My Sister Jean Catherine Marie Henry

Jean in aunt rose's gardenJeannie was born on July 12, 1948. She died on October 10, 2010. I miss her. We were friends and at one time and were very close. I trusted her, but as she aged and grew ill, she was unreasonable. She refused to listen to reason, as it concerned dad’s illness. She was determined that she was the only one who know what was right medically. But she was wrong. She did some things that hurt our parents care. She spoke privately to the care giver who hurt our parents. Jean was desperate to be a part in their care, refusing to acknowledge that when she wasn’t with them, she had no idea of what they needed. Even after Jean retired, she continued to believe that what she learned was the correct course of action, even after  dad’s doctor told her that it wasn’t. Jean had always suffered from low self esteem, which caused her to demand that her ideas be followed. Jean had a difficult life, but it was one she made for herself. Jean had multiple back surgeries. The last one took her life, as she died in rehab a couple of weeks after the surgery. Since there was no autopsy, her death was attributed to a blood clot. We don’t know why Jean died.

I wish that I could remember when Jeannie first came into my life. I would have been 2.5 years old. I am sure that we played together asjean and me on blanket toddlers. We still lived in an apartment on Porterfield Street. I don’t remember any of it. Even after we moved to Mt. Troy Road, I can only remember specific incidents which I will list here.

  • I entered a drawing for a horse. In the rules of the drawing you were supposed to name the horse. If your horse name won, then you would win a horse. I chose Butternut, but then my application disappeared. Mom found it in Jeannie’s toy chest. She was going to send it in for herself, I guess. I sent in the application and won a plastic cap rifle. Eventually I left it outdoors, and it was ruined.
  • When mom was learning to drive, we had a car with back doors which swung open toward the front, differently than they do now. Mom was driving through the intersection of East Ohio Street and  Ivory Avenue, the street Aunt Sadie lived on, when Jean fell from the car. She had been playing with the lock and handle. Dad yelled to mom to stop the car, but she couldn’t, so dad jumped out of the car while it was still moving and ran down the road to get Jeannie. We went to the hospital. Tests revealed that  Jean had a skull fracture. She stayed in the hospital a few days.francieneandjean1949smallerOnce when we were playing baseball with neighborhood kids in Tommy Hildebrand’s yard, I hit Jean in the head with the bat. It was not intentional. I hope that I didn’t hurt her.
  • We had a baby chicken, probably bought at Easter. When I went down to the basement to play one day after school, Jean was stuffing something in the doll house. I discovered it was the baby chicken which she had bathed. Dad placed the chicken under a sun lamp and saved its life.
  • Jean and I often played cowboys and Indians in the field behind our home.
  • Dad had built a table and booth for the kitchen so we could all eat together. Once I was so mad at Jeannie that I refused to look at her and turned my back on her. Dad said that I should be willing to die for her – that just sounded so dumb to me at the time. But he was right.
  • Jeannie had gone to kindergarten. She had to ride the public bus. Mom put her on the bus in front of our home and the nun who was the teacher made sure Jean got off the bus at Holy Name Kindergarten. One day Jeannie didn’t come home. Mom called the school and the teacher discovered Jeannie still in the kindergarten playing with the toys.
  • A neighbor called mom one day and told her not to be too upset, but Jeannie was sitting on the windowsill of the master bedroom on the second floor with her feet dangling over the edge. Mom went upstairs very quietly and took Jeannie down from the ledge.jean in curlers copy
  • Christine and Jean played together. Once a neighbor called and accused them of breaking the main stem of their rosebushes as they traversed the yard, going to another child’s house. Dad looked at the rose bushes and said they couldn’t have broken them.
  • After we moved to Ellicott City, we all attended public school. Jean would have been in elementary school then at St. John’s Elementary School just across the street from our subdivision.
  • Jean had difficulty getting her homework done. She just wasn’t interested in doing it, but always complained that Christine and I got to play outside more than she did because we finished our homework right after coming home.
  • In high school at Howard County High the counselors suggested that Jean not take the Academic Curricula, as they didn’t think she was capable of doing the work. She fought with the counselors,was able to do the work and went to college.I always admired her for that.
  • After I had started commuting to college, I had to pick Jean up from high school so that she could attend a club. The clubs were always after school, and we always rode the first bus. I arrived at the scheduled time, but no Jeannie. Finally she came out. I was angry because I had to go home, change clothes and go to work at a dress shop. Jean stated that she couldn’t be rude to her friends by leaving when I needed her to leave. (But she could be rude to me. I don’t think I ever picked her up from school again)
  • another school photo jeanIn Ellicott City for a time Jean and I shared a bedroom. I had a bottle of Intimate perfume which Aunt Sadie had given me. I put the perfume in a spray bottle and each morning sprayed just a little bit on me – I was so proud of this gift and treasured it. Jean would come to breakfast reeking of the perfume. I accused her of taking my stuff which she, of course, denied. So I replaced the perfume with vinegar, because she hated vinegar after she had an accident in the chem lab where she had gotten a base into her mouth. The teacher washed her mouth repeatedly with vinegar. I thought it was a perfect punishment for taking my perfume. When she sprayed herself with the vinegar, she came to breakfast angry and told me it wasn’t funny. But it was really funny and so appropriate!
  • Jean was always taking things that weren’t hers. Her attitude was that she needed it. Once she took stockings that Christine had bought. When Christine tried to get them back, Jean ran downstairs and locked herself in the laundry room, taunting Christine. Christine went to dad’s bench and got a screwdriver and popped off the hinges to get the stockings back. Jean was livid and shocked.
  • Jean would borrow my things and use them. I begged her to just ask and I would lend the things to her. I even have dreams about this when I am frustrated.
  • Jean worked for a time as a waitress at IHOP, and she also worked during the summers at a nursing home.
  • Jean always wanted to be a nurse and was able to fulfill her dream, contrary to what the school counselors believed.
  • Jean argued often with dad. She was always determined to get the last word. Her relationship with dad was always difficult for the both of them, but I know she loved dad very much and admired his character and determination.
  • Once when Jean and Christine were sharing a room, because dad said that they needed to learn to get along, Christine would make snoring noises while they were trying to go to sleep. Jean began to fuss and yell at her, but she was the one corrected because all dad could hear was Jeannie.
  • After numerous back surgeries Jean could no longer work as a nurse. She eventually started a jewelry business and did sell some jean on sand boxitems. She did nice work which didn’t surprise me as she was always good with her hands.
  • At dad’s graduation party all of the Pittsburgh relatives came to celebrate dad’s graduation from college. We had a cook-out. While we were cleaning up, Aunt Sadie said to Jeannie: “I have to congratulate you Jeannie. You can look busy but not do a thing.” Jean was good at that.
  • Jean had a collie, Baron I think, when she lived with mom and dad after college. The dog dug out dad’s bushes and barked all night. Jean and dad argued all the time about the dog. Jean met a man Steve and moved in with him. They got married but it ended after about a year, as Steve lied to her about his financial situation, having lots of debts from gambling in Las Vegas and was abusive. He was a jerk. And he hit her. Eventually Jeannie got an annulment from the Church as she always wanted to marry again, but she never did.
  • Jean was engaged for a time to a neurosurgeon. He suggested that she see a doctor who would help her with her weight since she had diabetes. She refused, as she didn’t want any man telling her what to do with her life. The engagement was off, and she never re-married, much to her sadness. No man was ever good enough for her, I learned from conversations I had with her.
  • Jean had a series of dogs – Llaso Apsa’s whom she loved. She babied them and allowed them the run of her house and always made excuses for their bad behavior. Their bad behavior was because of Jeannie, who knew nothing about training a dog.  Her last dog Cinny went to live with Jill for a while, after Jean died.
  • Jean moved to different hospitals to work, when she thought there was an opportunity for advancement. I applaud her for that. But I think a reason she had moved away from the family was so that she didn’t have to answer to anyone. But those moves also made her lonely.
  • Jean traveled to Italy with mom, dad and Aunt Rose. It was difficult for all of them. Even though Jean was the youngest, she was the one most unable to walk any distance.
  • When I returned to college in my late 30’s to study art, Jean was helpful to me as I was concerned about driving the freeway to school. She told me to just stay in one lane and keep in that lane until you get where you are going. Eventually you will feel comfortable with the drive. She was right.

Jean had a habit of borrowing things without asking. She would use a perfume aunt Sadie had given me, and then deny that she had used it. She would take things from Christine and use them. Jean had a philosophy, if you could call it that, that if someone needed something and another person had the means to provide it, then the the person who had was obligated to provide that thing to the one who doesn’t. We argued about this as we grew older.

She once took mom and dad’s wedding photos from their dresser in San Angelo during a visit. Later that year Christine was visiting California and stopped in to see Jeannie. When Jean was showing off her new apartment, Christine noticed that mom and dad’s wedding photos were on Jean’s dresser. Christine called our parents and asked if they had given the photos to Jeannie, as she wanted a copy. Dad said that they had not, and later h  called Jeannie and demanded that she send them back, which she did. Mom had dementia already, so I am guessing that neither she nor dad noticed that the photosjean aunt rose and mom in italy were missing.

Jean would visit me on occasion. She would look through my home and tell me what of mine she wanted or what I should leave in my will for her . I don’t know if it was just a way of telling me that she liked something, although I suspected it was that she needed that thing and expected me to provide it. I told her that I would leave the object in my will for her, but I didn’t intend to die first. Unfortunately, those words ended up being true. I could often be “ugly” to Jean with my words.

Jean and I loved Star Trek and stories about space exploration. We had gone to see 2001 together. As a family we all watched the space flights. I remember vividly watching and praying in front of the TV set, waiting for Apollo 13 to broadcast a signal as it re-appeared from behind the moon. The flight had been plagued with problems. The astronauts made it back to earth but it was “touch and go” for a while. The event still brings tears to my eyes.

Jean loved my artwork and often wanted some of them. I gave her a couple of pieces, painted a huge oil for her that was abstract and also sent her lots of cards to keep or sell. She was very complimentary to me about my work. So many times she wanted to talk about art, but I wouldn’t, because I thought she was setting herself up as the expert –  and not me. That was the tone I heard in her voice – what a loss to Jean and me that I wouldn’t communicate about this. It might have Ms Jeannie Bearbeen fun. I shut her out at times, perhaps because I was so afraid for myself that I wasn’t as good as I thought I should be. Sorry Jeannie – we missed so much.

When Jean graduated with a Master’s Degree in Nursing, I gave her a bear dressed as a candy stripper. I recently painted a picture of the bear – shown here. I did admire Jean for her courage in choosing a career and in moving to new cities to find a better position. The bear has expressed my love for my dear sister, who with all her faults, was still special to me.