Phoebe Snow Remembered
At the beginning of a promising music career, Snow, who lived in Fort Lee, gave birth to a daughter with special needs.
Sometime in the late 1970s a call went out to the upper grade girls in Holy Trinity School that a baby was born with serious disabilities and volunteers were needed virtually around the clock to help this infant with something called “patterning.” My girlfriends and I answered the call and spent quite some time learning to help this poor child, Valerie. I remember the overwhelming feeling of sadness as I watched her mother watching her. It wasn’t until sometime shortly after, while watching Saturday Night Live that I realized that the woman performing a song was this girl’s mother, Phoebe Snow.
It was with great sadness that I learned of her death yesterday from complications of a brain hemorrhage. Not yet 60, it would seem that she had an entire lifetime ahead of her to live. Phoebe was born in 1950 and graduated from Teaneck High School. She briefly attended college, but it was music she pursued, and after performing at many amateur nights finally got noted at Greenwich Village’s The Bitter End and came to live in Fort Lee.
Just as Phoebe’s star was starting to climb high it almost came crashing down. In 1975 she gave birth to her daughter Valerie, who was born with hydrocephalus, a buildup of fluid in the brain cavity that inhibits brain development and causes severe brain damage. Rather than place her daughter in an institution, as many around her encouraged her to do, or leave her to the care of anonymous others, Phoebe chose to keep her home, taking care of her by herself with help from the community.
As so many of us know, being a parent is all consuming and physically and emotionally exhausting. Caring for her daughter the way that Phoebe did is a testament to her strength and character. Phoebe put her daughter before all else, sacrificing her career and all the opportunities that dangled their shiny promises of ease before her. She did this without the expectation of a hug from her child, or a card, or a kiss. For her there were no yearly celebrations of Mother’s Day; there was something greater: the celebration of everyday as a mother to a daughter who needed her.
After spending time working with Valerie, my life moved on—high school followed by college followed by indecision of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I knew that I wanted to do something meaningful, but there were no ads in the paper for meaningful jobs. So, right after college I spent a year as a substitute teacher for the Fort Lee School District. I was assigned for some time as an aide to a class of disabled children where Phoebe’s daughter Valerie was a student. I was given the opportunity to work with her once again. This I remember: Valerie had the most beautiful smile and joyous laugh.
It’s an understatement to say that I learned more about myself, life and humanity from being in that class with those amazing children and I took away so much more than I ever gave. I didn’t know it then, as a 20-year-old girl, that I was storing away the most important lessons life can hand us. I didn’t know that I would someday rely on those lessons to get through the most difficult of days with my own disabled daughter.
Thank you, Phoebe, for leaving me with the imprint of your strength, your compassion, your selfless love and your determination to put your daughter before all else and, by doing so, being a model mother for those who came into the role after you.
Ann Piccirillo is a Fort Lee resident and columnist for Fort Lee Patch.