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Indestructible Sarah Silver

BY KNOWLES DOUGHERTY

I try to catch each issue of The Alley Newspaper but I’m not always successful. However, I did obtain a copy of the recent December issue with the story about the scheduled razing of the building on East Lake Street which was home to the Burma Shave Company some time ago.

During WWII, my parents saved their gas coupons all year so that they, my two sisters and I could make the trip Up North each August for a delightful vacation. My dad loved word play and made sure we took in the Burma Shave signs along the way. One of our favorites was:

The mister, the miss

The kiss, the curve

He kissed the miss

And missed the curve.

Naturally, I read that Alley article with great interest.

Not long thereafter, I happened to meet Harvey Winje, The Alley’s Senior Editor. I told him that, seven or eight years ago, I enrolled in an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) course on memoir writing. I attended the first of the weekly meetings along with six or seven interesting women. The leader never showed up! We chose to continue meeting as scheduled without a leader. Every week, each of us read aloud some of what we had written. One of the women read a delightful account of her first job out of college – as the one at Burma Shave responsible for maintaining the literary aspect of the Burma Shave sign program.

Harvey urged me to try to reach that woman and see if she would allow The Alley to publish her story.

Looking over the list of course participants, I guessed said woman was Sarah Silver. I emailed her and got no reply. Figuring I’d hit a dead end, I didn’t give it much more thought.

A couple of weeks later, I was attending a potluck supper with a group of my wife’s friends. Somehow the conversation turned to jingles and, of course, it wasn’t long before folks started reciting their favorites from the Burma Shave signs.

Next to me at the table was Barb Amram who said she used to know a woman who worked at Burma Shave, in charge of their program to stimulate the public to submit jingles to use on their signs. Aha! “So, what was her name?” I asked. “Sara Silver,” was the reply. “Do you have any contact information on her?” “Not really because she no longer answers her email. But I might be able to find her daughter’s email address and I’ll send it to you.” Bingo!

Apparently, Sarah had moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to be near her daughter, Melinda. I emailed Melinda Silver (a) to let her know The Alley had an interest in her mother’s story about her time at Burma Shave, (b) to ask her to send me her USPS address so I could send a copy of the December issue of The Alley, and (c) to ask her to ask Sarah if she would agree to have The Alley publish her story.

I received an immediate email response with Sarah’s Burma Shave story attached. Melinda said her mother was very pleased that The Alley had expressed an interest in it. Immediately, I sent the copy of the December Alley to Melinda and I emailed Sarah’s story to Harvey who was as delighted with it as I had been. He promised it would appear in the February issue, which it did.

Ten days later, I received the following email message from Melinda:

Dear Knowles,

I received the December Alley Newspaper; and, a week ago Thursday, Sarah and I discussed the paper and how her story would appear in the next addition. That was the last time she spoke to me. Two days later she stopped eating, went to sleep and never awoke again. She died yesterday morning. Here is a copy of her obituary, which will appear in the Mpls Star and Trib tomorrow (January 31st), along with a photo of her around the time that she was writing these stories.

I think knowing that she would finally have one of her stories published gave her an additional sense of peace that helped make it possible for her to say adieu to this world.

Thank you,

Melinda

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