View a short humorous video of Dotty Mazer on her ninetieth birthday here:
How does one sum up the life of a ninety-four year old woman, an artist, humanitarian, mother of three, and the recently deceased stepmother of my wife, Susan? I knew Dorothy “Dotty” Mazer for approximately thirty years, spending time with her on our visits to Detroit, Susan’s hometown, or during Dotty’s trips to the West coast. Susan and I had just visited Dotty only a couple of weeks ago, at the assisted-living facility where she lived in a suburb of Detroit. She was not doing well physically. I intuited that it would be the last time that I would see her. Nonetheless, it is sad to lose the personality, the memories, and the relationship with someone who played such a strong role in my wife’s life. At her funeral, I heard stories about her life that she had never told me.
Dotty was born in 1921 in what was then part of Poland, but is now part of Belarus. Growing up in a traditional Eastern European Jewish culture, her first language was Yiddish. Jews were facing discrimination in Poland, a predominantly Catholic country, even before Hitler’s rise. Thus, Dotty’s father managed to take his family, including Dotty’s mother and three brothers, to America when Dotty was five. I had never heard the story that during the Atlantic crossing, her ship’s motors had broken down. Another ship came along side, and every passenger was transferred to the new ship in a sling stretching on a rope/cable between the two ships.
Like thousands of other immigrants, Dotty and her family entered the US via Ellis Island near the Statue of Liberty. I learned that Dotty had crocheted a wall hanging memorializing her arrival experience, which hangs today in the Ellis Island museum. She married her first husband shortly before World War II, and had her three children soon after her husband returned from the war. Those three children gave wonderful eulogies at her funeral. The elder son is one year older than I am, and the middle daughter and I are the same age.
Dotty’s first husband abandoned her after forty-six years of marriage to marry his secretary. He was known thereafter as “Shit-head” whenever Dotty referred to him. But this freed her to marry Susan’s recently widowed father, Al Mazer, and they enjoyed twenty-two years of marriage before Al’s death a decade ago.
Dotty arranged the “blind date” for Susan’s brother Marc, who rather quickly married that lady. Thus, it was always said that Susan’s and Marc’s mother had to die in order for Al to meet Dotty and thus for Marc to meet his wife who became the mother of his two children. Dotty was the only grandmother these grandchildren would ever know. And so it felt uncomfortable to call her a “stepmother” or “step-grandmother”. For Susan, Dotty was more a friend than a mother figure, since Susan was in her mid-thirties when Dotty married her father.
Everything I’ve written above simply relates the circumstances of Dotty’s life and how I came to know her. The objective circumstances of her long life are easy to tell. What is more important to memorialize is the depth of her caring, her humanity, and her work within the Jewish community to help Russian Jewish refugees who, like her, were forced to leave their homes and construct new lives for themselves in a foreign country.
I, myself, am a product of WASP-American culture, i.e. White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant. I’m also a Southerner from Georgia, which has its own distinct culture, when compared with other parts of the US. However, I never thought of myself as having a special culture or of belonging to any special group. Jewish culture is different, more strongly self-identified, more tribal, more conscious of its history, and especially mindful of the Holocaust in World War II, which resulted in the deaths of six million Jews in Germany.
Dotty was ever mindful of being Jewish. This consciousness was bolstered by the memory of the loss of family members (among the many millions) who perished in Poland under the Nazis. There was always a deeply felt sorrow not far from the surface and ever-present in her memories.
Dotty and I had many fun times comparing vocabulary in German and Yiddish. We also went photographing together couple of times. I tried to get her accustomed to working with a digital camera. But she never used it enough to feel free to take an unlimited number of photos without being limited to roles of film.
And so, we celebrate Dotty’s life…her dedication to helping others, her love of family and friends, and her artistic creativity (expressed through various mediums, including making her own beaded crocheted necklaces). Living to age ninety-four, she attended the funerals of most of her friends. In her last couple of years, her body failed her in many ways. But her mental acuity, including a great sense of humor, maintained itself to the end. At our visits with her two weeks before her passing, after we settled down and finished discussing her physical trials and tribulations, we were just friends hanging out and enjoying each other, just like we had for those many years. Rest in peace dear Dotty.