Friday, July 20, 2012

The Queen of Soul Food

During the late 80s and early 90s I had the pleasure of dining at Sylvia's Restaurant in Harlem many times. I had a client near there and we would go to Sylvia's whenever we got together.


Sylvia was usually at the restaurant and she greeted nearly every customer. I had been in the restaurant about a dozen times and had always gotten a smile and a welcome. On this one particular evening Sylvia was seated at a table next to mine visiting with another customer when she overheard me telling my companion about how I made potato salad. "That is old southern country salad" she said smiling. I laughed and said an old southern country woman had taught me. She squeezed my shoulder as she left the table.  A little later I bumped into Sylvia again at the front of the room. She asked who the old southern country woman was and I explained that she was my ex-husband's aunt with whom I had a wonderful relationship.  We talked a bit about our children and about South Carolina. I had read that she was from a small town very much like the SC town my ex was from. I told her about my one and only visit there in the mid 70s when a car full of young white men tried to run us off the road and how a group of white teens had called me a "nigger lover" at the Woolworth's. She was holding my hand and looking into my eyes the entire time we were talking. My heart melted when she hugged me and told me how she enjoyed talking with me and that she loved people who "had an easy kindness about them".

Each time I went back to Sylvia's after that I got a hug and a table visit if time permitted.


Dear wonderful Sylvia Woods died yesterday at the age of 86.



She and her husband Herbert built a restaurant that is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

They led a family that will carry on. The restaurant is owned by her children and grandchildren,


I imagine that thousands of people are telling stories just like mine today. That is her exceptional legacy.



Peaceful Journey Sylvia
I will never forget your easy kindness.

29 comments:

ellen abbott said...

why are some people so filled with hate when we are all born with nothing but love in our hearts?

LL Cool Joe said...

Aww what a lovely story. I bet she's going to be missed so much. Warm, loving people like her always are.

I'd like to think that things have changed so much since the 70's but in some ways, deep down I don't think they really have that much.

Jay Simser said...

Well, the Kleenex stock is going up again. What a wonderful story. Wish I had known her. I love your stories.
PS. Hugs to you and Hope.

Sylvia K said...

A story I can relate to -- aside from the fact my name is Sylvia! I was born and raised in Texas, but for whatever reason, I never felt any hatred for African Americans -- in fact, I married one in 1963. We did have to get married in California because it was still against the law in Texas. And, as you know, I have four beautiful "black" children! May your Sylvia rest in peace and may you have a beautiful weekend! Hugs to Hope and to you!

I'm With Stupid said...

I've always wanted to go to Sylvia's restaurant. Maybe I will get the chance someday.

Jay

Mike said...

RIP Sylvia.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

What a beautiful story, my dear...I never got to Sylvia's....I had left NY by the time she opened. It sounds wonderful and so does Sylvia! Thanks for sharing this with all of us---what a wonderful 'memory' Sylvia created for you....!
RIP dear Sylvia.

ds said...

Lovely story, Dianne, about a lovely woman (and you're not so bad yourself). Thank you for sharing this.

Kay L. Davies said...

A wonderful tribute, Dianne. It sounds like Sylvia's restaurant was a great place while she was there.
I don't understand racial hatred. I know there is some of it here in Canada, but not a lot, and in my family we have people of all colors. Our late parents taught us everyone is equal, and everyone feels the same under the skin.
K

Ron said...

What a touchin story and tribute, Dianne!

I could honestly feel Sylvia's beautiful energy through not only these photos, but your words as well.

Yes, she was indeed a very special lady!

Peaceful journey, Sylvia.

Much X

Linda Reeder said...

I love the phrase "easy kindness". Rest in peace, Sylvia.

DJan said...

The only good part of this story is that she lived a full life, something I wish for myself every day. And that she was able to make a difference in the lives of other people. Much like you do, Dianne. I love your posts.

Grayquill said...

Very nice! I like that "easy Kindness". We meet some great people in our travels through this life. Thanks for sharing this glimps into Sylvia's life.

Happy Elf Mom said...

They led a family that will carry on.

What great words, Dianne! I'm so glad you got to know Miss Sylvia. I promise if you go a little further South the people are warm and friendly. Well, most of them. :)

Sylvia sounds like such a wonderful person.

Ivanhoe said...

Sounds like a wonderful woman. May she rest in peace.
Hugs from Ohio,
I.

Hilary said...

What a sweet and tender tribute to a lovely lady. Di, you're the best at describing folks as if we knew them ourselves. Rest in kindness, Sylvia.

Reb said...

Dianne, you are the best at writing tributes. It makes people feel as though they knew the person too.
RIP Sylvia.

Au and Target said...

Dianne, I feel like a really knew her. Poor thing. We're purring for those who are left behind.

Marg said...

What a wonderful tribute to Sylvia. I bet that food was really good. She sounds like she was such a wonderful person. This was such a good post.

Lowell said...

Thanks, Dianne, for your comment on that other blog and I think you would really enjoy Toojay's...it's the only real New York (Jewish) deli in this area. One of my friends and his wife make regular trips to sate their taste for Reuben sandwiches. We love it. You can find a Toojay's in both Lake Sumter Landing and Spanish Springs, the two downtown areas of The Villages.

Toojay's also often uses my photos on their Facebook page. :-)

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

A great story and a lovely tribute! I alwayls love hearing more of your own "back story" and I loved hearing about this wonderful lady and the restaurant (as a Northwest person I never got the chance to know it, but I wish I had.)

And, on a pragmatic note, I wish I had some of your potato salad right this very minute!

HermanTurnip said...

She sounds like she was an exceptional woman! Excellent write-up. And, quite honestly, it brought a tear to my eye.

valerie said...

never been to sylvia's surprisingly, i'm just across the water and i love soul food. i have tried her canned food before, i'm sure nothing like the fresh food in the restaurant. as always, i'm always surprised when i read of someone's death. RIP sylvia.

Akelamalu said...

What a lovely story Dianne, thankyou for sharing it. RIP Sylvia.

Daryl Edelstein said...

she was an incredible woman .. I wish I had had a chance to meet her

Knight said...

Oh her food is magnificent!

You certainly do have an easy kindness about you.

EG CameraGirl said...

Great tribute to Sylvia. I hope her family have the same wonderful spirit evidenced in the photos of her.

beccagivens said...

I had the chance to dine at Sylvia's in the Fall of 2011. It was delightful!! RIP ~~ Sylvia ... may your legacy continue as visioned!!

Thank you for sharing!

(BTW -- Siren is a beauty)

beccagivens said...

Ohhh,and so is Isadora and Mia ... Sorry girls, I had not meant to leave you out!! :)