Learning to Step Back

So I thought I’d be writing about dealing with an empty nest again after having my Son home from college for almost a year and a half, March of 2020 to August of 2021, BUT, although I had a very emotional day the day after I took him back, I’m doing better than I thought.

Could be because this year, his Senior year, he’s actually living in suite-style housing, not a standard dorm. AND, once we moved him in, we discovered things that worked in the dorms won’t work in the “apartment” which meant Mom had to do a little shopping and got to go back the following weekend to get him completely set up.

SO, I was able to ease my empty nest heartache with another campus visit.

The Empty Nest – original chalk art created by me – AKA the CHALK Charmer

PLUS, as can be expected when living in an “apartment” some drama is to be had. Unfortunately for my Son, it turned into major drama, which means he’s been communicating with me more, AND, even came home over Labor Day weekend.

SO, I’ve actually seen him 4 weekends since he’s gone because he had to come home once again to pick up a new desk chair for his room.

All this helps fill my empty nest void, but the “apartment drama” my Son has endured is upsetting to me not just because he’s my child and I hate to see him upset. BUT also because it’s his Senior year. This year matters the most on many levels, the most important being acing the schoolwork so he can secure a good job when he graduates. I fear that all the nonsense he has been dealing with will impede his path to fulfill his dreams of being a professional game designer.

Needless to say I have given a lot of council to him and have noted I will step in if the issue doesn’t get resolved soon, and I’m trying hard to respect his desire to “handle” it. As a Mom who has had to step in over the years this isn’t that easy. Not that I’m a “Beverly Goldberg” smothering type of Mom, but when my Son was younger I had to be his advocate on many occasions to see that he didn’t get “screwed” or come to his defense when it was most certainly needed. 

This situation though is a bit different because my Son is somewhat at fault because he trusted someone he thought was a friend and neglected to ask any questions. SO, despite my desire to want to pick up the phone or just show up on campus, I am trying hard to sit tight in hopes that my Son can “handle” this and resolve the mess that was created by the lack of communication and a sincere trust that he was being told the truth.

As most of us have had to deal with at some point in our lives, these young college students are dealing with a “guest” who has over stayed their welcome and won’t leave. What was meant to be a couple days as a favor to someone they thought was a friend has turned into weeks with a jerk of guy who has no respect for anyone’s personal space.

What makes the matter worse, the “guest” graduated last year and is dating one of the roommates.

The situation amplified, because as time went by, more and more of the truth came out. The biggest discovery was the need for a temporary place to crash till the “guest” got housing was really all a rouse to shack up with his girlfriend. The guy’s family actually lives near by, and even if he got the job at the school he was going on and on and on about getting, he still would not have gotten housing supplied because he lived near by.

Add to it, they also found out he was told this well before he even hustled his way into the apartment. SO, he’d been lying from the start and manipulated my Son and the other roommate. This just infuriates me because had my Son mentioned the guy was dating one of the roommates I would have advised against it. BUT I was not consulted. I was just told he’d be there for a few nights so it would be OK

Trust is a good thing, but sometimes one must be weary of those we think are a friend, but may not know that well, especially after not being on campus for over a year.

To say my Son and the other roommate were up in arms about this is an understatement, but it’s a not a simple fix because of how long it’s gone on. My Son still insists he will resolve it and I need to stand down. Which I am, no matter how much I just wanted to go to the campus and haul that guys butt out of the apartment. (He’s a big guy though so I would need back up.)

Learning to step back and let my Son “handle” this has been extremely hard because of the gravity of the situation and the impact it could have on his future. BUT, I also know now that he is 21, and will one day in the not so distant future be out in the great big world on his own, he needs to be able to handle any situation that could be thrown at him or that he may unwittingly get himself in.

SO, despite my desire to step in and put an end to this mess, I know the only way my Son will really grow up and mature is to stand on his own two feet and accept the consequences of his actions. Which I’ve hoped and prayed won’t impact his education or health because of the stress the situation has put on him

I admire his determination to resolve this, and not get help from Mom, but I most certainly worry. Which as a Mom just comes naturally.

Stepping back to let your child fly on their own, is not for the faint of heart. I have been slowly loosening the tether since my Son was in high school, but to know I need to really let go some day soon is not something I’m sure I’m ready for, no matter how much I know I must. Something tells me my empty nest syndrome will be nothing compared to the day my Son actually moves out to officially live on his own and start the next phase of his grown-up adventure.

What I do know though, is if my Son comes to me for advice, that means I must have done something right. He trusts my judgement and respects me as not just his Mom, but as an adult who has experienced more in life than he has, and acknowledges I might just know more about some things. Which ultimately means he has matured.

And it’s only with maturity that I will feel better when he does officially leave the nest. 

I questioned a lot when my Son was adamant about handling this situation himself, especially because of how upset, and even angry he was getting the longer it went on. It’s not easy to think clearly when your emotions get in the way, and this concerned me, but my Son was playing the waiting game, just waiting for the right moment to approach the guy.

Fortunately the waiting game paid off. My Son had mentioned the school enacted a New Guest Policy due to the continuing pandemic and he thought that may be the perfect way to get their freeloading guest out.

Turns out he was right. He mentioned this to the roommate who is dating the “guest,” and she in turn mentioned it to him. And by later in the day he was gone, a win-win for all of them. 

The school policy became the bad guy and saved them from dealing with any resentful behavior on the part of the “guest” who wouldn’t leave.

Seeing how he handled the “guest” issue is evident of the fact that my Son is maturing. By thinking things through before acting, and taking the time to formulate a plan and not just react, he became the adult in the room, which I am very grateful for. When he starts to apply this thought process to all areas of his life, like how he budgets his time and money, I’ll know he’s made the leap into actually being an “adult” and won’t worry so much.

Until then, I will do my best to step back and not step in or give advice unless asked. After all, the only way he’ll truly grow up is by handling his own stuff as we all had to do at some point in our lives.

© Mariann E. Danko and Waking the Woman, 2021. All rights reserved.

Goddess Masthead © Pamela Danko-Stout and Waking the Woman, 2021. All rights reserved.

#WakingtheWoman

#MomMemoir

#SteppingBack

#ParentingaCollegeStudent

#EmptyNest

Empty Nest Art – the CHALK charmer © 2021

All Clip Art Courtesy of 123rf.com

Drama, Trust & Stand on Own -– moniqcca

Advice – denyshutter

Adult Child – topvectors

A Tribute to My Father Bill – “Daddy”

Having lost my Father at an early age, Father’s Day has always been one of those holidays that was just there. I was only 3 1/2 years old when my Father passed, so I never had the opportunity to get to know him.

Did I feel like I was ripped off? Most certainly. 

BUT my Mother Helen was such a wonderful woman and did an amazing job at being both parents that over time those feelings began to fade. I comprehended the load she had to bare. Not only did she loose the love of her life, she had six children, four of whom were still at home, ranging in age from 21 months to 12 years old. It took great fortitude to keep on keeping on after such a loss, but she did.

In all honesty I am extremely grateful I was blessed to have such a phenomenal woman as my Mother. Parenting is a tough job when you have both parents, but doing it solo is a feat not for the weak at heart. 

Did I ever wonder about my Father and what life would have been like had he lived? Sure, who wouldn’t. 

Especially when my older siblings would tell stories about him. Over time these stories became cemented in my memories, and even though I never knew my Father, I had their memories to cling to. It gave me a little solace and made me feel like I sort of knew the man who was my Father. 

While writing the post about my Mother last September, new stories surfaced about my Father. Ones that reflected more about who he was as a man, not just as a Father, and I realized how very little I really knew about him.

At that point I knew one day I would need to dig deeper into those stories with the hope that I could put together a more concise picture of my Father, or should I say “Daddy,” which is how we have always referred to him.  As June approached I thought what better time than the month of June, which is when we honor all Father’s. 

SO, in this month of June, 2021, I will be dedicating my post to my Daddy, William “Bill” Henry Danko. A man I never knew, but love as though I did.

William “Bill” Henry Danko

July 28, 1919 – October 1, 1964

Bill was only 45 when he passed away from colon cancer, but in that short time he lived a full life. A life filled with hardships and challenges, but through them all he always remained true to who he was at heart and he never forgot his roots.

William Henry Danko was the oldest son of Agnes (Peczuch) and George Danko. Both Agnes and George had immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe in the hopes of having a better life.

Agnes arrived in New York on May 21, 1914 when she was not quite 17. She had $15 with her and was listed as a servant. She had left her parents and 2 siblings behind in their home in Szedikert in the Presov District of Slovakia. She came to America to meet her older brother Victor who lived in South Bethlehem, PA.  

George arrived in 1906 at the age of 15. His father and brother were already here and working for the Bethlehem Steel. He was naturalized in 1926 at the age of 35.

How Agnes and George met is not clear, but they both had family who belonged to Saints Cyril & Methodius Catholic Church in South Bethlehem, so it’s very possible that is where the connection was made, especially because that’s where they were married in 1916. Agnes was 19 and George was 25.

George and Agnes’ Wedding Picture

Their first child William Henry was born July 28, 1919 and George Francis, their second child, was born on November 29, 1921.

After renting for years, Agnes and George purchased a large home in May of 1926 in Hellertown, PA, not far from South Bethlehem where they had been living. The home had the second floor converted into an apartment, which could be an extra source of income.

Things were looking up. George was well established at the Bethlehem Steel as a repairman, and although he worked long hours, he still helped with the maintenance of the house and apartment.

Danko Family Circa 1922

In 1927 though, George, the Father, was admitted to the hospital with a mysterious illness. He was put in quarantine until it was discovered he had abdominal cancer that had metastasized. He passed away on July 2, just shy of Bill’s 9th birthday. 

The sudden loss of her husband at an early age was hard on Agnes, but she had her boys who needed her attention, as did the home they had recently purchased. 

In June of 1933, Agnes remarried Andrew Bacha, who was 43 and a widower. As the story goes, Agnes did not tell Bill and George about her plans to remarry, and when Bill witnessed them coming home, he was so upset he ran away from home. For how long, it’s not known, but long enough to let his voice be heard.

This marriage didn’t last long though. Soon after, Agnes discovered Andrew was an alcoholic and it wasn’t long after that he left. 

Agnes was an extremely hard worker, but with no man in the house, the boys would have to pick up the slack. Having a good work ethic was something both boys saw in their Father and Mother, so Bill and George fell right into place with the tasks at hand. 

In addition though, Agnes was so hardwired to always be taking care of the tasks at hand, that in her mind there was no time for frivolous behavior. This attitude would cause friction between Bill and his Mother as he grew into a young man and his highly creative side began to shine.

Agnes saw no room for such behavior and for this reason showed obvious favoritism to George, Bill’s younger brother. He was very obedient and went to Business School after high school, landing a job as an accountant at the Bethlehem Steel.

In Agnes’ eyes this was the right thing to do and nothing Bill did ever seemed to be good enough. It didn’t matter that Bill was a hard worker, working as a clerk at a meat market, a butcher at his Uncle’s Butcher Shop, and by 1945 getting a job at the Bethlehem Steel, starting in the Lab and working his way up to Safety Supervisor by 1949.

Bill working in butcher shop
Bill – Safety Supervisor
Bill at work as Safety Supervisor at the Bethlehem Steel

At one point Bill was even taking evening classes at a Penn State Extension to study engineering, his true passion. Unfortunately he was unable to finish, which was always his biggest regret.

Bill working at drafting table

Another disappointed for Bill was not being able to enlist in the military during WWII. As a child he had broken an arm and it was not set correctly, so he couldn’t straighten that arm. This was considered a slight defect, which kept him out of the service.

Bill was shorter than George, only 5’ 9” to George’s 6’ 3”, but he was strong and sturdy, even playing football in high school. But that issue with his arm, was all it took to reject him.

Bill’s football days – #20

Despite all the disappointment and negativity though, Bill never let it stop him from being true to who he was at heart. He had a vast array of interests, and was a bit of a Jack-of-All Trades. If he found something that intrigued him, he would dive in and explore.

One of those interests was photography, which actually became his occupation for a while, starting his own business taking portraits. He thoroughly enjoyed experimenting with different types of cameras and even built his own darkroom in the basement of his Mother’s home. This business stopped during the War though because the cost of materials was too expensive.

Just a few of Bill’s many cameras

Photography always remained a hobby though, especially once Bill had a family. His wife and children became his favorite subject, even setting up backdrops to take portraits of the children.

Bill’s creative pursuits didn’t end with photography. He loved to paint and was an amazing woodworker, carving gunstocks, and crafting furniture. Furniture that is still in use, built better than most of what exists now. He certainly put his engineering skills to use when designing this furniture. They were not just functional, but works of art too.

One of Bill’s paintings
One of Bill’s guns with a custom carved gun stock

When Bill passed many of Bill’s so-called friends were quick to show-up and talk Helen his wife into selling them some of his things, in particular this gun. Many years later, Bill’s Son William’s wife Judi was able to track down the person who bought the gun and she bought it back to give to William as a gift. Needless to say William was beyond surprised, but thrilled to own something that his Father crafted and used.

12′ bookshelf built by Bill – Mariann his Daughter still uses it
End table built by Bill, he built 2, Mariann has one and William his Son has the other
Coffee table built by Bill – his Grandson Roy, Mariann’s Son, has taken this over for his “dorm” in the basement of their home
Dresser built by Bill for his girls – Mariann uses to store wrapping paper in. The design on the dresser is to pay homage to Bill’s wife Helen’s PA German heritage
Another dresser built by Bill – Mariann uses to store craft supplies in

Being true to his heart most certainly came into play when Bill pursued a woman who was not only not Slovak, but also not Catholic. This did not please Agnes at all. She had already picked a nice Catholic Slovak girl for him, but Bill was in love and that’s all that mattered to him.

When taking an injured co-worker to St. Luke’s Hospital ER to be checked out, Bill encountered a nurse who quickly caught his eye. That beauty was Helen Dechert. Being an outspoken man, Bill commented how beautiful she was, but added she needed to do something about her hands, which looked awful. Needless to say, this did not sit well with Helen.

Bill however was sure to note her name and came back the next day to apologize and ask Helen out on a date. Helen was reluctant, but Bill was one handsome guy, he kind of had Clark Cable looks with coal black hair and blue grey eyes, so she agreed to the date.

This was all it took for the two of them to realize they were meant to be together.

Falling in love though was not part of Helen’s plans. She had been offered a scholarship for Columbia University where she could pursue a career as an obstetrician. Something she was seriously considering.

Not wanting to lose Helen, much to Helen’s surprise, Bill proposed. Upon popping the lid on the ring box, he said, “Well you love me, don’t you?”

The truth was, Helen did love Bill, so she followed her heart and married him, never once looking back. The two were married on January 23, 1943, at St. Theresa’s Church in Hellertown, PA. Bill was 23, and Helen was 22.

Bill always wanted a large family and they wasted no time getting started. In December of 1943 their first child Carolann was born with Georgene following 2 years later in 1945.

Agnes with Carolann and Georgene

As the story goes though, Bill was so hoping for a boy they didn’t even have a girls name picked out. He wanted very much to name his first male child George after his Father. In order to compromise they went with Georgene.

It certainly helped that Georgene turned out to be a bit of “Tom Boy” because Bill and Helen would have 3 more girls, Pamela in 1951, Francine in 1956 and Mariann in 1961, before their Son William was born in December of 1962, 21 months before Bill’s passing.

Bill holding Francine, Helen, Carolann, Georgene, and Pam
Bill holding his Son William, and daughter Mariann –
Helen said when he was sick he would always ask to have them play at his feet so he could watch

Early on in their marriage, they rented an apartment in Agnes’ house, which at times was a bit challenging, but the two found ways to overcome the friction. Bill helped maintain the property inside and out, which was a lot of work, considering it was coal heat, and the property was surrounded with shrubs. But that wasn’t even enough to please Agnes, particularly because she didn’t quite approve of their parenting style, which was a bit too playful for her.

Seeing Helen stop housework to make oatmeal box houses for the girl’s dolls, or to have a picnic inside on a rainy day, throwing a blanket on the living room floor and making peanut butter sandwiches with sprinkle sugar cut out with cookie cutters, or walking Carolann and Georgene to the Steel Club (miles away) for swimming lessons in the middle of doing laundry just was not how Agnes thought children should be raised.

Bill and Helen knew the needs of the children where more important than any housework. The children would remember time spent with them, not how clean the house was.

That’s why when they started having children Bill wanted Helen to stay home and quit working. Yes this was old-fashioned, but for the times it was pretty normal. Bill felt a woman’s place was at home with the children, and it was his job to provide for the family, no matter how hard he had to work to do so.

Although playful, Bill was a very strict disciplinarian, and would not tolerate picky eaters, disobedience and whining. This also applied when it came to the girls and their grades at school. He highly believed in getting a good education. He felt it was the stepping-stone to a better future, obviously because he himself was unable to finish his engineering degree.

He expected only the best out of the girls with their schoolwork. And the girls never let him down; they most definitely wanted to please their Dad. This gave Bill bragging rights with his co-workers. Especially when Carolann got a scholarship for nursing school and Georgene had to present a portfolio for admission into Kutztown University, both were very proud moments for Bill.

Carolann’s Nursing School Graduation – Left to right, Margaret, Bill’s cousin and all the children’s Godmother, Agnes, Bill, Carolann, Helen, and Hancy, George’s wife (in background, Carolann’s boyfriend Prett)

Bill even invested in the very expensive Encyclopedia Britannica, which before the Internet was the go to for information. No such thing as Google back then. All the children made good use out of these, long after Bill had passed, a very wise and worthy investment on his part.

In addition he enrolled in a Classic Record Club, so the girls could enrich their minds and ears listening to classical music.

Bill’s strictness also came into play when he taught Carolann and Georgene to drive. He was very tough on them, but he was also a very good teacher.

Falling in line with Bill’s old-fashion way of thinking was how very strict he was when it came to not only the girl’s attire, but Helen’s too. He wanted them all to be dressed like nice young ladies, properly covered and clean. Helen often made lookalike dresses for the girls and her and Bill just loved that.

Helen with Carolann and Georgene in matching dresses
Bill with Helen, Carolann, Georgene and Francine

Despite being very old-fashioned in his thinking when it came to Helen not working while raising the children, when it came to his daughters the skies were the limits. At one point Georgene mentioned becoming a hairdresser because she enjoyed playing with different hairstyles, he told her that would be a waste of her brains. Later she mentioned becoming a social worker, his response, “that’s for rich kids.”

Bill and Helen were also member of the Bethlehem Steel Club, which had a beautiful swimming pool, clubhouse, golf course and picnic grounds. Getting the girls swimming lessons was important to Bill. He knew the importance of safety in all areas of life, not just in the workplace.

Being a very talented diver, Bill loved having access to the pool as much as the children did. Plus it gave an additional opportunity to display proper pool safety.

The Steel Club hosted Christmas parties, egg hunts and picnics, and this gave the family an opportunity to socialize with other Steel workers families.

In 1958, Bill and Helen took a huge leap when they built their own home in Bright Acres/Bingen, which was just outside of Hellertown. They could finally find their emancipation from living in Agnes’ home.

This was an exciting time for the whole family, a place to finally call their own. The untouched countryside surrounding their home offered a much needed refuge. They felt as though they could breathe again.

Bill wasted no time landscaping the property, which was about 1 ½ acres, planting shrubs and trees that would compliment the house, clearing the fence line and building a rock garden. The girls were all expected to help with these tasks. No complaining, no excuses, and no allowances. It was tough, but they all developed a good work ethic from the experience. 

In addition, Bill loved gardening, the one thing he and his Mother had in common. At her home they had a huge garden they both tended to, so it goes without saying he would plant a huge vegetable garden at their new home. Surrounding it with raspberry and currant bushes, which Helen would use to create wonderful jelly to can and freeze their harvest. They lived the farm to table life well before it was even a thing.

Bill’s massive garden was a place of refuge after a long day at work. Often calling Helen before he left work telling her to feed the children because he was going out in the garden when he got home. His garden continued to be a place of refuge even when he became ill, often sitting in a lawn chair watering his plants.

Bill and Helen were green and sustainable before they were the trend. Starting a compost pile, and harvesting fresh organic produce and cooking from scratch, every day.

They would recycle everything they could, which back then took effort. Cans went to one place and bottles went back to the beverage distributor.

As an avid hunter, fisherman and overall outdoorsman, Bill was in his element in this more rural setting. He would continue to raise German Short Haired Pointers to be sold for hunting. He had started this while living at his Mother’s, but he could take it to a new level, building a huge fenced in area for the dogs. Even allowing them in the house on the coldest of Winter’s days.

He also made his own lures for fishing and custom designed carved gunstocks. Both were works of art just like his furniture.

In addition, Bill was a member of the Hellertown Sportsman’s Association and the NRA. While with the NRA he taught gun safety. Even making sure to teach his older daughters Carolann and Georgene how to safely handle a gun. 

He also taught all the girls the basics of fishing; Pamela even won a contest at the Sportsmen’s Association. He would sometimes even take one of them with him when he went for a quick fishing trip after work to unwind. Being outside, in any fashion, was a major stress reliever for Bill.

Pam fishing
Bill relaxing at the beach

One great adventure Bill took the entire family on was a fishing trip to Canada. This was before Mariann and William were born, so it was just the four older girls, but Francine was little enough to not realize Canada was a country, and thought it was one of Bill’s many friends who they often visited after church. There was one who never had toys, so Francine’s response when finding out about the trip was to ask, “Does Canada have toys?” A phrase that is still used in the family today.

In order to make the trip itself part of the adventure, Bill created a spot between the seats, stacking the suitcases and covering them with blankets, so the girls could sleep. He preferred to drive at night, and this way the girls would be comfortable and could rest when needed. Having tasty snacks like Oreos and coffee milk helped too.

They rented a rustic cabin with a screened in porch overlooking a lake. The scenery was pristine and the water so clear you could see your feet on the sandy bottom. In the evening they would build a campfire to sit around and sing songs. Or, hangout in the cabin and play games.

The Great Canadian Adventure – Pam with Georgene in the back

Since Bill had a background in Amateur Theatre, I’m quite sure he made the games quite entertaining, as well as the group sing-alongs.

One excursion on the trip involved taking Georgene and Carolann out on a boat to catch frogs that would later become dinner. The girls swore they wouldn’t eat the frogs legs after seeing them still hoping about even after their heads were cut off, but upon tasting them discovered they were quite good.

While on the Canada Trip Adventure, when they went out to a restaurant, Bill told the girls they were only allowed to have cereal for breakfast or a hot dog for lunch. Considering the size of the family, this is quite understandable.

Despite Bill’s early passing, his love of nature and the outdoors was instilled in all the children, even Mariann and William, who were too little to even know him. He was a true environmentalist, with a love for every living thing on this earth and knew the value of having a good relationship with the environment, and his children all do too, thanks to him.

As a matter of fact, William has his own landscaping business, Pamela and her husband are both Master Gardeners, and his oldest Grandson (who he never knew) is an Environmental Engineer. To say it’s in the genes is an understatement.

Another trait some of the children inherited, which isn’t a good one though, is his “Slavinsky Natura” – aka temper. Bill was quick to anger, but then just as quickly cooled down. Unfortunately this upset the household, which took much longer to relax after an outburst.

Fortunately, the children who did inherit this trait have very much mellowed as they have aged, which I’m guessing would have been the same for Bill had he had the opportunity to grow old with Helen.

In reference to Bill’s friends, he had a lot of them. All with a variety of skill sets different from his, who could help with things he couldn’t do himself. One of those was welding, which came in handy when Bill wanted a swing set for the children at the new house. This friend also made a custom designed Christmas tree stand, which stayed in the family for years.

Swing set Bill had a friend build for the girls

Bill also had friend’s who had cherry and peach trees that the family would go pick when in season, and another with a farm where he could cut a fresh Christmas tree.

An interesting habit Bill had in regards to his friends was, when driving, if he saw them, he would nod and say their names as he passed by, just a simple greeting acknowledging them, even if they didn’t see him.

Bill would often randomly stop by to visit friends, usually after church, which meant he had the family with him. The odd thing was, he generally went in by himself, leaving Helen and the girls in the car. Sometimes waiting in the car for an hour, Helen found ways to entertain the girls, but never complained. She knew Bill just needed some time with his friend.

Part of Bill’s escape from stress, beyond his garden or fishing was the huge workshop he built in the basement of the new home. That was a great escape for him where he would create his masterpieces.

He kept it immaculate and well organized. So much so that he knew if one of the girls borrowed a supply for a school project, because it would never be put back in its proper place.

He was a bit of an inventor too and even applied for patents on a few of his inventions, but it’s not known whatever became of them.

Bill also had large fish tanks for a while that he kept as meticulous as his workshop. This was just one more hobby that helped to alleviate stress in his life.

Both Bill and Helen were very creative and playful and it showed in how they approached the holidays, especially Christmas. It was most certainly a magical time.

Bill would create the most amazing Putz with real moss gathered from a friend’s farm. It was so large it took over the living room in their small apartment and half the living room in the new home.

Massive Putz Bill would create every year for Christmas. Even the manger and the stand the Putz is on was crafted by Bill

The two of them would stay up till the wee hours of the morning preparing stockings and gifts. One key feature was the Surprise Balls filled with little toys rolled up in paper that unraveled.

Francine, Pamela, Georgene and Carolann – Christmas in the apartment
First Christmas after Bill’s passing Helen made sure the Putz was put up. Not to the same detail, but it made it feel like Bill was still with them

At Easter the egg coloring was a major event supervised by Bill. This tradition is still carried on by all the children and grandchildren. Easter just isn’t Easter without this tradition.

Bill was not a very demonstrative man, but he found ways to let his girls know he loved them. Like placing his hand on their shoulder and gently guiding them when they were walking somewhere, or see that he had Valentines for each of them, telling them they’re all his sweethearts.

And, when the girls had processions at school he’d put together bouquets from the peonies, roses and Lilly of the Valley that lined the property at his Mother’s house. These bouquets were more beautiful than the purchased ones the other girls’ at school which made the Danko Girls very proud.

The biggest sign of his love though was his concern for Carolann and Georgene when they went out on a date. He would tell Helen not to worry and to go bed, but then he would wait up. When he heard the car pull into the driveway, he would flash the carport lights on and off to let them know he was waiting for them. I’m thinking this was also a way to worn the boy Dad was watching.

Georgene heading out on a date

Bill so wanted something more for his children, and he did everything he could to see that their life experiences were ones that would expand their minds and enhance their overall well-being. They were not wealthy, but he made sure everything they did was rich with wonder and awe.

If Bill were alive today I think he’d be pleased to see that all his efforts were not in vain. Each one of his children is unique and have tried hard to stay true to their hearts just like him. And all continue to honor their Slovak roots, which they are very proud of.

Danko Family circa 2013 at Carolann’s 70th birthday party – Dustin (Grandson) with his wife Nicole and their Son Ian, Daughter Pamela with her husband Terry behind her, Daughter Georgene with her husband John, Daughter Francine, Son William and his family, Son’s Billy, Dylan and Ethan on the far right, wife Judi and Daughter Carolann – Seated are Daughter Mariann and her Son Roy, and Helen, the matriarch of the family

Although Bill passed way too young, the legacy of the highly creative, multi-talented, passionate outdoorsman and environmentalist that he was has lived on with not only his children, but also his five grandsons and one great grandson.

Grandson Dustin (Georgene’s Son) and his Son Ian – 2020
Grandson’s Billy, Ethan and Dylan (William’s Sons) at Ethan’s wedding – 2016
Grandson Roy (Mariann’s Son) – 2019

AND, if he were here to see his grandsons and great grandson all grow into the fine young men they are, I’m quite sure he would be bragging to all his friends, just as he did about his girls.

When a soul is strong and full of life, their energy lives on even when they are gone. This is just the case for William “Bill” Henry Danko. Physically he left this Earth in 1964 at the youthful age of 45, but the spirit of his soul still lingers within all his loved ones, forever and for always.

Shadow box created by Pamela and her husband Terry for all the children in memory of Bill

© Mariann E. Danko and Waking the Woman, 2021. All rights reserved.

Goddess Masthead © Pamela Danko-Stout and Waking the Woman, 2021. All rights reserved.

Photos from the family’s personal collection

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Light at the End of the Tunnel

As the world starts to attempt to come out of it’s COVID cocoon, it’s hard to not look back and take stock of the impact this year in isolation has had on my Son and I.

For my Son, who is a junior in college, a year off-campus, with all virtual classes has taken a toll on him in a very negative way. It has induced apathy and put him into a dull state of depression, something I don’t often see with him.

As an online gamer he spends a lot of time in the virtual world, so I figured he’d adapt well, but as the quarantine lingered longer, the lack of in-person learning and time with friends hanging out on campus began to wear on him.

For me though, I’ve found the quarantine and isolation time somewhat invigorating. I love being home, but up until shut down, if I wasn’t at work, I was out running errands, and when I was home, my time was dominated by chores.

During shut down I continued to work from home, but the work was limited because of the nature of the business.

SO, the in-between time finally allowed me the luxury to just appreciate being home.

I could actually ponder things that would be nice to change, or that could use a little updating: nothing over the top like renovation, but something as simple as new curtains, or rearranging furniture.

AND, purge stuff that has accumulated over the years without the necessary time to address it.

PLUS, for the first time in years I could finally start to conquer projects sitting in limbo, like my Son’s high school graduation scrapbook and framing.

In addition, I could take time to relax and read a book, which is something I can honestly say I hardly ever do despite the fact that I love to read. Up until shut down, reading the paper or an occasional magazine article was the extent of my reading.

The most important thing though, I could finally truly focus on my writing as a business. Something I knew I had to do in order to supplement my income leading up to and during retirement, which is a must in order for me to actually retire. 

Yes, this does sound like a lot to cover in any day, week, or month, but considering prior to COVID shut down I was working a 9 hour day, plus travel time to and from work, I now had 10 hours each day, 50 hours a week, and 200 hours a month to play with.

Minus of course whatever work I had to attend to, but that was never more than maybe 5 hours a day, so I still had 5 hours free, which to any mom is a like an entire day free.

Note, this extra time began to dwindle by mid-May, but any time not already plotted into my day was a gift. So I took advantage of it, and jumped head first into exploring my writing as a business.

In so doing though, I discovered monetizing a blog that is a bit esoteric, as this blog is, is not an easy feat to accomplish, without a lot of time and SEO know how, which I do not have, especially being back in the office every day since June.

Fortunately though, by the time I discovered this, I had also unearthed a new creative outlet. An outlet that I would also discover has far more potential than monetizing my blog.

And that new creative outlet turns out is something I could have never fathomed even in my wildest dreams.

Custom designed chalk creations done on my driveway.

What started out as a simple Easter greeting for my neighbors at the beginning of the pandemic has turned into a weekly thing. All it took was a passerby commenting how cheerful the creation was, noting how much we needed that, and adding I should keep it up.

Every week I tried something new, and about a year ago tried my hand with a mandala. 

Once I did that I knew I was on to something. Even during the winter I continued to create new art. Of course on a smaller scale, but I would hang it in my front window and post it on the Facebook page I created to share my art with those not in my neighborhood.

I even came up with a name for my chalk art alter ego “the CHALK Charmer” which is what my Facebook page is titled.

https://www.facebook.com/TheCHALKCharmer/

Upon sharing my creations friends commented that some of the art would look nice on mugs, or t-shirts, or bags, etc…

This got the wheels in my head turning.

Could my creations actually become something more than therapy for me on weekends?

Could they actually become a source of income?

So I began to explore the idea and I’m happy to say I’m on the precipice of starting a business to sell merchandise. 

Right now this idea is very much in it’s infancy. 

Turns out the avenue I was considering, which is a third party company that would host my shop, do all the fulfillment from printing-on-demand, to shipping, to collecting payment, may not be the route I want to take.

Although this seems like the perfect route for someone who works full-time while trying to start a side business, the samples I received may look good, but upon showing my co-workers, I discovered the quality of the base product is not up to par, which doesn’t sit right with me.

Samples of mug, pouch, t-shirt and tank top
Close up of mug

I may work in the print world, but I don’t handle merchandise like some of my co-workers do, and I trust their judgement. The last thing I want is my reputation tarnished by a poor product.

In addition, this third party company would also handle the customer service, which makes me twitch, because as someone who does customer service for a living, I know how critical it is to making or breaking a business. In general the CS reviews I’ve read are pretty good for the company I was considering, but it only takes one bad experience to screw your reputation.

With all this in mind, I’m now looking into my own e-commerce site. Of course this means I need to stock inventory, do all the shipping and payment collection, but I would be able to control all aspects of the business, starting with selling a quality product I believe in.

Starting a business is not something I take lightly, and to be honest is very scary, yet exhilarating at the same time. It is also something I would not venture forth to do without guidance, which is why I have reached out to my local Small Business Council.

After all, this is my future and I want to make sure I do everything right from the very start. I don’t want to half-ass this in any way.

SO, although this means my actual shop for the CHALK Charmer will be delayed, my vision for the future is getting clearer every day. AND, after speaking with the Small Business Council, I know it’s a valid vision, which means I can look to the future with great excitement knowing as long as I put the work in, my dreams will come to fruition.

AND, the kicker is, without my quarantine time, I could have been spinning my wheels for years trying to monetize my blog and in so doing been forced to give up on the hopes of retiring at any age, let alone 65.

As for my Son, knowing he’ll be back on campus for his Senior year has been enough to help lift him out of the funk that consumed him over his year in isolation.

Come August I’m sure I’ll be going through withdrawal having an empty house again. BUT, I’ll have my new adventure to focus on, and I’ll know my Son is where he needs to be to fulfill his dreams.

PLUS, I’ll be able to look back over our year in isolation together knowing despite all the anxiety and stress we became closer, and faced the challenges together.

AND, all of this made us stronger individually and together. 

© Mariann E. Danko and Waking the Woman, 2021. All rights reserved.

Goddess Masthead © Pamela Danko-Stout and Waking the Woman, 2021. All rights reserved.

Photos from my personal collection

Look Back – © 123rf – Pracha jaruprateepkul

Home – © 123rf – Vasvas

Free Time – © 123rf – Rabina Elif Aksoy

Business Start Up – © 123rf – Iryna Liashenko

Clear Vision – © 123rf – Zachery Blanton

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The Toll of Quarantine on My College Student Son

March 13, 2021 marked one year since I brought my Son home from college for what was only suppose to be two weeks. 

A year later he is still home, taking all his classes virtually.

AND, my how things have changed.

When the COVID pandemic was not yet classified a pandemic, but things were escalating daily, my anxiety levels were also escalating, especially because my Son was away at school. I feared the US would go into lockdown and he would be stuck there. 

As a fan of “The Walking Dead” every end of world scenario was playing out in my mind.

How would I get my Son home if we were in lockdown? What covert operation would I have to pull off? Would I have to dodge law enforcement or the military? Would I be fined if I was caught?

The Walking Dead Characters locked, loaded and ready for action – courtesy of AMC

Granted, some of this is extreme, but a year ago so much was up in the air that anything imaginable crossed my mind.

SO, when the school sent out the plans to send students home for an extended Spring Break I was beyond relieved. No covert operation would be needed. I could pick my Son up in a somewhat normal fashion.

Once he was home I didn’t care what happened, as long as he was home with me. If the world fell apart we’d face it together, just like Rick and Carl.

Rick and Carl facing the end of the world together – courtesy of AMC

And face it we did.

When my Son first got home, I was still working full-time in the office, coming home strung out because I had no clue if I was exposed to the virus. Within a week though the Stay-At-Home Orders were put in place in our state and the official lockdown began. 

Being told I had to stay home and not venture out into the virus-infested world was a huge relief, and an order I was grateful to abide by. We’d make due with what we had and when we ran out of something figure it out then. 

The true test would be how my Son and I handled being home all day, every day with just each other. 

I had finally adjusted to being by myself after a rough Freshman year, and my Son had gotten comfortable with his on-campus college student lifestyle.

He was becoming more independent and he liked it. His visits home up to this time were always relaxed and playful because that’s just what they were meant to be. Breaks from the college workload to refresh and recharge for the next semester.

AND, of course Mom would dote on him because that’s what Mom’s do when their kids come home from college.

Now however, he would be taking classes from home and I would be working from home. Nothing at all like a normal home visit for a college break. 

Add to it, we both had to share the loft where our computers were.

Needless to say it was a bit of an adjustment, but some how we made it work. His irregular class schedule and my flexibility with work hours certainly helped.

Plus I was only home full time for about a month before I was going back into the office a couple times a week which eventually led to full time again by May.

One of my biggest challenges came when I was trying to focus and my Son would decide that’s when he wanted to give me an update on something related to a class, or even just something silly he read and thought I’d enjoy.

Prior to this it was a none-issue because I wasn’t doing work related things at home. BUT, now it mattered, so I had to find a delicate way to let him know it was not a good time and not offend him because I certainly wanted to know about school.

Note, my Son is very random when it comes to informing me about personal things or school, so I have learned over the years to pause when he gets in the mood to talk. No matter when that may be.

The last thing I wanted was to have him think I didn’t care and stop randomly spilling what’s on his mind.

Considering the fact that he still does this, I can say I did not offend him, and we’re all good it that department.

The other key thing at play with my Son home full-time again was and still is the general dynamics between the two of us.

Our relationship as parent and child has been evolving since my Son was a teen, and took on a whole new level when he went away to college. At college, he was maturing and learning to be more independent, and I was concerned being forced to move back home full-time could do some damage in that area.

Something I most certainly didn’t want to see happen.

So I have tried hard to give him space, within limits though, because after all he is still at home under my roof.

There had to be some rules. Like helping Mom with kitchen duties. Something he got out of while in high school, but not now. It was only fair considering I was back to doing more cooking on a regular basis.

When I contracted COVID in late January, my Son had no choice but to step up his game in this area, and I can say he has done it without complaining which is major sign of maturity. 

In the beginning of the stay-at-home orders, because we were both so consumed by what was going on with the pandemic, and my work ours were not consistent, there was a lot of fluidity with household dynamics.

BUT, once my hours went back to full-time and my Son was back working part-time at a local grocery store, I quickly realized our relationship was evolving into a whole new phase

The dynamics between the two of us was becoming one of true camaraderie, with a buddy-like quality, and a real sense of respect for each other. Something I happily welcomed and was excited to experience. Were there hiccups, of course, but overall things were changing for the good.

Summer hike in the Poconos

Because of this new-found camaraderie I noticed my Son more willing to open up about his emotions when dealing with being home. Which I was beyond grateful for because otherwise I would not have realized the toll quarantine was actually taking on him.

One of the biggest issues he addresses was a feeling of apathy, and lack of motivation. He noted that at least he was getting his class work done.

Apparently a lot of friends have not been.

As my Son told me the extended virtual learning was taking a toll on everyone he spoke with.

The lack of in-person classes and “real” on-campus life was hindering their desire to perform to the best of their ability. AND this was coming from friends who were actually on campus, but had at least half of their classes still virtual.

Once he told me all of this, I started to better understand some of his not so normal behavior.

My Son has always been a bit of a night owl, and would sleep in as often as he could, which is pretty normal for teens and college students. BUT, things were escalating to the point where he’d be up all night and sleep all day whenever he didn’t need to be up for classes. AND sometimes even when he did have classes. 

This concerned me because how could he be prepared for class if he crawled out of bed 5 minutes before class. Plus be alert enough to actually participate.

And to add to all of this, my Son had finally gotten his computer moved to the basement over Winter Break so he had more seclusion and privacy, which only amplified the night owl problem.

Prior to the move, he was right outside my bedroom in the loft so I could hear him, which meant I could keep tabs on him and make him accountable for his time. Something he didn’t really like.

Although he’s holding his own with classes, despite an issue with one class that’s tied to the instructors, he’s spending the bare minimal of time on his classwork, but certainly spending plenty of time gaming, and watching Anime or stupid videos on YouTube. If he’s not in front of his computer, he’s got his phone and is watching stupid videos there.

Again, I know this is pretty standard for a college kid, but for my Son it’s excessive. It’s most certainly a means of escape.

He’s always spent a lot of time online with friends, either gaming or just BS’ing, but he’d also spend just as much time socializing with his friends in-person, especially on campus.

SO, taking the personal one-on-one side out of the equation was rearing it’s ugly head.

At least when he’s working he gets some one-on-one time with co-workers and customers, but because of the amount of writing one of his classes required he decided to not work during this semester, which just added to the seclusion problem.

I’ve told him his behavior is a sign of depression, and he’s aware of it. YET, he’s making limited effort to break free of the hold the quarantine has on him, which is what concerns me.

In general he seems fine, but because he has no reason to leave the house, and has limited commitments, he’s left to just flounder. 

He is not very self-motivated, which is another issue for another post, so although there are many things he could be doing with his time, he chooses to do nothing

I toss out ideas, and make suggestion to help lift him out of his funk, but he dismisses the ideas, even when he knows it’s on him to make the change.

When he was away at college, living on campus, he was starting to get more organized with his time, plotting his days out, prioritizing tasks, etc… He was learning to create structure and order to his days. Even motivated to venture forth beyond his comfort zone.

Last performance with jazz band a week prior to coming home

NOW, all bets are off 

At least he’s getting his schoolwork done, which I have to be grateful for. And, the classes the back half of this semester seem to be more engaging, which seem to be helping his overall mood a little.

BUT, next semester is his senior year and I fear what this extended time at home has done to his overall growth. I’m hoping once he’s vaccinated and can be back on campus, he will be able to pick up where he left off, but until then, I will do my best to help him break free from his quarantine funk.

I will need to find ways to make him more accountable for his time every day. What that is I don’t know yet, BUT if he has to answer to someone other than himself about how he spends his days, maybe that will help.

This is all very new for me.

Usually my Son has had so much schoolwork, and extracurricular activities that I was not concerned about his “veg out time.” I knew he needed it as a means to recharge so I didn’t worry.

Now however all this “veg out time” is doing the opposite.

It’s slowly burning out all the stored charge that motivated my Son to succeed. Apathy is winning and despite still being in a pandemic I have to find a way to reverse this course and get my Son back on track for I hope and pray will be his best year of college, his Senior year! 

© Mariann E. Danko and Waking the Woman, 2021. All rights reserved.

Goddess Masthead © Pamela Danko-Stout and Waking the Woman, 2021. All rights reserved.

#WakingtheWoman

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#QuarantineApathy

The Dechert Sisters Legacy – Mildred “Mickey” Alice Dechert Bortz

March 23, 1928 – July 10, 2020

Mildred, better known as “Mickey” was the 5th and youngest daughter of Sallie and David Dechert, but in no way was she ever really the “baby” of the family other than in age.

By the time she was an adult, Mickey’s home became the central meeting point for all the sisters and their families.

AND, she sort of became the keeper of all that was going on within the extended family. She was like the central switchboard operator, with all lines of communication going through her.

I’m thinking some of this was because Mickey, by choice, stayed in Myerstown, while all the other sisters ventured out beyond their little hometown, SO, by default, she became the center of the family without even realizing it.

BUT, there were also the unique relationships Mickey forged with each one of her sisters. 

Mickey, Betty, Helen, Mabel and Kassie

All the sisters were very tight and absolutely loved spending time together, but because there was such a large gap in age between Mickey and her older sisters Kassie and Mabel, the dynamics between them was different than with she and Betty, who was just two years older.

Kassie and Mabel were teenagers by the time Mickey and Betty were born and actually helped to raise the youngest Dechert girls, but in no way did they ever resent this though. As a matter, by the time Mickey and Betty were school age, both Kassie and Mabel were married, and along with their husbands, would often take the girls places, and even buy them little gifts. 

SO, instead of being “older” sisters who dominated their younger siblings, they were Mickey and Betty’s equal, which you don’t often find between younger and older siblings with a large age gap. And this bond of equality just tightened, as they got older. 

Mickey, Betty, Helen, Mabel and Kassie at Mickey’s daughter Kathy’s wedding 1991

Now Helen was only 6 when Mickey was born, which is not as much of a gap, but enough of one that allowed Helen to also step in to help with her younger sisters whenever she was called upon. But in no way did that impact the dynamics between Helen and her younger siblings. She too felt like their equal, not an older sibling who could boss them around.

As a matter of fact, Mickey and Helen and their families became extremely close over the years, in part because of the closeness in age between their children, but even more so because they had very similar personalities.

Mickey and Helen in their senior years

Plus they both inherited their Mother Sallie’s baking gene carrying on the traditional Pennsylvania German treats they grew up on.

Now Mickey and Betty, being the youngest, were tight as tight could be. As a matter of fact, it was Betty who had a hand in Mickey meeting her husband Forrest.

Mickey and Betty as kids

As the story goes, Mickey had been dating a young man who turned out to be not the best match for her, so they split up. After this adventure Mickey, who would have been in her early 20’s, was not in any hurry to start dating again. Betty however disagreed, and being the charmer that she was, talked Mickey into joining her and her husband Bob to a dance at a local social club. 

Forrest, who was chatting with a friend when the threesome arrived, spotted Mickey right away. When his friend commented about the red head who just arrived, Forrest commented, not the red head, the blonde.

For Forrest It was love at first sight, and he wasn’t going let that blonde leave without finding out who she was. 

Finding a table near Mickey, Betty and Bob, Forrest was able to keep tabs on Mickey and when the time was right asked her to dance. Mickey was very reluctant at first, but eventually gave in, and upon doing so Forrest told her every dance that night was his.

As the evening was drawing to a close, Forrest overheard Mickey, Betty and Bob discussing going to a diner for breakfast. Not one to back down, Forrest showed up at the diner, and before you knew it he was sitting with the three of them.

And that pretty much sealed the relationship.

Forrest, who lived outside of Myerstown, would come into town to visit Mickey as often as possible. The two started dating seriously and by early 1951 the two were married, and their first child, Jimmy (Jim), was born in October.

After WW2, Forrest had taken advantage of the college incentive available and headed to Kutztown University where he got a degree in art education. When he met Mickey he was teaching at a high school in Reading, but when things got serious between them he took a job as a serviceman for Metropolitan Edison Electric Co.

At one point, he even had an offer to work on TV sets in New York City, but Mickey had no interest in leaving Myerstown, so without giving it a second thought, Forrest found work that was more suitable to support a wife and family.

Having an outgoing personality paid off in the promotion department for Forrest, who by 1956 was a “right of way” agent for MetEd, which helped support, their growing family.

In 1957, their second child Kathy Rose was born, with Judy Lynn soon after in 1960, and their youngest, Mike, in 1965.

Mickey and Jimmy
Mickey and Jim
Mickey, Kathy and Judy
Mickey and Mike

Mickey loved being a mother. She was a natural and it was her greatest joy, which is why the loss of a child, Johnny, in 1958, was beyond devastating for her. He had only lived for one day, which about destroyed Mickey.

Thank goodness she had her sisters to support her through this crushing loss. Especially Kassie, who stepped in to help with Kathy. In so doing it allowed Mickey the time she needed to heal and figure out how to move forward.

As it turns out, Mickey’s dedication and devotion to her children and family would be her saving grace. Her world revolved around them and it showed in the tender loving care she put into everything, from her cooking, baking, housekeeping and selfless support of everyone in her life, not just her family.

Whenever anyone needed help Mickey was there. Early on she and Forrest took in her parents David and Sallie when David become ill, and Sallie lived with Mickey and her family until she passed in 1972. Sallie was senile late in her life, so there were some interesting days to say the least, but through it all Mickey was always upbeat and had a big smile on her face.

The bond between Sallie and Mickey was extremely tight, and this was evident in the story of Sallie’s passing.

At the end of her life Sallie was in a coma at the hospital. With nothing more they could do, the doctors told Mickey it was best to bring her home, and just make her comfortable till her time came. Upon bringing Sallie into the house, she opened her eyes, grabbed Mickey’s arm and said “Mickey it’s so nice to be home.”

Sallie passed a few days later and although the loss was very painful for Mickey, she knew by Sallie’s last words she had done right by her Mother.

It wasn’t just her parents that lived with Mickey and her family. Her sister Betty stayed with them after her divorce from Bob until she could reestablish herself. And her sister Kassie and her husband Krilly stayed with them while they built their home.

Kassie, Sallie holding Judy, Betty, Mickey, Jimmy and Kathy

For Mickey and Forrest, it was always the more the merrier. Forrest was the Master of Ceremonies and Mickey the gracious host.

Family was the most important thing to Mickey, and having the family together, whether it be just her immediate family or the extended family, brought her pure happiness.

Mickey, Judy, Kassie, Forrest – Standing: Kathy Mike and Jim

Along with these gatherings came massive amounts of food, all of which Mickey was thrilled to prepare. She was in her element in the kitchen. She loved to cook and bake, and boy was she good at it. Every dish was made from scratch, and everything was fantastic. 

Mickey had her specialties, and to this day no one has ever matched them.

In the baking department it was treats like her lemon sponge/meringue pie, shoo fly pie (her pie crust was phenomenal), chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting, snowball cookies, snicker doodles, and sand tarts.

AND, can’t forget her spectacular baked beans (from scratch) with lots of bacon, homemade Mac and Cheese, fried chicken, spaghetti sauce and juicy roast beef.

As a matter of fact, her daughter Kathy is in the process of putting together a cookbook for the family, so all her recipes can be passed down from generation to generation. Her biggest problem though is translating “a pinch of this,” or “some of that to taste.”

Some of Mickey’s secrets were inherited from her Mother Sallie, but a few of them she learned while working at the Bahney House, a local restaurant. Although she was a waitress, the chef and Mickey became good friends and she often helped him in the kitchen. This just helped to fuel her love of cooking.

The Bahney House

Come the holidays, Mickey made a feast fit for King, with quantities large enough to feed an army. For example, her Thanksgiving meal would include: turkey and gravy, candied sweet potatoes, PA Dutch style potato filling, dried & yellow corn, broccoli with brown butter, pepper cabbage, cranberry sauce, warm rolls, fruit salad, and for dessert either pumpkin, mincemeat or apple pie.

AND, don’t think you’d get away from the table without having seconds. Mickey would be sure to stop you and say “You haven’t had a nauthin.” Even though you were stuffed and could barely move.

When she and Forrest won a kitchen makeover, she was beyond excited. This was sometime in the 60’s when Jimmy was in high school and Mike, the youngest child, was just a baby, so the timing was perfect. It allowed them to open up the kitchen from two rooms to one large room, which was ideal for all the family gatherings.

Mickey loved to entertain and have a good time. When she and Forrest were dating they often had Betty and Bob over for high balls. And early on she established New Years Eve as her holiday to have her sisters and their husbands over to celebrate and ring in the New Year.

Betty, Izzy, Mabel, Kassie, Mickey, Lloyd (back to camera)

She and Forrest also socialized outside their home as often as they could, even winning a jitterbug contest at some point.

They were also both very active with the American Legion and VFW, helping Kassie and her husband Krilly run bingo and other events. Even letting Kathy and one her friends help recall the numbers.

Before Helen lost her husband Bill, Mickey and Forest would often visit them in the Lehigh Valley and the four of them would go to the Steel Club, where Bill was a member.

Mickey and Helen’s families were always close; often visiting each other’s homes for holidays and summer picnics, but this loss brought them even closer.

Even before Bill’s passing, Mickey would often have Helen’s children visit and stay for a weekend or even a week by themselves. This gave Helen a little time to regroup, and the kids a change of scenery. With 6 children, this was very helpful for both Helen and her kids.

When Helen’s two oldest girls, Carolann and Georgene, were in their early teens, they recall fondly visits with Mickey when they would attend dances at the local park. This was when Mickey’s oldest daughter Kathy was only 2, so it was a real treat for Mickey to watch the girls primp before the dance, and she could hardly wait to hear stories when they got home.

Helen’s two youngest, Mariann and Bill, both cherish their memories of their summer visits to Mickey’s. Being close in age to Mickey’s two youngest, Judy and Mike, they had a buddy for the week, which they loved.

The week would start off with a visit to Hershey Park, followed by a week of swimming at the local pool and attending evening events at the community park. And you can’t forget those amazing half dollar pancakes for breakfast!

Hershey Park trip, sometime in the 70’s – Mickey and Helen on the bench, Judy and Mariann standing

Mickey treated Helen’s children like her own, and she was like a second Mom for them. And this didn’t change as the children got older and had children themselves. When Mickey would visit, she always came with a “sister gift” and a little treat for Helen’s grandkids too.

As a matter of fact, Mickey was like this with all her nieces and nephews. Whenever they visited, no matter what age, she made them feel right at home and welcomed them with a huge hug and a special treat.

Mickey was a “small town girl” who liked to keep things simple, and wasn’t big on change. Which is why she could even be stubborn (a PA German thing) about some things. Like not wanting to fly, or driving the new-fangled automatic cars. Believe it or not she preferred driving a three speed on the column with manual steering and brakes.

Some may consider this a negative trait, but not for Mickey, it was actually part of her charm. There was no false pretense with her. Mickey’s heart was pure and everything she said and did was a reflection of this.

She believed strongly that everyone should be treated equally and the only thing that would get her dander up was seeing someone being bullied or treated unfairly. This all goes back to how she and her family were treated at times because they were poor.

Mickey often recalled how people would pass them by on their way to church and never even considered to offer them a ride. This type of thing stuck with Mickey and she vowed to not be like that.

Mickey as a child

AND, she most certainly stuck by that creed. Mickey was one of the kindest women on the face of the earth. 

When a neighbor had surgery, she cooked and cleaned for them until they were back on their feet. At Christmas, she would always invite the milk delivery man in for cookies and coffee and he loved her cookies so much he asked her to bake a cake for he and his wife’s wedding anniversary. Of course Mickey obliged, asking nothing in return.

One of the most touching stories though is when Mickey’s sister Helen’s husband died in October of 1964. Mickey just couldn’t bear to see Helen have to face the holidays alone and went out of her way to prepare the most amazing Thanksgiving meal for Helen and her children.

For many years after that, Mickey continued to host Helen and her children for Thanksgiving. A tradition both families embraced whole-heartedly.

To say Mickey was a happy homemaker, OR, better yet, a “Domestic Goddess” is an understatement. She actually enjoyed doing housework, even ironing, and took great pride in the cleanliness of her home.

Mickey was up early every day, tending to her housework, and seeing that everyone had a hot breakfast, no matter what time they got up. Getting a healthy start to the day was a priority to her. 

Some how, some way, Mickey got it all done, and she still took a break to watch her Soap Opera during the week. This was her one guilty pleasure, and she most certainly earned it.

OR, if a neighbor stopped by, she always had a pot of coffee on and would pause to chat and get caught up.

There is one story of a time when Mickey got walking pneumonia, and was so exhausted she actually had to spend time just laying around. Her Mother Sallie, who was living with her, actually asked her why she was laying around so much.

It’s pretty evident that was not the norm and where Mickey got her intense work ethic came from. The apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree.

How she accomplished what she did when there were times she had an endless stream of children under foot, her own, friends of her children, or nieces or nephews, is a miracle.

BUT she did and with a bright big dazzling smile too.

Mickey always seemed to just roll with things, and never seemed to be flustered by things, but that’s not to say she didn’t worry about her loved ones. As a matter of fact, Jimmy, her oldest son, said her middle name was more like “Anxiety,” not Alice. Especially when he joined the Air Force and became a fighter pilot.

Worrying though is just part of being a Mom, as well as being a protector, which was a hat Mickey wore regularly with her children. Protecting them from the wrath of Forrest if they misbehaved.

Not to say Forrest was mean, he was tough, and didn’t believe anyone should get a free ride. If the kids had problems with homework he would review their work, and point out where the problem is, but they had to fix it. He wasn’t going to just step in and fix it.

And forget asking him how to spell a word or what it meant, he’d point you in the direction of the dictionary and leave it at that. This coming from a man who did cross word puzzles in pen.

Being parents was one of Mickey and Forrest’s greatest joys, only matched by becoming grandparents. Being grandparents opened the door for a whole new level of loving, and they cherished every minute they had with their grandchildren.

Their oldest son Jim had married his sweetheart Jo Ann in September of 1978, and their first child Jamie was born in September of 1982, with their second, Jenna, following in November of 1986.

Mickey with Jamie
Mickey with Jenna
Mickey with Jenna

Being the only grandchildren until 1997 when Mike’s son Kellan was born and his daughter Alex in 2000, gave Jamie and Jenna quite a few years to have Grandma Mickey all to themselves. One of the best parts of this time was when Mickey would come to Virginia to babysit the girls while Jim and JoAnn went on their “every five year” anniversary jaunts.

AND, just like when her children were young, would end up with a houseful of Jamie’s friends. The best part was when the friends would show up after school before Jamie even got home, and would make themselves right at home. Not sure what Mickey was thinking when a stream of teenage girls came knocking, would say “hi” and stroll right in.

Jenna and Mickey – Jenna’s graduation from James Madison Universtiy
Jaime, Mickey and Jenna

Although Mickey didn’t get to spend as much time with Mike’s children Kellan and Alex because Mike and his wife Valerie had settled in the Pacific Northwest, that just made their time together even more extra-special.

Alex and Kellan
Alex and Mickey
Sitting Valerie, Alex and Jaimie – Standing JoAnn, Mike, Kellan, Mickey and Jim

Mickey was also blessed with one great-grandchild. Her granddaughter Jenna and her husband Brian had a little girl named Merritt in December of 2017. For Mickey, who was 89 by the time Merritt was born, being able to hold her precious little great-granddaughter brought her a level of joy equal to that of holding her own children as infants.

And although Mickey passed before Merritt turned 3, Jenna has made sure to carry on her memory by telling Merritt stories, and most of all showing her videos. As a matter of fact, when they watch Jenna and Brian’s wedding video, Merritt always comments “That’s Grandma Bortz” when she sees Mickey.

Jenna, Merritt and Mickey at Mickey’s 90th birthday party

So even though Merritt will only have others memories of Mickey, with time they will become hers too, and she like every one who knew Mickey will feel immense love when one of those memories dances through her mind.

Jim and his family lived in Germany for many years while both he and his wife were in the Air Force, but once home and settled in Virginia and later North Carolina, they would host the entire family for Christmas, which quickly became the highlight of the year for the family.

Family visiting Jim and JoAnn in Virginia – seated: Mike, Forrest and Jenna – standing: Jim holding Jaime, JoAnn, Mickey and Judy

For Mickey and Forrest, who came from extremely humble backgrounds, and grew up with very little, it was overwhelming to see the level of generosity bestowed upon them by their children. Not to say they weren’t beyond grateful for every gift they received, it was just more than they had ever experienced.

There’s even a story of how Mickey burst into tears upon opening a gift of a chef-caliber stainless steel colander noting “it was the nicest colander she ever had.”

Mickey and Forrest had a very unique dynamic in their relationship. Forrest was very outgoing, had a quick wit, and never stepped away from the limelight. While Mickey would just quietly stand by his side, smiling and often shaking her head and rolling her eyes.

Forrest often came off as being flirtatious, but Mickey knew he was harmless and only had eyes for her, and it showed in their boundless love for each other. As a matter of fact, his flirty personality was just part of his charm.

As were some his comments like “Baldness does not detract from my physical charm, it merely exhibits the classic sculptor of my brow.”

Mickey and Forrest were married for 48 years before his passing in November of 1999, and every one of those years was wonderful regardless of any hardship because they had each other.

Mickey and Forrest at Kathy’s wedding 1991

In early 1999, Mickey and Forrest had sold their family home and moved to a retirement community in Lebanon. It was a difficult decision, but once they settled in they were extremely happy they did.

The townhouse had everything they needed, but the best part was a screened in porch that overlooked a baseball field. They could relax with a beer and watch the local teams play, and on the 4th of July had a front row seat for the fireworks.

Unfortunately Forrest became ill and passed in November, less than a year in their new home.

After Forrest passed, Mickey was by herself for the first time in her life. Concerned about how she would handle this, Jim, Kathy and Judy activated a plan to rotate weekend visits so they could be there for her.

Sometimes just to visit, other times to run errands with her. OR just go out to eat or take a drive. Mike being on the West coast couldn’t physically be there, but he would always call to check in on her.

Jamie, Jenna, Mickey, Kathy, Mark and Jim visiting Mickey at the townhouse

Much to their surprise Mickey adapted to her new independence quite well.

She had her regular housework schedule to keep her busy, AND as a long-time Penn State football fan (all her children were Penn State grads) during football season she had her weekly games to watch.

Along with those games came a ritual Mickey had developed over the years. Prior to each game she would carefully place her Joe Paterno bobblehead, a Beaver Stadium ashtray and Nittany Lion that played the fight song on the coffee table where they would stay through the entirety of the game.

But, what was better than the ritual was Mickey’s response to the game. If a Penn State player was tackled her comment would be “Look how ugly they are to those poor Penn State boys.” YET, when it was Penn State who was on the defense, she would yell, “Rip his head off.”

AND, if Penn State lost, it was because the other team cheated or there were dirty referees.

Mickey lived by herself till she was in her early 80’s, deciding at that point it would be best to move in with one of her children.

All the children were happy that Mickey had decided it was time to transition into living with family. They were all open to having her join them, but many of Mickey’s doctors were near Kathy, so she felt it would be best to move in with Kathy and her husband Mark.

Kathy and Mark were excited to have Mickey join them, but wanted to make sure everything was just right for her, and decided to make some renovations to their home so they could create a space for Mickey that felt like it was hers.

Mickey’s actual move though would be postponed due to emergency surgery for a bowel blockage and the subsequent recovery time needed to heal.

By the time Mickey was 84 she had her house on the market and by the following year, at the age of 85 she was finally able to move in with Kathy and Mark.

There were some adjustments once Mickey became part of the household, but with time Mickey and Kathy became the best of buddies, much like Mickey and her mother Sallie.

Kathy, Mark, Mickey and Forrest – 1996

Over the years though, Mickey began to show signs of Alzheimer’s. Kathy did everything she could to keep Mickey safe and well cared for, but it became more and more evident that moving her into an assisted living home was the best thing to do.

This decision was devastating for the children, but they wanted to keep Mickey safe and had no other options. In February of 2019, one month shy of her 91st birthday, Mickey moved into Saucon Manor. The home was extremely close to Kathy, which enabled her to visit Mickey almost every day.

Although this was another huge adjustment for everyone, the family settled into acceptance and a new routine.

BUT, when the COVID Pandemic hit in March of 2020 their new routines were shut off. No one could visit Mickey at the home, which was even more painful than having her in the home.

The family’s pain was amplified in July of 2020, when Mickey’s body could no longer fight off the complications brought on by Alzheimer’s and some underlying heart conditions and she passed peacefully in her sleep

Not being able to be with their Mother when she passed was the most painful thing any of the children and grandchildren had ever endured.

Mickey was the poster child for unconditional love, and it showed in everything she said, and did. AND, was reflected in the sparkle of her eyes and the kindest, sweetest smile beaming from ear to ear regardless of the circumstances.

Even the ravages of Alzheimer’s couldn’t remove the glimmer of love, and kindness that was in Mickey’s heart. Her memories may have been fading, but that love was stronger than any disease because it was the purest of any love.

“Intense love does not measure, it just gives.” – Mother Teresa

This completes the individual posts dedicated to each amazing Dechert Sister, but there will be one more post next month recapping what a special group of women these Dechert Sisters were. So check back for that wrap up post.

© Mariann E. Danko and Waking the Woman, 2021. All rights reserved.

Goddess Masthead © Pamela Danko-Stout and Waking the Woman, 2021. All rights reserved.

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The Dechert Sisters Legacy – Elizabeth “Betty” Mary Dechert Koblentz Kutz

November 12, 1926 – July 11, 2011

Betty Dechert was the 4th child born to Sallie and David Dechert and very much the baby of the family at least until her sister Mickey was born in 1928.

Her sister Helen was 6 when she was born, and Mabel and Kassie were 14 and 15 respectively. One would think the age gap would have impacted the relationship between all the sisters, but not with the Dechert Girls, they adored each other, and spending time together meant the world to them throughout their lives.

AND, they always had each other’s back.

Being teenagers, Mabel and Kassie helped care for both Betty and Mickey, but there was no resentment; this just helped tighten their bonds. Plus the older sisters were always keeping tabs on the younger ones.

Betty and Mickey

Like all the other Sisters, Betty was weaned into the ranks to help sell Sallie’s shoofly pies and homemade egg noodles. Sallie’s little side-hustle helped support the household, and she took her business very seriously, training each one of the girls from an early age. First with the baking/cooking and clean up process, then the actual door-to-door sales, traveling around town with the goods in a wagon.

Betty and Mickey became a tag team for the sales part, but Mickey often noted that Betty preferred to stay with the wagon instead of doing the actual sales transaction. 

Not sure if Betty’s reluctance to be the sales person was before or after the infamous “You dum ‘tings, I bet you broke every noodle in da box.” incident, but I could see why this incident might impact her reluctance to be any more involved than necessary

As the story goes, when Betty was 10, she fell down the steps that Sallie so carefully lined her boxes of noodles on to dry. During her fall, Betty some how was able to knock down every box. Needless to say, when Sallie discovered Betty at the foot of the steps with toppled boxes and broken noodles all around her, she was not pleased. Not only was the days work ruined, but it was also a loss of income, income the family needed.

Now, if Betty had been injured I’m quite sure Sallie’s reaction would have been different, but other then a few bruises, Betty was OK.

As a child, Betty was your typical kid, but by her teens it was obvious her spark was a little different than her sisters. All the Dechert Girls were beauties with a personality to match, but Betty was the glamorous one and turning into quite the charmer, especially with men. Her stunning red hair and hazel eyes did not go unnoticed. 

By the time she was 18, she was dating Bob Foreman, a tool and die maker for the Bethlehem Steel, extremely handsome and 5 years her senior. They had met at a dance and had an immediate connection. 

At the age of 19, Betty was a contestant in the Miss Lebanon Pageant. The local newspaper referred to Betty as “a titian haired beauty.” Which is evidence enough to confirm she was a standout in the beauty department.

For the talent portion of the pageant Betty sang accompanied by her sister Kassie on piano. Both Bob and her sister Mickey were in the audience cheering her on.

In the Spring of 1947, at the age of 20, Betty and Bob were married. On December 6, 1947 their daughter Linda was born.

Betty and Bob’s Wedding picture with her sister Mickey as Maid of Honor and her niece Carolann, Helen’s daughter, as flower girl

It was the events surrounding Linda’s birth that would impact Betty in ways no one can fathom unless they experience it themselves.

For all appearances, Betty’s pregnancy was a very normal one. That was until her sister Helen, who was a nurse, came to visit to check on her because she was a week past her due date.

Upon examining Betty, Helen was concerned that something wasn’t right and told Bob he had to get Betty to the hospital right away.

At the hospital the doctors discovered Betty was not only in labor and didn’t know it, but the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck and the baby was experiencing Meconium Aspiration Syndrome (MAS).

Both these issue in themselves are extremely dangerous, but combined they can be fatal. MAS occurs when stress, such as low oxygen, causes the baby to take forceful gasps, thus inhaling amniotic fluid containing meconium into their lungs. Even though fetuses do not eat, their intestines contain a sterile substance called meconium. Meconium aspirated into the lungs may block the newborn’s airways and cause regions of the lungs to collapse.

Getting the baby out was the priority, but the doctors knew it would be risky, not just for the baby, but for the mother too. They told Bob he may have to choose between his wife or his child.

An emergency C-section had to be done in order to save Linda because Betty’s hips would not loosen enough to have the baby naturally. Fortunately the doctors got Linda out just in time, but Betty was told she should not have any more children because she might not make it through another birth.

The doctor’s most certainly saved both Linda and Betty, but both of them always felt the real hero was Betty’s sister Helen, whose natural instincts as a nurse knew something was wrong. Had she not come to visit things most certainly may not have ended up they way they did.

It goes without saying this was a traumatic event, and one that would leave scars, even if they weren’t visible.

Betty was physically, mentally and emotionally drained from this event, and needed help caring for Linda. Fortunately Betty and Bob had already been living with Bob’s parents, so Bob’s mother stepped in to help, not just to care for Linda, but also help care for Betty who was put on 5 – 6 weeks of bed rest due to a swollen leg, also known as “milk leg” – a painful swelling of the leg caused by inflammation and clotting in the veins, affecting some postpartum women.

Finding out at the age of 21 you shouldn’t have any more children was a tough pill to swallow, so when Betty was back on her feet she threw herself into her work.

After high school Betty had gone to the Bryland Beauty School in Reading, graduating with a certificate in cosmetology and completing an apprenticeship at the Heffelfinger’s Beauty Shop in Lebanon. 

Falling back on this training Betty was able to secure a position with the Stuart Wood Salon in Lebanon. Because her mother-in-law was already caring for Linda, she had a built in babysitter, which enabled her to establish herself in the world of cosmetology.

This also gave Betty and Bob the money they needed to move out of his parents, first into an apartment and later purchasing a house, both in Lebanon, PA.

Even though they had their own place, it was decided it was best for Linda to stay with Bob’s mom during the week and spend weekends with Betty and Bob. This would keep some level of stability in Linda’s life, and allow Betty the opportunity to pursue her vision of owning her own beauty shop. 

By 1956, Betty and Bob had enclosed their porch and converted it to a beauty shop for Betty. Betty was in heaven, slowly building up clientele and creating a place where Linda could spend time with Betty even when Betty was working.

With cookies, coffee and adult conversations always available, Linda loved hanging out at Betty’s shop. She not only got to spend time with her Mom, but she also got to know all of Betty’s regulars.

Unfortunately Betty and Bob’s marriage started to have problems, there were obvious signs of abuse and by 1959 they were divorced. Their house was sold along with the shop and Betty temporarily moved in with Mickey and her family till she could get back on her feet.

This time with Mickey was a life saver because the troubles Betty faced in her marriage were very damaging to her psyche and having a sister always by her side was the comfort she needed to heal before stepping back out on her own.

It also gave Linda the opportunity to hang out with her Mom and Mickey and her family, who she adored. Needless to say the relationship between Betty and Linda was challenged enough, and with Linda heading into her teens, it was important she have the comfort of family around too.

Sometime in the early 60’s, Betty reestablished herself getting a small apartment of her own, and got involved with the Lebanon County Hairdressers and Cosmetologists Association, even becoming the secretary.

She also once again ventured forth into the world of beauty shop owner. This time though she rented space in Lebanon.

Betty would run Betty’s Beauty Shop until she retired in 1992 at the age of 66. Her shop became her refuge and her life. And although Linda continued to spend a lot of time at her Mom’s shop, by her teens she started to feel a little resentment. This could be expected considering all that had transpired, but it would put a strain on their relationship that wouldn’t show signs of healing until Linda was older and a mother herself.

Being very outgoing and friendly, Betty got very close to a lot of her clientele, some of who also became close friends. She would often go to events at the local synagogue and Jewish center with some of these women who were of the Jewish faith.

AND, in so doing, she would meet the love of her life, Isador Koblentz, better known as “Izzy.”

Izzy was a well-educated, well-dressed, well-mannered and very handsome gentleman, who treated Betty like she was the only woman on the face of the earth. They adored each other, and it showed in the joy on both of their faces.

Betty and Izzy

Betty was truly happy and her heart could once again feel love. BUT, due to Izzy’s mother’s objections because Betty was not Jewish, the two settled on dating for many years before they could consider marriage.

As long as Betty and Izzy were together it didn’t matter to them though. They had each other and that was enough. Betty was complete with Izzy, whether she was wearing a ring or not. They didn’t need a marriage license to prove their love. Their actions said it all.

They would often do romantic things like take trips to the Poconos where they would rent a cabin, take long walks and later warm themselves in front of the fireplace or just linger chatting on the patio taking in the beauty of the mountains. They also loved to share a bottle of wine with a gourmet meal, and could even be seen holding hands. They made the best of their situation and were very content.

Their day did come though and on Christmas Eve of 1971 Betty and Izzy were finally married. To say they experienced wedded bliss after all those years is an understatement.

By this time, Betty’s daughter Linda was 24, and married with 2 children, Lori, 6, born in 1965 and Lanny, 7, born in 1966.

Betty had discouraged Linda from marrying so young like she herself had done, and this only added to the friction between the two of them, but with Izzy in her life Betty began to lighten up.

Izzy had stepped into his role of stepfather whole-heartedly and was there for Linda whenever she needed fatherly advice. As a matter of fact he was more like a father than her real one and she referred to him as “Pop.”

The bond between Izzy and Linda truly helped heal the friction between Betty and Linda and by the time Linda’s third child Jenny was born in 1983, Betty had fully embraced being a grandmother.

Izzy’s presence in both Betty and Linda’s lives was what they both needed to heal old wounds and move forward. As the wounds healed, so did the amount of time together.

Holidays were always a big thing with Betty and Izzy, but now they could expand their celebrations to include Linda and her family. They would host a light meal after Christmas Eve Services followed by a big Christmas Day gathering at Linda’s house.

Things weren’t perfect, but they could finally really feel like a family again. The strains of the past were not gone, but things had mellowed with time.

This mellowing was very evident in the amount of time Linda would spend with Betty and Izzy. They both loved to take walks daily in South Hills Park near their home, and Linda would often meet them for lunch on her days off, even bringing Jen, her youngest daughter, who had gotten very close to Betty.

The strength of the healing bond between Betty and Linda was put to the test when Izzy was diagnosed with prostate cancer a few years after Betty had retired in 1992. To say this was devastating news for both of them is understatement.

Izzy had become Betty’s rock and to see him knocked down by illness was a challenge she wasn’t prepared for. BUT, when you love someone as much she loved Izzy, you find that inner strength you need to persevere which is exactly what Betty did. She went from being the center of Izzy’s universe to caregiver.

In the beginning things went fairly well, but Izzy’s battle was a long drawn out one, and eventually Linda convinced Betty it was time for Izzy to be admitted to the V. A. Medical Center where he could get round the clock care.

This was a tough decision for Betty to make, but she wanted what was best for Izzy. As can be expected, Betty came every day to be with Izzy. Even if she just sat quietly by his side, he had the comfort of knowing she was there.

Linda, who had become a nurse, just like her Aunt Helen, also worked at the V.A. Medical Center so she would visit with Izzy and Betty every day on her lunch and after work.

Through it all though, Betty never really knew how bad things were until Izzy succumbed to the ravages of the cancer in October of 1996.

Izzy’s passing just about destroyed Betty. She was lost and lonely. How could she go on without Izzy?

All the troops rallied around Betty: Linda, her children Lori and Jen, and her new husband Pete, and of course all of Betty’s sisters stepped in to be there for her us much as they could.

In so doing though, Linda discovered how much Izzy had actually done around the house and she knew her Mom would never be able to handle it all. Especially in her state of grief, so she took charge of all she could while Betty got back on her feet.

Throughout the grieving process, Linda and Pete would take Betty out for drives, to dinner and to visit her sisters. Seeing her sisters helped a lot. It reminded her of the great times they had over the years.

Betty, Linda and Pete

And, by this time, Lori, Linda’s oldest daughter was married with 2 children, Ashley, born in 1995 and Dylan, born in 1998 and they would spend as much time as they could with Betty.

Linda, Jen holding Lori’s daughter Ashley, Lori and Betty – Four Generations of Women

Linda’s son Lanny was also married with children, Skye, born in 1994, and Kyle, born in 1997, but he was in the service and not available to visit as much as he would like.

Seeing the great grandchildren really helped Betty, but her loneliness was too much to bare some days, so with Linda’s urging, she decided to get out more on her own.

Lori, her daughter Ashley and Betty

On one of her adventures, she went to a local Burger King, and while there, an older gentleman approached and offered to buy her a cup of coffee. Not quite sure what to make of it, Betty declined, but after giving it some thought, she decided to go back to that Burger King to see if that gentleman would be there again.

Just so happened he was, and after that cup of coffee, the two started to date. That gentleman’s name was Jim Kutz, and much like Izzy, he was well-dressed, well-mannered and very handsome. He was however quite a few years older than Betty, but that didn’t matter to her, she was happy again and that’s all that matter.

It wasn’t long before Betty and Jim bought a home and soon after, in June of 1998 married. All seemed right in the world again for Betty. She had worked through her grief, and even though she continued to miss Izzy, she was able to find some happiness.

Betty and Jim
Betty, Jim, Jen and Linda

Unfortunately that happiness was short-lived. Jim had underlying health conditions and in October of 1998 died of complications from a massive heart attack.

Losing two husbands within two years was more than Betty could process. It destroyed her mentally and emotionally. Once again the family rallied around her all they could, but this time that wasn’t enough.

Linda quickly discovered Betty wasn’t paying bills and doing basic household chores. These all seem like a normal response to all Betty had endured, but because of her age and the trauma to her system, her doctor was concerned this behavior could be signs of Alzheimer’s. He recommended Linda attend a few meetings at Cornwall Manor, a nursing facility for Alzheimer’s patients.

Linda took the doctor’s advice and it was a blessing she did because it prepared her for what was to follow.

Over time Betty’s behavior became even more erratic, including wondering the streets at night in her nighty looking for Izzy. Wanting to keep Betty in her own home as long as possible, Linda brought in nursing care to keep tabs on Betty in the evenings.

Despite all the two of them had been through throughout the years, Linda could not turn her back on her Mom, she felt a deep obligation to her. Their roles had change. Linda was now the mother and Betty the daughter, and it was at this point that all the wounds of the past were permanently erased.

Taking on the role of caregiver for Betty only strengthened Linda’s love for her Mom.

In September of 2004 though, Linda could no longer make things work keeping Betty at home and had to make the difficult decision to admit her to Manor Care in Lebanon. Betty had developed blood clots in her legs and had to be admitted to the hospital for a week, so transitioning her into nursing care at this point was the best thing to do.

Betty battled Alzheimer’s for years. Sometimes knowing her family and other times not, but that didn’t stop them from having a birthday party for her every year, and visiting as often as they could.

Betty, Jen, Ashley and Dylan

Seeing the once bright light that was Betty slowly extinguish was the greatest heartache the family had to endure. And although the pain of losing her on July 11, 2011 was almost unbearable, they knew she was no longer suffering. They knew she was in a better place and whole again.

AND, they had their memories of the days when Betty’s light was shining bright. Memories that remind them of the truly beautiful soul Betty was, both inside and out. No disease could take those away.

Memories like the story of how Linda’s male classmates in high school were so enamored by Betty’s glamorous presence when she would come into school for parent/teacher conferences they would send notes home with Linda for her. As Linda noted, I was extremely popular on those days.

Or the twinkle in Betty’s eyes when she would great her niece Pam, Helen’s daughter, with “There’s my Scorpio Buddy.” They had birthdays one day a part, and this greeting always made Pam feel exclusive to be paired with her glamorous aunt.

Or the joy Betty would be beaming with when she was with her Sisters. The love the Dechert Girls had for each other was only matched by the love they had for their own families.

BUT, most of all, was Betty’s dazzling smile and sparkling eyes that would light up a room when she walked into it. No matter what challenges Betty was facing, she always had a smile on her face.

And it is that smile that will forever shine in all of our memories.

Please check back next month when I will feature Mildred “Mickey” Dechert Bortz, the fifth of the Dechert Girls.

Many thanks to my brother-in-law Terry Stout for his assistance with scanning all the photos for not only this post, but all posts on the Dechert Sisters.

© Mariann E. Danko and Waking the Woman, 2020. All rights reserved.

Goddess Masthead © Pamela Danko-Stout and Waking the Woman, 2020. All rights reserved.

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The Dechert Sisters Legacy – Helen Grace Dechert Danko

September 13, 1920 – April 10, 2015

Logically it would make sense to honor each sister in the order of their birth, but because Helen, my Mother, would have turned 100 this month I decided to start with her, even though she is the middle sister.

Helen and her Sisters, Kassie, Mable, Betty and Mickey were as thick as thieves as the expression goes. Even with a huge age gap between them.

Mickey, Betty, Helen, Mabel and Kassie

Kassie, the oldest, born in 1911, and Mabel, the second oldest, in 1912, were 9 and 8 when Helen was born in 1920.

Then there was a gap of 6 years until Betty was born in 1926, and Mickey 2 years later in 1928. So Kassie and Mabel were teenagers by the time the youngest two sisters were born.

The older siblings always helped with the younger siblings, but there was no resentment. The love they had for each other was too strong. And this love grew even stronger as the sisters aged and ventured out on their own journeys. Their bond was stronger than any I have ever seen.

Mickey, Kassie, Helen, Mabel and Betty

As individuals they were unique in their own right, paving their own paths, but united by the belief of kindness and compassion for all, something that came naturally for all of them. And something they saw first hand in their home growing up.

The story surrounding Helen’s birth is one that has become cemented in family history, and can even be considered legendary.

As the story goes, when Sallie, Helen’s Mother went into labor, her father David noted “But Sallie there are no fresh baked goods in the house.”

Original sketch by Pam Danko-Stout

SO, before giving birth Sallie made sure to baked 12 small shoofly pies so David’s sweet tooth would be satisfied while she tended to the new infant in the house.

This in itself isn’t what makes the story legendary, the fact that Helen became an amazing baker in her own right proved it was in her genes from birth, and as my sister noted she was “Born to Bake.”

Original illustration by Pam Danko-Stout
Cover of cookbook Pam Danko-Stout and her husband Terry created for the family in honor of Helen
Intro pages from cookbook Pam and her husband Terry created

Of course her first teacher was her Mother Sallie, teaching her all the traditional foods unique to their PA German heritage, like shoofly pie, fastnachts, whoopie pies, apple dumplings, Moravian sugar cake, strudel, and sugar cookies (both the thin cut ones and the thick ones with icing.)

Illustration by Pam Danko-Stout (gift to family honoring Helen)
Page from cookbook Pam and her husband Terry created

Over the years though, Helen would expand her baking skills beyond that, learning traditional foods of her husbands’ Slovak heritage like kiffle and nutroll, and experimenting with her own ideas, often entering baking contests. Unfortunately she never won though, why I’ll never figure out.

Helen making kiffle. The baking board was made by her husband Bill.
Page from cookbook Pam and her husband Terry created

Helen was also a fantastic cook, mastering cuisine from both cultures, especially with traditional foods of the Easter and Christmas holidays, like cirak (homemade cheese) at Easter; and bobalky (poppyseed dumplings), noodles with cottage cheese and lekvaur and sour mushroom soup (machanka) at Christmas.

Helen making Christmas cookies

Plus, there were dishes not related to holidays like halupki (filled cabbage) and huluski ka pusta (cabbage and noodles), plus homemade pizza. Helen mastered the perfect thin crust and no chain restaurant or manufacturer will ever match it. Plus her homemade bread was better than any bakery.

Helen making her famous pizza
Page from cookbook created by Pam and her husband Terry

Some of the holiday dishes are still continued in our family, which is all due to Helen’s intense desire to keep traditions alive.

Family heritage and traditions meant a lot to Helen, and she instilled the rich history of both cultures into her children, who in turn continue to share these traditions with their children.

Helen’s PA German heritage wasn’t just about food though, it was also about faith. She was raised Dunkard Brethren, which is similar to the Mennonite and Amish, and classified as Anabaptist. They don’t believe in baptism at birth, but when the individual is old enough to understand the teachings of the Bible and accept them. If a child was baptized at birth, they would be baptized again. Their baptisms took place in a body of water, not in the church.

Which is just how Helen was baptized, in a creek near their church by Reverend Harry France. As Helen told the story, after the baptism she asked the Reverend if he was Jesus. His response “No, but I work for his office.”

Clever comeback for a man of the cloth, don’t you think?

Helen took her faith very seriously, and it is what carried her through every challenge she faced through out her life. One of her most popular words of advice was “Put it in God’s hands.”

At her core was an unbreakable belief that the Lord will always see you through, and that with every challenge is a lesson to learn or stage of development to reach. You might not see it right away, but with time it will come to you. You just need to pause, ponder, and pray, “putting it in God’s hands.”

Then, put it aside, and patiently wait. As they say patience is a virtue and this is something Helen mastered at an early age.

From all accounts, Helen had a pretty normal childhood. She was somewhat quiet, and spent a lot of time with her grandfather Jonathan at his bike repair shop. He was her buddy.

She often spoke of a sledding accident, which caused her to loose a few teeth, and left a scare on her cheek. It occurred on a Saturday and when she wanted to stay home from church on Sunday her Mother Sallie stated, “If you had time for sledding, you have time for the Lord.”

Sallie was tough; there was no getting around her. Her word was the be all and end all.

Helen also noted she was called “Little Fat Hellie” because she was chubby as a kid, and had a sweet tooth. Who wouldn’t with a Mom who was a baker?

As Helen hit her teens though that nickname was far behind her. She got involved in sports and cheerleading. Playing basketball and teaching herself how to play tennis with a racket she bought for .25¢. She was also an avid ice skater.

She was a determined young woman, and didn’t let her humble home life stop her from exploring the world around her.

While in high school, Helen was also involved with a singing trio who sang radio commercials and even opened for the famous big band leader Kay Kyser. How she was able to do this with the strict rules of the church and her Mother, we’re still not sure. Must have been a covert operation on her part, although her cousin Vivian was part of the group too, so maybe that helped.

Sheet music signed by Kay Kyser

With a large extended family, Helen was very close to her cousins. The two that became her close buddies though were Harry and Charles Forry, sons of her Aunt Lizzie, who had 10 children. Both went to the Hershey Industrial School because their Father passed when they were young and it was too much for Lizzie to care for all of them. This of course broke her heart.

Later Harry and Charles became soldiers and fought in WWII. Harry was a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps and was reported missing in Australia and ultimately declared dead on July 14, 1942, while Charles was captured by the Japanese and was a prisoner of war. Based on the story Helen told us, Charles escaped and even brought home kimonos he took en route to safety. Because of their bond, he gave two to Helen. My sister Pam has one, but where the other one is still a mystery.

Helen was a natural caregiver and it was this observation on her father David’s part that would land her at St. Luke’s Nursing School in Bethlehem after graduating from high school in 1938.

Helen would be the first Dechert Sister to leave her hometown of Myerstown to venture out beyond the comforts of her home to learn a trade.

And it was this decision that set in motion the true path Helen was born to take, that of a nurse. A profession that truly encompassed the person Helen was at her core; kind, compassionate, caring, helpful, loving, and trustworthy. If you were in need, Helen was there. She always put others first, no matter what her own personal circumstances were.

Helen started her career at St. Luke’s Hospital after graduation in 1941, working the ER, and becoming the Assistant Night Supervisor. While working one night, a handsome young man with coal black hair named Bill, brought an injured co-worker from the Bethlehem Steel in for care.

As the story goes, Bill took an instant liking to Helen commenting how beautiful she was, but added she needed to do something about taking care of her hands, which looked awful. He did however make sure to make note of her name and boldly called to apologize and ask her out on a date.

And, the decision to say, “Yes” to that date would change the course of Helen’s life. Having been offered a scholarship for Columbia University, Helen was seriously considering this opportunity to pursue a career as an obstetrician.

Not wanting to lose Helen, much to Helen’s surprise, Bill proposed. Upon popping the lid on the ring box, he said, “Well you love me, don’t you?”

And the truth was, Helen did love Bill, so she followed her heart and married Bill, never once looking back.

William (Bill) Henry Danko, and Helen were married on January 23, 1943 at the Rectory of St. Theresa’s Church followed by a reception at the Bethlehem Steel Sunshine Club in Hellertown, PA.

Early on in their marriage, Helen and Bill lived in an apartment in a building owned by Bill’s Mother Agnes. This situation as can be expected came with some challenges not just because Helen’s Mother-in-Law was the landlady, but because Agnes was not happy that her Son married a girl who was not Slovak or Catholic.

Helen did not let this get between her and Bill. Being the kind of person she was, she accepted Agnes for who she was, and understood it was part of her culture. Not that it didn’t hurt at times, especially when it came to the dislike of her PA German heritage.

Helen had already endured enough teasing and harassment about her PA German accent while in nursing school, she had hoped that discrimination would be behind her. Unfortunately it was not.

Helen knew she couldn’t change her heritage, but her religious affiliation she could.

At some point in their marriage though, Helen converted to Catholicism. This could have upset her Mother, but her response was “Well they’re good people too. They believe in Jesus Christ.”

Helen took her religious training seriously and became an active member of St. Theresa parish. Joining the guild, singing in the choir and making sure to contribute fresh baked goods for the guild bake sales. Once it got around what a phenomenal baker Helen was, parishioners would wait for her contribution so they could be the first to purchase them.

It wasn’t long after their marriage that Helen and Bill started a family. By December of 1943 their first child Carolann was born, with Georgene following 18 months later in 1945. Then Pamela in 1951 and Francine in 1956.

Bill holding Fran, Helen, Carolann, Georgene and Pam

Much like Helen’s own family, there were age gaps between the children, but that didn’t impact the camaraderie between them.

Bill, Helen, Carolann, Georgene and Pam

Once children entered the picture, Helen left her job at St. Luke’s to become a full time Mom and housekeeper. Something she adored. Being a Mom took precedence over everything else.

Stopping housework to make oatmeal box houses for the girl’s dolls, or to have a picnic inside on a rainy day throwing a blanket on the living room floor and making peanut butter sandwiches with sprinkle sugar cut out with cookie cutters, or walking Carolann and Georgene to the Steel Club (miles away) for swimming lessons in the middle of doing laundry.

Agnes was not happy with Helen’s actions, she thought they were frivolous, but Helen and Bill knew the needs of the children where more important than any housework. The children would remember time spent with them, not how clean the house was.

Fortunately for Helen, she had also bonded with their neighbor Anna Killian and her husband Charlie. They would become a buffer for Helen when Agnes’ criticisms were too much to bear. They were also like surrogate Grandparents for the children.

Helen would also feed the hobos who would hang out at the picnic table in the back yard. As she told the girls, Christ is in everyone. As a matter of fact, Georgene even asked one of them if they were Jesus. Their response was “Hardly.”

Granted in these days, this would be quite dangerous, but back in the 40’s and 50’s it was a different world.

Although Helen and Bill’s apartment was not big, they made it work for their family. There was a decent size backyard where Bill built a sandbox for the girls, a large vegetable garden, and dog pen for Bill’s hunting dogs.

That sandbox was just a simple homemade one, with old coffee cans and muffins tins to play with, but the neighbor kids always ended up there, despite the fact that they had fantastic ones with fancy toys.

As my sister Pam has said, “Mom knew how to make the ordinary into something special.”

There was also a large basement that opened up into the backyard, which extended the girls play territory. Using the basement to perform plays, create an ice cream parlor, and of course celebrate birthdays.

The basement was also where Bill had his workbench where he created original furniture designs, and even had a dark room. Photography was one of Bill’s passions and he even had a little side business doing portraits.

Both Helen and Bill were very creative and playful and it showed in their style of parenting and how they approached the holidays, especially Christmas. It was most certainly a magical time.

Fran, Pam, Georgene and Carolann
Putz created by Bill

Bill would create the most amazing Putz with real moss. It was so large it took over the living room in their small apartment. Staying up till the wee hours of the morning preparing stockings and gifts. One key feature was the Surprise Balls filled with little toys rolled up in paper that unraveled.

AND of course all the amazing baked goods created by Helen. Baked goods Helen had to be a “culinary sleuth” (as my sister Pam stated) to figure out because Agnes did not willingly reveal the recipes for the traditional Slovak dishes of the Christmas holiday.

There is also a story of one Christmas Eve when a woman and her baby showed up at the side door. She appeared to be in some sort of danger and it was believed she had gotten out of the car with her husband and somehow found the side door to the apartment. Bill took her somewhere, but where no one knows for sure.

The mysteriousness of the story, just added to the magic of the season, and further shows both Helen and Bill’s kindness toward their fellow man, which is why this story is still told today.

In 1958, Helen and Bill would find their emancipation from living in Agnes’ home when they built their own home in Bright Acres/Bingen, which was just outside of Hellertown.

This was an exciting time for the whole family, a place to finally call their own. Bill would plant a huge vegetable garden surrounded by raspberry and currant bushes, which Helen would use to create wonderful jelly and can and freeze their harvest.

As an avid hunter, fisherman and outdoorsman, Bill was in his element in this more rural setting and would decide to raise German Short Haired Pointers to be sold for hunting. He would also make his own lures for fishing and do custom designed carved gunstocks.

Helen would also learn how to prepare wild game and fresh fish. There is story that she even helped to gut a deer while she was pregnant.

Helen and Bill were green and sustainable before they were the trend. Starting a compost pile, and harvesting fresh organic produce and cooking from scratch, every day.

They would recycle everything they could, which back then took effort. Cans went one place and bottles went back to the beverage distributor.

Plastic baggies and aluminum foil were never used just once either. If they still had some life in them Helen would wash them out and dry them on the dish drainer. As Helen would say “This could come right handy in.” I have to confess I do this too. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

The neighborhood was the perfect place to raise a family too, all young families with children of similar ages. The women would gather for coffee klatches, often at Bill and Helen’s where they could enjoy Helen’s fresh baked goods.

AND, an Annual Halloween Parade was organized with reception and prizes to follow. The location was rotated through different households every year. A visit from Santa was also initiated with the Fathers taking turns to play Santa.

All this was done with donations from the neighborhood, each household rotating the chairperson duties each year.

When word got out that Helen was a nurse, she quickly became the nurse of the neighborhood. Never once hesitating when someone was in need.

In 1961 Helen and Bill would expand their family, with Mariann being born in March of that year, and then William, born in December of 1962.

Bill loved all his children, but was overjoyed to finally have a boy he could take hunting and fishing. He had always wanted a large family and hoped to one day have a boy.

In 1964 though, this happy household would be dealt the cruelest of fates. After a long battle with the Asian Flu, Bill would be diagnosed with colon cancer. On October 1st he would pass, leaving Helen a young widow with 4 children still at home.

Carolann had recently graduated from St. Luke’s Nursing School, and Georgene was a student at Kutztown University. Both moved home to help with the younger children; Pamela, 13, Francine 8, Mariann 3, and William (Billy) 18 months old.

Helen had to fall back on her faith and every deep reserve of strength she had to overcome her grief and focus on caring for the children.

Bill had no pension to draw on, but there was a small life insurance policy, plus, Bill had very wisely purchased Mortgage Insurance that insured the mortgage would be paid off when he died, thus providing a place for the family to live. This enabled Helen to stay home with the children for about a year and figure out where to go next.

First thing she had to tackle was learning to drive. One neighbor, Buddy Gress, was willing to help, but after neighbors started to talk, he had to step back. Helen would not only learn to drive, but also learn basic car maintenance because she learned early on no man in the neighborhood would help because their wives would not allow it.

It was sad that the neighbors she would drop everything for would turn away during her most desperate times.

Fortunately she had her sisters who were always there for her, Anna and Charlie, her friends from the old apartment and a fellow widow, Helen Barndt, who lived in neighborhood. These two would become close allies in their quest to overcome the heartache of grief and discrimination.

Kassie, Helen, Betty, Mabel, Ralph (step-brother) and Mickey
Anna and Charlie Killian

Throughout all of this though, Helen didn’t turn her back on her neighbors. It was not in her nature. She continued to be the kind, caring and compassionate woman she was before her loss.

Her children were her priority and she knew that neighborhood was where they needed to stay. After all it was the home she and Bill bought specifically to raise their family. And that was what she was going to do, no matter how many challenges she would face.

Georgene holding Billy, Pam with Fran in front, and Carolann holding Mariann

In July of 1966, Helen would embark on a new adventure that would ultimately help her heal and move forward. She took on the task of starting the first Health Service for students at Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales in Center Valley, which would later become DeSales University.

Over time she and her partner Jean Mauer developed a Health Service Department that lured other directors of health services from local colleges to come and tour their facility.

In the beginning she had to bring the two youngest children, Mariann and William (Billy) with her to work every day. As she told the school when she was interviewed, my family comes first.

The college community, staff and students, would become a second family for Helen. And she quickly became a second family for the students. Often bringing the extremely homesick students home for a home cooked meal. She knew the students needed more than medical care, they needed a listening ear, and someone who could “hear what they weren’t saying” as she put it.

In 1990, DeSales honored Helen with the DeSales Award, the highest non-academic honor awarded by the college to recipients who had given outstanding contributions to the development of the college through personal service. This was the first time it was ever given to an employee; it was usually presidents or monsignors.

Helen wearing DeSales Award

As it was noted at the service “ Helen Danko is a living symbol of the humanity of this college. She is distinguished for the witness she gives in her life work to the ideals most highly prized by St. Francis de Sales, the college’s patron saint.

Later, in 2013, DeSales would create the Helen Danko and Jean Mauer Wellness Award, to be awarded to a student who exemplified the qualities both Helen and Jean embodied.

Helen Danko and Jean Mauer Wellness Award first year recipient

When Helen passed in 2015, the outpouring of love from former DeSales students was overwhelming and a reflection of Helen’s true character.

Former students posts on the DeSales Facebook page announcing Helen’s passing

Helen would be part of the DeSales community until she fully retired in her late 70’s, after slowly cutting back her hours from 5 days to 1 day. Her reason for retirement was to turn her energy to helping care for her grandson Billy, one her son Bill’s children, who was born in 1997.

Helen and Billy

Her Grandchildren were her pride and joy. And she helped all she could with every one of them. Dustin, Georgene’s son was born in 1971, then came Ethan and Dylan, in 1989 and 1991, both Bill’s sons and later Roy, in 1999, Mariann’s Son.

Helen and Dustin her first born grandchild
Helen and Dustin
Helen and Ethan
Helen and Dylan
Helen and Billy
Helen and Roy

She was also blessed with one Great Grandchild, Ian, Dustin’s son, who was born in 2004.

Helen and Ian

Helen also had two Step-Grandchildren, Crystal and Dale; and two Step Great Grandchildren, Damian and Aiden.

Even in her later years Helen still had a childlike and playful outlook on life, despite all she had endured over the years. It was this childlike quality that made her the Best Grandmother any child could ask for.

From playing super hero; to lion, crawling on all fours; to coloring and painting; to playing with Legos and board games; and most of all baking cookies. Helen did whatever the Grandchildren wanted to do.

Helen playing lion with Ian and Roy
Helen with Ethan, Dylan, Billy and Roy after a ride on Thomas the Train
Helen and Roy making cutout cookies
Helen dressed as the “Grand Mummy” for Halloween, with Billy, Damian, Mariann and Roy
Helen with Billy, Ethan, Dylan and Roy

One of the best stories though is the time she and Billy got locked in the laundry room until Judi, Helen’s daughter-in-law got home from work. They were playing hide and seek, and when Billy found Helen in the laundry room he pulled the door closed behind him, thus locking the door from the outside. Helen made the best of it, singing songs, playing games and telling Billy they would play make believe hide and seek with Judi, so when she came home she could find them.

Needless to say, Judi was quite surprised when she came home and found them in the laundry room. She thought they were there to greet her, little did she know they had been locked in there for hours.

As my sister Pam has said, “Mom knew how to make the ordinary into something special.”

Over the years the Danko home got dubbed “Danko’s Bingen Inn” because of all the gatherings hosted by Helen. After Pam created a t-shirt for the family with a custom design, Mariann had a sign made to be displayed by the front door.
Another original creation by Pam honoring Helen’s amazing baking skills

Her family was her priority, and being able to spend time with them was what brought her pure joy. Whether it be with her immediate family, a visit with her sisters and their families, or large gatherings with the extended family, Helen would be beaming, swelling with love and gratitude for the greatest gift bestowed on her, family.

Helen with her sisters at their favorite watering hole “The Gin Mill”
Helen with her children at Pam’s Wedding
Helen with some of the family on one of their many beach trips
Helen with “All Her Girls” Thanksgiving 2010 (Pam, Mariann, Georgene, Helen, Nicole (Dustin’s wife) Fran, Judi (Bill’s wife) and Carol
Helen with her entire family, children, grandchildren and great grandson at Carol’s 75th birthday party

AND, if there was music playing at any gathering, Helen would be sure to be up on her feet dancing. Even in into her 90’s she would kick up her heels if the mood hit her. Especially if you put on some Big Band music, she just couldn’t resist. Something I know for a fact all of her children inherited.

The last 15 years of Helen’s life, she lived with her Son Bill and his family, but would spend weekends with her daughter Mariann and her Son Roy. In the beginning it was because Mariann was working weekends and needed someone to watch Roy, but when the weekend work stopped, Helen still came. Weekends with Grammy were something both Roy and Mariann looked forward to. Roy would anxiously wait at the window every Friday, looking for Grammy to arrive, greeting her with a huge hug and kiss.

Some weekends Carolann would join them and they quickly became the “Four Musketeers” doing everything together. With Roy as the ringleader, and Helen going along with whatever he so desired.

The Four Musketeers

Being part of these two households was extremely fulfilling for Helen. She would help not just with the children, but also in the kitchen and with the laundry. I dubbed her the “Laundry Fairy” because some how she magically got everything folded and put away before I even knew it.

The Official “Laundry Fairy Wand” Mariann made for Helen

Helen was a pure joy to have around. She always had a kind word to say. As her daughter-in-law Judi noted, every morning before Judi left for work, Helen would tell how beautiful she looked in the color she was wearing. Didn’t matter what color it was, she always looked beautiful. It was these kind words that were the sunshine Judi needed to make it through the day. As she told her co-workers, “I have the best Mother-in-Law.”

One of Helen’s catch phrases when something pleasant and unexpected happened was “Well that wasn’t in my Star Gazer today.” Something tells me if she could read this post, that’s exactly what she would say.

Helen was a woman of great integrity, coming from humble roots, overcoming discrimination, and major loss. Never once feeling sorry for herself and always putting others first, her compassion for her fellow man can only be rivaled by one other person, Mother Theresa.

And it is this quote from Mother Theresa that I feel encompasses all that Helen stood for and what guided her every day of her life.

“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”

Many thanks to my family for their contributions of stories and memories which enabled me to pull together Helen (Mom’s) story.  

Please check back next month when I will feature Kathryn Dechert Krill, the oldest of the Dechert Girls.

© Mariann E. Danko and Waking the Woman, 2020. All rights reserved.

Goddess Masthead © Pamela Danko-Stout and Waking the Woman, 2020. All rights reserved.

“Born to Bake” and “Flour Child” art © Pamela Danko-Stout and Terry Stout. All rights reserved.

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The Dechert Sisters Legacy – Part 1 – Sallie & David Dechert

As noted in last month’s post, I will be dedicating my upcoming posts to my Mother and her amazing sisters.

With the passing of my sweet Aunt Mickey, my Mom’s last living sister, I realized the era of the Dechert Sisters had come to an end. This ushered in a floodgate of cherished memories. Memories of days gone by when life was simpler, and family always came first.

As these memories meandered through my thoughts, I began to ponder what an extraordinary group of ladies these Dechert Girls were, and how blessed my siblings, and cousins were to be able to call them Mom and Aunt. It was at that point I knew, in my heart, it was time to honor their legacy.

So, with the help of my siblings and cousins I set out to pull together history, stories and life lessons learned from these amazing ladies.

Their legacy however would not be complete without including a little backstory on their parents, Sallie Markey Dechert and David Daniel Dechert.

So, the first in the series will be dedicated to them.

Sallie Markey (Merkey) was born February 13th, 1884. She was the first born of Jonathan Markey and Catherine Hunsicker’s six children.

Note – The original spelling of their last name was Merkey, but Jonathan had it changed because there were so many people with similar last names that their mail often went to the wrong household and that made him angry.

Sallie was a petite and feisty lady with strawberry blonde hair, who “Drove the horse buggies like a man.”  as she was quoted saying.

Jonathan, her father ran a bike repair shop in Myerstown, PA and was fascinated by motor vehicles. My Mother Helen, Sallie & David’s 3rd child, was very fond of him and spoke often of her time spent hanging out with him at his bike shop. He sounded like a very kind and gentle man.

Jonathan was born July 15, 1858 and passed on March 28, 1928.

Catherine, her mother, was a homemaker, teaching her 5 girls the skills necessary to run a household: cooking, baking, sewing and housekeeping.

She was born July 11, 1863 and passed on December 21, 1944.

After Jonathan passed, Catherine moved in with Sallie and David, and their children in Myerstown.

The Markey’s were simple folk rooted in their faith, Dunkard Bretheren, which is similar to the Mennonite and Amish, and classified as Anabaptist. They don’t believe in baptism at birth, but when the individual is old enough to understand the teachings of the Bible and accept them. If a child was baptized at birth, they would be baptized again. Their baptisms took place in a body of water, not in the church.

Following the rules of the faith, Sallie was not baptized till she was 13, and as the story goes, the water still had ice on it and had to be cracked in order to perform the service.

Sallie’s Birth Certificate, minus the Baptism Date
Sallie’s Baptism Certificate

Sallie carried her strong faith with her through out her life. Converting David Daniel after their marriage and raising their children within the faith.

Simple clothes and head coverings for the women were part of the tradition, and Sallie dressed just this way till the day she died on October 6, 1972.

She was senile by the time I was old enough to remember her, but I do remember her simple clothes and head covering. Her beautiful grey hair pulled tightly back and tucked up into her covering.

As a young woman, Sallie was prone to headaches and it was believed the tightness of her hair was the cause, but we know now she had migraines, an ailment that has run its course within the offspring of the Dechert family.

Sallie’s father would often farm out the children to help on other farms for extra money, and it is because of this that she met David Daniel Dechert. He was a travelling salesman at the time, selling cigars and saffron, and he spotted Sallie when he came knocking at the farm where she was working.

Sallie and David Dechert were married on December 22, 1910.

This was a second marriage for David, who’s first wife Agnes, had passed at the age of 34, in September of 1909. They had a son Ralph, who was just shy of his 9th birthday when Agnes passed.

A man raising a child on his own was far from the norm at the time, so I’m sure that helped spur David on to find a new suitor to help him raise Ralph.

That didn’t mean David didn’t love Sallie though. As my Mom Helen always told me, he called her his “Little Valentine” because she was born around Valentines Day.

It was widely known though that Sallie was the disciplinarian and she was very strict to include spanking the girls with a “switch” when they misbehaved. David was not fond of this and would often ask “Why do you want to spank these pretty little girls.”

I have no idea what the response to that question was, but I’m sure Sallie had quite the comeback based on her feisty character.

David, born on March 1, 1872, was 12 years older than Sallie, and based on the handful of stories that have survived over the years, was a gentle soul, who liked to hang out with the chickens in the chicken coup and smoke a cigar.

Apparently he found solace with the chickens when there were too many people visiting in the house. As the story goes, Sallie would keep a pot of coffee going on the stove all day for whoever might stop by, and she was known to drink up to 8 cups a day. As one of my Sisters noted, “this must have been her secret to accomplishing so much.”

David passed on November 17, 1955 from lung cancer, so even my oldest siblings and cousins were very young when he passed. Any memories they have are very limited.

David Daniel Dechert’s Pocket Watch

One of the main stories that has survived over the years though was David’s fondness for gin, which was not approved by the Brethren, who were teetotalers. Add to that, Sallie was a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, so if he wanted to take a nip or two, he had to be secretive.

As the story goes, he kept his gin bottle hidden in the basement and would take a nip with the premise he was getting coal from the coal bin. One of my Sisters also noted that Sallie kept her mincemeat pies in the basement and he often would slip a little whiskey in them. I’m sure those pies were a hit.

In David’s later years, he would walk into town with my cousin David (Mable’s oldest child), who would have been maybe around 5, in tow in a wagon. The purpose of the adventure was generally some sort of errand, but some how he would end up at the Bahney House, a local bar and restaurant on Main Street, and just had to have a spot to wet his whistle.

The Bahney House

Conveniently, Mickey, his youngest daughter just so happened to work there, so it was easy to say he stopped to see her while in town.

You have to admit; he was good at covering his tracks; although I’m quite sure Sallie knew what he was up to.

The wagon David used on his excursions, is also the one used by Kassie and Mable, and later my Mom Helen, to deliver pies baked by Sallie, which she sold for .50¢ for a large and .25¢ for a small.

Turns out Sallie was a bit of an entrepreneur, not only baking for people in town, but also making noodles to sell at the farmers market, and taking in laundry, which in those days was done with a ringer washer, air dried and pressed.

It’s obvious Sallie’s unyielding spirit, determination and willingness to work hard to achieve her goals, rubbed off on the girls, because each one them lead their lives in the same way. Never wavering in the face of challenges and setbacks, AND, teaching all of us, my siblings and cousins, the importance of a good work ethic.

Baking was an art form for Sallie and a skill passed down to all her girls. Baking and cooking were at the epicenter of this family. Family, faith and food are what held them together, something that the girls would carry with them to their own families.

Sallie was also quite the seamstress and quilter, sitting with the other PA German woman quilting and chatting in PA German. Even darning socks was a chore she enjoyed doing, and would continue to do well into her senior years.

This was also a task my Mom Helen enjoyed, which made me extremely grateful. She kept a little sewing kit by her side when visiting, just in case something needed darning.

Another little habit Sallie had was keeping money stuffed in a hanker chief which she would then tuck up into her blouse. I mention this because Mable would continue this habit, although I recall she would tuck it under her bra strap. Mable very much had the same spunk too.

The Dechert’s most certainly fell into the poor category, never owning a home or car, but that didn’t stop them from living the best life possible.

Downtown Myerstown, PA

The home they lived in was a classic old German style red brick house that only had heat in the basement. It would seep up through the grates in the floor to the main floor of the house, leaving the second floor quite cold, especially in the winter. It would take multiple quilts just to keep warm. Good thing quilt making was one of Sallie’s specialties.

One of my older Sisters has fond memories of coming downstairs from the cold bedroom into the warm farmhouse style kitchen with the smell of coffee and fresh baked goods in the oven. She noted our Mom Helen’s kitchen always having that same welcoming feeling.

Another Sister also remembers a breakfast treat called “eggs with a hat” which was toasted bread with a whole cut out in the middle where the egg would be dropped into and fried, then the cut out piece put on top of the egg.

The house had a second floor porch on the side that was used to hang laundry on rainy days. I’m guessing considering Sallie did laundry for people that this was often used.

They also had no bathroom, they had a chamber bucket that would have to be emptied into the outhouse. This was a chore none of the girls enjoyed. My Mom Helen noted it was embarrassing because their home was close to the State Troopers Barracks, and on some days when she was doing this task they’d be out doing their morning drill. She did her best to get the task done without being noticed.

Incidentally, turns out the State Trooper Barracks just happened to be on the grounds of what was formerly Albright College, which is now located in Reading, PA and the college my Son attends. It wasn’t until I started writing this post that I realized this. Kind of makes me think my Mom, who passed 3 years before my Son graduated from high school, helped to steer our decision toward Albright

State Police Barracks
Albright College

After David passed, Sallie moved in with her daughter Mickey, her husband Forrest and their oldest Son Jimmy, who David had endearingly called “Jimmily.”

Speaking of “Jimmily”, there is on last thing to note about David.

One of my Sisters recalls David bouncing her and Jimmy on his knee and singing an old PA German rhyme called “Hubber-de-bubber-de”

The song went like this: (PA German)
Hubber-de-bubber-de, unnichem bank,
Hubber-de-bubber-de, owwichem bank,
siss keen mann im ganse land
Das hubber-de-bubber-de fange kann. (En fatz.)

Translated it is:
Hubber-de-bubber-de, under the bench,
Hubber-de-bubber-de, over the bench;
There is no man in all the land
Can catch hubber-de-bubber-de again.

Can you guess what the song was about? I’m guessing not. It’s about a fart.

Who would have know?

The PA German were noted for silly little rhymes, some of which made no sense, but they sounded great in PA German. In her later years Sallie would often rock in her seat and rattle off rhymes. I’m sure it brought her comfort.

In her prime though, Sallie was full of wisdom and some of her quotes still hold true today like:

“Don’t let the sun set on your anger.”

My Mom Helen often used this all though she would say “Don’t go to bed angry.” Something my siblings and I remember when a conflict arises.

AND

“Stop it off when it gets ugly.”

I’m thinking these words of wisdom are very crucial now considering the state of the world.

AND

“If the good Lord wanted you to know it, you would know it.”

This one sounds like a classic for all Parents. Wish I had known this one when my Son was younger.

Sallie would live with Mickey and Forrest and their family until her passing in 1972. As I noted earlier, she was senile by the time I was old enough to know her, but she had the sweetest smile and the most gracious heart.

She loved spending time with us younger grandchildren, and it was comforting for us to have her nearby.

Sallie’s senility kept her stuck in the old days and would cause some confusion at times, but it was never anything serious. One of my favorite stories goes back to a time when she and Mickey’s family and Kassie were visiting our house.

Sallie was sitting with my Mom, Mickey, her husband Forrest and Kassie on our carport in the early evening and noticed a light shining on a statue near our goldfish pond next to our shed. When she inquired as to who the lady by the chicken coupe was, my Mom told her it was Mary.

Her response “Mary Who?”

My Mom responded, “Jesus’ Mother.”

Sallie then responded, “Well that’s alright then.”

This transaction was repeated multiple times throughout the evening, which is why the “Mary Who?” story has become part of the family legacy.

Family legacy is a funny thing. As we’re growing up, we generally don’t think about it. We hear stories told by the elders of the family, but don’t think much about them until we too are becoming the elders.

As I’ve spoke with my siblings and cousins, we all noted we wished we had written some of the stories down because now, when we want to remember, we only recall fragments.

Fortunately, there are enough of us that we can piece together the details we each remember to make a fluid story of the Dechert Girls and their parents Sallie and David.

A key thing that has fallen by the way side though is the impact the Markey and Dechert families have left on history. If not for my Sister Georgene’s interest in our family heritage and ancestry, we would not be aware of these facts because they were never mentioned.

The Dechert Girls all thought they came from nothing, but in reality their family is rich with history.

Turns out, Issac Meier/Myer/Meyer, the founder of Myerstown, the town they all grew up, was our 5th Great Grandfather.

AND

There are many relatives on the Dechert side that fought in the American Revolution. The girls could have belonged to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), an organization considered important to most historians and ancestry buffs.

PLUS

The family history is rich with important figures involved in the Protestant religious movement that left Europe because of religious persecution.

SO

As it turns out these Dechert Girls most certainly did not come from nothing.

Not just because they actually have a past rooted deeply in the history of this country, but because at the roots of their family was a deep and profound love for each other, their community and God. They would never turn their back on someone in need, and regardless of their financial standing were always willing to help.

Their kind and generous nature just came naturally. They knew no other way; it was part of their soul.

And, when you think about it, is the very reason why they thought they came from nothing. Because as my Aunt Mickey often said when she went out of her way to help someone “It was a nothing.”

Many thanks to my siblings and cousins who helped me flush out the story of Sallie and David, and the roots of the Dechert Girls history.

Please check back next month when I will feature my Mom Helen, who would be celebrating her 100th birthday on the 13th if she was still with us.

© Mariann E. Danko and Waking the Woman, 2020. All rights reserved.

Goddess Masthead © Pamela Danko-Stout and Waking the Woman, 2020. All rights reserved.

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#EndOfEra

All photos are from our family collection, except for Jonathan Markey’s bike shop and the Markey family which are from “The Merkey Family of Bethel and Tulpehocken Townships” by Sandra Kauffman

MID-WEEK MEANDERING – Motherhood

Ok, I know it’s a bit cliché to write a post about motherhood the week after Mother’s Day, but comments about “Real Mothers” in a book I’m reading not only made me giggle, but triggered my mind to meander through my years as a Single Mom raising a gifted child.

The book is “House Rules” by Jodi Picoult, and it’s been on my nightstand for years. I started reading it multiple times, but life as a Single Mom, or any Mom for that matter, doesn’t always allow the time to just sit and read.

BUT, having more time at home right now, and a child who is twenty and somewhat independent, I can say I finally carved out time to read, beyond the newspaper, blogs and reference books. A hobby I certainly missed.

The book is a story about a divorced, single Mom named Emma with an 18 year old son with Asperger’s syndrome, who is very verbal, and locked in his own world, but would very much like to make connections outside of this world, yet is clueless on how to be “normal.”

AND, there is also an older brother who just wants a normal life, but gave up hope of this ever happening, as the issues with his younger brother became the dominant factor in their household. Thus the title “House Rules.”

https://www.jodipicoult.com/house-rules.html

I won’t get into details beyond this because it’s insignificant to the point of this post. What is significant is that as can be expected this Mother has had a hard time at being the Mother she dreamed she would be. She’s spent a lot of time second-guessing herself, but with time has realized she has done what needed to be done to protect her children, especially the son with Asperger’s.

Continue reading “MID-WEEK MEANDERING – Motherhood”

MONTHLY MEDITATION – Quarantined with a Twenty-Year-Old College Student

As time starts to morph the longer our “Stay at Home” Order is in place, the more I’ve begun to analyze just how dysfunctional my Son and I can be.

OR, should I say, just how challenging living with a twenty-year-old college student really can be.

Granted he’s home on breaks, but that’s just it, a break. During those times I’m working full time, and so is he if it’s a summer or winter break, and our evenings and weekends are our time to hangout, which works out wonderfully.

The present situation is completely different.

I’m sort of laid off, but he has classes, or should I say class work. None of his teachers are using Zoom on a regular basis. He just has assignments to be completed by a certain date.

This leaves plenty of leverage when it comes to creating a schedule for my Son’s days, as I’ve suggested he do. I’m one who can’t stand seeing a day go to waste and want to use this time at home productively.

So for me creating a basic schedule allows me to break up my day and take time to write, work on unfinished house projects and explore other interests, or even just read. A luxury I don’t usually have time for.

Continue reading “MONTHLY MEDITATION – Quarantined with a Twenty-Year-Old College Student”