My grandfather played the saxophone and clarinet in the orchestra pits of movie theaters (many of them great palaces) to entertain audiences when the silent movies were playing. His name was Salvatore Pellecia.
My mother, a Hebrew school teacher, named me after him—translating “Salvatore” into “God helps” and then debating between “Joshua” and “Joel Ezra” names which in the Hebrew she decided meant the same thing.
Some photographs take on special meaning. In my life, this portrait (in the same frame) stood on my mother’s nightstand and chest of drawers for the entire time I knew her—a time which ended a year ago next week according to the Hebrew lunar calendar (which marks periods of mourning and remembering the dead) as my synagogue Brit Shalom, here in State College, reminded me in a note: Time to say Kaddish for your mother.
When Mother, Miriam Pell Schmerler, died last year, her possessions were put in boxes which my younger daughter Amelia unpacked tonight as I watched her over a Skype connection between State College and the University of North Carolina at Ashville where she is completing her senior year.
This portrait was the one thing I wanted most and Amelia scanned it and sent it to me—the only photograph I have ever seen of him.
The rear of the photograph, which before I was born had never left the frame, revealed the information that it was taken at the State Fair in the summer of 1916 in Kewanee, Illinois.
There is a story here. A story I will not tell this morning as I remember my mother and the legacy she left behind of Salvatore who died before I was born. http://voicesweb.org/eulogy-blog-funeral-day
—Joel Solkoff, September 25, 2011