There is a definite benefit in living a long life. I have had lots of different kinds of experiences, loved and sadly lost many good friends and family members, thought a lot about all of those I had lost and managed to find goodness even in the sad events and losses. Reliving old memories can be particularly pleasant and give a person insight into her life and the lives of her loved ones, uncovering for perhaps the first time the reason for the person’s behavior and choices and shedding a light on one’s own choices.
I was thinking just the other day about my sister Jean. She was two and a half years younger than me and unfortunately died unexpectedly in 2010 after back surgery. I always called my sister Jeannie, although Jean spelled her name somewhat strangely – Jeanine. When I tried to tell Jean that the spelling was incorrect and inform her of the correct spelling of Jeannie, she rebuked me. Jean knew how to spell her “nickname”, or that is what she thought. My sister was quite stubborn, so there was no way to correct Jean’s spelling without getting into a prolonged argument. To be honest Jeannie could never spell my name either. Emails and letters to me were always addressed “Franscience”. I really don’t know where she found that spelling. Not only is it incorrect, it is just plain weird.
The very first memory I have of Jeannie was from about 1950 – I can’t be absolutely certain about the year. I think that there were only two of us children then, so it must have been the summer of 1950, as Christine was not born until December of 1950. Jill would be born seven years later.
We had an old car – just one car in those days, probably black in color, as only the newer models could be ordered in a pretty color, though I don’t remember the make and model of the car. Dad worked at KDKA television as a technician, so dad didn’t make enough money to buy something new. Not only was the car old, but it had the kinds of doors to the back seat that opened to the front with the door hinges at the rear of the door. They were called “suicide doors”, though I don’t know where the term came from. As you will see from the story the term “suicide door” was appropriate and the door was rather dangerous.
On one particular weekend afternoon, dad was teaching mom to drive; Jean and I were accompanying them. I remember driving past the home my Aunt Sadie and Uncle Johnnie owned. I don’t remember if we had stopped in to see them or not, though that was likely that we would visit. The two lane street on which we drove turned into a larger, four lane heavily traveled boulevard named East Ohio Street. We traveled this way quite often, as it was on the way to our grandparent’s home from our new home on Mt. Troy Road.
Jean and I were standing in the back seat of “old Betsy” as my dad affectionately called every car he owned. In 1950 there were no seatbelts and definitely no laws that the children had to be strapped into a harness. There was no traffic light at the intersection of East Ohio Street then, but the traffic had cleared enough for mom to turn into East Ohio Street. As the car started moving I tapped on my dad’s arm to get his attention. “Quiet” he said, “mom is driving”. “But daddy”, I said over and over, as I was persistent even then, “Jeannie is not here anymore”. My dad turned quickly in the passenger seat, ascertained that I was correct and yelled to mom, “Stop the car!”. Mom couldn’t remember where the brake pedal was and struggled to control the moving car. In the meantime, dad opened his door and jumped from the moving vehicle to rescue his youngest daughter from the oncoming traffic.
Jeannie had been playing with the locking mechanism while we were riding in the car and when she leaned on the door handle, the door flew open and out she went. Jeannie had fallen to the street and rolled a bit to the curb. Dad rescued Jeannie just in time and returned to the now stopped car. While I don’t remember the exact sequence of events after that, I believe that dad took over the driving while mom held her youngest child, silent and still as death, while we rushed to Allegheny General Hospital a few miles away. The result for Jean was a cracked skull, but fortunately there were no internal injuries. After several days of observation in the hospital, Jeannie returned home.
Thinking about this episode in my family’s life, I can’t help but believe that the incident led to Jean wanting to be a nurse and making that career her life long work.
Jean continued to get into trouble as she grew – that never changed, but she managed to survive childhood and went on to make a productive and valuable life for herself. During her working years as a nurse, Jean helped and cared for many patients and was successful in her chosen path. Though my sister Jeannie and I saw “eye to eye” on almost nothing and Jeannie refused to be “educated” by her older and no doubt smarter sister, I miss Jeannie. I regret that we never had the chance to make an adult relationship after mom and dad passed away.