Obituaries » Selma B Stein
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November 19, 1919 - June 21, 2019
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Telling you about our Mom in just a few minutes in a way that does her justice is not easy. Her entire life defied logic, common sense, and probability. She refused to surrender to Father Time, and, let’s face it, the rules. I mean, 50 plus year old mothers aren’t so supposed to go outside and beat up neighbors, but that’s exactly what she did one day, when one of our neighbors in Glendora – I was away at school – gave my brother Carl a bad time. 75 year olds aren’t supposed to kick a mugger in the shins so he runs away, but that’s exactly what my mom did one evening in the alley behind her apartment on Sawtelle.
Her whole life was one miracle after another, starting with the day she was born. My Grandmother gave birth to my Mom on November 19, 1919 at age 52. That would be miraculous today, almost unheard of in 1919. My Mom was born into a world where horses were still on the streets, where the Wright Brothers had recently flown the first flight, where electricity had not taken hold and there were still oil lamps in towns across America, and where not only did television not exist, movies with sound did not exist.
They say that God works in mysterious ways. Take a look at what happened in our family. Our Dad died in 1965, one month after his 48th birthday. So God looks down as says “OK, the father goes early? The Mom goes to 100.” But it couldn’t have simply been divine intervention. One of our Mom’s favorite expressions – one that she lived by and reminded US to live by her entire life – was God helps those who help themselves. Sitting around and railing against difficult times or challenges was not in her make up. After my Grandmother dies when our Mom was only 18, my Mom learned about clothing and how to sew. During the war, she worked in what she called a “Defense Plant,” sewing hundreds maybe thousands of uniforms, and by the way, saving thousands of dollars. When many people today have trouble saving, my Mom saved $20,000. and she used that World War II savings into money that helped get us a house in Syracuse when we were growing up, which, in turn was sold to finance our move to California, and which resulted in money being available to buy a house off of Arrow Highway in Glendora after our father passed away in 1965.
Here is another example of my Mom doing things in an unlikely way, and giving us a better life than one would have thought possible. After my Dad died, she moved us to Arrow Highway in Covina so I could go to South Hills High School, which was pretty highly rated at the time. She constantly told me to read as may books as possible and get good grades and get a scholarship, so I took her advice and things turned out OK for me. After I went away to college, my Mom moved the family to an apartment on Doheny and later on Olympic, so my brothers could go to Beverly Hills High. Later, there was an apartment going up on Colorado in Santa Monica that had a certain number of units set aside for modest income or elderly people. Hundreds of people applied to the City for one of them. My Mom draws a picture of sort of a wheel of life with many sections called sunshine, security, location, etc. and hand writes a letter to the City explaining how much it would mean to her to get one of them. She gets the apartment, and lives there happily for years.
Speaking of miracles, medically, she of course belongs in the Guinness Book. In her 80s, she was diagnosed with what the doctors said was probably lung cancer. She was getting X-rays and sophisticated scans at UCLA that came back with a spot that was an odd color the doctors said which the doctors said was an absolute indication of lung cancer. We of course were devastated. Was my Mom’s string of good fortune running out? After we all talked about it ad infinitum if not ad nauseam about exposing her to surgery to go in and look at the mass, my Mom says let’s go for the surgery and don’t worry about it, I’ll be fine. So she goes back to UCLA hospital for a pre-op confirmatory scan and blood test, and guess what, the mass was gone. Whatever was there disappeared overnight. It just wasn’t there. If that’s not a miracle, what is?
She lived independently into her 90s. She only stopped driving when at age 90, she drove into a brick wall. She of course blamed the wall, and unintended acceleration. When she had a number of problems around age 95, breathing, eating, cognitive, you name it, on multiple medical advice, we put her into a hospice program. I asked the head nurse of the hospice agency, what was the world’s record for surviving hospice at her company, and she said 3 months. Three months later, the hospice company packed up and left. My mom was not ready to go.
With all of her miracles, I half-expect her to wake up today and ask, “What’s going on here?”
Moms love their children and grandchildren, but she loved in a special way. She never played favorites. I said to her as a kid, and way before the Smothers Brothers, Mom do you love me best? Look at Carl and Jeff, aren’t I your favorite? Never would she say I was. She would praise both of them to the sky. I know that Carl and Jeff and Jessica have their own stories, but I have two favorites: One is when I was busted in high school for smoking and someone from school called up my mom and said Mrs. Stein, your son has been seen smoking. Her response was that wasn’t my son. I came home and I remember her asking me were you smoking, that filthy horrible habit, and I said no, and I to this day don’t know if she believed it, but she said, good, I knew it wasn’t you. Another example is how she felt about Jessica’s artistic talent; she would see Jessica’s art work and would literally cry, and tell me, “She’s a genius!” She hung up Jessica’s art at her apartment in Santa Monica, and was constantly telling me to send her to Art School, “She is going to be famous!”
I hope there will be a reward in heaven for her. She always wanted to be a singer – which was hard to do for a Jewish girl from an orthodox Jewish family born in 1919 – so I hope she can entertain everyone up there, just like she always did down here. Restaurants, parties, anyplace with a microphone, if someone offered my Mom a chance to get up and sing, “It Had to Be You” or “Sunny Side of the Street” or any number of 100 songs, she’d always do it. So I hope God has a place up there for our Mom to sing and dance every Friday night and a nice quite corner to sew and an area to tell stories, and brag about me and Carl and Jeff and Jessica.
There is nothing I have done or will ever do that comes close to what my Mom accomplished. I know my brothers agree. If I can live my life doing even a fraction of her good deeds and putting out a fraction of the love she put out, maybe I can join her someday.
Shakespeare said, “How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.”
That’s what our Mom did for me and my brothers, and for so many people she did good deeds for. And so today, I’m not here to say goodbye to my mom, but thank you. Thank you, mom, for always supporting us, and for being the ultimate model of goodness and accomplishment and refusal to give in to adversity. I won’t say goodbye, I’ll hear your voice, I know you live on, but especially in my brothers and Jessica and our wonderful friends and extended families.