My Little Unimportant Life

Fall in New Hampshire – watercolor F. McDonald

As a child, I thought I would be special – and I was. I had a good mind; I was able to learn. My body was healthy and strong. I had a good education and lots of opportunities to become whatever I wanted to be. I had a loving family – not only parents but extended family. I was taken care of with adequate medical care, good food, a warm place to live and sleep. In short, it was perfect.

I thought I would make a difference in the world, as most children dream. Whether it was in being a teacher, a scientist or an artist, I believed that I would succeed. That didn’t happen. So what got in the way and does it matter?

I married and had a daughter. I became a stay at home mom, volunteering in the community, occasionally substitute teaching, learning how to paint, displaying my paintings and now and then selling one or two. I pay the bills, manage some of the family finances, do the taxes. I learned how to write well, to program a computer, to build websites, to work with photoshop and indesign so that I could do online publishing. All good things, but they don’t count as success, not as the world sees success.

Mom and dad moved to San Angelo, and I helped care for them. I continued to communicate with my sisters, helping them when it became necessary. After mom and dad died, I handled their estate, portioning out money and possessions as they wanted. Then one sister died and then another, both unexpected. Then there were only two of us – the youngest and me, the oldest.

The youngest has always had health problems and has never been good at handling money. I became a care giver of sorts, a solution when she couldn’t pay her bills or needed visiting in hospital and nursing homes. After a few years the youngest sibling died.

How does what I have done with my life show success? It is not success as the world knows it or admires it. My life is little and unimportant in the world’s eyes. I will never be famous. No one outside my small circle of friends will ever repeat my name. No one will ever say to another, “I knew her when”.  When I die and am buried, only a few will care.

But I am at peace with all that. I believe that I have used my abilities to learn and to grow, though I might have learned more. I have taken care of my health, although I could have done better. I have loved those who were given to me to love, perhaps I could have loved them more. I have prayed for them, helped them financially and emotionally when I was asked to help. Though my “career” isn’t what I thought I might choose for myself when I was young, it has been useful to others. And I have come to believe it is what God chose for me. I don’t know why – somehow, perhaps I fit into His plan. Maybe someday I will know how and why.

Being little, being unimportant to the world is okay for me right now. In fact, it is more than okay. It is perfect. Thank You Heavenly Father for choosing the absolute best for me.

My Parents and the First Home I Remember

This has been the hardest surgery – prolapse – that I can remember. I am not sleeping well at night and waking up numerous times with pain and a need to use the bathroom. Added to this are the months preceding the surgery when I had constant stomach distress and lack of good sleep. There are times when I feel so weak that I don’t know whether I will ever recover. I started thinking this morning that this period of my life may be my an important part of “way of the Cross”. Whether it ends or somehow gets better, I do not know.

I had a sort of dream this morning. Whether I was awake or not, I do not know. Perhaps some of the time it was a dream, other times I was almost awake. I was dreaming of the house in Pittsburgh that my parents had built. We moved into the home in the summer of 1950, just before I was to go to my first year of school at St. Aloysius Catholic School on Mt. Troy Road.

First home in Pittsburgh

Mom and dad had bought the lot on which the house rested just after dad had returned from the Second World War. After the lot was paid off, they used the lot as collateral for the construction of a family home. The home was a two story red brick with the garage attached to the basement level, making the home three actual levels. I remember the house so well, although after mom and dad sold the home to move to Baltimore, Maryland, the new owners added on to the home over the existing garage. The photo shows the updated home. Previously the area over the garage was a large open porch.

Entering the front door from a small porch which was raised two or three steps from ground level, one entered the living room. This was the middle level of the home. There was a staircase to the upper level to the right which turned. In the corner of the turn was a coat closet. The living area was large and off to the left was a stone fireplace with mantel and two bookshelves – one on either side of the fireplace which dad built of knotty pine. They were three shelves high, only going about halfway up the wall. On one of the top shelves was a clock which my sisters and I all loved. It had a merry go round in the center of it which turned. I cannot remember how many books were on the shelves, but there were knick knacks on some of the shelves including a small statue of two small horses with their necks across each other. I still have that statue which dad had given to mom after he took a trip to Washington, DC for his work. The furnishings in the room were contemporary, I think, with a sofa in the corner directly across from the front door. There was a TV – black and white – across from the sofa against the wall.

The dining room made a kind of L-shape. I know there was a table with chairs in the room, though I don’t remember eating there. Mom and dad would entertain friends who came to play cards and games with them after we were in bed. Next to the dining room, just behind the living room, was the eat in kitchen. Dad had built a booth for all of us to sit at when we ate. The kitchen was not that large with just a refrigerator, gas stove, sink and some cabinets. A door led from the kitchen to the porch over the garage and from there to the back yard. Another door just next to the exterior door led to the basement and garage.

Going back to the living room and up the stairs, there was the family bathroom just a bit over from the top of the stairs. This consisted of a bathtub, toilet and sink. Next to the bathroom was a bedroom with two twin beds. Each bed was called a “hollywood bed”, as dad had built headboards for them.  They were constructed of wood covered with some kind of padding and vinyl. At the foot of each bed was a toy chest, also constructed by dad, each of a different color. There was a small walk in closet and I think, a chest of drawers. The floors upstairs were hardwood which dad and mom refinished every summer.

Next was my parents room, which I think was the same size as the childrens room. Mom and dad had large mahogany furniture – I wonder if someone gave it to them – consisting of a double bed, dresser (I think) and a chest of drawers, one part of which was for hanging clothes. It must have been old but in beautiful shape. I am guessing there was also a closet, but I don’t remember it. The windows in the home were casement windows which opened by rolling out from the house.

The third bedroom was much smaller than the other two. I know there was a crib in there, a small closet which accessed the attic. Since Christine was born several months after we moved to the home, that must have been her bedroom for a time. Later – about 6 years – when Jill was born, I remember Jill sleeping in the crib, which I still have. Where Christine slept, I cannot remember.

Going down to the basement dad had “finished it”. There was asbestos tile on the floor – popular at the time with knotty pine paneling. There was for a time an old player piano – I took lessons when I was about 7 or 8 for a year – after that the piano was discarded. Near the back end of the basement was a cement wash tub and washing machine. There was no dryer. Mom hung clothes on lines stretched across the basement when the weather was cold or wet or outside when the weather permitted. Dad also had a small work area, probably under the staircase, though I cannot picture it. Off of the basement, at the bottom of the stairs, was the door to the garage. There was also a “cold cellar”, a closet under the front porch where food was stored.

The back yard had a huge patio which dad had built by mixing cement on the garage floor and wheelbarrowing it up the side of the driveway wall over planks which allowed him to push the wheelbarrow. There were about 36 3 foot by 3 foot concrete pads which formed the patio. In addition dad built an outdoor grill/fireplace to cook outdoors. The upper part of the yard, reached by a couple of stone steps was a large garden and a swing set which dad built out of pipe. It was possible to swing very high on this as the structure was huge. My sisters and I loved to swing as high as we could and launch ourselves into the air, flying to the ground.

We had neighbors on each side of us and a huge field behind our yard which led to the “little woods” where we were allowed to play and the “big woods” which were forbidden to us. Of course, we often explored the “big woods”. There was a small grove of trees there in which I loved to sit, surrounded by the trees and sweet smelling violets.

Bertha and Frank Henry – 1942

As I thought about the home and all that mom and dad did, I was amazed at their energy and determination. That energy continued throughout their long lives, though they could not do as much as the years passed. But given that dad was working a “swing shift”, making $50 a week at KDKA, taking care of a wife and family, I wonder how he was able to do so much. And of course, mom, who cooked and cleaned and washed the family clothes and looked after all of us – how did she have the energy?

I stand in awe of the people who were my parents. And I miss them so much. I know I was not the perfect daughter. So many times I did things which I knew were wrong, things which would have saddened them had they known. I am sorry for disappointing them, for not being the person they knew I could be.

A Hard Couple of Weeks

Yesterday I went to confession. I was struggling so that I hoped seeing the priest would help. And it did. Everything seemed to be backing up on me – too much to do, too many requests for my attention. At one point I even asked God “did He expect me to do this too?” I felt really awful about that statement. I pray that God will use me for His purposes. I offer myself to Him at Mass and Communion. And then, I balk.

Father Angelo told me that it was okay. Sometimes we are asked to do more than we can or should do. Rest, Father said.

And then on the 14th was the 3rd anniversary of Christine’s passing. I pray for her each day. Her picture is one of the last things I see at night. I miss her terribly – and Jeannie too. While Jill is still here – for which I am grateful – she only calls when she needs something. That isn’t much of a relationship especially after I have tried to do so much. I am not trying to be a victim here. I just know what I have done for her – willingly – and it would be nice if she called or even returned my calls just because she wants to know how I am doing.

Life has been difficult these last few years. There are times that I want to “go home to the Lord”. I know that is ungrateful of me, that God has given me life and good health – unlike my sisters. But I am getting old and I am tired and to be honest, lonely for my birth family. I want to see and speak with them again, remember the old times we all enjoyed together – laugh at the old stories. Will that ever be?

One thing that has helped me is to make a “memorial wall arrangement” of my family’s photos along with small watercolors which I had painted to remember my sisters. Each little painting represents some event or experience which I had with them. The wall is the first thing I see when I get up and the last thing I see when I turn out the light. It is as though they are all still with me.

Memorial wall arrangement 2020

Maybe I Understand the Why of Things

For all the years – 10 of them – since dad died, I have wondered why. Why did this woman hurt my father? Why did we not see what she was doing until it was too late? Why did those who knew refuse to speak out?

This morning I was reading in a book by Ft Oscar Lukefahr, C.M. entitled “Catholic Guide to the Bible”. In the book Father Lukefahr gives some explanation of various areas in the Bible starting with Genesis. I have been reading along with him what he suggests in each book of the Bible. This morning the reading was from Genesis Chapter 45 verses 1 -28. This is the story of Joseph, who has been sold into slavery by his brothers, approaching his brothers and revealing that it is he, their brother, who is now a ruler in Egypt. The story of Joseph is a long one from the many colored coat given to him by his father Jacob to his being sold into slavery and finally being put in charge of the country’s food supplies because he had revealed to the Pharaoh the meaning of a recurring dream.

In verse 5 Joseph says, “And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.” When I read those words I began to cry. I finally had the answers to the questions that have plagued me for the last ten years. And I have words from God that tell me not to be distressed or angry with myself. God sent our dad ahead of us to preserve our lives for eternal life  with Him.

Jeannie age 5

Jeannie had been faithful to the Church – as far as I know. But her faith grew stronger, as dad and mom grew ill and died and as she continued to suffer back problems. A year after dad died – I don’t remember exactly, I returned to the Church and struggled to feel comfortable at St. Helen’s until I started Scripture study. Since then my faith and devotion to the Lord has grown.

Jeannie passed away in 2010, two years after mom. She and I eventually made peace with one another before she died. I am hoping that she had her rosary in her hands that night, as she believed that Mary would come for her if she died holding her rosary.

Christine died in 2014 after having received an anointing and forgiveness from a priest who was chaplain at the hospital where she was having surgery. I believe that she is with mom, dad, Jeannie and the rest of our family.


Jill became ill this year, and I arranged for an anointing for her. She has recovered somewhat from what was making her ill, though she had a long way to go and will never fully recover. I am now bringing her the Eucharist every other week.

In 2019 Jill passed from this life. I pray that all my family is together once again.

Larry has returned to the Church – fully – not just coming to Mass with me. Erin has been reconciled with the Church, though not fully, so I still pray that God will touch her heart. She has allowed us to put Shamma in Catholic school where he will receive training in the faith.

A friend of mine, who had taken Bible study with us this past year, is now attending the mini RCIA class with me. If she feels comfortable enough with what she learns, she will become Catholic next month.

I thank and praise God for His goodness to all of us. And I thank Him for giving me the answer to my questions this morning. God allowed what happened to my dad, because he had a plan to save our family and perhaps more than just my little family. God did not plan what happened or excuse what happened, but He used what happened to save more than just my dad. Dad has truly gone ahead of us to save us all. The dream I had after dad died that was so puzzling. I dreamed that there was a treasure hidden behind the heat and fire of those horrendous experiences is true, perhaps more true than I can know.

Ms Bertie

ms bertieThe Christmas after dad died, I bought a small stuffed bear for mom. She loved toys. My sisters and I recognized that since mom had no toys of her own as a child – at least none that we knew about, mom would love to have some now. The little bear I bought was dressed in a red dress, sweater and bonnet. When I brought the bear to mom, a caregiver had already bought her one. The caregiver’s gift bear was dressed in  blue overalls, much as a small  boy would wear. When Christine saw the bears, which the caregiver and I had set together on a table top, she named them  Frankie and Bertie.  Christine then held the two bears together and pretended that they were kissing each other. Mom was not happy. She said that she didn’t want anyone kissing Frankie.Christine's ms bertie

Three years later when mom died, we placed Frankie bear in the casket with mom along with dad’s service flag, a rosary and a cross on a chain. We also placed the love letters which mom and dad had shared so many years ago under her feet. Christine had suggested that the letters go with mom, as both mom and dad were very protective of those letters. We never read them, except for two, which we had given mom after dad died, so that she could remember the love which they once had shared.

I took the original Ms Bertie home with me.  Ms Bertie rides around in my car with me, a daily reminder of the lovely lady who had been such a big part of my life. I decided one day to try to paint a picture of the bear. I painted three different paintings, but there was only one that I liked. I framed that one and gave it to Christine, who was still struggling with the loss of both mom and dad.

When Christine passed away, I wanted the painting of Ms Bertie that I had given to Christine.  I decided that Keith needed to have Christine’s things around him, so I never asked for it. Instead I painted another one. This week I put a frame on the new Ms Bertie and hung it above my desk. The original painting has a much cuter expression on its face, almost as though mom is saying: “kiss my grits!” as she often did when she was angry. The newer painting has a wide-eyed expression on its face. I was thinking this morning that it, too, was like my mom. Mom had a genuine love for life, a willingness to experience new things. Mom thought of her life as a joy. So the new painting as well as the old is an expression of the sweet lady who had given so much to my sisters and me.

Thank you, mom! I new Ms Bertielove you with all my heart! Please don’t forget me.”



Grieving tonight

griefI can’t get past what the priest said at Christine’s funeral about the silversmith and how God looks to see Himself in our souls and when He does, then He takes us home. I tell myself that it was a heart warming story for a funeral, that life is more complicated than that. But I can’t help feeling that I have missed the mark somehow. I am five years older than Christine; two and a half years older than Jean. If there is something about us that leads to an early death, why am I still here? Our parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents – except for a few – lived into their eighties. Why did Jean and Christine die so young? If God saw His reflection in their souls, what does He see in mine? How cloudy is my soul, how unpleasant must it be?
I know there are no answers to my questions, and that my questions are just grief talking, that in time the grief will pass. I have a difficult time praying right now. I still read the Magnificat in the mornings and evenings, but saying the rosary seems empty. Fr. Tim thought it might be time to try something else, but I am not sure what. I feel like a ship whose moorings have come loose in a storm. I am still afloat, not taking on water but just drifting in one direction and then another. I go to Mass and Adoration and leave feeling better for a time. But in the evenings, when it is time for bed, a time when Christine and I would talk, I grow weepy because she is not here. I would not have guessed growing up how connected my sisters and I would become. That losing them would be like losing a part of myself. And I wonder what is left of my life. And I understand that a person might wonder if God wants them at all.
What is it that God wants of me? What task does He have for me that I am still here? My husband and daughter are grateful that I am still living. They want me to stay for a very long time, especially Erin who thinks that I need to impart my values on Shamma as her grandparents did for her. While I am grateful for their love and concern, there are times when I would rather be with my sisters. Perhaps that sounds heartless or unloving toward my little family, but in the depths of grief I only want the pain to stop.

My Sister Christine Louise Margaret Henry

francienechristinejean1957fireplacesanduskyst copy

Christine was born on December 10, 1950 and died on June 20, 2014. I miss her. She had become my best friend. I hope I remembered her Confirmation name correctly. She had told me just a few weeks ago, but I can’t remember what she said. She did say that it was a name from Mary Lubinski, a childhood friend of hers.

Although I was five years old at the time, I don’t remember Christine coming home from the hospital. I guess I was too involved in being five. I don’t remember playing much with her either. I played with Jean but I guess Christine was just a baby to me. Like Jean I will just list the childhood memories I have of Christine and elaborate on any that I can remember more of. (The photo to the left is of me, Christine and Jean in front of the fireplace in grandma’s house on Sandusky Street.)

How is it that the memories we make of people we love so much are so small and so infrequent until we grow older and start consciously trying to remember? Those early days when we were forming our personalities were so important, and yet I can barely remember them. People came into and out of my life, important loving people, and I never noticed because I was so involved with just being me and trying to grow up.

  • My first memory of Christine is of her hair catching fire when she got too close to the gas stove in Pittsburgh. Mom grabbed her and put her head under the sink to put out the fire. I don’t think Christine even realized what had happened. I don’t believe we ever had a gas stove after that.
  • Mom used to hang clothes in the basement during the winter time. Once Christine climbed on a chair to help mom take down the clothes, fell and broke her collar bone.
  • When I was in the sixth grade – I think it was then – the nun who taught my class announced after recess that a little first grader hadchris- kissed a boy during recess. As Sister looked at me, I just knew it was Christine
  • Both Jean and Christine had gotten sick to the stomach one day at school. When Christine got sick, Jean was asked to clean it up. It made her sick, and so I had to clean up the mess as well as my own mess when the smell overpowered me as well. (The photo to the right is of Christine at St. Bernadine’s Catholic School in Baltimore Maryland.)
  • As children Jean and Christine played together. I usually played with Denise Garrison.
  • As they got a little older, probably by the time we moved to Baltimore, Christine and Jeannie were not getting along well. Christine could be haughty, and Jeannie was needy and emotional. Sometimes dad would make the two of them share a room, hoping they would learn to get along. It didn’t work.
  • Christine loved to ride the riding mower. She had lawnmower races with the girl next door – Laura McCarthy.
  • Christine’s first job at the age of 14 was at Enchanted Forest. She dressed up in a long dress as Snow White. Christine was paid 50 cents and hour. That job didn’t last too long, as the little kids kept pulling at her skirt. So Christine got a job slinging hamburgers in the “food court” when she was old enough. Later when she was 16 she got a job at “Lerners Dress shop” They were still in business the last time I was at the mall. Christine loved clothes and seldom brought any money home from her pay check.
  • chris and jean, patio in pittsburghOne day dad asked Christine to show him her bank account. He was preparing to teach her how to do her taxes, and he thought that was the best way to start. She still had the $5 in the account which he started it with – I can’t remember if there was anymore than that. He was shocked and wanted to know what she spent her money on, as she had her W2. Christine got out a list of multiple skirts, sweaters, stockings and other things she had bought. She knew where every penny went. (The photo to the left is of me, Jeannie and Christine on the patio that dad built on Mt. Troy Road.)
  • We had a car that dad let all of us drive – a 1960 Comet. Dad always took down the mileage after we drove it, and we had to pay him so much per mile. As Christine knew how to change the odometer, she often didn’t pay for the amount of miles she drove.
  • One day Christine and I decided to do something “cool”. We went up to the Safeway shopping center, stood on the sidewalk and smoked a cigar. Naturally people who passed us were shocked.
  • Her first boyfriend was Steve Simmons whom she married and had a child, David. Steve turned out to be an alcoholic and abusive. She divorced him within 2 years of being married.
  • For quite a few years Christine raised David, her son, on her own. Even though her former husband was supposed to pay child christine about 5 years copysupport, he never did. There were times when she was working three jobs to support her son and herself. Often she cleaned apartments at night after her regular job . She would take David and a play pen, so that he could play while she cleaned. (The photo to the right is of Christine in the pretty pink silky dress that mom made for each one of us. I loved that dress.)
  • I think it was Christine who thought up the nickname for the 1960 Comet that we all drove. She called it “the vomit”. We would say that it had two speeds, slow and stop.
  • When Jill moved out of mom and dad’s home, Christine allowed Jill to live with her. Jill went around telling untrue stories about Christine,  damaging Chris’ reputation at her job and with the man she was dating. Chris told Jill to leave and find her own apartment.

The list of Christine’s funny sayings – I often called them “West Texas sayings because I never heard them before Keith and Chris moved to San Angelo:

  • Don’t pee on my leg and tell me its raining.
  • Rode hard and put up wet.
  • Don’t want any puppies from that litter.
  • That dog don’t hunt.
  • It’s not my first rodeo.
  • Don’t have a dog in that fight.
  • Time to pee in the fire and call in the dogs.
  • She’s rougher than a backside of a shooting gallery.

There were a couple of others, but the language was even rougher and I don’t want to write them here.

As they grew older Christine and Jeannie didn’t get along. Jean had a habit of borrowing things but never asking if she could. Once she borrowed Christine’s stockings. Chris found out and demanded them back from Jeannie. Jeannie took the stockings and ran downstairs and locked herself in the laundry room. She laughed as Christine banged on the door. So Christine went to dad’s tool bench, got a screwdriver and popped off the hinges on the door. Then she lifted the door from the hinges. There was a look of shock on Jeannie’s face.

Christine had smoked from a very young age – Christine started in high school, but she would not have smoked at home, as my parents would not have permitted it. I remember when Chris was about 50 or maybe a little older, her husband had surgery on his nose. After that Christine stopped smoking to help him heal. After she broke her hip, almost a couple of years ago, Chris complained that she wasn’t able to get her strength back. She would exercise, but her legs seemed so wobbly and weak to her. I wonder if even then she was struggling with arterial blockage, as the doctor said that the blockage took a long time to form. I am sure Chris complained to her doctor, but I don’t recall them ever telling her anything useful about it. Even I counseled her that it takes time to recover your strength after her ordeal with her hip. I never thought that Christine might have heart issues, as her cholesterol and other blood tests always came back within desired limits.

Keith gave me the results of the autopsy. There was no blood clot. The final cause of Christine’s death was “ischemic heart disease with acute adrenal hemorrhage.” I asked my cardiologist about the diagnosis. He said the adrenal gland was the size of a lima bean, so he questioned that, although he said that the adrenals might have given off some hormone that shut down the heart. When I told him that she died when the balloon pump was removed, he said that that told him that the heart was damaged too much to recover on its own. While that scenario didn’t satisfy Keith, who must be aware of more than he is telling me, that did give me some comfort. Christine’s heart had been damaged in the heart attack too much to function on its own. I am grateful that the doctor was willing to speak with me. He even offered to look at Christine’s hospital records.

I sure do miss her. In all of my life, I have never known anyone so strong and yet so full of the joy of life and love. She was a kind person and even loved those who had hurt her.

There are other stories about the work and even fun we had together while we were helping mom and dad. Those later years  were the very best years, when as adults we came to know and love one another for the persons we had become. To be united to someone in a joint task of love  is the most valuable experience of all. Though I was older than Christine, I had no trouble with following her lead. She was full of common sense and the knowledge gained in many years in the workforce. Christine was near to mom and dad since she lived next door to them,  and she did more for them than anyone will ever realize – things that I saw and remembered that few would think to do. Christine’s  love and her dedication to our parents during mom and dad’s last years proved to me, more than any words that anyone could express, the greatness and the goodness that was in my sister. I thank God daily that He gave Christine to me as my sister and my very best friend.

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.



St. Aloysius Catholic School

For almost eight years I attended St. Aloysius Catholic School until we moved to Baltimore Maryland in the middle of the eighth grade. The next half year my sisters and I would attend St. Bernadine’s Catholic School while mom and dad rented a “row house” in Baltimore, Maryland until they found the home in Ellicott City, a suburban area of Baltimore,  to purchase. A photo of hit omes similar to the row house which mom and dad rented in Baltimore is to the right. Homes like this had been built in the early 1900’s and had one bathroom and several bedrooms. It wasn’t a good neighborhood but it was close to the school and a major highway. The home had been rented for a time, as there were numerous paint colors behind the refrigerator in the kitchen. There was a small fenced yard in the back and an alley behind. Rag men would drive their carts and horses through the alley. Dad had been working for KDKA television as a technician androw house similar to one we lived in camera man. He applied for and was hired for a job as an Engineer at the Westinghouse plant in Baltimore, Maryland. He would be able to attend Johns Hopkins University near Baltimore to earn his Electrical Engineering Degree. The school work would take seven years. Dad would graduate Summa Cum Laude from the McCoy College of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. While working at KDKA dad was not able to attend school because his position required him to work some night shifts. Dad had applied for a managerial position at KDKA, but was told that the position would require him to attend conferences and events where drinking was required – that seems strange to me. Dad seldom drank alcohol and refused to do so just to obtain the position.

st aloysius church, school and conventWhat was it like at St. Aloysius Catholic School? Until that final year classes had been held in a large building that housed the Church, convent and school. It was an old structure, one that we students often thought of as a “fire trap”. Whether it was or not, I don’t have any knowledge. The Church part of the structure had high ceilings and a magnificent wooden Gothic altar piece which contained niches for statues of saints. There was an altar rail at which we knelt and received Communion. Girls were not allowed to be altar servers. There were no lay lectors.  I don’t remember any lay deacons either. I have often wondered what happened to that Altar piece  and Communion rail, as the new building was a multi-pupose building where we attended Mass in a multipurpose room that reminded me of a gymnasium. The new building had classrooms above the multi-purpose room. During the years I attended the school and church, Fr. Young was the pastor and the Sisters of Notre Dame were the teachers. There was a large two story brick home next to the church/school building for a rectory and home for the priest. The sisters wore traditional habits during my years there. It was not until the 1960’s that Vatican II allowed changes to both the Church services and the habits of the sisters. The photo above left is the new school and church building built in 1957. The rectory can be seen to the right of it ,while the convent is to the left.

Parish History

“St. Aloysius was established in 1892.  Before the organization of the parish, local Catholics had to travel to Most Holy Name parish on Troy Hill to attend Mass, or, for the children, to attend school.  Because of the difficulties in traveling to Troy Hill, particularly in winter, local Catholics decided that they needed a church of their own.  On November 26, 1891, the first organizational meeting for a new parish was held.  In 1892, a petition was sent to the bishop asking for permission to form a new parish.  On April 12, 1892, the bishop visited the area, inspected the site chosen for the church and gave his permission to build the church.

Plans were made to construct a building that would hold not only the church, but also a school and a residence for a priest.  The cornerstone for the new church was laid on July 10, 1892 and the completed building was dedicated on Januaryaltar piece similar to St. Aloysisu 8, 1893.  At first the parish was a mission of Most Holy Name but a resident pastor was assigned in June of 1893.

In 1905, a new rectory was built.  The space in the building that had been used as the rectory was converted into a convent.  By 1919, the church building was in need of extensive repairs.  The existing steeple was replaced and the facade of the building was remodeled.  In 1921, the interior of the church was also redecorated.  The church was again renovated in 1947.

By the 1950’s, the parish had expanded to the point that it needed a new church and school.  On May 5, 1957, ground was broken for a new church and school building.  The cornerstone was laid on July 10, 1957, and the completed building was dedicated on October 4, 1958.  During this time, the old church/school building was demolished.”

In 1980, the interior of the church was renovated and new stained glass windows installed.

The photo above right is similar to the Altar piece of the old Church building, although the one at St. Aloysius was painted white, and I remember  it was taller with more niches.franciene's first communion2

Photo of me in Communion clothes with grandma and grandpa to the left. The year would have been 1952 as grandpa died in December of 1954. In one of dad’s photographs I saw a photo of me with Denise Garrison at the Crowning of Mary, the May Queen. I can’t find the photo right now.

Jean and Christine attended St. Aloysius also. I remember a couple of incidents during my years there.

  • In the fifth or sixth grade I was asked to clean up after both my sisters who had thrown up at school. I threw up as well and had to clean up my mess too.
  • During the fifth or sixth grade I was asked to used the push broom to sweep the classroom. I had been waiting to do this, as our sister rotated the job around the students. It looked like fun. I had never used one before and as I was trying, Sister stopped me, as she stated that she couldn’t believe that I didn’t know how to use one. I think she gave the broom to someone else.
  • In the first grade we had to stay after school if we didn’t complete our numbers. We were using paper numbers and setting them on our desk. When I completed mine, I think that I knocked someone else’s off her desk as I put my coat on. I had to do it all over again.
  • There were only 12 students in my classes during all my years there. The other classes had more children. As I was born just after the end of World War  II that must have been the reason for the small class.
  • In the fifth or sixth grade our teacher looked directly at me as she related that some little girl had kissed a boy on the play ground at recess. I knew that it had to be Christine. We were not allowed to play with the opposite sex at recess.
  • During the seventh grade I went to the Daily Mass as I liked to sing with the choir. Sr. Geraldine, the principal, was also the organist. At one point she asked me to stand behind everyone as my voice was disturbing her. It was then that I realized that I am not able to sing on key or in tune with others. Well, so be it. God gave me this voice, so He must like it when I sing.

I wrote to St. Aloysius Parish to see if there are photos of the old Church available. I have not heard back from them yet and may never – but I hope they will respond. It has been nearly two months and they have not responded. Too bad. It might have been nice to re-connect with the place of my childhood.


Childhood Memories

What I thought I would write here are the small points of time, my memories, in my childhood, as I reflect on my life lived with my parents and sisters. Since Jean and Christine are no longer here to remember these times with me, I want to set them down so that I never forget them, for they are a part of who I am.

allegheny general hospital

Allegheny General Hospital is to the left. It is the tall yellow brick building not far from my grandma’s home. That is where my sisters and I were born.

What is my very first memory – not the little events that have been remembered for me, but those I remember on my own? I remember nothing of the time we lived in an apartment on Porterfield street. Mom told me how I had locked her out on the porch while she was washing windows. She knocked on the windows, trying to wake my dad who was working night-turn, but was unable to. A neighbor saw her calling to him, but he was deaf and couldn’t understand her cries for help. I don’t remember that, but my mom did.

mttroyrdgroup copy

My first memory is of visiting Mt. Troy Road – the house mom and dad were having built there. I was 5 years old when we moved – the move must have taken place before school started in the fall. During the visit to the construction site, I met Denise Garrison, a girl who lived two doors down from our new home. It was summer – the year was 1951. I was invited to come swimming with the neighborhood kids at a pool that Denise’s dad had built for her out of cement blocks, but mom and dad wouldn’t let me. Jean would have been three years old and still a toddler. Christine was only a few months old. I would start school at St. Aloysius in the fall – although this I am not sure of, as I wouldn’t be six until November. I remember nothing else of the visit, except that I wanted to go swimming. The photo on the right shows “the group of children” from Mt. Troy Road by the swing set that dad built. In the front from the left is Christine, then Jeannie in her cowgirl outfit, then Tommy Hildebrand standing and Lorraine McGinnis. The back row was me, Denise Garrison, Kay Wurdack, Barbara Pugh and another McGinnis daughter. Denise and I had received the same summer dress for our First Communion that May.

I have vivid memories of the house that dad and mom designed and built. It was a simple yet strong house –  a house that was full of love – it had two stories with a basement and garage below the home. Mom and dad, I had been told, had bought the lot after dad returned from World War II . After mom and dad had paid  off the lot, they had used the lot as down payment for the mortgage on the home. The house was red brick and looked like the kind of house all kids draw for themselves. All the bedrooms were upstairs – 3 of them – a master bedroom, a room that Jean and I shared (it had a closet, two twin beds with red vinyl headboards that dad had made and a toy chest for each of us that dad had made, which were covered with some kind of vinyl fabric – one was red and one was blue) and a small third bedroom and also one bath with a sink with metal legs, a toilet and a bathtub, no shower. The last bedroom I only remember as Jill’s room, after she was born. Obviously Christine must have been there at first, but I don’t remember that. On the first floor was a living room which you entered from the front door – no vestibule or front entry space. The dining room was right next to it and formed a kind of ” l-shape”. Through a door from the dining room and right behind the living room was the kitchen with access to the basement. There was a door from the kitchen to a patio which was over the garage – mom used to lie there to get a tan and my sisters and I played there sometimes. The stairs to the top floor were to the right off the main entry in the living room, but you couldn’t see them  as you entered the front door. There was a little closet at the foot of the stairs for coats that was also hidden from the front door. (I remember dad had his Lucky Strike cigarettes on the top shelf of that closet – one day he took them down and gave them away when he decided to quit smoking because a man whom he worked with had a heart attack and died. The man was a smoker.)  Upstairs, in the room, I remember for Jill there was a strange shaped closet which had access to the attic and a sloped floor. I remember that it was a neat place to hide. And I remember the pretty pink dresses mom had sewed for us being in that closet. The picture on the left, above, shows the home as it was changed by the new owners after we had left Pittsburgh. The new owners added more rooms on the right over the garage. I don’t remember the little covered porch over the front door, but it may have been there.


The yard was big to me. The front had a flat area where dad planted the Christmas trees he bought each year and then a steep slope to the street. The house was built on the highest point of Mt. Troy Road and looked over the valley beyond across the street from the front door. A farm with a house was directly across from it and the public bus stopped just in front of their home – the girl who lived there, last name Hollenbeck, died as a teenager from ptomaine poisoning at a picnic one summer. The back yard was large too, with an area for a patio and outdoor fireplace which dad built, and beyond it, a play space and a garden. Behind our yard was a large field with trees and the bottom of the hill behind the field was what we called “the little woods”. If you walked even further in that direction, you came to the “big woods.” We weren’t allowed to go there, but we did. The big field was owned by the Mentzer’s and they had a pony, although the pony was kept closed in a paddock and a small fenced area. My sisters and I used the field and the woods for imaginary adventures. At the bottom of the field, directly behind the Garrison’s house was an old apple tree that was partially fallen over. The apples were always full of worms and rotten. The photo to the right above is Christine sitting in the wash pan, Jean on a tricycle and me trying to do tricks on my larger tricycle – this was taken on the large porch over the garage. Dad would have taken the photo. I must have been about 9 or 10 years old, with Jean 2.5 years younger than me, and Christine 5 years younger than me.

When any of us would spend the night at grandma’s with aunt Rose, she would make Ovaltine and milk for us, as she did for herself. For some reason, perhaps someone had told her, Aunt Rose thought the Ovaltine would help her sleep. Aunt Rose had always had trouble sleeping, something that plagued her even into her later years.

Once in the 5th grade I was asked to sweep the classroom with the broom. I didn’t know how to use a push broom and Sister got angry with me and took it away.

I often played with Denise Garrison when she wasn’t playing with the daughter of her mom’s best friend. Sometimes we would play Hank and Frank detectives. I don’t remember whether I was Hank or Frank. My sisters and I would play cowboys and Indians in the large field behind our home in Pittsburgh. There were trees to climb, lots of room to run and the woods had plenty of materials to make bows and arrows.

Dad would bring home movies in the summer time and show them on the patio he had built in the back yard. Neighbors came over to watch. It was there that we first saw “Undersea Wedding” and after that we always asked for it. After dad died, Christine found a man who had a copy of the movie. I wrote to him and he sent us copies.

We were the first family in the neighborhood or among any of our friends and relatives to have a color TV. Dad was working for Westinghouse in Pittsburgh. The company had 40 of their large color TV’s available and offered them to their employees for $200 although the original price was $1000. The employees put their name in a hat and a drawing was made. Dad’s name was chosen. Often neighbors came over to watch Dinah Shore show to see it in color.

We spent many Christmas eve’s at grandma’s house – or sometimes at Aunt Mary’s when she had the larger home. Grandma would make huge pots of sauce and dough and would make pizzas on Christmas eve. The house always smelled so wonderful with the cooking pizza. Aunt Rose would dress up in a Santa suit that grandma had made years before and late in the evening come into the house to give our gifts to the smaller children. Aunt Rose always put up a large tree – the ceilings in grandma’s home were 12 ft. She had a wonderful Nativity set. All the little lambs and camels had fur on them. The tree was absolutely magical – it was so beautifully decorated. Years later, after grandma had died and Aunt Rose didn’t want to put up a tree, I made her one out of cloth. Every Christmas she would take the tree I made and put it on her TV in front of the window on Sandusky Street. Aunt Rose gave her original Nativity to Janice.

Mom often made our dresses and was quite an expert at sewing. I think grandma might have taught her at least some of her skills. Once she made all three of us – Christine, Jean and me –  pretty pink silky dresses. The skirts were made in layers. In my mind’s eye I can still see those dresses. As we grew older mom continued to sew for us. She made me a lovely dark blue skirt and blouse when I was going to college. I loved the way the skirt fit and flowed when I walked. She also made the bridesmaid dresses for my wedding and a beautiful purple velvet dress for the Valentine’s dance before I got married. I still have the dress. Mom also made Erin lots of pretty things, especially a Christening dress and a First Communion dress. I still have the Christening dress. I had kept it for Erin’s child, but since she had no children except a child she adopted, the dress has been unused. Maybe someday Shamma will get married and the christening dress will be used again. I hope so.

One winter when mom and dad bought a new refrigerator – a GE two door – dad used the cartoon to build us a playhouse in one corner of the basement. Eventually, dad would finish the basement with knotty pine siding and tile floors. The laundry area was in the basement, as well as a work area for dad, though I cannot remember exactly where that was. I just know he always had a work room with a bench. Mom would hang laundry in the basement during the winters and outdoors in the warm days. She did not have a dryer when I was young.