By Jemmy Bluestein
The calls, cards and messages have told so many amazing stories of devoted comrades, compadres, friends through the years, and each of their encounters with my mother, Ellie Bluestein. For the most part, they tell what she did for them when they needed her help, how she taught them or encouraged them to live in courage and compassion. It is a strong combination, and it gave her a power of wisdom and morality that so many respected and counted on!
We thank you for these accounts and all the love. She was one in a squillion. We miss her so much.
I thank her for my life. I couldn’t have asked for anything more than what my folks gave us. Music and poetry, travel, activism, California… Fuck Jeff Bezos—I feel like the richest man in the world, and wilder than my richest dreams. (Bob Marley said some people are so poor, all they have is money!)
When the sequestration is over, we will gather for Ellie and for John Prine (they died the same day) and many loved ones who passed on in the time of Covid-19. And we’ll sing her songs and share her stories. There’s a favorite poem of hers (Frost) that I’d like to read to you then.
When Ellie was young, her mother was away for some years in a TB sanitarium and her father was working and traveling back and forth. Ellie and her little brother, Arthur, were fostered out for a few years. It was no picnic. There was no one to look out for her except her, and she did her best and took care of Arthur too.
She met Gene at 17, and they married not long after and began their adventures together. Gene was strong in so many ways. He gave her the support and confidence to turn her energies to the community and world that needed them.
When we were little, she taught us to walk, later in life she led us to march, pulling us out of school to attend protests and rallies all over the state. When the grandchildren came along, Ellie would drop all her teaching, counseling, organizing and prodigious gardening at a moment’s notice to just sit in the sandbox with them, patiently enjoying their little energies and always anticipating and providing for their needs and desires.
After their long and inspiring life together, Gene died in 2002. I felt Ellie’s inner frightened little girl slowly reemerge, wanting to be strong and do what is right, but also feeling alone, sometimes even among so many dear ones. I think we all reassured her then because she had great video visits with all her kids and grands, which was beautiful, and just before the quarantine she had good visits with many of you.
We were actually able to be with her for her last few days at the Terraces, where she lived (we are so grateful for her loving friends and caregivers there.) When we said good-bye, she was calm, unafraid, clear, adorable and sweet as ever and we exchanged our love for each other. We thank all her doctors and nurses who have loved and helped her.
With all our help, she made it through this vale with her love and dignity intact! I told her she needed to stick around to see Bernie inaugurated but she saw through that one. It was hard to have struggled to improve lives and end war and destruction for your whole life and then see it all come to this. But we know that love is real, and it is the true power and nothing can stop it. And we have it and we’re not afraid to use it.
My mother, Ellie, knew even less Spanish than I do but maybe she knew that the Spanish for “to give birth” is “dar a luz,” which literally means something like “bring to light” or “give light to.”
Here is a final image from my rambling mind: For a time, all four of us kids would get up every Saturday morning early so we could hang out for hours in front of the old black-and-white TV and watch cartoons while the folks slept in. The giant picture window to the front yard was next to the TV but it had not been opened so the living room stayed dark as the cartoons rolled on and the day grew bright outside.
We would fix ourselves snacks and glue ourselves to the tube until Ellie would get up. In her nightie and robe, sniffing at the morning pollens in the air she would stride down the hall from her bedroom and we all knew what was coming and that no amount of whining or complaining or begging or entreaty could stop her from walking to the heavily curtained window like some epic warrior, instantly blinding us all as she swept aside the curtains and threw in the light.
Jemmy Bluestein is one of the four children of Ellie Bluestein. He is a teacher and a performer of many instruments.