Friday, September 30, 2005

Love and special thanks to Richard Flohil who sent me this press release, and extra love to Danny Aykroyd for never forgetting his roots. Big shout out to Donny Walsh and a moment of silence for brother Hock and the beautiful and extraordinarily gifted Jane Vasey. Too soon, too soon, alas. I urge my Canuck compatriots to tune in.


Don Walsh, the leader of Downchild - which calls itself Canada's blues band - is the subject of an hour-long special to be seen next Tuesday, October 4, as part of Studio 2 on TVO. Actor Dan Aykroyd, who calls Walsh "one of Canada's greatest musicians," is also prominently featured.

Airtime for the show is 8 p.m.

The season debut of Person 2 Person, a series of profiles hosted by Paula Todd, the show illustrates and summarizes the long friendship and mutual admiration between Walsh and Aykroyd. From Aykroyd's viewpoint, Donnie Walsh and his brother Richard "Hock" Walsh - partners in the early versions of Downchild - were the direct inspiration for the Blues Brothers phenomenon. And from Walsh's point of view, the Blues Brothers helped build an audience for blues as a whole, and for Downchild.

Both musician and actor talk to Paula Todd about the losses in their lives: Ayroyd lost his original Blues Brothers partner, John Belushi; Walsh lost his brother, who died in 1999 - and with whom he had not spoken in a year - and, in 1982, his girl friend Jane Vasey, who had played piano in the band for many years.

And both talk about the perils of being entertainers - excessive drug use and drinking included - and finding the strength to continue. And the pair are seen together on stage in power-packed versions of Downchild hits "I've Got Everything I Need (Almost)" and "Shotgun Blues."

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Dredging up a year-old past

I was sifting through some old mail that I had sent out when I was at the pit of my despair, shortly after my mum was diagonsed with inoperable cancer, which had spread from its initial site as a polyp in her colon to an uncontainable scourge which was devouring her organs. It mostly stayed silent for more than ten years, which is the scary part. By the time she was ready for treatment, it was too late. She was shy of her 80th birthday when she died this past May 7. She had known she was ill only for ten months. In that sense, I guess she was blessed.

After a deafening silence since then, for the past couple of weeks, my mother has appeared to me in my dreams. At first she looked terrible and was bedridden. But slowly, in the past few days, she has appeared to me more healthy, walking a bit more upright with every vision. Last night, in my dream, she came out and joined us while we were out shopping. She was dressed. I had not seen my mother dressed in a very long time, with the exception of two outings to the casino: She lived for the slots.

So here is an entry from my e-mail, dated, "Sat, 31 Jul 2004 12:47:24 PM Eastern Daylight Time."

Well, I've done it. I've finally hit the wall that I thought I was holding up for this past few weeks. My journey into the world of saying goodbye to my mother began just about five weeks ago, and it appears it is almost over.

This afternoon, the nurse who is assigned to my mother's homecare was in a car accident. She was injured and was in hospital before they sent her home tonight. This set off a series of mistakes which culminated in my mother's visit being neglected and anxious for three and a half hours while she waited for a nurse who never came. During that time, I spoke to some of you, I thought about all of you, and I called every single agency involved in this fiasco to get some answers, and also to let them know how furious I was about the situation. I did not receive one phone call. It was only after I began to poke around that I heard what had happened.

After leaving the third round of messages (it's a long weekend here), a car pulled up, and I met Linda the nurse, who only lives up the block, and only hear about this omitted homecare visit an hour ago, thanks to the confusion after the car accident.

My fortune was that Linda is a palliative care specialist. She took one look at my mother and I knew at that instant that she could give me the most objective and honest long view possible, so here it is. (She also understood that she may be in charge of my mother, with the other nurse possibly laid up for at least a week.)

My mother's illness has caused her to have a lack of appetite. My mother wanted to know when her appetite will return, and Linda was honest in a very frank but caring way and said, "Your illness is causing this, and you won't really have much of an appetite anymore." She suggested instead to drink Gatorade. A lot of palliative care people say this.

At the end of the visit, after all the meds were administered, I had a frank talk with Linda. She told me that in the best of all possible worlds, my mother has a few weeks to live, and maybe a month or two more if her vital signs stay strong. Because she still quite aware, now is best to see her friends so that she can say goodbye. The nurse said that my mother's body will begin to rapidly change now, and the children are best seeing her as soon as possible, knowing that this will be the last time they will get to see her, and so that they will not be disturbed by how she looks in the near future.

Once the appetite goes, the body begins shutting itself down. Linda says this is an amazing feat -- that the body turns on a switch, and begins preparing itself for the inevitable. She says that my mother will begin sleeping more and more. These are actually more like little comas that will slowly get longer and deeper, until one day she will not wake up. It is a gentle departure, with no pain at all.

I was not shocked to hear this since her sleeping has changed and she does not look the same in sleep now as she did when she was vibrant and healthy. But it did transform me, and I am much less innocent than I was a few hours ago. Particularly as I saw my mother laying in bed, like a baby, with a diaper, covered in punctures from the tubing, a pickline in one arm, butterflies in her thighs, not really aware of what all this means. Not really aware that this time must be spent in the pursuit of "good bye" and the celebration of an incredibly triumphant life.

She has been telling me that she will call her friends "tomorrow," but of course she doesn't. It is unlikely once I leave here that she will use the phone to speak with me or to any of us who love her. So now her friends speak with me and get an update, and sometimes I convey the back and forth messages as my mother sits next to me. Some of her friends cry, but most of them are just sad and careful not to upset Ann's little girl -- me.

A couple of them have come forward to prove themselves that they have never been friends at all. But none of this surprises me as much as it makes me hurt and angry.

None of us who have been with my mother lately really feel that she is aware of what is happening -- she innocently asks about when her appetite will come back....what about the next round of chemo (Linda thinks it's a terrible idea, but agrees with me that if this is my mother's wish, it must be honored)...when will the diarrea stop...why she is sleeping so much...and so forth. We let her believe whatever it is that she is believing, and I don't ask her what she is thinking about too much, because I don't want to hurt her. When she is awake, she stares a lot, and there seems to be the look of regret in her eyes, which now gaze out from her drawn, ashy face.

Now, there could be a miracle, and she could make a complete recovery. It has happened before, as Marty and I heard from my mother's oncologist. However, I am also hearing the reality as I perceive it -- that the palliative care team at Baycrest is top notch, and once they begin their work, it will be comforting for my mother and for those of us around her until the end.

As for me, I am 45 and living in my mother's basement in Toronto where nothing much has changed since we moved to this house when I was a kid. I am not sleeping. I miss my bed most of all. I wish I could have spent all of this time with Marty, focusing on the kids' upcoming school year in new schools, and fussing over each other, fighting over the remote, dining on Indian food, walking the track, him letting me bicker about narishkeit, playing Scrabble and laughing a lot, in a world free of illness and tragedy. I wish we could get back all of the Saint Martins, New Orleanses, Europes, Niagaras on the Lake, Muskokas, Chattanoogas, Arizonas, Seattles, Las Vegases and Nashvilles that gave us such a joyous time together. We crave one week to celebrate life and live it to the fullest. We have vowed to take that time. Not "some day," but as soon as we make an opening we can squeeze through.

Before I continue my complaining, let me give you the good news. The good news is that I will refrain from detailing for you the following current events from our Summer That Wasn't:

- Other family health matters
- NJ garage flood with 6 inches of water that I waded in for around an hour as I dredged and tried to get the sump pump working
- My resulting acute tonisilitis, high fever and strep episode that started in the plane, en route to TO
- Broken boiler in mom's house during my tonsilitis
- Dad's soiled stuff and my inability to launder anything or bathe due to broken boiler
- My cancellation of the Scrabble event that would have taken us to my beloved New Orleans
- My lack of favorite activities -- sleep, rollerblading, tae kwon do, and proper meals
- How much I miss and appreciate my husband, our life and our home
- My pre-menopausal PMS and its miraculous property of making me able to get everything done, all at once, all the time, without anyone getting in my way.
- Beautiful Miriam and Yona, who are truly my life and my reason for being; they do not leave my thoughts for a moment. I am in their service, and this is how I can suck it all up and stay strong.

From my communication center in the ancestral basement, I am orchestrating my war. I am at war with neighbors on all sides, with zoning police, a pending trial, and other matters of intrigue. I know that at the end of the road I will have done the right thing for the right reasons. I may actually win some of these wars, but they are not important to me now. Doing what's right is what matters most to me. So that one day, when I do manage to get some kind of regular sleep pattern going again, I will be able to sleep with a clear conscience.

A few positive things have come out of this: My mother is happy to have Josepha the domestic coming to live in the house starting Monday. She is a wonderful woman who knows exactly what is going on. She worked for a couple -- both dead now, but both of whom lived into their late 90s, and she knows what geriatric and palliative care is about. She will be a great companion for my mother and my mind is at ease knowing that she will be in good hands. We are looking for 24/7 round the clock care for my mother on the weekends now, and the community palliative care unit is able to fully subsidize this through the government. My mother has it right: "Josepha is an angel."

Marty and I have taken care of the power of attorney issues and the banking. I have successfullly put my father in a temporary home and he is well on the way to permanent and subsidized living in a nursing home. He is still strong, but crazy and toxic, and after decades of abuse, my mother just wants him kept away from her. He is safe, housed and fed, and despite the wagging tongues of all the cackling hens, that deed is done. It's over. And I'm sure I'll get some grief over it for a few years, yet. The alteh kacker keeps on ticking.

And there has been a core of amazing people who have been there for my mother. Most are cancer survivors, or people who have lived with loved ones who put up a fight and won for a long time. They have been a source of inspiration to my mother. She is tough -- she asked for the strongest course of treatment, and she also wants to go ahead with her commitment to speak at the Wychwood Library this November about her remarkable wartime experiences. I am encouraging her to do it.

My mother has touched the lives of thousands of young people, telling her story of how she survived the Holocaust. She truly reached many of them. My mother has all the letters of appreciation. This is her greatest source of pride -- those beautiful letters. The storytelling aspect of her life came late in her life, and I am really proud of her even if she was somewhat obsessive about it -- enough to cause us real concern! She kept writing, and eventually compiled and completed a memoir about her life. She remembered every detail, from the time when she was practically a babe in arms. We are all amazed at her recall.

She was an ethical and dedicated retail store owner who for 26 years just wanted to bring home the money and do a little traveling. I will always remember how she answered the phone when I'd get home from school and call her: "Good afternoon, Albion Style Shoppe." She threw a great Christmas party with pastrami and corned beef from Schmerel's, the kosher delicatessen near our house. The customers and other store owners, mainly Anglicans and Italians, loved to come by and leave a fruit cake or some Christmas cookies just so they could have a sandwich with rye bread, a kosher pickle and a little whiskey. My mum always gave a Christmas bonus and a gift to her girls -- usually a silk scarf or a bottle of Seagram's in the purple velvet bag.

As a kid I used to sit on the little waste paper basket in her tiny office and keep her company as she did the books at the end of the day on Saturdays. Although later in her life my mother would throw her fashion consciousness away and replace it with the obligatory dowdy Bubbie attire, I did learn a few things from her: grey pinstripe flares; a few good career girl wash and wear dresses, and rib knit sweaters. And of course that I should stay away from pastels, favoring olive greens and reds instead. My affinity for all things black broke her heart. She also told me to have a decent coat. For most of my life I shunned this advice until she sprung and got me a gorgeous black Jones New York midi coat with fastened elegantly with a single button, which I wore to threads.

And the Hadassah Bazaar -- the world's largest one-day flea market and sale? My mother and I learned that sometimes "used" is actually better than "new" -- a valuable lesson that I have passed down to Yona and Miriam. The Bazaar was a central part of our lives for many, many years, especially since my mother was elected to at least 10 terms of President of her Hadassah chapter. Bazaar day still is an unofficial Jewish holy day which falls on the third Wednesday of October, when you see everyone while having fun and buying lots of cheap stuff -- all for a good cause. I still have the down vest and leather/down ski mitts that I got there. Total cost -- two bucks. I also have the videotape that I made one year, featuring the infant Miriam and lots of great interviews with my mother fellow Masada Chapter members. Happy times -- selling merchandise, doing a mitzvah, being social and happy and comfortable. And laughing, and healthy.

I am watching and see the expression of what she has give me and my family -- a love of Israel, and the gift of Hebrew language. A love of all people. In her day, she could be so animated, sassy and funny. That was a very, very long time ago. Hard to believe now.

An annual colonoscopy would have prevented all of this. By all accounts, my mother has been silently ill for a minimum of ten years. But things really fell apart after her blockage, just two short weeks ago. As I watch the video of the Hadassah Bazaar, I am eerily reminded that my mother might have been saved if she had a polyp removed around the time that the video was made, some 14 years ago. She could have rung in the dawn of her Eighties at the Hadassah Bazaar this year, as a laughing and healthy old Bubbie.

So forgive me if I am not my usual goofy self tonight, but this is all so new, and I am terribly alone tonight, as my mother lay sleeping in the other room, possibly in the best health that she will have for the rest of her time here on earth.

Maybe once we get over this hump I will be able to objectively reflect and understand that my mother had symptoms for many years, and that things were going south when her mood changed, and she didn't enjoy the mall anymore, couldn't walk too well, started to sleep a lot, and became harsh and bitter. I wonder what she was thinking -- if the fear of possible illness ever crossed her mind. I will not waste her precious time by asking her these things. I will sort it out in due time for my own peace of mind, so that I can try and understand what has happened here. For now, I want her to focus on being comfortable and at peace. She is so happy with me right now and happy that I am managing her affairs and taking care of her. If this is what the job is, and if I am doing it well, then I am satisfied, even if I don't really understand the job.

After being sucked up in the vortex of this harrowing and other-worldly experience, I have only one prayer: May G-d protect us all, and may we all have the good sense to take care of our eventuality matters so that it does not rest on the shoulders of our children. Let's not let our kids wonder for the rest of lives whether or not they did the right thing. I'm here, I'm doing that, and I don't care for it much.

Keep the cards and letters coming.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Toronto Holocaust Committee Enrichment Day

It was unfortunate that I was not able to join Judy Cohen and the Toronto Holocaust Committee for their special Enrichment Day program, which took place today. They were giving my mother a posthumous honour. Although I could not be there, I did send these words, which were read by Judy:

I am sorry I could not join you today. But on behalf of my family -- my husband Marty and our daughters Miriam and Yona, I would like to express to you how grateful we are to the Holocaust Committee for having been able to give my mother the most enriching experience of her life -- sharing her personal story of triumph.

My mother believed that there were no coincidences in life. She died on a Shabbat, which is an honour for the most righteous. She was buried at the precise time when 2,000 March of the Living participants were leaving Poland, bound for Jerusalem. This was her reward -- to leave the world a little bit improved; to see a State of Israel and to see children learning about the Holocaust; and to be chosen to leave this world on Shabbat.

My mother gave us life and enriched everyone who knew her with her vitality. We miss her terribly. On behalf of our family, I would like to thank you all again for helping make my mother's life one of fulfillment, purpose and validation.

It will be the first time that I will be receiving a plaque and bringing it to New Jersey. I am almost tempted to leave it in the Bathurst Manor Ancestral Home, because I really feel it belongs there. I can see how this will be a year of transition. Just trying to roll with it.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

David Amram at the Hunter S. Thompson blast off...

I simply had to share this. Check out David's website at He's a national treasure. He knows the world. Literally. I had no idea that he was friends with Hunter. I was still bowled over by his recent book, Offbeat: Collaborating With Kerouac, about his friendship with Jack Kerouac! I wish I had half his energy, and he's turning 75. Rock on, baby! xoxo

Subject line: to lady lynda naches and nachos

Dear Lady Lynda,

I got your nice e-mail but still haven't gotten a night's sleep after returning home at 3 am Tuesday morning two weeks ago from Woody Creek and Aspen Colorado, after performing for Hunter Thompson's final big blast off, and received phone calls and e-mails for all over the world from people who heard about the event.

I wanted to wait to write you back after I finished writing my own review of all my crazy experiences leading up to the event for Hunter Thompson's unforgettable night, where I closed the show with a theme and variations on My Old Kentucky Home, where i was joined by Johnny Depp on guitar, LyleLovett and Hunter's brother singing, as well as Jimmy Ibbotson, one of the founders of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band playing with me, as I got the audience to sing, but...... it is taking a long time to write about it, so I am sending you this short note for now.

I leave next wednesday for Richmond Ohio, where my cello concerto Honor Song for Sitting Bull is being played, and leave after the performance Sat night the 17th and drive 500 miles all night to Tinley Park outside of Chicago to play with Willie Nelson for Farm Aid Sunday the 18th, (I realize those venues are a little far to go for you to go to by cab or subway) and back to NYC the 19th and then leave for Stevens Point Wisconson for college programs there with the crazy professor who founded the Beat Meets East Festival i did in China last summer.

Then a bunch of concerts all month celebrating my Nov 17th big 75th in Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, London England, Cork Ireland an Amram Jam gala concert at the Tarrytown Theater in new York Nov 19th.. whicch will benefit homeless survivors from New Orleans.With all this activity, I won't have time to get into any trouble!!

Below are some of the reviews sent to me for Hunter Thompson's event..I wish you could have been there. It was an amazing night.All cheers, as I try to catch up with a ton of mail and phone calls, before all the upcoming concerts, plus composing a new symphonic piece, Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie and working on a new book, Nine Lives of a Musical Cat.All joy and creative energy to you and prayers for all survivors from New Orleans and the Gulf states.


Friday, September 09, 2005

Macleans magazine

September 08, 2005

Mothers rock out with songs like Pick up Your Socks


Go home now and tell your mother
Not to waste another day
Tell her to unplug the Hoover and
Plug in stuff the punky way!

-- from Punkymum by the British band the Mothers

Lynda Kraar is a 46-year-old suburban mom of two by day and a rocker in leopard print by night. Driven by a need to escape the daily grind of suburban life, the self-identified militant mom and Toronto native has found an outlet in her music, in between driving her daughters to school and tae kwon do, buying groceries, cooking dinner and helping take care of her sick mother. "I am not Britney Spears, nor do I have any desire to be running with the twentysomething pack," says Kraar. "I have survived birthing two children, becoming a mother, losing a mother, and now I have no intention of growing old gracefully." So Kraar, with her black velvet jacket, vintage guitars, Napolean Dynamite T-shirts, Phat Mom bracelets and black Frye boots, rocks out her frustration with songs she's written, like Suburban White in a White Suburban and Militant Mom.

Kraar, who divides her time between Toronto and New Jersey, is part of the mom rock movement breaking out across North America and finding a voice in England. Suburban women are dying their hair pink, donning fishnet stockings and rocking out in groups like Placenta, Housewives on Prozac, Frump and Candy Band. And they turn to themes they know to pen songs with such titles as Pee Alone, Pick up Your Socks, Toy Hell, Eat Your Damn Spaghetti and Fuzzy Slippers.

It's a movement Kraar and Fredericton native Alana Ruben Free want to bring to Canada next year through Mamapalooza, a festival for moms who are musicians, artists and writers. Launched in New York City in 2002, Mamapalooza has expanded to eight cities, including Chicago and Detroit, and draws thousands to some of its spring and summer events. "Just because you are a mom doesn't mean you have to give up everything," says Free, editor of Mamapalooza's magazine Mom Egg. Even for those who never plan to perform in public, rocking out can be a liberating form of expression. "Some people may see it as frivolous to make a song that nobody hears or to write lyrics no one reads," says Free, "but for the person, it can be the very thing that affirms and saves them."

Joy Rose, the 48-year-old singer for Housewives on Prozac and founder of Mamapalooza, agrees. It's not only rock's potential for fun, success and critical acclaim that draws these women, Rose says, but also its power as an antidote to the disorientation women feel when they become moms. "When we snap on the apron, snap out the kids, suddenly we don't know who we are."

For Rose, this is what happened when she left New York City for the burbs and gave birth. "I realized how we get stuck in the middle of the grind of working and raising children and how weary and dull life can get," she says. "I didn't want to be stuck anymore." She escaped through music, using everyday life to inspire her. When her daughter refused to eat dinner, she wrote: I've been standing in the kitchen since / a quarter to noon / Eat your damn spaghetti or leave the room. The song was featured on the Housewives' national album, I Broke My Arm Christmas Shopping at the Mall.

Rose feels being a mom rocker has allowed her to reclaim part of her old self, if only in a small way. "We all have a dream or two we put on the back burner when we get caught up with the responsibility of life, motherhood and general adult issues," she says. So as she keeps busy juggling the creative life and the responsibilities of motherhood, Rose says it's important to remember that "life doesn't end at 30, you can be expressing yourself and rocking at 20, 30, 40 and 50."

As for Kraar, she confidently predicts the mom rock movement will take off in Canada. "We are here and we are waiting for our moment," she states. "You will see a long line of mom bands who have been holed up in basements, garages and chat rooms all over the country coming out."

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Happy Anniversary, Marty!

Seven years of marriage, and ten years of being together. Hard to believe you tamed the ol' serial bride, but here I am.

Here's to more of the same, only bigger, better, healthier, happier and with more life experience. It's been a trip, my love. You are still my whole world.

Toronto Star
Aug. 22, 2005. 11:26 AM

'Nobody's daughter' spoke up
Ann Szedlecki's Holocaust tale

Survivor told her story until the end


Ann Szedlecki was a powerful and popular speaker for Toronto's Holocaust Centre.

"I think you are brave for standing up in front of a bunch of students to tell your story; it must have been hard to tell us some of those awful memories from your past," wrote one student from King City Secondary School.

"I don't think I would last as long as you did. Unlike me, you never gave up," wrote another.

"It opened my eyes and informed me about something I knew little about," a third student commented.

And a fourth wrote: "I believe that people like yourself, who struggled during the war, should speak out and share their stories."

But Szedlecki, who died of cancer May 7 at 79 and was buried on Mother's Day, had to be talked into telling her story. At 14 she was alone in Siberia, sentenced to six months of hard labour, her brother imprisoned for supposed political crimes, but she always said she was never in a concentration camp and therefore really wasn't a Holocaust survivor.

"At first she was a bit reluctant to talk, especially with an Auschwitz survivor like me," recalled Judy Cohen, who as co-chair of the Holocaust Centre's speaker bureau interviewed all potential speakers four or five years ago when Szedlecki was approached to tell her story.
"I said `Ann, you lost your family. The end result is you are a Holocaust survivor of a different sort. It's good for people to know there are varied experiences.'"

That accomplished, Cohen had to then talk Szedlecki out of telling her story the way she was accustomed to: as an adventure story of a spirited young girl.

"I think she missed the point of her own suffering," said Cohen. "I told her to tell them the absolute truth and put it in an historical context, otherwise it is just a sad story. As I said to her `You didn't enjoy the adventure.'"

Szedlecki listened and became a fine speaker, someone who understood that this kind of storytelling is more educational than cathartic.
"Her story became what it should be," said Cohen.

But first she wrote it down over the 10 years in which she attended Toronto author Sylvia Warsh's creative writing classes at the Bernard Betel Centre for Creative Living.

"My mother became a whole other person once she muttered the words `I am a writer,'" said her daughter, Lynda Kraar.

"She was a natural storyteller," said Warsh, who helped Szedlecki produce a 200-page autobiographical manuscript. "Look at page three, starting `I am nobody's daughter.' It is great stuff."

Her manuscript begins as Ann Frajlich is leaving the Soviet Union after six years, leaving behind the unmarked grave of her brother Shoel — dead at 23 from tuberculosis contracted as a result of being arrested for cooked-up political crimes, tortured and imprisoned — and leaving with only a bag of dried bread, a jar of melted butter, a few clothes and size 12 shoes on her feet.

She is returning to her hometown of Lodz, Poland, even though her entire family had died in the Warsaw Ghetto.

"I am nobody's daughter, nobody's sister, nobody's granddaughter, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, aunt or cousin," she wrote. "My past is all gone, it disappeared."

In 1940, her worried parents had sent her off with her brother to the Soviet Union where they would work for one year to "wait out, hopefully, the short war," as she wrote. They were transported to Ridder (later renamed Leninogorsk) in western Kazakhstan, in Siberia, about 500 kilometres from the Chinese border.

And it was true, she was a bit giddy over what she considered to be a great adventure, excited to be going to a new place and to be out on her own. She didn't even mind when she was put to work painting bathhouses and enrolled in school. But after her brother was arrested, she was thrown out of the school and ended up hauling bricks, then later peeling potatoes and washing dishes in a mining cafeteria.

When she took three days off work without permission to bury her brother in the frozen spring of 1943, she was sentenced to six months of hard labour in appalling conditions at a labour camp. She lugged railway ties to build a new line, shovelled snow to clear roads, cut down trees and freed logs from a frozen river, but she was also carrying the grief of her brother's death and her guilt that she wasn't with him when he died.

After being released she volunteered to work underground in the mines, loading the ore into wagons. She hated it but, typically, wrote instead about "the miracle of my survival" in which she left the pile of ore she was sitting on to boldly ask the foreman for a cigarette — and just as he handed her a smoke, the pile collapsed. "I could've been buried under tons of ore," she cheerfully concluded.

"I can even go so far as claiming that smoking saved my life."
(The children and students to whom she later told that story just loved it.)
"Since she was 14, my mother has been invincible," said Kraar.
She married soon after the war, a man who was 11 years her senior, a concentration camp survivor with the numbers forever burned into his forearm. Abraham Szedlecki was "a wounded, traumatized and sad guy," according to his daughter and the marriage was never a happy one, although it lasted until her death.

The couple moved to Canada in 1953 after three years living in Israel and both went to work in the garment district. He pressed coats, she sewed on buttons. But it wasn't long before the boss promoted her to bookkeeping duties in the office and even though she'd had no experience doing books, she learned fast.

Although Abraham stayed in the factory, she left her job in 1965 when a store out on Albion Rd. became available.

"She took out a loan for $5,000 — this little Holocaust lady with Grade 7 education — when all her friends were saying don't do it," her daughter recalled.

For years, her women's clothing store was the most successful business in the Shoppers World Mall on Albion Rd. Kraar — Szedlecki's only child and travel companion on holidays — had married and moved to New Jersey by the time Szedlecki retired in 1990.

"They were close, closer than I could imagine," said Masha Ami, Kraar's best friend since they met at camp when they were 11.

"I could see they were not only mother and daughter but friends."
The friendship was always volatile, however, as both were strong, talented and stubborn women who liked to do things their way.
As Szedlecki and her husband had long been leading separate lives although continuing to share their Bathurst Manor area bungalow, she threw herself into volunteer work.

She had always been involved with her Masada chapter of Hadassah-WIZO, but she began driving for the Kosher Meals on Wheels program and serving on a committee managing funds provided to survivors through the Jewish Material Claims Against Germany Inc.

She kept up her writing and her talks until the last year of her life.
Her husband, suffering from Alzheimer's, moved into a care facility, but she stayed where she was determined to be, in her own home. Kraar said she kicked into overdrive, often staying for weeks to care for her weakening mother in her home.

Szedlecki died in her home listening to show tunes and singer Theodore Bikel.

And as far as Kraar is concerned, her mother's story isn't over. She's writing a show about her mother's life. One song is finished, which Kraar, a musician and publicist, performed in a small club in New York City recently. It was part of Mamapalooza, a celebration of mothers.

Sunday, September 04, 2005


In the midst of this chaos and tragedy, I have two incredibly good pieces of news:

1. I heard from Joe Lastie, drummer of the Preservation Hall Band. He is okay and in Georgia with his daughter and some relatives. His house, car and drums took the brunt. All he wants to do is get back on the road and keep playing. This is me with Joe in happier times, earlier this year.

2. I heard from Rob Espino of the New Orleans Brass Potholes Band. My understanding is that they made it out in time. As a band leader, Rob is trying to get some gigs lined up for his band. Rob is a superb leader in that regard. A true soldier.

All of these wonderful musicians and their families are suffering the trauma and hardship of having to start from scratch. Life as they knew it is over. But in the true spirit of musicianship, all they really want to do is to get back to gigging, and upliftthe spirits of people by bringing them together through music.

In the case of Preservation Hall, I understand they have a September tour scheduled. The Potholes are currently and actively looking for gigs and have asked me to help them.

Any ideas? Get in touch with me. Let's be creative, gang.