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Lou Charloff: Silence is Golden?

Lou Charloff
September 13, 2011

by Lou Charloff

In the 1930’s, the big political struggle in New York was not between the left and the right – it was between the left and the left.

My Aunt Bess was a fiercely dedicated Communist. She strove all her life for a world in which government, which of course meant the people, would own all means of production and everybody earned a decent wage. With no poverty, we would eliminate almost all crime, do away with many illnesses and could even look forward to the end of wars. Or so she believed.

She was a very bright woman who, when angry, had a mouth that could strike like a slashing saber and bring you to your knees. And she directed that anger against a cold, harsh, bitter world that she fought to replace with an ideal utopia.

My father was a life-long Socialist who shared her dreams. The difference between the two credos was that the Communists knew that the utopia they strove for could be achieved only by a series of Soviet-style revolutions. The Socialists felt that justice demanded that they educate the world and achieve success by the use of the legal ballot.

That difference was enough for the two parties to resent each other bitterly and caused my father and his sister not to speak to each other for over twenty years. It was an angry silence that nobody could break. I, with a couple of other family members, tried twice to effect a reconciliation. My father was not totally unreceptive but Aunt Bess refused to allow herself to be persuaded. And the years rolled on with no contact whatsoever between them.

My father developed health problems and received an unusual surprise during his last hospitalization. One afternoon, the door opened and his sister Bess walked into his room. After they greeted one another, she said, “Sam, I’m going to say something to you – you’ll do what I tell you and I don’t want you to argue with me. When they let you out of the hospital, you’ll come live with me in my apartment and I’ll take care of you.”

And that’s what happened. During his last year, my father lived with his sister and she took care of him, feeding him not only with her cooking abut also with her love. They had no arguments but, of course, they never discussed politics.