Joan Delores Pater was born on August 30, 1932 in Philadelphia, PA. She was the first born child of Henry and Mae Pater. Their family was made complete three years later with the birth of a second daughter, Anita Jane, who was born in 1935. Despite their closeness in age, the two sisters did not get along from the time they were children. Each had different interests and hobbies from their youth through to adulthood. Both, however, had a great sense of humor! For several years, the Pater girls and their parents lived on Mercer Street with their maternal grandfather, Joseph Zawodny, until his death in 1944.
In 1949, Joan married at age 17 – the third generation of Pater’s to do so. Both her father, Henry, and her grandfather, Louis, were 17 when they got married – both to slightly older women. She married a boy from the neighborhood, Richard. Although they were happy while dating, marriage was not what she expected. Her husband’s personality seemed to change overnight, and he became verbally and physically abusive. Despite these difficulties, the couple had a son, Richard, on August 22, 1951.
Baby Ricky became the joy of their lives, but he also brought great sadness. Ricky was born with a heart defect, and he never properly matured or learn to talk or walk. He was a happy baby, and he loved to flirt with ladies! His short life ended on December 9, 1952. He was only fifteen months old. His entire family was devastated by the death — his mother Joan most of all. After that experience, she knew that she did not want to have any more children because the pain of losing one was too great. Joan and Richard remained married, but their son’s death added to their marital problems. The couple split up about five years later.
Joan began to work as a secretary at Anheuser-Busch in Philadelphia – much to her family’s amusement for she lacked the two skills essential for secretarial work, stenography and typing. Joan simply made up her own style of shorthand, and she must have learned how to type because she remained with the company for several years!
Joan’s sister, Anita, married in 1956 and had two children, Drew in 1959 and myself in 1967. We gave Joan a new job: Aunt Joan. She relished the role of aunt; we became “her kids”. When Drew was very young, Joan lived with the family for about two years. Even after moving, she visited on weekends to “play”. When I was in kindergarten, Aunt Joan accompanied my mother as chaperones on a field trip to the Philadelphia Zoo. One day several weeks after the trip, she came with my mother to pick me up from school. One of my classmates who had been in our group on the field trip recognized her. The girl shouted loudly, “I know you - you’re from the zoo!”
Another memorable recognition, or more appropriate, a mis-recognition, occurred years later. In 1978, my mother had surgery. Aunt Joan went with my brother and I to pick her up from the hospital. As we all stood with my mother waiting for her discharge, a nurse brought over a wheelchair. Wheeling past my mother directly to Aunt Joan, the nurse asked her to get in. “It’s not for me! How bad do I look?” she yelled as we all laughed.
In 1978, Aunt Joan became re-acquainted with someone she knew from the neighborhood where she lived as a teenager – Ken Silvers. Ken had also been married and divorced, and he had two preteen daughters. Joan and Ken fell in love, and this time the marriage was forever. Ken was a former Navy submariner who had served on the USS Tusk. That experience, as well as time spent as a commercial tugboat captain, gave him a love for boating that he passed on to Joan. For many years, they belonged to the Wissinoming Yacht Club in Philadelphia. Despite the name, there was nary a yacht among the members’ boats, which were mainly powerboats, sailboats, or cruisers – which is what my new Uncle Ken owned. On their small boat, Uncle Ken’s seat was labeled as “the Captain’s Chair” – but Aunt Joan’s was labeled as “the Admiral’s Chair”!
Ken served as “Commodore” of their yacht club for some years, and he occasionally wore a “Captain’s” hat. Once, around 1978-79, the pair took the boat down to Atlantic City for the weekend. While at a bar at one of the brand new casinos, they couldn’t believe how nice the bartender was and how they kept getting free drinks. Later that night, they realized why – “Captain & Tennille” were playing at the casino! While my aunt & uncle did not necessarily resemble the singing duo, a huge hit at the time, my uncle’s mustache and captain’s hat were enough to confuse the bartender!
As I grew up, I tried to visit Aunt Joan when I could. At a minimum, visits would take place for birthdays and other holidays. My favorite visits were during the summertime when I would not visit their house, but the boat instead. Occasionally, my uncle would take us for a ride on the Delaware River. Other times, we’d simply sit on the boat at the dock. We’d always have food – with my aunt trying to get me to eat as much of it as possible. This became a much-loved ritual. Often, Uncle Ken would grill lobster tails on a little propane grill. Alternately, we’d have steamed crabs or even steak. As we enjoyed the food, Uncle Ken would smile, wink, and remark, “What are the poor people eating tonight?” It became our signature comment every time we feasted on the boat.
In 2004, I visited on August 29th to celebrate Aunt Joan’s 72nd birthday, which was the next day. It was a great visit! The weather was beautiful – sunny, but not hot, with a cool breeze. We took the boat out for a short ride on the river, then returned to the dock for a meal of crabs and beer. And birthday cake! It was relaxing and fun, and I remember talking with my aunt about how good she looked for her age. She commented on how good she felt. Looking back, I wish I had stayed just a little longer to visit. My last memory of my aunt is her waving good-bye from the dock as I drove away. She died suddenly six days later from a heart attack.
I realize now that there are a lot of things I never got to know about my aunt’s life. But, after her death, I realized one thing for sure – I was loved – truly, deeply, unconditionally. I didn’t always give her the respect or love I should have, but I loved her – just probably not as much as she loved me. Since I am also an aunt without any children of my own, I now understand her in a completely different way. I hope that my nieces and nephews will know how much I love them like the way I know Aunt Joan loved us all. I miss you, Aunt Joan!
In Loving Memory
Joan Delores Pater Silvers
30 Aug 1932 – 04 Sep 2004
[Written for the 68th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: A Tribute to Women]