Showing posts with label Genealogy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Genealogy. Show all posts

Friday, September 8, 2017

When RootsTech calls

You guys! I am over the moon to share with you that this past week I was invited to be an official 2018 RootsTech Ambassador!

I can see you all now...some of you are silently high-fiving me. And some of you are looking at me with a confused look on your face .

What exactly is RootsTech?

Simply put, it's Genealogy Nirvana. The mother ship. The Comic- Con of the Family History world.  Without the dressing up part. Wait...actually, some vendors really do dress up in costumes now that I think about it.

Each February, people from all over the WORLD come for this 4 day conference in Salt Lake City, Utah.  This event is a combination family history, technology and trade show conference all rolled into one. RootsTech attracted 30,000 attendees last year and thousands more remotely for their live-streamed workshops. The next conference is February 28-March 3, 2018

Now, listen...I'm an introvert by nature. If you told me I would absolutely LOVE a conference with that many people, I would tell you that you were crazy. But the energy of RootsTech is intoxicating. The venue is so large, it doesn't feel crowded at all. It has an incredible vibe.  You have the luxury of doing as much, or as little, as you choose.

Me last year at RootsTech 2017

So what's the big whoop about being an Ambassador?

Ambassadors are official advocates for RootsTech and help generate awareness and excitement about the event before, during and after the event. I get to share info through my blog and social media.  Kind of like a behind-the-scene reporter. My journalism degree is finally getting to stretch its legs (thanks SCSU)!

Not only will I be attending RootsTech in February, but I'll have an opportunity to interview Keynote Speakers, Guest Presenters, and other Genie rock stars during the event. I'll be blogging about workshops, sharing new research databases you might not know about and sharing my favorite thing of all...the technology, software and apps of genealogy.  I'll also get to connect with other family history lovers, vendors, family historians and all the other swell people that will be attending. 

Is there more?

Yup! As an official ambassador I get to give away a FREE 4-DAY ROOTSTECH 2018 PASS. 

I'll be announcing the contest sometime soon via my Twitter ( and my Blog ( Make sure you are following both in the next few weeks and months. I'll also share the links of some other Ambassador pages who are running contests as well. 

I sure hope I can do this Ambassador role justice. I'm a little fish in a big pond of professionals I so admire and respect. I'm so excited to be able to share what I love to do with other people about an event I can't wait to attend again. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Genie Rockstars

Mary Tedesco
Can you feel the excitement?

Names like MacEntee, Cooke, Alzo, Taylor, Russell, Berry, Tedesco.

These are just a few of the current genealogy rock stars.

Would I sleep out on a sidewalk with a wrist band for tickets to see them? I plead the fifth on that. But when I come to a genealogy conference like NERGC, I'm thrilled when one of the geni-rock stars on my list will be speaking or giving a workshop. I choose my workshops usually based on topic, but its all the more better if one of my favorites is leading it.

Opening day at NERGC I was able to see both Thomas MacEntee and Mary Tedesco. That's a day well spent in my genealogy book.

Mary was the opening keynote to welcome everyone to NERGC. I am like everyone else in my admiration of Mary and her specialty in Italian research as well has her work on Genealogy Roadshow. And she's damn pretty, guys. What I also like about Mary is what a real, down to earth person she is. An example of that is when I contacted her via her webpage,, several months ago to find out about booking her for a speaking engagement  with my local DAR chapter in Windsor, CT. Mary answered back within 24 hours and was so gracious and asked what a good time to call me to discuss further would be. She called exactly when she said she would and we discussed what might work best for our chapter and state. Mary has a soft side for DAR and works with her own local chapter and was willing to donate some of her time if our state chapter would like to hold some kind of research day that she could participate in for part of her own membership goals. I was thrilled she was so willing to work with us. Unfortunately, not to throw anyone under the bus here, but my state Chapter is not as forward thinking as I had hoped and I didn't want Mary to keep open a date for us while this all was worked out. I was disappointed and somewhat embarrassed at the lack of enthusiasm on my state end, but Mary was very nice about it and I feel she secretly knew what I was dealing with when trying to "think outside the box" when it comes to the DAR. Lovely ladies to be around, but very difficult to get something new approved.

Thomas MacEntee
Thomas MacEntee is a force of nature, I swear. And he's damn pretty, guys. He exudes a light and energy I am sure he is not even completely aware of. It's like the nerds finally have someone cool who wants to be their friend. How awesome is that? Whether its his coiffed mohawk, his sparkly bedazzled kicks, or his famous blogger beads...this guy know how to remind us all that genealogy can be some kick-ass fun. Thomas was the keynote at the luncheon I attended this weekend and he talked about privacy. He brought up examples as to how while we think our privacy is so incredibly invaded due to the Internet age, back in the day of our ancestors, newspapers were reporting on everything from when and where you were checking into a hotel, to what illness you were currently suffering from. Privacy is subjective. Having daughters in their early 20's, I couldn't agree more with Thomas when he said that Millennials have a different relationship with privacy and are willing to give up some of that privacy for the benefits that it can bring as far as information, services and convenience. My girls put a lot of their life out on social media, do all their banking, their travel, their research and their relationships online...and nothing an old bitty like me will change that mind set. In fact, I've embraced much of it myself.

I don't plan to give a day by day analysis of my time at NERGC because there are plenty of other bloggers who do that kind of thing much better than I ever could. But I do bring up these two speakers specifically because I have been following their work for several years and want you all to know that they, along with many others I could name, are models for all of us to follow in not only their methods...but their ENERGY. Intelligent, informative, well spoken, classically lovely and personable Mary and business savvy, realistic-minded, talented, warm, funny and adorable Thomas are the new faces of genealogy.

They are the rock stars to all of us on the road to genealogy. Rock on.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

NERGC weekend - Geeks unite

The process of researching is hardly a lonely road. I've met many people over these past 20 years in my research and through genealogy events. Many have come to be very good and dear friends to me. I've said this blog is primarily for my children and descendants to read so they will know some of our family stories. And that is true.  But I think it is important for them to understand what genealogy is for me and how it has become such a big part of my world. It is, in itself, one of my stories.

This weekend I am attending NERGC--The New England Regional Genealogical Consortium Conference in Springfield, Massachusetts. As I pack up my genie gear for a conference, my grown daughters just roll their eyes and say, "Another one? Didn't you just go to one of those things?"

Listen, I tell them. I don't run marathons. I don't shop. I don't knit. I don't scrapbook. I do genealogy. This is what I love. This is my hobby, and this is what I feel truly alive doing. It is a perfect compliment to my daily life. I love being a mother and a wife and a Community TV  Executive Director. But genealogy is something just for me, and something I never tire of.

So what's the difference between one conference and the next? Lots, for heaven's sake!

I attended RootsTech in February and while it was absolutely my Nirvana...a conference like NERGC is so much more manageable. Smaller workshops, more access to talk with speakers here, and more time to meet new people.
Highlights so far:

Wednesday, Pre-Conference Day
There were lots of options on this day, a Librarian Day, DNA Day, Tech Day and more. I chose the Tech Day (no surprise from those who know me).

What I really enjoyed about this day was that we had four workshops all in the same room. There was a break for lunch, but you basically hung out with the same people all day long. It's a great way to make new friends on the first day (pre-day, really).

Jennifer Baldwin gave me hope with her presentation about Project Management that I could finally get organized. I've been wanting to write the story of one of my ancestors, David Edgar Chase, for a while now. Not only did Jen talk about programs like Trello and Podio that I could use for something like this...she was honest in saying if you are not consistant in using a new program will never become a habit. And once it is a habit, you will start to use it for the rest of your projects. I left that workshop inspired that I could actually, finally get organized to pull this story together!

Lisa Alzo is always a favorite speaker of mine. I've attended many of her webinars, and have seen her speak at RootsTech and Jamboree. I feel like she and I could be best friends (I mean that in a non-stalker way, Lisa). She thinks like I do in her methods, in her humor and how she expresses her ideas, and I get affirmation of that each time I hear her. It makes attending her workshops very enjoyable. At NERGC she presented on E-Books and Publishing. It was great! Jen gave me the tools to organize my project and Lisa showed how publishing has come a long way and that it is something I can totally do --and do it well. Two huge things off my list of tools I need to write this story.

A workshop on Pinterest, in all honesty, was a little too basic for me. Not the speaker's fault by any means. This was geared towards very beginner pinners, which I am not. But I did like the examples she had of building a story about your ancestor using Pinterest.

The final workshop was about free resources for genealogy. Dayna Jacobs was very funny knowing it was the last workshop of the day and we would all be a bit sleepy and our brains overflowing with a day of geek goodies. She wove in genealogy of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs into her presentation just to interject some lightheartedness. It worked. We all stayed engaged and awake for her very resourceful talk. Many of the resources I knew about, but there were definitely some new ones for me, such as a list of genealogy Podcasts. I've just discovered Podcasts and I love them! Listening to genealogy stuff when I'm cooking dinner? Heck yeah. Alexa, play Genealogy Gems.

Official Day one highlights I will talk about more tomorrow. But as I sit in this workshop about finding your relatives in death records, I feel new ideas flowing into my brain which I will sort out later with a glass of wine, in my hotel, while I look over my notes.

That, to me, is a great way to spend a day.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

I have an ugly Fannie

Fannie Potter abt 1884
It's nice to know we've come a long way in my mother's family and we have developed into caring, loving people. Our ancestor, Fannie Potter Willett, had none of those qualities, unfortunately. 

By all accounts, Fannie was a spoiled, self centered woman with a keen sense of entitlement. Her looks matched her soul, apparently. 

Homely. Man-ish, Mean looking. Hideous. Selfish. Down right Ugly. Those are just a few of the words my family has used in describing dear great-grandmother Fannie. 

In a previous blog I told you I liked to explore Buba's house in Swampscott when we would go up and visit. And how nearly everything in that house seemed mysterious and frequently scary to me. 

Fannie Potter Willett abt 1887
Buba's basement was number one scary place in the whole whole house. It was partially finished but smelled like wet dog and old wood. Buba had her washer and dryer down there and a finished room that was weirdly bright and sunny for a basement. It was completely furnished. I keep meaning to ask my mother more specifically about it, but I believe it was used as a more informal family room. I do remember seeing photos of my mother's wedding presents all displayed out beautifully in that room. 

Also in that room were photos on the wood paneled walls. Of really old people. Scary looking people with big eyes. Large portraits and photographs in beautiful ornate frames. I remember them so well because they all looked so serious and stern. Fannie was the one who stuck in my head the most. In one, she had a white, frilly dress and an enormous bow in her hair. I could see parts of my grandfather and mother in her looks...but she had a cold, mean stare that definitely set her apart from anyone in my family that I knew. 

Fannie and her wedding dress
My cousins, Leigh and Beth, have these portraits that hung in Buba's basement and I was delighted to see one of them hanging in Leigh's bathroom in her Vermont home of our Great-grandfather, John Howard Willett.  John was Fannie's husband.  It just cracked me up to see him hanging there in the bathroom. Leigh has a great sense of humor. 

We've inherited other photos of Fannie that are similar to the ones hanging in the living room that I'm sharing with you here. They give you a sense of her. As a child I was scared of her because the portraits were so enormous in that room that they were intimidating. Her eyes seemed to follow you around the room. But I wonder about her life and why she was the way she was. 

This is what I know.

My Aunt Jean remembered her and said the family really didn't see Fannie and her husband John much growing up. Maybe certain holidays. They lived in Boston for a long while, but then moved to New York City for the last years of their life. She and my mother and their parents were closer to Mark and Luta Shrum, who were kind and loving people. 

The Willett family on a picnic about 1905
Frances Estelle Potter (she would tell people her name was not Frances, but really Fannie. But her official birth records show differently.) was born to the prominent Potter family of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Her father was in the shoe business. She and her two sisters were raised in the best manner with no worries about money. She and John Howard Willett would marry in 1887 . One year later she would give birth to a stillborn son. He was never given a name. My grandfather, Harold Potter Willett,  was born in 1894. One year later, John Howard Willett, Jr.  as was born. He was called Jack. 

Fannie Willett in 1939 in NYC
Fannie was not a tiny, delicate woman. She was a large, brash woman who liked nice things. In a photo from 1905 you see the family out at a picnic--dressed up like it was Sunday church. 

Fannie was also not the maternal kind. She relied on their servant, Carrie, to take care of the children almost exclusively. My grandfather would say she was not an affectionate or loving mother. On Thursdays, Carrie's night off, she insisted on going out to eat so that she did not have to cook. She couldn't cook anyhow. On those nights the children were left to fend for themselves. They were not included in the dinner plans. Carrie, the housekeeper, took it upon herself to teach the boys some basic cooking skills so that on Thursdays they could make supper for themselves and their younger sister. 

I wonder how Fannie reacted in 1916 when John Howard telegrammed Harold who was a college sophomore at Indiana University and told Harold there was no more money left. John Howard's partner had embezzled all the money from their company. John later got a job selling shoes. Most likely with Fannie's father's influence. He got a job in New Rochelle. Fannie must have experienced a real change in her lifestyle. 

Fannie had three children, all who were very different as most children tend to be. Jack was reportedly a laid back man who worked with his father and went along his life with little fanfare. He did not go to college, as was expected of him. He married a woman named Mildred who was vivacious and outgoing. They stayed married for their life, but it was not a very happy marriage. She was frustrated with his mild manner. Although he and Harold were close in age and did things together when they were growing up, as adults they were not particularly close. They were cordial. 

Fannie's daughter, Jeanette, had a good life in NYC and a boyfriend. The family says that Fannie ruined Jeanette's young life by being demanding and guilting her into coming home and taking care of her. Fannie played sick and liked being waited on and Jeanette was the one to do it. Jeanette developed a "nervous condition" and then a pituitary gland tumor which my great grandfather, Mark Shrum, diagnosed. She died unmarried in 1945. My mother remembers her as being a very nice woman and thought it was sad that she died at only 44. 

There are many photos of Fannie. She loved having her photo taken. My cousin Leigh is the keeper of those photos and has shared them with me. I'd like to think there is a reason she was the way she was. We may never know for sure. 

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Saturday, February 4, 2017

Meet Martha Lee

My mother hated the name Martha Lee. And she lived her life avoiding it whenever she could. I remember my grandmother sometimes calling her M.L. She felt that was much better than the grating “Maaatha Lee” they would address her with in their thick Boston accents. As an adult she would be known as Lee

M.L. held by her mother, Jeanette 1928
Her new friends at her new high school, Kendall Hall boarding school in New Hampshire, began calling her Willey.  This, reportedly after an impressive demonstration by my mother of belching out the entire alphabet at the lunch table one day.

 A demur Martha, she was not. This girl needed a cute name.

Willey, short for her last name, Willett, had a gregarious personality and many friends at this school. This was a pattern that would repeat herself for my mom’s entire life. Everyone always loved when she was at a party. But as for this school, it was a place her parents had sent her to “straighten up” after her and her best friend, Phyllis, repeatedly skipped school and hung around various places in Swampscott, Massachusetts. Mom would come home at the end of the school day and my grandparents had no idea she wasn’t showing up for class. Occasionally the truant officer would stop by the house. He was a friend of my grandfather.

“Harold, you’ve got to get that girl to go to class.” The officer would tell him. My grandfather would shake his hand and tell him he would get control of it all.

Sometimes Mom and Phyllis would hop the train to the Boston Garden to watch a hockey game. Neither had an interest in hockey, by the way. But this was 1942 and young men on shore leave from navy vessels passing through the Boston Harbor would take in an afternoon game at the Garden. Despite my grandmother telling her daughter to never, ever, take a cigarette from a stranger because it could have something “funny” in it, Mom and Phyllis were double trouble and liked flirting with the young men. And yes, smoking their forbidden cigarettes.

The fun came to an end one day when they decided to skip school and hang out by the local grocery market in the center of Swampscott. 

According to Mom’s version of the story, Phyllis suddenly jumps to her feet.

“M.L.! It's your mother, coming this way!” Phyllis exclaims.  They both spot my grandmother, coming up the street on foot, to go to the market.

Supposedly, my grandmother turned at all the commotion the frantic girls were making and looked over just in time to see her daughter and best friend diving into the nearby shrubs…their skirts flying.

Mom said my grandmother walked over alongside the shrubs and sighed,
“M.L. you come out of there right this instance!”

Mom says she and Phyllis popped up, knowing they were really in for it now. My grandmother had had enough.

Martha Lee about age 12, 1940
My mother adored her father. The feeling was mutual. While my mother’s older sister, Jean, was dainty, scholarly, demur and classically pretty, Mom was more along the lines of an early version of Carol Burnett. She was skinny and gawky with a wide, gummy smile. And she was not in the least bit interested in school. My grandfather secretly loved that about her because he had been a horrible student himself. He was more interested in chasing girls and having fun. Some of the stories in his own past mirrored what his favorite daughter was doing. What goes around, comes around was rearing its head to Harold Willett if there ever was a time.  It was all innocent fun, he probably thought, thinking back on his own youth. He was now a successful insurance salesman. He straightened up just fine.

But my grandmother was not having any of this. SOMETHING had to be done about these girls traipsing around Boston doing unladylike things.

The fathers called a meeting. They had gotten together to talk over the situation. Both sets of parents and the girls sat in the living room of my grandparent’s house on Lewis Road in Swampscott.

“Girls, we have made a decision. Your education is important and you can't keep dodging school. You come from good families. We are sending you both away to an all-girls boarding school.” My grandfather reportedly announced.

Martha Lee High 1946 graduation
Mom and Phyllis were absolutely delighted. They would have adventures in a far-away place! How fun would that be?

The parents were puzzled by the smiles on the girl’s faces. This was a punishment. What are they so happy about?

My grandfather was the first to figure it out.

“Young ladies,” my Grandad lectured to them, “You do understand you are not going off to school TOGETHER, don't you? “

Apparently my mother’s face dropped. Phyllis looked confused.

Grandad continued, “We can't even trust you two in the same state. M.L, you will be going to New Hampshire.” Phyllis’ Dad was sending her to a school in Vermont.

Mom remembers still not quite getting the whole picture of it. So she asked a question.  

“But Daddy, what is there to do in New Hampshire?” She remembers asking.

“Exactly!” all four parents answered in unison.

Mom loves telling that story. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

The dead angel at Buba's house

When we would go to Buba's house at 34 Lewis Road in Swampscott, there wasn't a heck of a lot for a little girl to do around all these grown-ups. Sometimes my siblings were with me but, surprisingly, I don't have a lot of memories of being there with them.

I would bring my Barbies and play with them a lot. Buba had an old blue foot stool with embroidered flowers on it that looked like a little bed. I used to put my dolls to sleep on it and cover them in little blankets. Sometimes Buba had some things to play with on her side porch. She always seemed to have paper dolls. They were OK for a short time but I didn't have delicate little hands, and I would end up accidentally tearing the tabs off the tops of the dresses and then they wouldn't stay on the doll. Or I'd color. Or I'd play "secretary" on her old typewriter. I remember writing poems on that typewriter as well.

Many times, though, I would go exploring through her Cape Cod style house. It wasn't an extremely old house, but to me a house from the 1920's seemed ancient.

Grandad in his red chair in his den.
I liked going into Grandad's den and sitting in the red leather chair in the corner. One day in the future that chair would find a loving place in my own home. I liked looking at all the old photos he had on the wall. People I didn't know, but I knew they were connected to me. It was warm and cozy in that den with wood paneling and dark colored furniture.

He had a really cool desk with all these cubby holes in them that I liked to stick my hands in and out of. I think my mother had that for a while.

Buba had some cool things too. In her living room, especially. One of them I was both fascinated by and terrified of. It was a rectangular ceramic tile that sat cradled on a silver plate holder. It depicted Cupid with his golden blond locks, sleeping sweetly by the water.

As an adult now, I can describe it to you that way. The gorgeous colors. The serene beauty of the cherub as he slept so deeply.

As a small child, though, I was convinced it was a dead angel that was shot down by a bow and arrow. No one could convince me otherwise. I was terrified of it. But I couldn't stop walking up to it and looking at it. I never went into that room without looking at it. I'd have anxiety about it while I slept upstairs. Some times I'd be really brave and get up really close to it and study it. I had some logic that it had some sort of spell or magic attached to it. Buba thought I was being ridiculous and she and my mother got a big laugh over my "thing" about that piece.

In 2015 I visited my Aunt Jean's apartment in Reading, Massachusetts. There we were having a nice glass of iced tea in her living room talking about family. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted it. In her dining room.

I hadn't thought of it in years...maybe not since I was a child, even. I surprised my Aunt and jumped up and ran over to it.

"The dead angel!" I said, looking at her with huge eyes and pointing my finger at it.

My aunt, a very gentile and well mannered woman, looked perplexed and annoyed at the same time.
"That," she said indignantly as she walked over to me, "is Eros, or Cupid. It is not a dead angel."

"Yes. It is too a dead angel." I insisted, nodding my head and crouching down to look at it more closely.
Cupid, they tell me. 

This banter went on for a good minute or two.  My 90+ year old Aunt was becoming more and more irate at my seemingly lack of education and appreciation of art.

I snapped a photo of it.

I then told her the story of my encounters with it as a child. How I was enthralled with it and scared to death of it. How I would circle around it to see if it was going to come alive. How I would never play with my back to the dead angel because I wanted to keep an eye on it at all times.

And just like Buba. Just like my mother. My Aunt burst out laughing. "That is the silliest thing I have ever heard of, Jenny!" But she kept laughing.

It is incredible the memories our mind retains. Of good things, of scary things, of long forgotten and fleeting memories. My mother tells me this piece was always displayed in HER grandmother's house (Luta Shrum). She has special memories of it as well. But not scary ones.

I had a similar experience in Buba's scary basement with other family objects. Either I was just a kid that got scared a lot or I just had too much free time when I was there.

 I'll save that for my next post.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Hockey makes it all better

Growing up as a child I was never overly interested in sports. My brothers and Dad were more aviation geeks than sport followers. My Dad did like baseball, though, and he would follow the Red Sox. He took me to a game at Fenway when I was a teenager. I remember Carl Yazstremski  and Carlton Fisk were both playing in the game I went to, so I'll leave it to you to narrow down the years. But baseball never really took a strong hold on me. I liked it and I watched it, but I could take it or leave it.

But then came hockey. The Hartford Whalers to be exact. And my love for it and them all happened due to my sister Lynn's divorce. Lynn worked for Travelers and was in a  hockey booster club called the 91 club where she got discounted season tickets and who all drove up I-91 to Springfield, Mass to see the Whalers play.

Yes, I said Springfield, Mass. That January of 1978, the Hartford Civic Center roof caved in and the Whalers were now without a home. The Whalers were actually the New England Whalers at that point in 1978. They belonged to the WHA (World Hockey Association). While the Civic Center was rebuilt, the Whalers were offered the Springfield Civic Center. They stayed there for 2 years until the new Hartford Civic Center re-opened 1980, and the New England Whalers were now the Hartford Whalers and were a part of the NHL.

But back to 1978. Lynn and her husband Glen Drake were going through a divorce and Lynn got custody of the hockey tickets. She asked me if I wanted to go see some games. I was 13 at the time. We had just moved to South Windsor and I was having a pretty tough time of it with being bullied. I was extremely unhappy. Looking back on it, I think Lynn suddenly realized I was struggling and decided she would at least try to get me out of the house once in a while. I figured why not. It was something to do. Sure, I'll go, I said.

I loved hockey! It was 90 minutes of fast paced action. I completely forgot about any troubles I had going on in South Windsor, and I threw myself completely into learning everything I could about the game, the players and the league.

Christmas 1977
My favorite player was Mike Rogers. He played center, and he was scrappy and fast and super talented. Lynn and I would go down and sit in the front row seats of our section and watch the warms-ups since the ticket holders never came until the game had started. Thus began me waving and smiling and acting like a complete doofus every time Mike skated by. Eventually, he caught on and every game he would skate by and wave and smile, or tap his stick against the glass to say hello. It was our thing.

In 1978, my favorite Christmas present was the Rogers jersey I received for Christmas. Mike eventually signed it a few years later.

Meeting Mike. Age 13
Then came my chance to meet him in person. The Whalers were doing a meet and greet in the Civic Center center court and Mike was one of the players who would be there. I wasn't even a bit nervous to meet him. I was just so darn happy as you can see in the photo to the right. I was about 13 there. After I told him my name, I started to explain who I was, thinking he wouldn't really get the connection that I was the crazy one who waved at him every warm up. He laughed and said, "I know exactly who you are! I'm so happy to have a name to go with you now. Nice to meet you Jenny!"

How can you not love a guy like that?

Mike was a sweet and special guy. He introduced me to his wife, Ann, at the first Booster Club banquet, and if it were at all possible, she was even nicer than he was. She loved that I adored her husband and was very kind and encouraging to me whenever I would see her at hockey games or at events. She always remembered me by name.

Age 15, Posing with Mike Rogers at a Whaler banquet
When their daughter, Dayna, was born, I sent them a stocking I had made with her name on it and a baby's first Christmas ornament. Mike called me at home. I have no idea how he found my number, but I was beside myself with happiness. I'll never forget it. I was doing my Spanish homework and the phone rang. When he said who he was I didn't believe him. I thought it might have been one of the boys who bullied me at school trying to trick me. Mike kept saying, "No, sweetie, it's really me." I made him tell me his wife and daughter's names, plus how many goals he had scored so far that year to prove that it was really him! He laughed, and thankfully got the answers all right, and I finally believed him. I couldn't believe he was calling me. He said he just wanted to thank me for the gift for Dayna and for being such a caring and loving person. I almost couldn't handle it while I was talking to him. You haven't read yet what I was going through at the time in South Windsor, but for someone to say such nice things to me was something I had a hard time even letting him say out loud. I kept interrupting him and telling him he didn't need to say any of that.

My sister, Lynn, wrote to Mike shortly before my 15 birthday and asked if he could give me a signed hockey stick. I had no idea. So, there we were down in the front seats for warm-ups that night. Mike didn't take his usual lap around to wave or tap the glass to me. I was a little disappointed. But then he came out on the ice and skated straight for the rink door that was right next to us. The Zamboni came out that door. Mike skated over and looked at me and smiled and tapped on the glass to get the ice crew's attention. One of the guys came over and opened the door. Mike handed him a stick and pointed over to me. The guy handed the stick over to me and said, "This is from Mike. He says Happy Birthday Jenny." I was floored! Mike just grinned and skated away. I looked at the stick and not only was it signed by Mike, but by the entire team. Names like Gordie Howe and Mark Howe.

Mike was traded to the New York Rangers when I was a junior in high school. Devastating, to say the least. But I had come a long way since I had first met him and I accepted it quickly and knew that he would do well anywhere he played until he retired or went back to Calgary, Alberta Canada where he and Ann were originally from. I tried to keep up with Rangers, but it just wasn't the same. Mike eventually went on to the Edmonton Oilers and then retired from playing and became a coach in Canadian minor league hockey. The Whalers, of course, left Hartford and moved to North Carolina. Connecticut is still not over it, and you see Whalers memorabilia all over the place.

In 2010, there was a Whalers reunion held at Renchtler Field in East Hartford. Whaler alumni were all getting together for a meet and greet. Thousands of people showed up. I waited in line for 3 hours to see Mike again. When I got up to him I had a photo I had taken of him and Ann at one of the Whalers banquets. I gave it to him. Then I showed him the photo of him and I at the event. I said, to him, "I'm sure you don't remember me, but, I'm Jenny. "  He shook his head and said, "Oh my God, yes! Of course I remember you. How are you?"

I babbled on to him about my life and how I had named my third daughter, Michelle, after him because he had made such a big impact on my life. He looked truly touched and looked me in the eyes and said, "I can't believe that. Wow. Just wow."

Mike Rogers and me, in 2010 at the Whaler reunion
Honestly, he could have just been being polite. But I didn't care. He was genuinely happy to see how excited I was to see him, and when I asked to pose for a photo with him, he didn't hesitate. He hugged me after this photo and said how much he appreciated me remembering him and coming out after so many years.

So hockey was a real saving grace for me through those years I lived in South Windsor. And it continued to be a wonderful part of my life after we moved back to Windsor and my life got so much better. It was like the icing on the cake at that point. And I know Mike really has no concept of how important he was in the life of a 13 year old girl who was struggling so terribly.

Who would have thought hockey would make such a difference?

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Through the looking glass

Being the youngest has benefits, trust me.  I was slightly coddled and spoiled and fussed over to a point. But it has its drawbacks. Like being blamed for every naughty thing that goes on and being teased by your older siblings.

In my case, my siblings were quite a bit older than me. The year that I was born, Chuck was 13, Lynn was 12, Robin was 10. Rick was the closest to my age at 6 years older than me.

Me, age 3, with my brother Rick 
So as I've mentioned in previous posts, when I was old enough, and Rick wasn't too old, we would hang out and play together with the other neighborhood kids.

For the most part we got along. But Rick was a teaser. And I was just a tiny bit overly dramatic with a wee bit of temper. One incident when I was 5 would pretty much prove both.

When I went to kindergarten Mom went back to work part time. I think the first job she had was working at Carvelle's restaurant in Wilson as a hostess. I remember going there sometimes to pick her up and hoping she would let me have a soda. Sometime she did. Most times she said I could have water, which of course was absolutely no fun.

On afternoons that she had to work, usually Chuck, who was 18 or Lynn, 17, would babysit me.

On this particular day Chuck was home. Rick and I were outside playing. We went to go inside and Rick ran ahead of me and  he thought it would be funny to run in the house and hold the glass door closed so I couldn't get in. Then he thought it was even funnier to lock the glass door. Then he thought it absolutely hysterical to point at me and say things like, " can't get in. Sorry, see you tomorrow!"

I kicked the door. I rang the bell, I cried and knocked on the door. Then I started getting mad, so I knocked harder. Then I started pounding on the glass door and crying and telling him he'd better let me in.

All of a sudden, my pounding resulted in my right arm crashing through the glass pane of the front door. I don't remember any pain. I just remember the look on Rick's face, and the blood everywhere.
Rick's face went white and he took off to find Chuck. I was in shock, and kept thinking that if I went inside I would get blood all over the floor and Mom would be really mad at me. So I had it in my head that I had to hide.

I crunched over the broken shards of glass and hopped off the front steps and started running. I thought I'd hide out in the woods in the backyard of our house. Maybe I thought my arm would just stop bleeding and I could just come inside later and no one would know. I was 5, remember. Then I remember feeling the blood hitting my legs as I ran and thought maybe this was worse than I thought, and maybe I should just go around to the back door and sit still in the grass--figuring the blood wouldn't do any harm pooling in the grass.

By the time I got to the back door, Chuck was there. I panicked that he was mad at me and I started running around to the front of the house again. Chuck caught up with me and tackled me around the waist. He picked me and ran me across the street to the Long's house. Mrs. Long was a nurse. I don't really remember anything else until I was in the emergency room. I'm guessing Mrs. Long assessed me and then she brought me to the hospital. I remember laying on a table in the emergency room and the nurse cleaning my arm and it was hurting now. They were sewing my arm up with what looked like a sewing needle and brown thread. I remember crying and the nurse gave me a rootbeer lolipop to eat while they finished up. The scar was about 5 inches long and deep.
Two years after "the Incident." Still buddies

They fit me for a soft cast for some reason. My mother thinks it was because of my age and they didn't want me picking at the scar or getting it dirty. What I remember about that cast is that I wasn't allowed to go on the swings or play on the playground during recess. Maybe because they didn't want me to bust any stitches.
I had to pick a quiet toy and I would sit under a tree for recess. I'm sure I picked a different toy every day, but I remember mostly picking one of those Fisher Price yellow buses with the eyes on the front and you pull it along and the eyes move back and forth. .There were people with round bodies and a hole in the bottom that would stick inside of the bus. There was even a dog. I loved that bus.

My Dad fixed the glass window and he put a metal guard across the front of it so that nothing like that happened again. Rick and I continued to hang out. Today, that scar is still pretty visible. My temper is much better.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Where did you go to school?

My time in elementary school was one of the very most happiest days of my life.  I attended John F. Kennedy school on Park Avenue in Windsor for grades K-6.  We lived on Diana Lane and I was a "walker." 

My earliest memories of Kennedy was walking with my mother up Diana Lane and meeting up with other kids and their moms and we all walked the rest of the way together. The moms would lag behind chatting while we kids walked ahead of them. It was a social time for the moms who were mostly stay-at-home moms. We'd usually run into Bobby Long and his mom first since they lived across the street. Then Ronnie Harner and his mom. They lived at the top of Diana. Robin Road was the road Diana dumped out on and my very best friend, Jayme Hannah, lived right smack in the middle of it right where Diana ended. My mom and her mom, Betsy, were especially good friends.

One of my best childhood friends, Jayme Hannah. 
About 1974. She is holding our Velvet dolls. We always 
asked for the same dolls at Christmas so we could play
together with them. 
As the school year went on the dynamic changed. Sometimes Debbie Abbey and her mom would join us. Sometimes way up on Craigs Road Eric Lazarus and his mom would be walking when we were. By first grade, believe it or not, our parents didn't walk with us anymore. We walked together. That would never happen today that a bunch of 6 year olds would be allowed to walk to school without an adult, but in 1971 it was a safe and innocent time in our neighborhood.

For kindergarten I had Miss. Dalphanie. She was so little she would almost qualify to be called a little person. She had to be only 4'6" or so. She was loving and sweet and she had a bouffant hairstyle. She also had fat feet.  I remember fat spilled over her black pumps as if they were too small. What a crazy memory.

Who can complain about kindergarten? I'm quite sure I had afternoon kindergarten. It was only a half day.  I ate graham crackers and drank milk out of little red and white cartons with my friends at snack time. We had  little rug remnants we had to take our nap on. We had cubbies to put our coats and boots in.  I remember having happy feelings in that room.

Me in 1970, at my grandparent's 50th 
wedding anniversary. No more cast. 
One not so happy memory was when I had a cast on my arm during the first part of that year. My brother Rick had locked me out of the house and was teasing me from inside that I couldn't come in. I had a little temper back then, I'll have you know.  So I banged on the door. The glass storm door. You can see where this is going. My arm went flying through that window and glass and blood were everywhere. I had to have stitches. I remember being freaked out and running around the back of the house. My older brother, Chuck, who was 18, caught me and tackled me and dragged me across the street to Mrs. Long's house. She was a nurse. Mom wasn't home for some reason. I remember the hospital nurses giving me a root beer lollipop while the doctor stitched my arm up.  Then they put a soft cast on it. I'm not sure why. Maybe for the same reason they put those cones on animals so they don't pick at their wound. Who knows.

So what's that got to do with kindergarten, you are asking yourself.  At recess time I wasn't allowed to go on the swings or the monkey bars. Both were a pretty big deal to this 5 year old. I had to choose a quiet toy and play under the trees. I recall one time I chose one of those Fisher Price buses with all the round people who fit in and it had eyes on the front of the bus with a plastic string you could pull the bus along with and the eyes opened and closed. Not as fun as the monkey bars but good times!

John F. Kennedy, overall, was an extremely happy time in my life. I am still friends with kids from this school today. Facebook had a lot to do with that. But some I just kept in touch with over the years the old fashioned way. 

Having a fabulous hair day for fourth grade
photo day, despite having the 
scariest teacher on earth that year.
On my barrette was written, "Jeannette."
My first grade was with Mrs. O'Donnell. She was a sweet, grandmotherly kind of woman and I remember she had a gentle voice. Second grade was Ms. McAuliffe. She got married the summer after I had her and became Mrs. Cosma. She was tall and pretty with long dark hair and I remember her Dad and my Dad had some kind of connection with World War II. I don’t remember what. Third grade was Mrs. Rund. She got married during the school year and we were invited to her wedding…all the kids in her class! Not to the reception of course. That would have been insane. But it was the first wedding I had ever gone to. She was such a sweet teacher. She was tiny like Ms. Dalphanie.

Fourth grade was like a culture shock. Miss McCarthy. Honestly, I think this woman absolutely hated children. She looked like the Wicked Witch from the West in the Wizard of Oz.  No joke. And she was MEAN. She scared the hell out of each and every child who had her. I remember also she was sickly. So we had subs every once in a while. Which was good. We needed the break. I remember I learned my times tables with her. We had to go up to her desk individually and recite them to her. She looked bored and annoyed out of her mind. I could never get my 12s times tables right. I thought she was going to murder me because I didn’t know them. I was scared silly.  But she was having a good day and was only mildly annoyed and told me to work on them better. To this day I stink at my 12s, and I think of her almost every time. 

Mrs. Belzer, my fifth grade teacher. Apparently,  I
circled people in the class picture who I liked a lot
that year.She was my favorite teacher and taught 
me to always try to have a positive attitude. 
Fifth grade was my favorite teacher in the entire world. Mrs Belzer. Oh, how I loved her. She was young, reddish hair, round and chubby. She hugged kids every day (when it was still ok to do that). She loved to laugh. She loved all of us kids, and she made us all feel special. I was getting chubby at this point, so looking at her and seeing such a chubby woman who was so happy in life, with a loving husband, made me feel better that it would be ok if I grew up to be a chunk too. A lot of us JFK kids on Facebook found Mrs. Belzer and reconnected with her in 2014. She had just retired and worked at JFK for her entire career. We were her first class after she graduated from teaching school. 

Sixth grade was Mrs. Beauregard. She had some tendencies like Miss McCarthy so we were all kind of on edge with this one. It was difficult to go from one teacher who was so loving, to another teacher who you felt wanted you to be dead and just go away most of the time. Sometimes she could be perfectly nice and funny and friendly. But, boy…one thing would happen and someone might act up and she would just flip out. I kept my distance with this one and just did my work and kept out of trouble.

As you will read in upcoming posts, we moved after 6th grade and I had a few pretty terrible years for 7th and 8th grade. I barely passed either grade and received C’s and D’s and a few F’s.  I was bullied horribly. I don’t remember a single teacher’s name at Ellsworth School for 7th grade or Timothy Edwards School for 8th grade in South Windsor.

I don't remember a single teacher's name, that is, except one. Mr. Longo. He was the gym teacher at Ellsworth. He was a little guy. He was always kind to me despite the fact that I did absolutely everything to get out of gym class. Forged notes from my mother, forgot my gym clothes, asked to go to the nurse’s office, etc.  He would get exasperated with me, but I think on some level he knew I was dealing with a lot of stuff and just didn’t push it.

It was in gym class that I sprained my ankle. Playing basketball. Or trying to play.  I tried to shoot a basket and jumped up and when I came back down I landed funny and felt excruciating pain. See what happens when you make a fat girl to do gym class, Mr. Longo? Nothing good comes of it. 

Anyhow, he helped me to the nurse’s office and they called my mother and I remember he was really nice and came in to check on me. When my mother came to get me to bring me for x-rays, they had to get me down about 25 steps in front of Ellsworth School to Mom's car. I'll never forget Mr. Longo saying, “I can carry her down.” I was like, “What? Are you crazy? I’m twice as big as you! No way.” I was mortified to even think of him carrying me.  I clearly outweighed him and was about 4 inches taller than him! He finally gave in and probably realized it was for the better for his own health and so I hobbled down those 25 steps holding onto his shoulder and my mom brought me to the doctor. 

Back on Windsor soil, 1982, dressed as Harpo Marx for a 
high school costume party. I had good friends all throughout
high school. Left to Right, Dominique Corbett, me, 
Colleen O'Meara and Kelly Packard. I'm still in contact
with Dominique and Colleen to this day. I lost contact
with Kelly, unfortunately. 
Ninth grade we had moved back to Windsor and I went to Sage Park Junior High (now Middle School) for 9th grade.  I had lots of good teachers at Sage Park. A few of them were still there when my daughters attended there many years later. It was a happy time for me and I made Honor Roll.

I was so happy to be back in Windsor! I made friends easily there and I was excited to know that I would be seeing all my JFK friends at Windsor High School the next year for 10th grade.

Then there was Windsor High School for 10-12th grade. Today it is 9-12th. When I was in 11th grade it changed. We couldn't believe they were letting those baby 9th graders in.  I loved everything about Windsor High School and had a lot of friends and happy times.

I wasn’t in the popular group, but I knew them and got along with them. I wasn’t in the jock group (of course!), but I knew them and got along with them.  I wasn’t a loser, either (despite what my kids think!). I was in the middle. Kind of preppy, I guess. But not a nerd.  A good student. Involved with the Yearbook. Wrote for the school paper. I really got into my English and writing classes tremendously. I managed the boys track team with Jeanne Deshais (whose younger sister, Suzanne, ended up marrying my husband's brother, John). I still don't know how I got involved with that one. I think she and I liked the same boy who did track and she convinced me to help out. Managing just meant taking down stats on the clipboard, filling water bottles, starting and stopping the stop watch and just over-all helping as needed. I have no interest in anything like that, so it must have had to do with Steve Parks, who was a year ahead of me and who I totally liked. I did a lot of things outside school like going to movies with my friends, going to hockey games, sleepovers, etc. I didn't get into any trouble.  I didn’t drink or smoke. It just wasn’t for me. I just liked to laugh and hang out and watch movies and write.

Did I mention that I was never bullied again?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Burning down the house

The title pretty much says it all. If my Dad hadn't needed water from the sink upstairs, I would have accomplished burning down the house.

The Hippie, a.k.a. my sister, Lynn
It was the December before my 6th birthday. My older sister, Lynn, was 17. She was lounging in the recliner in the family room downstairs watching TV. She was a hippie. More trouble was soon to come for her making bad decisions, but she made a particularly bad one that day when she asked this 5 year old to go upstairs to Mom's room to get Mom's lighter so she could have a cigarette. 

Mom knew she smoked. My Mom smoked like crazy so she couldn't exactly tell her not to. Dad must have known too because he was home that day.  Mom must have been at work. 

It was around Christmas time. My mom had a huge box of Christmas paper in her bedroom to wrap presents. I noticed it when I ran in like a dutiful little girl and got the lighter off of Mom's side table. I brought it to Lynn. She lit her cigarette. She told me to bring it back upstairs to Mom's table. Mom liked to have a cigarette while she was watching TV in bed at night and would be mad if her lighter was missing. 

Up I ran the two floors to Mom's room with the lighter in my hand. I started playing with it. Lighters are kind of tricky you know.  But I was a big girl and I thought it was kind of cool to see Lynn flick it and the flame appear. 

So I tried it. Couldn't light it. Kept trying. And trying. Finally I got it. This was easy.  I was going to look cool and smoke like Lynn some day, I thought to myself. Look how grown up I look.  Ooh...look at the pretty paper! I wonder if it would really burn like the tip of Lynn's cigarette? 

So I flicked the lighter and put the flame to just a wee corner of the wrapping paper. 

The house I nearly burned down. 28 Diana Lane. 
"Whoosh!" It caught fire instantaneously, and spread down the roll quickly. Then to the next roll. I stood there. Confused. What was happening? Why didn't it just stay on that one piece that I lit? I tried to blow on it to put it out. Bad idea. It just spread it down the entire box of paper. Now I was scared.

I knew I'd get a spanking if anyone found out what I had done. So I backed out of the room and closed the door. And went to my room to play. And pretended it never happened. I had no concept of the danger everyone was in. Or how fire spreads. I just figured I would deny I had anything to do with it or blame the cat when they found the burned paper. In my 5 year old mind this made perfect sense. 

Luckily, my Dad happened upon the situation. I was told later that there was some issue with the water in the kitchen and Dad just by coincidence went upstairs to my mother's bathroom to fill a pot with water.  When he opened the door, the flames were shooting up from the box near the door like a bonfire.

The arsonist. Me. Age 5
What I remember from that day was Dad yelling "Fire!" and everyone who was home was confused and disbelieving that there really was an emergency. Dad was a pretty mild mannered guy who never raised his voice. So they realized quickly this was no joke.   I was in total denial and shock. For sure I was getting spanked, was all I could think of. My Dad shouted for us to run across the street to the Long's house and he told Lynn to have them call the fire department. I think my brother Rick was home, but I think my oldest brother Chuck had moved out by then. I don't have any recollection of my sister Robin being there, but maybe she was. 

What I do recall is that Lynn saying it was all my fault. And that she had nothing to do with it. Hey, she had enough trouble she was getting into with the whole hippie thing--she needed to deflect the blame on this one. She still brings this up at holidays, believe it or not. Yep. Still all my fault.

 I started to cry when the fire engines came. I watched them come from where I was standing in front of  Bobby Long's living room window. It was quite the excitement in our quiet little neighborhood. All the neighbors came outside to find out what was going on. I had no concept of what I had done until that moment.  Mom was livid with me when she was called home and saw what had happened. What was I thinking, she said. Why did I do that, she said. Then she reamed into Lynn for trusting a 5 year old with a lighter. What was she thinking, she said. Why did she do that, she said. 

The fire was contained to the bedroom and that one wall where the box was. There were burn marks on the wall and I recall my mother having to replace the carpet due to the burn and the water damage. Luckily no one was hurt and the damage was minimal. 

I felt a lot of guilt for that incident for a lot of years. But now it's become sort of those kooky Horner stories we tell from time to time. 

I never felt the desire to smoke as I grew up. I'm guessing this incident had something to do with it. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The red chair

Grandad is his red chair in his den. Early 1970's. 
When my grandmother, Buba, died just a few months before I was married in 1988, my mother let us know that my Aunt and cousins were working on getting her house on Lewis Road in Swampscott, Massachusetts ready to be sold and that if we wanted anything we could go up and take a look. Fred and I would be getting our own house after we got married and I thought there might be some furniture, especially, that we might want to consider.

Among other things we chose was my grandfather's red leather chair from his den and a matching ottoman. It was a favorite of mine and one of the few things that reminded me of a man I really didn't know very well.

I had just turned 8 years old the summer Grandad died. His was the first wake and funeral I ever attended. At the wake, my mother wanted nothing to do with being in the same room as the open casket that Buba had going on for him, so she stood with me outside in the hallway and greeted people as they came in. I was relieved to not have to see a dead person. Score one for being the baby. At his funeral, I remember being mesmerized with the American flag presentation to my grandmother for his World War I service. She looked sad. They had been married 53 years at that point.

Harold Potter Willett about 1896
at the age of 2. Look at that outfit.
The photo above of him sitting in that red chair in his den is how I remember him. What's weird is that I also remember that glass he has next to him. My grandmother had a set of those and I remember drinking out of them.

I love looking at the photos of him growing up. My mother and aunt as well as Buba's diary provide some great stories of him.

He and his brother, John Howard, and sister, Mildred Jeanette, were raised in a very unloving family. Their mother, Fannie, was by all accounts said to have been selfish and cold.  An older brother was still-born in 1888. Harold's middle name was Potter which was his mother's maiden name.

John Howard, Jr. and Harold Willett abt 1902
The Willett family was well off. John Howard, Sr. was in the shoe selling business in Boston which was a lucrative business in the late 1890's. They had a servant. Her name was Carrie Steele, according to the 1910 census. Grandad told the story that she was a loving woman who taught him and John Howard to cook so that on her nights off they wouldn't go to bed hungry. Fannie insisted on going out to dinner on the nights Carrie was off. She had no regard whether the children ate or not.

Harold Potter Willett abt 1912
My own memories of Harold Potter Willett are fleeting and few. He had a brown mole on his cheek and on his forehead. He worked in insurance. He had a soft voice. He was tall and skinny. He always insisted when we drove in the car with him that we had to wear a seat belt. This was in the early 1970's when it wasn't the law and no one did it. I remember what a pain it was to have to do it because I was little and couldn't see out the car window as well. One time while in the car with him, a fire engine came up behind us and he pulled over to the side of the road to let them pass. I asked him why we had to do that and he told me so that the fireman could get to save the people faster. Another time, I remember walking into the kitchen and hearing him complaining about me to my grandmother that I didn't eat all my dinner. He was really mad about it, I remember. He thought I was wasteful and fussy. It hurt my feelings to hear him say that and I snuck out and cried in the upstairs bedroom. I was probably about 5 or 6.

He was actually a very nice man. I just didn't get a chance to get to know him We lived just far enough away in Connecticut that by the time I was born we only made trips up to Swampscott on special occassions. My mother adored him and was always closer to him than she was to her mother. My mother and Grandad were very similar. Neither were good students. Both liked to have fun (too much) growing up. Both were stoic and "suck it up and move forward" kind of people.

My grandfather's red chair
in our living room 2014
I remember Grandad being sick. He had breathing problems due to mustard gas exposure in World War I and it caused issues later in his life.  He had to be on an oxygen tank. They cleared out the dining room of their home in Swampscott and set up a hospital bed in there so he didn't have to go up and down the stairs. Buba took care of him. I recall a time I was sitting in the living room and she was helping him get dressed. He was very frail at that point and he was sitting on the edge of the bed in a hospital gown. She was putting socks on him.  Grandad insisted on getting dressed every day and sitting in a chair.

He died in July of 1973 at the age of 78 in his sleep. Buba was in the living room doing some needlepoint and when she went to check on him, he was gone.

She missed him for the rest of her life. She would mention him frequently and always note his passing by saying something like, "Harold's been gone 20 years this month."

The red chair sits in my living room. Well loved by our cat, Stuart, who likes to nibble on it, unfortunately. But plans are to repair it. In the mean time, it is lovingly watched over by a photo of his wife.