Tag Archives: Generations

Filmmaker Sue Marx realizes ‘Young at Heart’ (The Sequel)

Who doesn’t enjoy a good love story?

You may already know part of this one…

Scene 1: 1983

Sue Marx was just out of surgery—but was determined to attend a party that night. Husband Hank thought she needed rest. Sue disagreed. “Schoenith parties were a Who’s Who in Detroit,” she says of legendary party givers, Tom and Diane Schoenith, owners of the Roostertail nightclub. At the party, a guest noticed blood on Sue’s white blouse. She introduced Sue to Dr. Yvan Silva, a fellow guest.

“Follow me,” Dr. Silva said. He led Sue and Hank to Receiving, the nearby trauma hospital where he was on staff.

India-born Silva had studied medicine in Bombay before moving to the U.S. for residencies. He was also the head of Wayne State University’s Surgical Residency program and later co-chair of surgery at Harper Hospital in the Detroit Medical Center, a position he’d held for years. At Receiving, Dr. Silva cleaned, numbed and restitched Sue’s wound.

“I’m going back to the party,” he said. “You go home.”

Dr. Silva refused payment. To thank him, the Marxes invited him to dinner. A divorced dad, he spotted the pool in back. Could he bring his daughters swimming? He did so a few times that summer. That was the last the Marxes saw of him for several years.

Scene 2: LATE 1970s

Sue’s mother had died. Father Louis Gothelf, 84, was bereft. He painted and fished, but nothing consoled him. Sue heard some local artists were taking a painting trip to England. She convinced her father to go. Sue says, “A fairytale began.”

On the plane, Lou sat next to artist Reva Shwayder, 83, a widow of several years. “They hit it off big time and talked and ate their way across the Atlantic.”

The tired group of artists arrived at their hotel on the ocean in Brighton Beach. Reva’s room was tiny with no tub. Lou’s was nicer. Reva moved in. By the time they got home, they were in love.

Scene 3: MID 1980s

An award-winning documentary film maker, Sue thought her father’s story would make a great film and “put a positive spin on aging.” She and co-producer, Pam Conn, raised the money and proceeded. Calling their film Young at Heart, Sue got George Burns to give her free music rights to his version of the song. The film “was the ultimate love story between two entertaining octogenarians. It brought hope to all who thought love only happens to the young.”

Two film festivals later, the film was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Documentary Short. Reva and Lou attended the Oscars along with Sue and Hank.

They didn’t just attend. They won an Oscar!

“Oh, what a night!” Sue says as she recalls walking on stage with Pam to receive their statuette that night.


Sue continued with her career. She and Hank enjoyed a happy marriage and raised three daughters. In recent years, Hank suffered heart disease and died.

Meanwhile, Dr. SIlva continued with his medical career. Known as “the singing surgeon,” he had a voice like Tony Bennett’s and also sang at local nightclubs. He remarried. His second wife was stricken with cancer and died.

Scene 5: 009

Yvan was singing at an event at the Townsend Hotel. Sue attended. Several days later, he called. They went out for dinner. “And that was it!” Sue says. “A new love story began.” Marx and Silva (several years younger) became a couple. Their daughters and grandchildren were delighted. All of their kids lived out of town. Sue’s friends became Yvan’s friends. And he became their medical consultant.

A new version of “Young at Heart” is playing out. When people ask Sue if she plans to make a sequel, she answers with an emphatic: “No. It’s the same story with a new cast. American born Sue; India born Yvan. Different and in love. What more is there to say?”

Just that they’re living happily ever after.

What brought this story to mind was my friend Bill Haney’s new book,  What They Were Thinking. In his latest memoir, Haney writes about Sue and other influential Michiganders he has known. His 16 subjects also include Dutch Leonard, Ernie Harwell, Jack Kevorkian, JP McCarthy and Denise Ilitch.

Bill opens the book with a quote of his own: There is more than one way to live a life, but the best way is with gusto.

Thanks for the insight, Bill.  And the memories.

(Whether you’re young at heart or body, please share your Godsign stories with me.)

Sometimes pumpkins are Jack-o-lanterns; sometimes they’re milestones

I stopped by Farbman Group headquarters to drop off my iPhone 4 with Rodney, the company wiz who has rescued me from umpteen tech traumas.

Rodney was setting up my new iPhone 6.  (Lord, help me.)

While there, I wandered past my old office. I had an office at Farbman Group for about 30 years, in Troy and then in Southfield, MI. Since cancer, aleha hasholom (Hebrew for R.I.P.), I began writing on my laptop from home—wherever home was at the moment. But my old office remained, with my old files and books and photos.

Several months ago, an exec with the company suggested in the gentlest way that since I hadn’t used my office for several years, I might consider moving out. No rush. Whenever I could manage.

Our long-time, capable, exec assistant Denise had retired. Her capable successor, Sandra, volunteered to help. The first day, I got through about 4 files in 2 hours. Each reminded me of some person I had met or a cool house I had scouted and/or photographed for a story in Detroit Monthly magazine or, later, Better Homes and Gardens and other publications. And then there were the countless hours I spent in that office working on my first book and the numerous drafts that resulted.

It took three tortuous days to clear out that office. Dear Sandra stuck by me through the tears and stories. I felt as though I were cutting out chunks of my life. Finally I gave Sandra some vague directions and let her finish the job. What I couldn’t bear to part with, like the magazine covers featuring my stories which my mother had framed, now resides in boxes in a closet in our house.

As I visited this time, I could see that “my” office now showed only one sign of my occupancy: A grey metal bookend in the shape of a hand supported someone else’s books. Someone else’s papers lay on the desk. I choked up again.

Also because that same morning Burton had accompanied our grandsons to an orchard to pick pumpkins, and I remembered taking their daddy, in elementary school, to do the same thing. And because in the lobby of Farbman Group offices is a banner featuring several buildings and a photo of son Andy, along with the words “Over 35 Years.” And because in the last 2 months, on this blog, I’ve written eulogies for two friends, both my age.

Time doesn’t creep up on us, it races. Enjoy every stride.

I could put words together for lifetime and never say it better than William Wordsworth:
Though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass, glory in the flower, we will grieve not; rather find strength in what remains behind.

Sun shines & Earth (literally) moves around Big Sur wedding

Chilly, misty fog enveloped the Big Sur. Not the weather Katie Connor and Gregg Nelson had hoped for on their big day this past August. About 100 friends and family were on their way to the Carmel Mission Basilica in Carmel, CA. The couple had arranged for mini coaches so guests could enjoy majestic views and whale watching.

“The Night Before I Do Bar-B-Que” was cool and overcast. The next morning, Mother Nature’s mood had not improved. Katie says, “I knew there was a chance for fog. On the drive to the ceremony, I told myself the fog has its own beauty and romance. But it was not what i’d hoped for.”

Guests included Katie’s girlfriends from childhood in Grosse Pointe, MI, and from Wellesley College and Gregg’s from New Jersey and Rutgers. They came to the Big Sur from all over—Boston, New York, London, Hong Kong. Katie’s mom had argued for Napa so guests could spend free time golfing or wine tasting. But Katie held firm.

The wedding was called for 1 pm. About 2 minutes before the bride and bridesmaids’ mini coach reached the basilica, the clouds cleared. The sun broke through.

Katie glanced at Marilyn and said, “It’s Grandma.” On the drive back, the sun shone.

Our good friends, Marilyn, a retired exec with Neiman Marcus, and Michael, a retired Michigan Court of Appeals judge, had two sons in the 1970s. They were delighted when their third was a girl. Katie was born two weeks early, on grandmother Alvina’s birthday.

(Fashion detail: Though unable to make the wedding, Burton and I did make it to Katie’s christening in the backyard of the Connor home, overlooking the Detroit Golf Club. I remember baby Katie’s charming embroidered white organza dress. Alvina made it from Marilyn’s graduation gown, worn on graduating from Holy Family Academy in Chicago, a Polish girls school from which Alvina also graduated.)

When Katie was little, Marilyn often told her a story:

When Alvina got to heaven, God said, “You lived such a good life taking care of your invalid husband. What can I do for you?” Alvina asked God to send his dearest angel to her daughter. God said, “But this is heaven’s favorite and sweetest angel.” Still, on Alvina’s birthday, God granted her wish. On that day in Detroit, major storms struck. Marilyn explained, “The other angels were crying because their favorite angel was leaving them and going to earth.”

Katie, who inherited her mom’s musical and theatrical talent, grew up to be a talented singer/songwriter. She performs as Kat Solar. Gregg is a chief operating officer in Europe for Macquarie, an Australian investment bank. They met in New York, Katie says, “when friends dragged us out on a night we both planned to stay home. Gregg was tall like my dad with an old world charm that reminded me of Humphrey Bogart.” (Gregg is 6’7′; Katie, 5’6″.)

Back to the wedding: Dinner at Ventana Inn overlooked the Pacific on what Katie calls “a flawless night.” Three hours after midnight, some guests were still dancing; the rest, asleep. None felt the geologic event that took place 100 miles away. Northern California was struck by the biggest earthquake to hit the region in 25 years. A magnitude-6.0 tremor shook the Napa Valley, triggering fires and power outages and tumbling chunks of buildings.

How’s that for a wedding night? Talk about the earth moving.

Katie didn’t remind her mom that she’d lobbied for Napa.

(Any Godsigns stories in your romantic life? I’d love to hear them.)

Unforgettable: Memories bind a musician and her mother

Patty Peterson’s mother was unforgettable.

Patty comes from what local press calls Minnesota’s First Family of Music. The Petersons comprised matriarch Jeanne Arland and siblings Linda, Billy, Ricky and Paul; nephew Jason Peterson De Laire; and cousins Tom and Russ—all performing musicians and singers. Patty’s dad, pianist Willie Peterson, died in 1969. Her Mom was, Patty says, “a brilliant jazz pianist and singer.” When Jeanne was widowed, Patty “became her pal.”

A popular jazz singer and radio host (Minneapolis Jazz88 FM), Patty performed often with her mother. “We kidded that we were the Jazz Judds,” Patty says. “Mother would say from stage: But we just didn’t have their money!”

Jeanne died in June, 2013. After, Patty and her family spent many hours going through Jeanne’s possessions. There were dozens of glitzy, glamorous pieces of costume jewelry that sparkled in the lights on stage and which Patty wanted to go to nieces and granddaughters. As Patty worked in her mother’s home, she listened to her mom’s jazz tapes. “I’d talk to her out loud, like she was in the room with me. I’d say, ‘Mother, your voice is so pure.’ Or ‘Wow! Listen to that lick you just played on the piano!'” (A lick is an arpeggio, or musical technique where notes in a chord are played in sequence. Yes, I had to look it up.)

Patty kept asking her mother for a sign. For months, she waited. Her dad had come to her in a vivid dream about 4 months after he died.

Her mom: nada.

One day, 9 months after Jeanne died, Patty returned to her mother’s home. She was sitting on the bedroom floor sorting jewelry when she noticed something under Jeanne’s vanity. Patty had gone through the room earlier. Whatever the object was, she says, “It wasn’t there before.” It turned out to be a child’s book, well worn, with the front and back cover missing. The first page was folded.

“As I opened it, I realized it was Zippy the Chimp, the first book I ever loved.” (The children’s book was based on the life of the real Zippy. Born in 1951, Zippy became one of the most famous performing chimps in that era. YouTube has a clip of Zippy on Ed Sullivan’s variety show.)

What was the connection with Patty?

Patty was born pigeon-toed. “I was so tiny I could walk beside Mom holding her hand, touching the sidewalk with my other hand. With my turned in feet, I guess I looked like Zippy the Chimp. Zippy became Mom’s nickname for me.”

In discovering that book, “Mom found a really inside way to let me know she was still there with me. It’s as though she said, ‘Oh, yeah. I’m here, Patty. I’m fine. I see what you’re doing for my house and for our family.'”

Patty opened the book and found her childish printing from years ago: “This is Patty’s book. I can read this book.” When she read those words, she “felt a rush so strong that I knew the message came from another place … from her. It touched my heart. No one else knew what that book meant to me.”

Patty used to host a talk show that included spiritual subjects. When clairvoyant author James Van Praagh was a guest, he recommended looking for a picture to appear unexpectedly when someone from another place wants to connect with us. For Patty, Zippy was that connection.

Mother of 4 adult sons and grandmother of 4 (5 in September), Patty is no stranger to miracles. Seven years ago, she survived a potentially deadly aortic dissection (a tear in the main blood vessel coming from her heart). Surgery to correct the problem was successful. Patty has become a spokesperson for the American Heart Association, Go Red for Women and the TAD Coalition.

Not long ago, Patty (a pal of mine from afar), was especially touched by something said to her. A woman attending a church service where Patty was singing commented on the  the extent to which Patty shares her time and talents. This stranger said something which behooves us all to remember:

“You really live your gift.”

A lesson she learned from her mother.

TO LEARN MORE about Patty’s music, visit her website.

(Have deceased loved ones reached out to you?  Thanks for sharing your stories.)

Moon Works Its Magic on Sarasota Mom

As a little girl about 7, Rachel Schaeffer went to a garage sale in her apartment complex. She neither liked dolls nor owned one. But this day she bought a baby outfit—a soft, pale blue baby boy’s sweatsuit.

“I always thought I’d have two girls like my mom did,” Rachel says. “But here I was buying for a boy. I kept that outfit for years.”

At 24, Rachel married. Four years later, she miscarried. For many years after, she tried, unsuccessfully, to get pregnant again. Eventually she and then husband Jim began working with an adoption agency, Love the Children.

Rachel started taking walks under the full moon, praying to the moon and asking it to bring her a baby. “I asked for many, many moons. Finally, the moon answered.”

Jim returned from work one day “with a photo of the sweetest baby ever.” He came from Korea. In Korea, the family name is written first. The name of this baby: Moon, Min Kyoo.

The couple picked up their new 8 month old at JFK airport. “We were over the moon excited and even more thrilled the day he came home.” He arrived in a soft, pale blue sweat suit—”identical to the one I’d bought with my allowance money as a little girl.”

Rachel hugged her new son close, then held him in front of her so their eyes could meet.  He placed his hands on her cheeks and kept him there. “His eyes seemed to say: ‘Oh, it’s you. I remember you!’ It was one of the most magical moments of my life.”

Moon, Min Kyoo is now Luke Min Joseph Schaeffer. Rachel has told him the story of “Moonie” since he was a baby—for the past 12 years. “He has always loved it!”

Every year, on the anniversary of the day Luke “came home,” he and his mom look at the photo album of his arrival in New York City. The cover of the album features a painting of a baby boy cradled in the moon.

Sarasota-based Rachel hosts an Internet talk show, On the Red Couch. She interviews people doing what she considers inspiring work. Last year I was honored to be a guest on her show, a clip that also was saved on YouTube.

Readers of my book Godsigns know I began collecting full moons after my cancer challenge.  I feel blessed to continue admiring them from the earth’s perspective. I view each one as a balloon floating in heaven in celebration of my survival. So you can see why I love this story.

Rachel says, “Whenever I can, I walk outside at night and look up at the moon. I will never forget the immeasurable gift I received or the miraculous power of the moon.”

(Whether you receive signs from the heavens or closer to home, please share them with me.)

A gift of true love: Are you a potential donor?

When Joan and Tom called their adopted infant their little angel, they had no idea how right they were. Or how, 39 years later, that baby would save Joan’s life.    

Joan had experienced kidney problems as a child. As an adult, she was diagnosed as bi-polar. Over time, taking Lithium helped with mood swings but damaged her kidneys. Joan’s doctor recommended a new organ. Until she could receive one: dialysis.

As anyone who has endured the wait for a transplant knows, finding a match is not easy. If a loved one will donate, the arduous wait can be shortened. Joan, from Alexandria, MN, had four sisters and three brothers. They grew up together on a farm. All were willing to donate a kidney to their beloved sibling.

For various reasons, none could.

Kidneys filter our blood. Three blood conditions must match for a donor to be approved. Blood types must be compatible. HLA, or tissue type, must, too. (HLA stands for human leukocyte antigen. Antigens are proteins on our cells. Six are most important. It’s rare to find six matching antigens. Anti-rejection drugs combat the problem.) Last, the cross match must be negative.  (The recipient can’t have antibodies that fight donor cells.)

Joan and Tom have one child. They adopted Brian when he was about 6 weeks old through Lutheran Social Service, an agency in Minneapolis. Brian’s birth parents were unwed college students. Brian grew up to be a terrific young man who eventually took over Tom’s four-generation family business wholesaling candy, tobacco and groceries.

Brian got tested as a potential donor. Amazingly, though Joan’s biological relatives didn’t work out as donors, her adopted son did.

Joan wanted to spare Brian. She was put on the donor list, warned that the wait could take three to five years. (Nearly one third of patients on the list die waiting.) After about a year, one morning at 3 a.m. Joan received a call. Someone was killed in a traffic accident. University Fairview Hospital in Minneapolis, where early kidney transplants took place in the 1950s, had an organ. Joan was second in line. She and Tom sped to Minneapolis and arrived in two hours.  Joan was prepped for surgery.

Then they heard: The first recipient proved compatible. They headed back home.

Blood tests showed Joan becoming dangerously close to end-stage renal disease. Meanwhile, anticipating that he might be his mother’s donor, Brian had given up tobacco and alcohol for the past year. Tom called Brian with an update. His son said, “I really want to do this for my mom.” 

Three weeks later, Joan and Tom and Brian and wife Drea drove to the hospital. Joan and Brian were prepped in separate hospital rooms. They donned gowns, lay down on separate gurneys, waited together outside nearby operating rooms.

As Tom recalls, “The second day after surgery, as Brian lay there with tubes and a catheter sticking out of his body, he might have had second thoughts. After that, he never looked back.”

The doctor who performed the transplant told Joan, “You got a good one.”

Joan says, “There’s something I say to Brian that expresses how I feel about him. ‘You didn’t grow under my heart. You grew in my heart.'”

Joan’s kidney is expected to last a lifetime. Six years later, she’s busy playing bridge (sometimes with your bridge-challenged author) and, as she puts it, “taking care of Tom.”

“Yeah,” says Tom.  “After 50 years, she’s still trying to remodel me.”


Are you a potential donor? You won’t know if you haven’t taken part in one of the many  programs to connect donors with life-saving medical care. One way to find out more is to visit www.OrganDonor.gov, an online hub of information from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Artist Beatrice Wood Makes Our Mom’s (Birth)Day

Like most daughters, I think about my late mother often. Especially in October. Mom’s was born on Oct. 23. I treasure the memory of one birthday In particular.

In 1992, Mom was turning 70. She had been slowing down physically. Her left big toe had inexplicably turned up and out, impeding her ability to walk and necessitating clunky shoes. (If you have my book Godsigns, see Chapter 8.) Her normally vibrant sense of humor had dimmed.

To celebrate and cheer her, my sister Anne and I took her for a birthday weekend at a spa in Ojai, California. One night in Mom’s room, we donned T-shirts that read “The B Team.”(Mom’s name was Barbara.) We performed an original song about our mother and, after, wore our T-shirts to the dining room. Other diners (okay, maybe one) demanded we also perform Mom’s song for the group. As faithful readers know (see my earlier column Motown Fan Makes Her Broadway Debut), my sister has pipes! I croaked along, making up in enthusiasm for what I lacked in dulcet tones.

The next day we wore our B Team t-shirts on a guided walk around town.  Mom lagged behind, discouraged about her inability to keep up.

That afternoon I proposed an outing. Suzanne Hilberry, the great Detroit gallerist, had shown me the work of Beatrice Wood. One of the best ceramicists of the 20th century, Wood led quite the life. She had affairs with Henri-Pierre Roche, author of Jules et Jim, and his friend artist Marcel Duchamp. She knew Picasso and Brancusi and many avant garde artists. She was dubbed “the Mama of Dada.” More recently, she provided the model for Rose Dawson Calvert, the 100-year old fictional narrator in the movie Titanic.

I remembered hearing that Wood lived in Ojai. She practiced Theosophy and followed Indian philosopher Krishnamurti, who lived there.

So, I called.

A distinguished-sounding man answered. My heart leapt when he agreed to our visit.

The sweeping Santa Ynez mountains rose above Wood’s low-slung white stucco house. The gentleman I’d spoken to turned out to be tall, elegant, and devoted to Ms. Wood. He guided us to the studio. We found a small woman, nearing 100, thick white hair pulled back. She wore a sari and dripped with Indian silver jewelry. She was writing in a ledger, recording formulas for glazes. She showed us some of her recent clay folk art. “Sophisticated primitives,” she called them. A few of her vessels were scattered on a ledge, though none of the exquisite iridescent vases for which she was famous. (A luster chalice was recently on Ebay for $8,000.)

We asked her about how she had maintained such amazing creativity for so long. (She kept going until nine days after her 105th birthday in 1998.)

She told us, “I owe it all to chocolate and young men.”

Then, she asked about us. We told her about our ourselves, our families. About Mom’s birthday. Anne said she wanted to bring her mother-in-law back to meet her. Wood said, with a twinkle in her eye, “I’d much rather meet your husbands.”

As we were about to leave, Mom said to her, “You must be so proud of yourself. You’re a world famous artist. Look at all you’ve accomplished.”

Wood didn’t miss a beat. “Barbara,” she said, “all I do is make pots. Look what you’ve accomplished. You’ve raised these two amazing daughters. You’re the one who should be proud.”

I’m always moved by the power of words. Wood could not have created anything more beautiful than her parting words to Mom. Our mother left that studio higher than the tallest peak in the Santa Ynez.

Happy Birthday, Mom, wherever you are.

(Please share your Godsigns stories with me—especially if they’re about chocolate or young men!)