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1936 Sandy 2022

Sandy Dobris

March 17, 1936 — February 12, 2022


Sandy Dobris

February 2022

My mother liked to tell a story about being in kindergarten and ignoring the teacher when she rattled off the attendance list.  When they called for “Helen Cassileth,” she didn’t realize they meant her because she was always called by her middle name, “Sandra” and then “Sandy.”  She proclaimed that she was quite put-out with her parents, especially when they admitted that, like her, they also did not like the name they had given their daughter.

On February 12, 2022, my mother, Helen “Sandy” Dobris, died at the age of 85 after a more than 8-year struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.

She was born in Brooklyn, New York, the youngest of three children, on March 17, 1936, to Morris and Faith (“Florrie”) Cassileth.  Lois and William (“Bill”) were her older siblings.  She had a rare RH Factor blood disease at a time in which few children survived it.  My mother spent her first ten months in a hospital, receiving multiple blood transfusions, primarily from her father.  Throughout her life, she was often self-conscious about the scars on her arms because of the transfusions. Her mother brought her to medical conferences as a young child where she was displayed in front of other worried parents as a survivor--“the child who lived.”  She told me her case was written up in a medical journal.

As my mother grew older, though she appears to have been quite healthy, her parents worried that she would grow ill again, especially since she was a bit of a daredevil and a tomboy.  She liked to play ball with the boys in her neighborhood, even when the father whom she adored, warned her away from engaging in unladylike games. Although her family may have thought she was fragile, she wanted no part of that narrative!

She loved her grandmother, Beattie.

She loved her collie, “Champ.”

Losing her parents and both siblings before she turned 30, my mom had a somewhat difficult life.  But you would never know it to talk to her.  My mother was strong, optimistic, had a well-honed work ethic, a sense of humor, beautiful smile, and was liked by virtually every person she met.

Born on St. Patrick’s Day, my mother had no Irish blood of which I am aware (though she did insist on having had an Irish grandmother—not Beattie-- in the latter stages of her dementia).  We were Polish, Russian, Jewish. Nevertheless, she had bright red hair and green eyes, so we often celebrated her birthday with a St. Patrick’s Day cake, brought in by my dad.  Irish for the day at least.

My mother attended Midwood High School in Brooklyn and Russell Sage College in Troy, New York, and had many fond memories of her friends from that time.  While there, she was introduced to my father, a student at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, through mutual friends.  They married on June 22, 1957, and had two children, myself and my sister, Donna.  They lived most of their married life in Rockville, Maryland, where I grew up.

My mother was a substitute teacher for years and was always the “favorite.” It used to embarrass me (though as I grew older, I treasured this memory) when she dressed up as a witch for Halloween and paraded her kindergarten class up and down the hallways of my grade school.  She loved her students.  She loved children.

My mother espoused some of the values of her generation by keeping a clean house, serving three meals a day to her family, and always putting her own needs after everyone else’s.  But my mother also recognized the limitations of gender roles and encouraged me to make different choices when it seemed clear that my path would be different from her own.  My mother supported me in everything I did.  She accepted a full-time job as manager at Camalier and Buckley in Montgomery Mall, near our home, so that I could pursue my college education in Boston.  She never actually told me that that was why she took the job.  And never expected gratitude.  But she quit as soon as I graduated.

My mother had so much energy.  Once, when I was picking out a new couch, the saleswoman told us that the sofa came with bolsters which would be great for naps.  In perfect seriousness, my mother asked, “Why would anyone lie down on a couch in the middle of the day? There is so much to do! Who takes naps?!”

My mother was fun.  She was an extrovert.  She laughed a lot.  She was interested in everyone’s life story and bragged about her children and grandchildren every chance she got—to shop keepers, wait staff, strangers in elevators. She was proud of me and of my sister and of our children.  And she told us often—as well as anyone else who would listen!

She loved music and introduced me to the popular standards of the 50’s and 60’s--albums I still play to this day.  Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis, Barbra Streisand, Sammy Davis Jr., Steve and Eydie.

She liked musicals and enjoyed outings with her children and grandchildren.

She thought that “one glass of wine” on a special occasion was fine.  And that more than that was, “unnecessary.”  When I was teenager, we tried to teach my mom to inhale a cigarette.  Just because. We failed.

A few times a year, we were the “ladies who lunched” . . .  going to restaurants in suburban Maryland like the Charcoal Grill, Anchor Inn, the Bird Cage, the Magic Pan, Niwano Hana . . . She would order the children’s plate for me, and then give me half of her lunch too, because she “was full.”   And sometimes we shopped.  She let me stay home from school, calling in sick for me, so that we could have an occasional day out . . . she rarely wanted anything for herself.  She shopped for other people.  And we talked and talked and talked about everything.  I always felt that I could share my entire life with her and knew that I would be safe and supported no matter what. Occasionally, she would ask me a personal question and, I would ask her if she was sure she wanted to hear my answer because I planned on telling her the unvarnished truth.  She always said yes.

Whenever she came to visit, she looked for ways to help me and to make herself “useful.”  She would defrost my old freezer, clean out a closet, ask me what else she could do for me.  She brought bags filled with paper goods and favorite foods because she could “get them cheaper” where she lived.  She did the same for my sister.  If I admired a new outfit, she would suggest I try it on because “it would probably look better” on me.  She always told us not to bother buying her anything and that, “You really shouldn’t have,” and she meant it.  But she always treasured the gifts she was given.

She loved to read.  In her later years, even in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, she always had a book with her. “Where would we be without books?” she would ask rhetorically.

Sandy is survived by her daughter, Donna (and husband, Michael) and children, Nicole, Brooklyn, and Mason.  Her daughter, Catherine, and children, Jeremy, Alexandra, and Daniel. Great grandchildren by Nicole (and husband, Donnie):  Hendrix, Dylan, Donnie IV, and Stevie.  Her brother-in-law, Steve.  And her nieces and nephews:  Matthew (and wife, Alejandra), Michelle (and husband, David), and Jennifer.

Her husband, Richard Dobris, died in 2014.

Although Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease, in my mother’s case, she stayed positive and cheery until the end. She didn’t know who anyone was for many years, but she assumed that everyone was wonderful, telling all her caregivers that they were “beautiful” and that she “loved them.”  In the nursing home, her special favorites were the wonderful Ms. Kim and the fabulous Ms. Shawnta.

I remember an afternoon in 1970, coming home from my 11th birthday party with my friends in the car. When we drove into our neighborhood, for reasons I no longer recall, we all started singing, “Oom-pah-pah” from the musical, “Oliver,” and my mom started swaying the car in time to the music.  As a cautious pre-teen, I was convinced we’d all be arrested!  But my mom always seemed to know how to have a good time without crossing the line—literally or metaphorically.

I will miss her always.

My lovely, loving, kind mother. Sandy.

Your loving daughter, Catherine.

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