© Copyright 2021 by Maryann Donovan
Chapter 1 Pandora’s Box
Today was the day to tackle cleaning out my mother’s room. Much of it had been just as it was three years ago when I had to put her into assisted living. It had been several weeks since she died at the nursing home with me at her side. I have avoided going through her personal belongings and clothes, for that would be forcing myself to face the fact that she was really gone. When I opened her closet door, I grabbed a stack of sweaters off the top shelf. The blue Joseph Horne’s shirt box had been hidden there since we relocated to South Carolina in 2008. Yellowed scotch tape held three of the corners together. As I pulled it down and laid it on the bed, I could still smell the mustiness, mixed with the distinct aroma of the cedar chest which had kept it safe for years. I felt strong enough now to hold back the tears until I had gone through her coveted collection of jewelry. Most of her costume jewelry had been given away to family members or sold at the estate sale. These special pieces that made it into the worn blue box were her “good jewelry”. Mom always told me, “These will be yours after I’m dead and gone. Then you can do whatever you want with them.” I had been thinking of having the diamonds that she had acquired reset into a ring for myself. After all her marriages, not one, not two, but three, there was plenty of stones to work with. Over the years, Mom and I would go through the jewelry and the other treasures in the cedar chest. It was a coming of age for me while I listened to her stories of boyfriends, lost loves and memories of my dad. She would go back in time and each ring or necklace told a story of joy or heart ache. I rarely got a glimpse of her softer, vulnerable side. It was a bittersweet time, then and now. Every time we opened the cedar chest the memories flooded in and washed over us. She had lost her husband and I had lost my dad. The carefully folded flag with 48 stars laid on the chests top shelf with military medals honoring my dad. His leather wallet, a Bulova watch and a harmonica were resting beside the flag. The OD green army blanket, which had acquired a few moth holes before it was sentenced to the cedar chest, was covering the bottom layers of treasures. Perhaps my mother fooled herself that this would preserve her memories of my dad and others. Under the wool blanket many important documents and other secrets were kept here. My dad’s Army Air Corp photo, with his name “Kazmere Ki Kaczorek” embossed at the bottom was my treasure. He was a handsome man that I had only known through stories and photos. He died from colon cancer when he was almost 40 years old. I was 1 ½ years old and my brother Gary was 3 ½. We were both adopted from a German orphanage while my dad was stationed in Frankfurt. Blood didn’t make us brother and sister, adoption did. I always knew I was adopted as far back as I could remember. By the time I started school I was faced with many impossible questions that needed answered. When I was faced with filling out the forms required, I felt a knot in my stomach and my little hands would begin to sweat. This was a lot to process and understand for a very shy child.
Your full name? “Maryann Kaczorek”
“ Capital M, small a, no e, K-a-c-z-o-r-e-k” try learning to spell that as a 5 year old!
Middle name? What, I had no middle name!
Mother and Father’s names? My father was dead. Everyone else had two parents.
Where were you born? Frankfurt, Germany.
These answers always made me feel like an outcast, how would I ever fit in. I hoped I wouldn’t have to explain I was adopted. I came to realize these challenges of my early life made me who I am today, a strong and independent woman.
As the memories from the box of jewelry warmed my heart like the sun coming in through the window, I kept sorting through the gems and trinkets, letting my mom’s stories resurface and fill the void I had since she passed. As if I had never seen it, a gold band caught my eye, I couldn’t place it from any of the visits to the box, or remember the tale it held, it was just lying there in front of me. Where did this ring come from, my Grandmother? An aunt maybe? Had it been hiding from me all those years, or was it a ring my mother never revealed the story it held? Picking it up and looking closer, there was an inscription inside of it. How could I not have known about this one? Hurriedly, I laid out Ki’s band and engagement ring, the marquis from Bill, and the set from Jack. I grabbed my mom’s magnifying glass from her drawer and read the inscription clearly
to Freida 1 -29- 60” … No, wait…this can’t
be right. The knot was forming in my stomach as I flew off the bed
straight to the file drawer. My hands were trembling, my legs were
weak. I pulled out the folder of my father’s military records.
I knew I was right! My dad had died on February 7th,
1960. My heart was pounding as I raced to the screen porch to show my
husband what I found. “Dennis, you won’t believe this. I
think my mother might have married the priest, Father Paul! Remember
I told you he was more to my mom than just a friend. And if they were
together, or who knows, it was while my Dad was dying in the hospital
in Ft. Bragg! Who does this?”
Chapter 2 “Poor Freida” or “Happily Ever After ?”
“Freida Rose, do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?”
“I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride.”
April 22, 1944 Freida Rose and Kazmere “Ki” Kaczorek ran away from Western Pennsylvania across state lines to Ohio and got married. They were forced to sneak off to another state, since it wasn’t proper in her family for a Protestant girl to marry a Catholic boy. My Grandma Rose would not have approved. My Grandfather surely would have accepted this union. Grandpa liked Ki, of course Grandpa liked most people. Ki was a man’s man, handsome, went hunting, drank beer and joined the Army Air Corp. Ki had dreams of becoming a pilot. Freida only had dreams of being his wife and having children. A few years after they married, Freida became pregnant. When she was further along, they were told she would be having twins. She had twin brothers, so this wasn’t a big surprise. What happened next was far worse than anybody could have expected. While doing her household chores: cleaning, cooking, laundry, and as she prepared to iron, she lifted the weighty mangle to the tabletop. She knew immediately what a terrible mistake she had made. Her neighbor rushed her to the hospital while she cradled her stomach and wept. This overexertion caused her to go into early labor. At only seven months, her twin girls were not far enough along to have fully developed their lungs. Given the medical abilities at that time, the tiny baby girls only lived for 12 hours. “Poor Freida”. Her dreams were shattered that fast. She had to stay in the hospital longer than with a normal delivery, and the funeral for Joyce and Janice would have to go on without her. The black and white photo with the white deckle edges of two tiny girls facing each other inside the casket was all she was ever going to have of the babies she had dreamed of and lost. Cameras were intended for people to capture a moment of pleasure, joy, a travel memory and yet this one photo would capture a moment of her lasting sorrow. This photo was one of the pieces of the past that my mother kept tucked under Ki’s army blanket in her cedar chest. Thank goodness, I thought when I was young, I was glad she kept the creepy picture out of sight, it could just as easily have been framed and been sitting on the mantle. Every time I saw it, I heard “Poor Freida”, a phrase I would hear repeated as I grew up. I understand why she couldn’t be at their funeral and needed some closure, but our family seemed to have way too many photos of other dead relatives stashed in random places. It was a rather morbid Kodak moment. Each time I stumbled upon one of these ghastly photos, it made my skin crawl. I came to realize at an incredibly young age, that if it wasn’t for my mother losing her babies, my existence, at least as I know it, wouldn’t have been.
the births of Joyce and Janice, my mother had to have a hysterectomy.
Her dreams of having children were all but gone. In San Antonio,
Texas Ki was trying to fulfill his dreams by going to Flight School.
His aspirations turned to disappointment when he “washed out”
as a flyboy and needed to revamp his ambitions if he wanted to stay
in the Army. Soon he and my mother would be assigned to Monterey
California, home of the Russian Language School. Once becoming a
Russian translator, he would be stationed in Frankfurt, Germany
helping the CIA post war. They were living in Germany from 1954 to
1960, while America still occupied Frankfurt during Germany’s
Reconstruction. A new life, among strange surroundings would not fill
the empty space in her heart that she reserved for her love to raise
a family. Surely having more children could help ease the sorrow of
her girls that she longed to bring home from the hospital that day.
Her best friend Inge, who lived in the same apartment building that
housed most married couples and families for the Army, told her of an
orphanage in town. She had found out that overseas adoption was much
easier than in the United States. The Army liaisons were helping to
facilitate their adoption. Ki wanted a boy to follow in his
footsteps, play ball with, go hunting and even raise a glass with
when he became a man. Not long after registering at the orphanage,
they received a call about a sweet 18-month-old boy born June 19,
1956. He was in the orphanage for 3 months and was malnourished,
possibly suffering from rickets. Photos show Gary sitting with his
legs straight out, never bending at his knees. His birth mother
already had two other small children at home, when the outcome from
an affair with a married man resulted in another mouth to feed. My
mom was given a note from the birth mother that explained this, as
well as the fact he was very rambunctious, getting into everything.
After 15 months of bonding, or the lack of bonding, his birth mother
decided she couldn’t keep him anymore. Again, I say…Who
Chapter 3 To everything there is a season
The terrible twos had arrived. Gary was full of energy, making for a proud Papa and a very tired Mama. Life and love made both my mother and Gary blossom. Eight months later the phone rang, “Yes, oh Hello. Yes, we DO want another child.” “Oh, you do.” “A girl, 3 months old.” My mom knew Ki wanted another boy, but the thought of a girl was making her heart want to jump for joy. “You say 3 months old, when was she born?” After the caller told her, she said without hesitation, “I’ll take her!” The baby girl with large brown eyes and a shiny bald head was born on June 19th, 1958 sharing the exact birthday, 2 years apart from Gary’s. What a miracle, Freida and Ki could have their twins, Maryann and Gary. Excitement and joy were emanating from them like a burst of sunshine. Photos of the perfect family and the tale of the adoptions were the center of all conversations at every family gathering. The veil of “Poor Freida” had been lifted, she was now in her glory as she paraded her two children for the world to see, while pontificating our virtues. Gary’s and my birthday celebration together as a family was captured in a snapshot, Gary was three as I turned one, that showed a semblance of how the premature twins became reborn into a new family. We were certainly a dream come true, a complete package tied up with string, until we weren’t. That joy would be short lived. My mom and dad got the news while at the Army hospital that Ki’s body had been invaded with colon cancer. How could this be, there was so much living yet to do. By later in 1959 he was honorably discharged and sent from Frankfurt to Ft. Bragg, essentially to die. My mom tried to make life seem normal for my brother and me, photos would capture happy childhood days of riding my first tricycle at the barracks. Gary & I were spending a lot of time outdoors playing without a care in the world, like ordinary kids. I have a few black and white pictures of my dad, looking very gaunt in his baggy clothes, holding both of us in his arms, with mom at his side, not realizing it would be his last time. They are still hard to look at now, even though the memory never lived in my mind, it only exists to me through the camera’s eye. No one else’s eyes could ever guess the sadness that blanketed our family.
I have no memory of the day my father passed away. For years on February 7th I would catch my mother wiping away a tear that would run down her cheek. Leaving North Carolina and the Army life behind, my mom again pulled the dark veil over her face, “Poor Freida” and her two miracle children were returning to Western Pennsylvania, moving in with her parents. Grandma and Grandpa Rose were really the only grandparents I ever knew. Ki’s mother died shortly after he did, and I never knew his father, Grandpa Kaczorek. My mom’s father, Grandpa “Posey” was a Lockmaster on the Allegheny River. In 1960 he was working at Lock 8, just above Kittanning, PA. The lock house was a big home, so there was plenty of room, and Grandma would help my mom with Gary and me. Families were always there for other, no questions asked. It’s what you did. Being raised by my grandparents was great. Mom needed to recuperate and pull herself together after the life altering loss of her husband, love of her life. She would eventually need to get back on her feet and look for a job to support her kids. We were loved and well taken care of here. Grandma would sneak us a bowl of ice cream for breakfast, making us promise not to let our mother know. This was the best medicine! It was a welcome change to have a quieter life, a much calmer, slower pace. I would sit on Grandpa’s lap and he would let me prepare his coffee. I became skilled at knowing just how many lumps of sugar to put in his coffee while stirring it ever so gently until it dissolved. Next was the cream, not milk, but the thick cream that would cling to the spoon and change the dark brown liquid in his cup to a light tan color. The darks from the coffee and the whites from the cream would mix together, winding around the cup and blending into a sea of change. I’m sure my choice of milk in my coffee today is so I can watch the transformation of colors while being reminded of a simpler time. When it was time for Grandpa to retire, he and Grandma moved out to the country. Mom found a small house in Kittanning within 5 miles from their small piece of property. We spent many days and nights at their house, playing in the yard, helping Grandpa in his garden and watching Grandma with her apron on working tirelessly in the kitchen. Gary and I would hide in the corn field before the corn was picked and the stalks were cut down. We learned how to gently hold the ripe strawberries and pluck them off the plants, without rupturing the fleshy outer layer that held the juices inside. There is nothing better than eating pole beans right off the vines or listening for the snap when stringing them. Grandpa was instilling in me my love for gardening and knowing which beefsteak tomato was perfect for harvesting. We helped gather the fruits and vegetables and carried them inside to Grandma where she would cook up a feast for any of the family that showed up hungry. There always seemed to be enough food to go around. Grandma always said “If you went to bed with a full belly, you will be content and sleep well.”
was working on healing I suppose. I don’t remember her playing
with us as kids, she delegated this to my Grandparents and to our
Uncles to supply the father figure Gary needed. Research shows the
same sex parent is the most influential to a child. Gary always
seemed to be in trouble, he was “all boy” that’s
for sure. While my mother seemed to relish her role as a martyr,
“Poor Freida” would certainly take center stage again,
how could such a terrible thing happen to her, she was left alone to
raise her two children. My recollection was that mom seemed to be ok,
she was taking care of us, after all she was the adult! I was
expected to be the good girl, and I was. God forbid I did anything
that would meet with her disapproval! The fear of being sent back to
Germany haunted me. In school, I got all A’s and did as I was
told, I felt like a wind-up doll, programmed to do and say all the
right things. I needed to be perfect or it might make my mother even
sadder. I grew up not knowing why one mother gave me away, while
another mother “chose” me to be the one who could make
her life a better, happier place. Gary and I were told we were her
“special” children, “gifts from God”. We had
no control over being ripped away from our birth mothers to be placed
in this situation. We had no control over coming to America. I didn’t
pick a mother who would become a widow after 1 year, and yet there
was no sympathy for Gary or myself. There only seemed to be praise of
how cute and sweet we were, how lucky we were to have been adopted.
The enormous weight pressed on my chest each night as I lay in bed
wondering why there was no “Poor Maryann”. The darkness
inside of me reflected the abandonment from my real mom, and the
responsibility to please my new mom. I often wondered how the
decision was made to give me up. Was my birth mother sick, poor,
alone or as I got older, I even wondered if it was a rape that
resulted in my conception? No matter the circumstance, here I was,
trying to learn coping skills at much too young an age. I sensed my
adopted mom must have been coping with the death of her husband Ki,
in her own way, by focusing all her attention on Gary and me, the
children she had longed for…only she had to do it alone, for
she had been abandoned also.
Chapter 4 My Favorite Things
By the time I turned five, our new lives in our cozy house was progressing great! I was becoming a Tomboy, not by choice, there just were no girls within walking distance, which is the realm that a five-year old’s world consisted of. Gary was instructed by my mother, that he and his neighborhood friends were to be my friends too. He wasn’t very happy having his scrawny little sister under foot. I climbed the trees with them, sometimes better and faster with my long skinny legs. Occasionally we pretended to form an Army which included maneuvers of which I was never allowed to come back from being dead, like the other boys. He had found a way to rebel against mom’s rule, he didn’t want to disappoint our mother, so it was me that he would make pay. We played baseball in the back yard often. I was happy being designated as Catcher, not realizing the job entailed going into the briar bush for missed balls. “Mr. Prickles” was directly behind home plate. Gary must have gotten a kick out of seeing my arms and legs tattooed with mercurochrome after an all-day game. While getting the red medicine applied to my body, mom gave a sideways glance towards Gary, then back to me. She suspected Gary had a role in this, but I blamed it all on my aptly named nemesis, “Mr. Prickles”. I knew to keep my mouth shut and grit my teeth if I wanted to ever play again.
90% of American’s had a television set in their homes by the
early 1960’s. Mostly it was turned on for the noon news, a
special movie, or an evening variety show. Weekly series like Ozzie
Harriet and Leave it to Beaver, both told about perfect families with
their seemingly normal lives, while game shows such as To Tell the
Truth, made me wonder why people would lie about who they were. Most
days my grandparents, or at least Grandma would be at the house
looking after us. I’ll never forget the afternoon Grandma
rounded us up in front of the television, placed our lunch on a tv
tray and asked us to be very quiet. This was not an ordinary day. My
brother and I skootched closer to each other as we watched Grandma
sobbing. President Kennedy had been shot! She was pacing around the
house with her apron pockets full of tissues. The television brought
truth into our homes no matter how bad it was. Most of the
transmissions from this crazy box with the two metal rods sticking
out of it were of happier things. The Wizard of OZ and The Sound of
Music were a yearly must watch. Dorothy was trying to get home, while
obstacles kept getting in her way. As soon as the monkeys started
flying around, Gary would get scared and started to cry. “Mom,
please turn it off!” She would send him to his room or get his
bath ready, so I could watch it in peace. Even though he was two
years older, my brother could be such a sissy at times. He needed to
toughen up, like I was trying to do. Wasn’t he now the man of
the house? The classic movie, The Sound of Music had me glued to the
set every year. This is how I imagined my German heritage. It must
have been what my life was supposed to been before … well,
before. I had an opportunity to envision people wearing lederhosen,
just like Gary’s little suede shorts with the suspenders which
mom kept in the cedar jail. He had the knitted socks, green felt hat
with the feather in the band, the elk horn buttons of the grey wool
jacket. She told me how adorable he looked in it, but he only had it
on one time before it needed to be preserved. I never was able to
find a dirndl that belonged to me in the cedar chest. How darling
would I have been in a pinafore with a flowing skirt and a white
peasant style blouse with puffy sleeves? Mom said we left Germany
before she could buy me one, that ominous trip back to Ft. Bragg was
getting in the way again. All the Von Trapp girls had dirndls. I
thought I knew how to speak German just by singing “So Long,
Farewell -Auf Wiedersehen Goodbye. I knew all the moves and words,
which I performed on our stairs when no one was watching. Of course,
what girl hasn’t skipped across benches believing she was
Liesl, in love with Rolf in the Gazebo scene, while singing “I
am sixteen going on seventeen”. What a wonderful family, a
great story with a happy ending. Oh, to be a Von Trapp!
Chapter 5 One + One + One = Who? Or Knock, Knock who’s there?
Mom walked Gary and I to the school bus. I’m sure my mom was more nervous than I was. She rattled off a list of do’s and don’ts for Gary and me. “Don’t forget your jacket on the bus. Don’t forget to hold Maryann’s hand, and please, wait for her to get back on the bus at the end of the day. Be good for the teacher. Eat all your lunch. Play nice with all the kids. And, by all means, don’t talk out of turn, or talk back to the teacher.” I waved from the seat by the window as my mother tried to hold back her tears. Her apron strings were coming untied much to her chagrin. She had overprotected us for so long. While it was first grade for me, Gary had been in school since kindergarten, and was now entering third grade. I didn’t attend kindergarten like all the other kids. Mom told me since I was learning from Gary’s homework that I was smart enough to go right into the school on the hill. A small 3 room schoolhouse that held first through third grades. Truth was, kindergarten would have been too expensive for us, $25 was enough to buy a lot of groceries to feed us. We were poor, or almost poor. Grandma said we were rich if we always had food on the table. I suppose we were both. Mom expected to get a call from the school saying I was having a terrible fit, crying and calling out for her. Much to her disbelief, I was enjoying this new experience. I met a few girls to have for friends, I got gold stars for good behavior as well as perfect papers. We could play outside and swing. I felt a sense of freedom, I didn’t run with the scissors, but I sure started cutting those apron strings, at least at my end. I drifted into the magical world where Dorothy, after her dreary grey house landed on the wicked witch, entered a new realm. I had opened that door, where I stepped into a transformed world, in which colorful, upbeat, happier adventures awaited. Before long, mom received a phone call from my teacher informing her that I talked to much in class. “No, not my Maryann. She barely talks at all. She’s so shy, I don’t understand.” Finally, I was not being molly coddled all the time, a new world of adventure and learning were before me. I had started to smile more.
Summer came and our first real vacation was happening in Florida. The colored pictures show us, Mom, Gary, and me at the hotel swimming pool. My bright orange one-piece suit was a little big on me. It was rare to see Mom in a bathing suit, let alone have it captured in Kodachrome. My mom was a pretty woman, all hairs in place, dressed just so, her nails always polished and she never was without her “face” on. She looked very tranquil on the lounger by the hotel pool in Miami. At Parrot Jungle, Gary and I had the large vividly colored birds sit on our outstretched arms just long enough to get pictures, before our small arms gave way. It was so exciting, we had never left Pennsylvania before, and I wasn’t sure how we managed this vacation. Children were to be seen and not heard, so we didn’t ask, or frankly care. Mom told us her friend from Ft. Bragg took us. Funny, there were no pictures of her friend, only the three of us. Well, we were happy, especially mom, I guess that’s all that mattered right now.
At six years old, I vaguely remembered Paul with us in Florida. The thrill of a summer vacation would override my recollection of mom’s friend. A few years later, some of the secrets of the cedar chest would surface. Mom would let me know a bit more of her friend Paul. He had given spiritual support as the resident preist to my mom and dad while at Ft. Bragg. It was a blessing that mom was able to lean on someone as my dad suffered. If anyone can provide a should, surely it was Father Paul. He wasn’t really around a lot, but my mom had his service photo and quite a stack of letters saved.
she was off to the grocery store, leaving my brother in charge, I
knew how to clandestinely dismantle the arranged objects resting on
top of her veneered chest in order to open and sort through the
keepsakes inside. My curious eyes needed to assess the contents by
myself. What wasn’t she telling me about those letters? Usually she
paraphrased the contents, as she read the parchment
silently, but I knew there was more. It was obvious that Paul loved
her. He was most definitely a good friend, it’s ok to love your
friends. I mean, Paul was a priest, he couldn’t love her
like my dad did, could he? There weren’t any letters from
her to Paul, so that’s that, I shall choose to believe Mom.
After carefully placing everything back in the exact place, I would
close the lid and recreate the staged doily, plant and other objects,
always feeling a little bad that I invaded her inner sanctum.
Chapter 6 Beards, Banjos and Baby Daddies, Oh My!
Friends and family seemed anxious to help us. I was told, Freida needed a man in her life to take care of us. That struck me as odd, why do we need a man to help us. Grandma & Grandpa were doing a good job. My mom was about 45 years old at this point, she seemed ancient, but she was our mom. I was almost 8 years old, I thought we were just fine. I remember mom sitting us down to tell us she was getting married, not sure who to at this point. She explained who Bill was and how he will make things better for us. Bill had a good job, we would be able to move into a new house, we would live close to Aunt Ruth and Uncle Jack – Mom’s sister and her husband – where we would have lots of friends to play with. I wasn’t really convinced this new man would save us all, I didn’t like him very much. “Give him a chance” they all said. This interloper entered our lives, all the while I was being coaxed by being a flower girl in their wedding. Bill wasn’t overly friendly, or at least inept at relating to children. He made us feel meaningless and small, treating us babyish. The nerve! Bill wore, old dark wool suits for work that smelled either like wet dogs, or suits that had just come back from the dry cleaners, filling the house with a rank odor of kerosene mixed with moth cakes. I never asked what he did for a living, he could have been a door to door salesman for all I knew. He provided us with a fancy split-level home in a nice neighborhood that had girls my age! I finally had a best friend! We pretended we were sisters, something I always wanted. She had two older brothers, so we were thrilled to have friends our age. The girls were allowed to play ball with the boys once in a while when they needed to fill 2 slots in order to make up compose a team. That briar bush behind home plate, “Mr. Prickles”, had morphed into the storm sewer drain in the curb. I was still the smallest kid and had to be dropped into the dank cavern, while Gary held my hands tight. Once my feet touched the slime, I had to get the ball and hand it up with my arms outstretched, waiting to be hoisted up from the wretched pit. He would wait just long enough to grab my hands, until I wailed in horror, imagining the worst kinds of unknowns were slithering around me. “Poor Gary”, he got swatted on the rear more times than I could count. Maybe this father figure thing would turn out alright. We seemed like a normal family again. We even managed to convince mom into letting us keep a stray dog Gary befriended one day. We named him Hank. Bill agreed only if Hank slept outside in a doghouse. Hank was a good dog, but his tenure was short lived. One day before school, we went to feed him and all that lay on the patio was his chain, no Hank. It seemed that our new furry confidant had run away. We waited for a long time before we gave up hope on Hank returning. I only hoped another family took him in and was good to him. Like Gary and I, adopted for their own good.
Sometime later in the afternoon, on a normal school day, about a year in the new house, my mom started dragging boxes to the end of the driveway. When she saw Bill driving down the street after work, she told us to go upstairs and stay there. Gary & I ran to his bedroom that looked out to the driveway and ducked our heads by the open screened window. Boy was my mom mad at Bill! She told him to pack everything up into his car and get the hell out! There was some yelling, mom told him that her lawyer would contact him, and she would darn sure get the house! The explanation we got seemed to be the same one everyone got. The bills were not getting paid, the utilities were going to be shut off if something didn’t change. She didn’t know what he was doing with all the money he was making, but she was not going to live like this. “Poor Freida” was unraveling again. Later, after the divorce dust had settled, she informed us Bill didn’t like animals, so he took him out to a farm and dropped him off, where she didn’t know. I now became aware to trust my sense of intuition.
Relishing our family of three, we started over again. There was more time for family visits and mom didn’t seem all that unhappy. It was convenient that we were now closer to mom’s sister, Aunt Ruth. She was a few years older, frailer than my mom, slender and soft spoken. Aunt Ruth was a half-sister, different fathers. Grandma Rose’s first husband died after being bitten by a snake. Mom was the baby of five, two half-sisters and twin brothers. Mom was closest with Aunt Ruth. Uncle Jack was a portly man, as I remember always wearing suspenders. He loved doing yard work and gardening. They had a huge yard we could play in when we visited, with great kids our age to play with. We could ride bikes, hike in the woods, stay out late catching lightening bugs, it was a great place to be a kid. We started visiting often. Aunt Ruth had rheumatoid arthritis and was becoming bedridden. She had passed quickly largely due to the harsh medications she had been prescribed. My mom was a close Aunt Freida to all four of their children. Aunt Ruth was 10 years older, so our first cousins were older too. Three older girls, Suzanne, Ruth Ann and Lois. The youngest, Johnny, was the same age as moms’ twins, Joyce and Janice, would have been. Even though her sister’s children were adults when Aunt Ruth died, mom had always had a soft spot for Johnny. Sometimes I wondered if mom was jealous of her sister. Nevertheless, family stuck together and took care of each other. If we weren’t visiting Uncle Jack, he was coming over for dinners at our house. Mom loved to cook and was very good at it. She would often make our favorite German dish, Rouladen. It was Johnny’s favorite too. It was good to see mom laugh again. She always had a good sense of humor. She could get us to laugh and squeal by taking out her teeth, a partial plate, comb out her teased hair and chase us around the house. Uncle Jack was laughing again too.