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1950's Woman Who Went in and Out of Institutions

Excerpted from the play Retail Therapy by Kathy Coudle-King Voiced by Kathy Coudle-King


I grew up hearing Sylvia stories. Sylvia was married to my Uncle Jimmy. My mother was his sister and she and my aunts would sit around the kitchen table when they got together for reunions and tell these stories about Sylvia’s antics. Sylvia was mentally ill, but it was as if they did not recognize this. Instead, Sylvia was quirky, strange, a “nut” but that was her personality, not her illness. No, they did not see that Sylvia’s actions were not something she was in control of.

The most notorious story was when Sylvia was taking the train down to Miami to see my uncle who was visiting my aunt down there. She apparently had a breakdown on the train and went to the caboose and took off all her clothes and threw them from the moving train. When a fellow train rider called for the porter, they had to stop the train at the next station, and she was whisked off to a mental institution. This was my mom and aunts’ favorite story to tell. At the part where Sylvia throws her clothes from the train, there were gales of laughter.

Sylvia had two children, my cousins, but she was committed repeatedly. My uncle was a raging alcoholic but was never committed. Sylvia’s daughter, my cousin, died of breast cancer in her early forties. Her son? No one knows. He doesn’t keep in touch with the family. Imagine that.


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