Death kicked in Dot Sparer’s front door on Nov. 8, 1938, but she escaped. She died in her own good time last Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, attended by her daughter and loving friends, lucid to the last, a quip as usual on her lips.
Those who knew Dot are familiar with the story of how at the age of six she survived the period of Kristallnacht in Germany, when Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues were attacked, and the glass of smashed windows lay like crystal in the streets.
The night before Kristallnacht, the Gestapo came for Dot’s father at their home in Koenigsberg. He was a prominent physician and teacher, a German veteran who served with distinction as a medic in World War I. They arrested him for the crime of being a Jew.
Only then did her father realize that Hitler, whom he considered a buffoon, a clown, was deadly serious about scapegoating Germans who were Jewish. According to the account written for Atlanta Jewish Times by Dot’s friend Rebecca McCarthy, the Sachs family petitioned for asylum in America. But Congress had established a quota to accept only 95 people out of 40,428 applications for asylum at a time when 83 percent of Americans opposed immigration and there were Nazi rallies all over the country.
England accepted the Sachs family in 1939, but only for a year. Two months later, WWII began, and the German border was sealed. A medical-school friend of Dr. Sachs was practicing in Kansas City, and he prevailed on his friend, Sen. Harry S. Truman, to arrange for a waiver that allowed the Sachs family to immigrate here.
They settled in New York City, where Dot grew up, went to college, met Burt Sparer and married him. They had twins, Lisa and David, and soon moved to Athens, where Burt put his masters in regional planning to work and Dot used her degree in magazine journalism to teach in the J-school.
They all became quintessential Athenians, deeply involved in our community, working through civic organizations, the schools and the Temple to help make Athens a good place to live.
Burt died in 2011, David in 2016, and Lisa lives in DeKalb County, so Dot was largely on her own here, but within the extensive web of close friendships built up through the decades with her loving and outgoing personality. It seems that everybody knew her, and she went everywhere, tooling around town in the sports car she drove because she had finally decided she was too old to compete with student traffic on the motorcycle she loved riding.
There’s probably a psychological name for Dot’s personality type. She was certainly outgoing, with an extroversion driven by love. She sought you out and engaged you with a teasing regard, so that you were intrigued and could not help but respond. How could you not like Dot, and love her?
A cancer came back. An experimental drug failed, and soon Dot lay in intensive care, hooked up to monitors and morphine, rousing to visit with her friends and to accept the kidding about various crushes she had around town and at the gym, where she worked assiduously to keep her body going, while visiting with all the friends she had there.
As the end became inevitable, Dot fretted over leaving Lisa alone. Of course, Lisa has her own web of friendships, and she told Dot she had been taking notes on how to emulate her mom’s ability to navigate life and death.
Shakespeare had Edgar say at the passing of King Lear, “Men must endure their going hence even as their coming hither. Ripeness is all.”
Women, too, and Dot made for herself the ripe old age we all desire. Until the very last moment of her life, her love beamed out and focused on her daughter and her friends, and so did her wit.
She was trying to let go, but that was extremely difficult for someone so fiercely attached to life. She held on, even as her life waned. “You need to get some sleep,” Lisa told her. Dot replied, “Not this kind.”
Finally, 81 years to the day after death first came for Dot, she left life on her own terms. She not only endured: She prevailed.
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