mind a bit.
Did you know Beatrice Singer? Share your memories in the comments section.