Tag Archives: Sylvia Mohr


Sylvia Mohr – “When the Deep Purple Calls”

Sylvia Mohr: 1921 – 2019

Sylvia Mohr crossed over the “evening garden walls” on August 13, 2019, to reunite with the one and only love of her life, Fred J. Mohr. She was 97. Even in the final months of her life, she could still regale her attendants with a rendition of “When the Deep Purple Calls,” her favorite song. The youngest of three children, Sylvia was primarily raised in the Washington, D.C. area, where her father, Cornelius Van Schelven, worked as a civil servant. Both of her parents were immigrants from Holland and instilled in her a lifelong adherence to the Republican Party. After graduating from high school, she moved to Philadelphia, where a military parade inspired her to join the WAVES. One recruit she met at boot camp piqued her curiosity about the Roman Catholic religion, and eventually she converted. While stationed at Norman, Oklahoma, she met a tall, handsome sailor of German-Irish extraction, and married him in Los Angeles on a brief leave in January, 1945. He remained in the U.S. Navy as an enlisted man for the next decade and a half, during which time he was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia; San Diego, California; and Oahu, Hawaii. “If you value your freedom, thank a veteran’s children.”

The family eventually relocated to San Diego, where she finished raising their six children, and went on to own and manage on a daily basis a liquor store in Imperial Beach, CA.. After selling the store, Sylvia and Fred enjoyed a decade of each other’s company without the arduous constraints of raising a family while serving one’s country. After his death in 1994, she concentrated on her garden, reading books, and helping to raise a granddaughter. She was preceded in death by her parents; her brother, Lt. Col. William Van Schelven; her sister, Martha G. Hill; and her dear childhood friend, Ruth. She is survived by her offspring: William, Constance, Jim, Joni, Joseph, and John, as well as four grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. She is also survived by a niece, Pam H. Bump, and a nephew, Christopher Hill.

Services will be held at Fort Rosecrans in San Diego, where her urn will be placed next to Fred’s. Bill Mohr wishes to extend the family’s appreciation of the care and comfort Sylvia received, during her final three years, from all those who work at Sunrise Assisted Living in Seal Beach, CA, and Bel Vista Healthcare Center, Long Beach, CA. Without their cheerful endeavors, Professor Mohr would profoundly regret how the rigor of his obligations to perform committee work at CSU Long Beach, as well as give extensive service to the literary community of Los Angeles, would have disproportionately detracted from his desire to engage in solicitous attendance to her needs.

* * *

The song my mother sang most frequently in her final years was “When the Deep Purple Calls.” For a quarter-century after her husband’s death, she yearned for him with all her heart.

Here is a rendition by Ella Fitzgerald.


Happy 96th Birthday, Sylvia Mohr

December 25, 2017

My mother turns 96 years old today. Since her last birthday, she has lost the ability to remember my name, though she does still recognize me as part of her family. “At first I thought you were my father,” she said to me yesterday afternoon. She was by herself in the living room space of the facility she lives at; “Miracle n 34th Street” was on the television set. “I’ve never seen this movie before,” she said.

She seemed more vulnerable and grateful than I am used to encountering. Lately she has been enjoying her afternoon naps as if they were a recent invention whose popularity has ensnared her in its enveloping familiarity. May you rest well on your birthday, Sylvia Mohr.

Autobiography Obituaries Philosophy Poetry

Delayed Memorial (for David Antin)

My mother, age 95, in her current residence, April, 2017
My mother, age 95, in her current residence, April, 2017

FRIDAY, MAY 5, 2017

David Antin (February 1, 1932 – October 11, 2017)

I not only had the pleasure of hearing some of David Antin’s talks during the last quarter century of his life, but I also had the honor of transcribing them. One summer, towards the end of working on my dissertation at UCSD, I spent a couple weeks listening to his tapes and typing up his talks, thereby providing him with the material he would shape into a finished text.

Antin’s ability to enter a self-generated labyrinth of spontaneous logic and keep his neo-Socratic inquiry one step ahead of the audience’s expectations was truly uncanny, though I did detect one fairly predictable move. I suppose a dependency on – well, why not call it a preference for – a certain pivot halfway through a game can be spotted even in the greatest of the chess grandmasters. In Antin’s case, it was the “Je me souviens” moment. Antin appeared to have had a huge number of intellectually ambidextrous aunts and uncles. After attending several of his talks, I began to notice how a reminiscence of some member of his extended family would glide into his musings and slowly but deftly enable him to come “full circle,” by which I mean not some “closure” as might be employed by a poet featured on Garrison Keillor’s radio program, but an extended consideration of the poetics of Happenings and Hans Reichenbach’s theory of probability.

I was fortunate enough to take two seminars with David when I was a student at UCSD, and enrolled in yet another with Eleanor Antin. David ended up being the outside reader for my Ph.D. dissertation, in fact, though he was rather disgruntled at my final draft. The last time I saw him was at the PAMLA conference in San Diego two years ago. He had grown frail, it seemed to Linda and me, and we had a hard time talking about it on the drive back to Long Beach. At UCSD, he had still seemed like a man who was in his late 50s, physically and intellectually ebullient.

Last week, when I was in Xalapa, Mexico, Rachel Levitsky mentioned that the impact that David’s death had on those who knew him, and I felt myself halt mid-step. “David died?” I asked her. I hadn’t known, and I immediately began to wonder why I hadn’t heard.

The photograph of my mother, Sylvia Mohr, age 95, at the start of today’s post is certainly part of the explanation for how I managed to not know about David Antin’s death. A year ago, my mother was living in an assisted care facility with no proximity to any relative other than a niece, who lived a three hour drive away. Her granddaughter, who had been living nearby, had moved to another state, and my mother’s situation at this residence was becoming untenable. The staff seemed incapable of making certain that her regular routine of prescribed drugs was administered to her. After I spent ten days with her in July, 2016, I began to make preparations for her move to a place near where I live, and in late August she arrived at LAX with my sister as a companion passenger.

Fortunately, my mother had not been disruptive on the flight, but after landing she became cantankerous. It required four hours to get her to move from the airplane seat to the back seat of a taxi. I finally delivered her into the care of a place in Stanton, run by the Quakers, but within less than a week they had sent her by ambulance to a psychiatric institution in Newport Beach. I was not consulted in advance about her institutionalization. I was called by the facility after the ambulance had already delivered her to the wards. It took me two weeks of constant effort to get her released, after which she spent a month in a hell-hole that refused to give her solid food, could not remember to put a pillow case on her pillow, and played loud rock music as she sat in a room with people who were mentally afflicted. Towards the end of that month, she came very close to succumbing to pneumonia, after which I moved her to a place about five miles south of me, where she has received much better care and has managed to stabilize.

In the meantime, beginning in early October, I had to begin the process of getting one of my brothers out of her house, which he had completely and totally trashed. I am not the only person who has had to endure the consequences of a sibling addicted to hoarding, but it took the next four months to get the place cleaned out and ready for sale. Without my brother Jim’s help, it would never have happened. I was, of course, teaching at CSU Long Beach the entire time. To say that I felt as if I had two full-time jobs is understating the case.

I am currently the only one of my mother’s six children who lives in her vicinity. One sister lives in Israel; another in Tennessee. Three brothers live in San Diego County. The picture in this blog post was taken when I visited her a few days ago, bringing along some clothes that Linda bought in a used clothes store. Linda herself is having to address the crisis of her own mother’s aging. Noreen is in her mid-80s, and is still capable of getting around with the aid of a walker, whereas my mother’s mobility is limited to getting in and out of a wheelchair.

At this point, coming to the end of the spring semester, I am completely and utterly exhausted. There was no break between semesters. I spent New Year’s Day at my mother’s former residence in Imperial Beach, for instance, filling bag after bag with disgusting, slimy trash. I didn’t have any good memories of living in that house 50 years ago. The whole experience of rescuing my mother from her own willful refusal to adjust to the circumstances of aging left me having my face rubbed ever more vigorously in my childhood humiliations. New Year’s Day was just the start of weeks and weeks of making round-trip drives and overnight stays in San Diego that broke me physically and financially.

I have not written of any of the above details in my blog during the past year because it would have distracted the blog from its main concerns. I bring it up now because it turned out that I missed David’s memorial service at the Getty. In early February, I was completely absorbed by the combination of teaching and trying to provide for my mother’s care. All I can say is that I hold David’s memory more tightly in my heart at this moment than I would have had I been there that day.


Poet, Critic, and Artist David Antin Dies at 84




Happy Birthday, Sylvia Mohr

December 25, 2016 — Christmas

Today is my mother’s 95th birthday. Although Sylvia Mohr has considerably weakened physically during the past six months, and is more and more confined to a wheelchair, she is still cognizant of her age and how few people live to be that old. My youngest brother, John, and my wife Linda gathered along with me at my mother’s bedside yesterday evening to sing “Happy Birthday.” Linda and I plan to return this morning to bring her presents and a small piece of cake to eat. We will then travel to Thousand Oaks to celebrate the holiday with Linda’s sister, Sharon, and their mother, Noreen, who is a decade younger than my mother, but also enduring the infirmities of age.

It’s possible that one of the readers of this blog will also have a parent or a sibling born on December 25, and if so, I hope that all goes well in giving that person sufficient attention on her or his natal anniversary. In addition to this birthday wish, I send out fond greetings to the sincere readers of this blog and thank you for bearing with the interludes between posts the past three and a half years. I have been surprised, by the way, at how the blog seems to be getting more attention now, so once again there is something to be said for just sticking to a project, regardless of its initial reception. Although the number of “hits” on a blog is a notoriously dubious means of gauging its impact, I have noticed that I am now averaging slightly more than a thousand hits a day, and will soon reach the cumulative total of a half-million hits. If I am still writing this blog in the summer of 2018, it will probably ascend to the million hit mark. Whether my mother or Linda’s mother will still be alive is harder to assess. For this day, at least, let us all give thanks that all of us can take a deep breath — a slow, deep breath — and release it with permeating gratitude.