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Sylvia V. Mowery

November 26, 1921 March 21, 2019
Sylvia V. Mowery
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Obituary for Sylvia V. Mowery

Eulogy for Sylvia Virginia (Svorinich) Mowery
11/26/1921 to 3/21/2019

By Peter John Mowery, her son.

A pink silk pillow.

My mother’s most frequently stated wish upon her death was to go from this world into the next one with her head resting on a pink silk pillow. Thanks to my wife Cindy’s sewing skills and my mom’s funeral home I have been able to fulfill that wish. Just so you know, another insistent wish was to not have a funeral or any other similar event after her death, so we’re not going to.

Those of you who knew her well realize that the pink silk pillow is an unusual death request – it seems a bit odd for anyone, but my mother of all was not the pink silk type. A classy dresser who loved brown and dark blue wool knits, but not the frilly girly girl who might swish around in pink silk.

My mother was multifaceted; the healthcare professional, the stern parent, a good cook, the example of moral values to her child, the extended family member who made great effort in keeping in contact. She possessed a pretty strong stubborn streak and could be while outwardly gregarious quite skeptical of people privately.

She was the product of a poor immigrant family from what was then Yugoslavia, now Croatia. Her father’s first job in the United States was laying cobblestones. Her mother arrived after losing both her parents to illnesses in her early teens and spent her first years in this country effectively serving as a housemaid for an uncle who had agreed to take responsibility for her. When my mother’s father and mother married, they moved to Bainbridge Island and scraped out a living. She was the youngest of four, and the only daughter. All the men were or became commercial fishermen, a difficult, dangerous and economically uncertain job.

My mother and her parents didn’t speak English until she first went to school – I’ve always been somewhat bemused by the fact that her parents didn’t make the effort to learn English until their daughter and youngest child went to school. It’s a little hard to imagine these days with formal “English as a Second Language” (ESL) programs in schools, my mother walking up the hill to a tiny schoolhouse, not speaking the language of the teacher. The good news was that she was surrounded by communities of nationalities of origin and language from many foreign lands, so she must not have been unique.

She was a product of her mother’s values. She had a loving and participating father, but her mother dominated the parenting role. This in the context of the social norms of the times and the fact that her father spent long periods away from the family at sea is not unexpected. Her mother taught her to cook and sew superbly, although my mom always demurred that she never equaled her mother’s skills. Her mother also passed along old European values and expectations about a woman’s life; what a woman of integrity and class acted like, dressed like, behaved like. While a woman’s place was in the home as mother and wife, her mother also placed a high value on education as a source of independence.

My mother was the only female in her graduating high school class to graduate from college, and in time when college for most women meant studying teaching or nursing, she graduated in Dietetics and Nutrition in a medical science professional field. Then she broke another expectation by going to work in her field of study instead of immediately getting married. Her best friends in college were also remarkable women for their time; one went on to become a very well-known and published research pediatrician, another become a senior editor at Sunset magazine. These were not girly girls, swishing their pink silk skirts at husband material as their measure of success.

That said, although I obviously didn’t know her then, mom must have swished a pretty mean hip. During college, among other part time work, she was a clothing model – literally walking the catwalk. All you have to do is look at a picture of her from that time – she screamed sex appeal (in a classy way of course – so says her son). Not that many years later, when my dad started dating her there must have been sparks flying. At my dad’s funeral, an old friend from those years gave a eulogy and wrote about how Dad would disappear from his newly opened law office in Spokane on Friday and drive to Seattle to spend the weekend with “some girl” he’d met. Kind of not just “some girl” when this had gone on every weekend for months.

My mom made the tough choice of following my dad after their marriage and moved to make her married and family life in Spokane. Uprooted from her family surroundings and friends she faced becoming a member of the Mowery family in a city she didn’t know. This was made more difficult because, I believe, she felt like she was just a fisherman’s daughter while her new husband was a lawyer, a member of a very well-known Spokane family and the son of a prominent physician and civic leader. Whether true or not, that discomfort in her role in Spokane affected her through most of her married life.

She took refuge in her work. Starting as a receptionist for an office of anesthesiologists, she soon found a job as a dietitian for St. Luke’s Hospital, and in a run remarkable by today’s standards that was her last employer until she retired at age 75, with the exception of a short time period caused by my arrival. A woman who never drove a car until after my father died due to fear from an early childhood accident, she would take the bus clear across town every day to work and back.

Life isn’t fair, and my dad died in 1975. My mom never remarried – never dated. Turned down more than a handful of interested men. I’ll never fully understand, but I think for what ever reason my mom had room for one man in her life, and that was my dad and no other. At that point, her work wasn’t a refuge, it became an absolute necessity. By that time, I was working and living at home, but not in a position to help support my mom. She paid off the mortgage on our house, kept up the nearly three acres of property we lived on and eventually helped me financially with my graduate school and the purchase of my first house with Cindy.

She was not only good at her job, she was dedicated. When I was about to head off to graduate school in California, she suddenly faced the reality of that old issue of not driving a car. Where we lived, bus service was not an option and she conquered her fears just enough to let me teach her how to drive a car. Then day after day she faced her never completely vanquished fears of driving, got in her car and drove to work. In the winter, when serious snow storms hit, she was frequently driving to work early in the morning making the first tire tracks in the snow and helping to open the hospital kitchen when others (younger and presumably more capable) called in unable to get to work. She was actually a very good driver and drove until many years later when we moved her to a retirement home in Seattle.

She was also a mentor in her work to many. She loved teaching, and the corollary of developing young people. She found people, mostly younger, who for what ever reason were lost or looking for a purpose and she supported and guided them. Some people collect lost puppies – she collected lost people. In her, they found the grit and drive and work ethic and self confidence and support, and yes, love that helped them find themselves and grow. There is a collection of these people, now grown and successful in their own right who formed a tight knit community of friends around my mother.

She found her own success and confidence in her work. She was recognized professionally, both by her employer and by physicians. She moved from writing diets and supervising food production to counseling patients. She became very active and a leader in the local chapter of the American Dietetic Association, and through that became reacquainted with a daughter of old friends – Cindy Swann. Her push (not subtle) to shove the two of us together resulted in Cindy becoming my wife and mother to our two children.

One reason I know that work was so important to her was that toward the end, when dementia had taken away reality, she always imagined herself back in her working world. She would tell me she at been at meetings, or was working on revising menus, or had been counseling patients. Sometimes, she complained she had been working enough and it was time to retire, some 20 years after she had in fact retired.

So why the pink pillow? When you think of the timeframe of her development as a young woman and the social norms of the time, she was an outlier. She got her college degree, and she worked – hard – until retirement. She raised me, working in multiple part time jobs until I was old enough and in school during the day so that she could go back to full time work. I was what today we would call a latchkey kid. Good thing I never burned the house down.

What she saw, through her perspective on women’s lives was both what she accomplished in her work and what she lost in her time as a lover and wife and housewife and mother. She saw women around her who had time during the day to play cards, to socialize at the City Club or Country Club, to volunteer in social service organizations. Their lives were completely unlike hers but in the timeframe were more the “ideal” of a successful woman’s role. She sometimes laughingly would tell me that she would never be a woman eating “bon bons” in some fairy tale life of indolence, with a cook and a maid and a nanny to do all the daily tasks women were otherwise expected to do and that she had to do every day while working full time.

When Dad died, the financial obligations were a crushing burden on her – more psychological than real, but a huge weight on her shoulders. I think more than anything it was her success in meeting that challenge that finally gave her confidence in her own ability as a woman of independent means, even though those means were mostly self-earned through hard work and professional accomplishment, not inherited.

So, the pink silk pillow was her request for that moment of indolence as she passed into death and the beyond. The sheer luxury and femininity of pink silk against the skin of her face and the locks of her hair. A forever in which she would never have to work, never have to feel the responsibility for financial security, never worry about her ability to meet someone else’s demands and expectations.

If there is a heaven where my mother is, I think it is where she and my dad are young and in love with the promise of their life together before them. It is a place close to Bainbridge Island, where she grew up, and where she and Dad can go frequently to visit her mother and father and her brothers. It’s a place where she works, but feels no pressure to do so, where she is recognized for her professional capabilities and where she has the opportunity to help and develop people around her. Most of all, her heaven is a place where she gets to be and gets to do what she wants to be and what she wants to do – not what someone else expects of her. And of course, every night she rests her head on a pink silk pillow in a moment of luxury and self-indulgence before passing into sleep – now forever.

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Memorial Contribution

American Cancer Society

The American Cancer Society P.O. Box 22478 Oklahoma City, OK 73123

Hospice of North Idaho

2290 W. Prairie Ave.
Coeur d' Alene, ID 83815

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