The Business That Has Become My Life

So, I made it through my son’s college graduation, moving him home, figuring out where to fit all the stuff that got moved home, purging/cleaning/organizing the basement so we could have a graduation celebration at home, planning/coordinating all that goes into a party, setting up/decorating for the party, the actual party and all that goes into the day of a party, and of course the clean up after the party.

The clean up alone took an entire day because we set up throughout the house to accommodate moving people inside if the threat of severe storms came to fruition. It didn’t, but it was very hot, so I was grateful the option to move inside was available and because of the extra effort to decorate the entire house, the ambiance was festive everywhere in the house.

I was so busy with all of this though, I didn’t even have time to write a post last month. That’s the first time ever in the 8 years I’ve been blogging I didn’t even post just a mini-post stating what was up. I just didn’t have the energy to do so, mentally and physically I was spent.

Added to all of this, the week after the party, my Son was in a car accident en route to taking his girlfriend back home. They were both fine, thank God, but this happened out of state, which added to the complexity of the situation, especially when the car started to overheat when my Son started to drive home.

I won’t get into the details, except to say my Son was stuck out of state for a week until I could coordinate ways to get him and the car back home. Now we’re at the mercy of the supply chain waiting on parts to fix the car.

To say I was moving at full-throttle for month’s between home and work is an understatement, but I kept reminding myself once I got to the other side of the party I’d have some downtime. For me however, downtime just means no extra stuff beyond the normal day-to-day, and week-to-week stuff.

As I’ve noted, I tend to thrive on being busy, and love the feeling crossing stuff off my to do list gives me. BUT, the older I get, and the more I fantasize about retirement, the more I realize that there has to be more to my days than tasks, especially with my day job is gearing back up to pre-COVID shutdown pace, with regular over-time.

The busier I am at work, the more I see the need for me to lighten up at home, but that in itself is a challenge when my brain is hardwired to “be busy.” I know I’ve written about this in the past, and the fact that I’m once again circling back to the subject, just means I haven’t been very successful at “lightening up” on the TO DO List. 

“Stop the glorification of busy. Busy, in and of itself, is not a badge of honor. It is OKAY to not be busy. Repeat this with me: It is OKAY to not be busy.” – Joshua Becker

When I saw this quote on Facebook, it hit me like a lightening rod. I knew the Universe was trying to make a point. A point I was very aware of, but obviously needed to be reminded of.

BUT, trying to reprogram my brain in my early 60’s is not going to be a simple task.

Normally I at least have our Summer Vacation to shutdown, and recharge, but this year we don’t have a real vacation or even a mini-vacation planned. Partly because I was so busy with other stuff I had no time to think about it. But, also because my Son’s post graduation plans where up in the air. I didn’t want to plan something only to find out he couldn’t go because he was starting a new job or even moving.

Vacation truly slows me down for a while beyond the actual excursion because I tend to try to bask in the “vacation chill mode” as long as I possibly can after I’m home. As I like to say “I’m trying to hang on to my vacation shine.”

I can honestly say I’m usually pretty successful with this, for at least a couple weeks, but with no real break on the horizon, I’m not quite sure how I’m going to achieve even just a minimal “vacation chill mode” if I don’t leave home for even just a long weekend.

Being away from home, even if just for a short time, allows me to disconnect from the day-to-day tasks at hand because of course I’m not at home with the stuff that needs to be done staring me down. Granted it will still be there when I get home, but the break, no matter how short, can usually be enough for me to lighten up on when and how soon a task gets done.

With that said, although my Son’s post-college plans are still somewhat up in the air, I do know he’ll be home for a little while longer and have decided I need to find a way to take a mini-escape, if not in August, then September. I’ve been contemplating this idea for a week or two, but confirmed it has to happen when I read today’s Touched by an Angel Calendar Quote “People don’t always have to be busy. Sometimes they should just sit back and enjoy the peace.”

To say the Universe is trying to tell me something is an understatement. 

Of course this means I have something to add to my To Do List, figuring out the when and where to escape to, but it’s something fun to look forward to, and is a means to an end. Just knowing I’ve made the decision to do this helps with me learning how to lighten up on the business that has become my life.

When I was younger, I was not as hardwired with the  “be busy” mentality, I most certainly took more time to play. It’s something that developed the older I got, especially when I became a single parent, doing double duty was the norm.

Now however my Son is grown, and while he’s home can be more helpful around the house. It’s just a matter of figuring out where he can be of the most help and learning to relinquish the reigns, which is easier said than done, when it’s been all me all this time. Basically I’m on autopilot most of the time, and have to learn to stop myself and allow someone else to step in.

We have had discussions about my Son helping more, and he is all in. He knows one day he’ll be on his own, and learning to be self-sufficient is a must.

Since I’ve been doing more OT, I told him helping with dinner is the key spot where I can use assistance. He helps with clean up, but I mean learning how to actually cook, not just throw frozen food in the oven. After all, his Father was a Chef; he’s got to have some cooking skills in his gene pool, right?

I know I have a long way to go when it comes to learning to “lighten up” on my To DO List, but acknowledging I need to and the Universe reinforcing it, opens the door for it to actually come to fruition.

And, acknowledging I could use a little help even with just the day-to-day is a step in the right direction. Granted it’s a baby step, but that’s the only way to start with a change this big.

© Mariann E. Danko and Waking the Woman, 2022. All rights reserved.

Goddess Masthead © Pamela Danko-Stout and Waking the Woman, 2022. All rights reserved.

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Actions Speak Louder Than Words

May has been a month filled with a flurry of activity all revolving around the culmination of my Son’s four years at college.

First there was all the ever-changing pre-graduation planning and last minute decisions on my part to create decorations for a mini-family celebration at my Son and his girlfriend’s apartment post the ceremony and lunch.

Then, on May 15th was the actual commencement, which in itself was a day, filled with adventure and ever shifting plans. Not only did the ceremony start at least 30 minutes late, it also ran more than an hour longer than anticipated followed by a massive bottleneck getting out of the parking garage by the arena. 

This of course meant all of our post-graduation plans needed to be rearranged because we were all too hungry to take pictures on campus before lunch, as was the original plan. As my Son said, “ We were all HANGRY.”

So, by the time we all had lunch and got back to campus it was after 5 PM. And, till we got the pictures on campus done it was at least 6:30, so our little celebration at the apartment got cut back to a quick cup of coffee and piece of cake for the road because we all had to drive back home, some with a 3 hour drive.

Good thing we took pictures of my Son and his girlfriend in the apartment by the decorations before the ceremony because by the time we got back to the apartment later in the day, they just wanted get into comfy clothes and veg out.

Despite it all, it was a great day, and we all just rolled with things as they unraveled, which is a good sign for the future.

Bottom line, it brought me great joy to see my Son earn his bachelor’s degree in Game Development and Simulation, a field he’s extremely enthusiastic about, and excited to explore all it’s possibility. Which is another plus, because if he wasn’t excited, all those years in college would be for not.

From there we all had a week to re-group before the big move home.

And when I say big move I’m not under-estimating. We filled 3 vehicles to the brim, and spent at least six hours sorting, packing, loading, cleaning and unloading before it was all said and done. And that doesn’t include the two hours of driving to and from campus.

Thank God my sister and her husband helped, otherwise my Son and I would have been at it well into the wee hours of the night.

NOW though, it’s back to sorting through it all and figuring out what gets stored for when my Son eventually moves out on his own, and what stuff is mine, which I loaned to him to use in his apartment for the school year.

Trust me, this is a major project because it’s not just sorting and repacking, it’s also figuring out where the heck to store it in my house. Good thing I’ve been giving it some thought, and have had a plan percolating for a couple weeks. Plus have the long Memorial Day Weekend to do it in.

Stuff brought home

Once this task is done, we’ll both be able to truly recharge our batteries and take some time to linger in the joy of my Son’s accomplishment. Taking this time to recharge is critical to clear all the stress and anxiety about the future which has built up over the past month or so, which in turn clears the way to truly re-evaluate where things stand as far as my Son’s future.

Organized, repacked and in storage

My Son’s commencement on May 15th set the stage for the start of a new phase of his life, that of being a “grown up” post college graduation. AND, how we both approach this new phase will be critical in determining his success, which is why time to recharge and re-evaluate is a must for both of us.

I need to accept the fact that my Son will need some guidance, but it’s not my place to tell him what to do. As a young adult, he needs to chart his own path unencumbered by how I think he should do things. I can make a suggestion, but ultimately I have to allow him his space so he can learn to be confident in his own decision-making.

For most of his college years I have been working on stepping back and generally only making suggestions if he asked. Sometimes stepping in when an older adult figure was needed, but even then it was generally because he requested it.

As far as my Son’s future plans, we have had some discussions, and to be honest I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what he’s thinking. He has a basic outline set for his future, with a lot of wiggle room of course to allow for any uncertainties that could arise, which is very wise for him to consider.

In addition, since he’s home he is following through with the basic plans he set for himself, which is wonderful. I can continue to work on my stepping back, only needing to inquire how things are going, and encouraging him as he plugs away at charting his future in the “adult world.”

I knew he wanted to just chill for a bit when he got home, so to see him stepping right into working on revamping his resume and checking into not only employment in his field, but temporary employment that pays more than the P/T job he during school is very encouraging.

And speaks volumes as to how successful his future endeavors will be.

He’s even jumped right in to finally dismantling and bagging up the massive Lego world he created in middle school. This world, made up of many sets and original creations covered two 6’ tables with extensions under the tables and two smaller tables. To say it took over a large section of the basement is no lie.

What’s left to pack up. Multiply this by at least 3 and that’s the full world.

Now, packing up the Lego world was a pre-requisite in order for us to have a graduation celebration at home, which is what he wanted instead of at a park or restaurant. SO, I get that his actions are motivated by that, but I see them even more so as a symbol of him ready to truly “grow up” and step boldly into the world of being an adult.

Since he built that world, with every milestone along the way, heading to high school, high school graduation, and starting college, I have asked him about dismantling and bagging sets. Before he started college, he did take down a small section of it, but ultimately left the bulk of it out, which has just been collecting dust all through college.

This world was his refuge during tough times in middle school and high school, so I get that he wanted to hang on to it, but now that he has conquered the toughest part of his climb to adulthood, graduating from college, I do believe he is finally in the right mindset to once and for all let go of that world, which is huge.

One of the many phases of my Son’s Lego world

In doing so, as his Mother, I can find a sense of comfort in knowing that my little boy is definitely not a little boy any more, but a young man on the precipice of great things. Great things I know he’ll achieve because he is ready and willing to step boldly into the future of his dreams.

The question is, am I ready?

© Mariann E. Danko and Waking the Woman, 2022. All rights reserved.

Goddess Masthead © Pamela Danko-Stout and Waking the Woman, 2022. All rights reserved.

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EMPTY NEST BLACK HOLE

The reality of the possibility of a very empty nest is quickly sinking in since my Son went back to school for the Spring Semester of his Senior year.

Granted, my Son doesn’t have a job lined up post graduation, or any prospects that I know of, just yet, but considering his major is video game design, I’m well aware that jobs in that field don’t exist in the area we live. So sticking around home post graduation for an extended period of time doesn’t seem like a possibility.

In addition, his girlfriend and he are getting pretty serious and she may be going to law school post graduation, which means he may very well consider employment near wherever she lands.

I’ve been working on adjusting to my Son getting serious about a girl after not really dating through high school and the first three years of college. As a single mom with only one child, to say this takes some getting use to is an understatement. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled for my Son. It’s wonderful to see how happy he is with her. Plus, she’s not only a sweetheart of a girl, she’s also very ambitious and driven, which has been a positive influence on my Son.

BUT, having both the prospect of my Son really moving away from home, and a serious relationship running parallel is a lot for me digest at once, especially because the relationship itself is still very much new, having just gotten serious in August. The two have been friends since Freshman year, never revealing feelings for each other until the start of this school year, so to say it came out of nowhere is an understatement.

I knew the day would come, but I figured I would have a bit more warning. 

With that said, we are here now, and with each passing day, I find myself bouncing between I’m good, to I’m feeling lonely and maybe I should get a dog. I honestly never thought I’d feel lonely, especially because between working full time, working on establishing my chalk art business, creating new chalk art, writing this blog, and all that goes into owning a home and daily chores, I have plenty to keep me busy and take my mind off the empty house.

BUT, some days it just feels extremely empty.

The irony is I’m actually quite content being by myself, and am basically more of an introvert than extrovert, and although the first semester of my Son’s Freshman year challenged me, as I expected, I actually began to get comfortable with everything. So why I’m going in and out of a funk now is a bit confusing for me.

I’m sure a lot of this ties to the fact that it’s Winter so I’m not out socializing with neighbors like I do during warmer weather. PLUS, because of the pandemic, my Son was home with me taking classes remotely from March of 2020 to August of 2021 when he started his Senior year. AND, during the Fall semester he and his girlfriend visited at least 3 times, and then he was home on Winter break from Thanksgiving till January 23rd, and during that time his girlfriend spent 3 weeks with us, so I had more company than I’m use to and loved it.

Needless to say I got very comfortable with having my Son home and really enjoyed when his girlfriend was there too. It was nice to have company for dinner every night and even hangout and watch TV with them sometimes.

The bottom line, it gave me purpose, I felt needed. The older my Son gets the less he needs me, and with a girlfriend to discuss problems with, I’m certainly not the first one he contacts any more. Which once again is a good thing, but to have it happen sort of all of a sudden, out of nowhere, is harder to adjust to than anticipated. 

Now of course, having a child need you less as they get older is a natural progression, but because of how things have been since COVID my presence in my Son’s life was a bit more prominent for a bit longer, which is most certainly why I’m feeling this transition even more. Had my Son’s college years been “normal” I may not be feeling the emptiness as much. The transition would have been more gradual and I could have worked through these emotions each year leading up to graduation.

BUT, that’s not the case at all. The growth that started was stalled, and put on hold, sort off. Now however, I’m being thrown in the deep end so to speak, and trying keep my head above water.

With Spring and warmer weather not far off, I’m hopeful this will help shake that funky lonely feeling looming in my soul sometimes. Most of the time I’m pretty good, but every once in awhile, the emptiness of the house just really hits me regardless of how busy I keep myself. I know I’ll get past this, but until then I need to honor my emotions for what they are, growing pains.  

Just as my Son is spreading his wings and learning to fly solo, I too need to learn to be more than my Son’s Mom. I need to rediscover me. Rediscover the woman I was before becoming a Mom. Which ironically is why I started to write this blog when he went off to college. And although I have had some growth, I’m now realizing I still have a way to go yet.

Discovering the chalk art has been wonderful for my creative growth, which in turn helps my soul growth, but that’s only part of  “growth beyond parenting.” There’s certainly more growing than I ever considered when I stepped into this adventure I endearingly called “Waking the Woman”

Change is never an easy thing, but it is necessary for any real growth, and I’m guessing based on the loneliness I’m feeling at times I’ve been avoiding some aspects of me that need to change in order to get over this hurdle. What, I’m not sure of though.

As I have noted in past posts, I’m very good at filling my days with tasks. Some fun, some just every day stuff. Basing my personal fulfillment on how much I’ve accomplished. While this certainly helps me cover a lot of ground in a day, which was critical during my heavy-duty single parenting days, I’m now realizing, this behavior is enabling me, allowing me to avoid dealing with what’s going on inside or even keeping me from allowing myself time to “play.”

Not any more though, although the busyness does help most of the time, it doesn’t seem to be working that well any more, if it did I wouldn’t be writing this post. 

SO, is the universe trying to tell me it’s not just about the very empty nest?

Could it also be about getting older and all that goes with aging, especially after the health issues I faced in 2021?

OR, could it be about learning how to lighten my to do list so I have more time to “play?”

OR, could it be I may not want to head into my Senior years alone?

OR, is it all of the above backing me into a corner now that I don’t have the serious distraction of parenting dominating my time?

I’m guessing it’s most definitely all of the above, which makes my journey of rediscovery even more interesting. Not sure I’m ready for that much discovery just yet, but I don’t think I have any say in this journey any more – the universe is in control.

© Mariann E. Danko and Waking the Woman, 2022. All rights reserved.

Goddess Masthead © Pamela Danko-Stout and Waking the Woman, 2022. All rights reserved.

Empty Nest artwork courtesy of the CHALK Charmer ©2021

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

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Busyness – ©123rf prettyvectors

Clip Art Courtesy of 123rf

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NO “TIME” LIKE THE PRESENT

“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”    Dr. Seuss

And here we are again, at the dawning of a NEW YEAR.

How can that possibly be?

Where did 2021 go to?

It feels like time passes much to quickly every year, especially the older I get.

AND, this time of year, time passes at warp speed, and there never seems to be enough hours in the day to accomplish all the extra tasks at hand, this year even more so. I’ve never felt a holiday season feel so compressed before. No sooner did Advent start it was Christmas Day.

Granted, I know it’s because Christmas fell on a Saturday, and like most people, I calculate my time available by the weekends available, so when Christmas falls on a weekend, technically you loose a weekend of time for the tasks at hand.

AND, had I been able to get an earlier start on things time would not have been chasing me down the closer Christmas got. BUT, dealing with health issues from mid-October into November certainly didn’t help with my time management. It did however force me to get a little creative with what time I had, and what I thought I was capable of achieving.

It also made me decide, I get done what I get done. If something doesn’t happen it’s not the end of the world. Did I still try to accomplish all that I had hoped to? Of course, but I didn’t chastise myself if I didn’t. That’s a huge accomplishment for me.

“Own time, or time will own you.”  —  Brian Norgard

In general, when it comes to weekends, I feel like there never seems to be enough time in the day to complete all the things I hope to accomplish. Maybe it’s just because I’m not moving at the same pace as I used to, or it could be because I tend to create lists that not even someone half my age could accomplish, given the time at hand.

You’d think by now I’d start to create more realistic lists instead of challenging myself with a mountain to climb and no hiking boots. Maybe my New Years resolution should be to do just that?

“We go back and forth between being time’s master and its victim.”  —  James Gleick

I’ve always been a list maker, and find great pleasure in crossing things off my to do list. I know that being this way is what helped me make it as a single parent. My lists were (and still are) my saving grace, especially when my Son got more involved with extra-curricular activities.

BUT, now that my Son is in college, and I hit 60 and am eying retirement, despite the goal I have set regarding establishing a chalk art merchandise business, I need to learn to be a little lighter on the to do list, and include a little more play time.

“As time goes by, you seem to weed out the things that were making your life hard.”  —  Tom Petty

NOW, a lot of the extra stuff on my lists is because of my goal of establishing a side business to allow me to retire with a cushion, but even with that, I have to start giving myself a break. I feel like I honestly don’t know how to just chill, unless all my tasks for the day are done, and that just never really happens. I technically just call it a day when it gets to be late and I need to get dinner.

I do take time to exercise, either bike riding or walking, and of course to do my chalk art, but other than that it’s chores or business related stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoy some of the chores, and am inspired when pursuing the business related stuff, but my Son is a gamer, and I just couldn’t imagine sitting at a computer for hours gaming, to me that’s just wasted time.

“Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted.”  —  John Lennon

SO, how the hell do I find a happy medium between Type A List Oriented Mentality and Sit Around and Game All Day Mentality?

Granted, for my Son, gaming is a form of entertainment and relaxation, and as a college-student who’s majoring in game design, I get that this is what he fills his free time with. BUT, it seems to take precedence over things that need to get done beyond schoolwork.

I just can’t do that with anything. I fantasize about spending an afternoon reading or watching an old movie or binging some show, but I just can’t get myself to do that unless I’m not feeling well.

If I don’t schedule my walk, bike ride or chalk art into my day, it won’t happen.

Now of course my Son is still in college and unencumbered by the chores/tasks involved with the world of a work full-time, homeowner, grown-up, but I know my Task Master mentality is not that of every grown-up.

I tell myself when I’m retired I’ll have more time to play, but in reality if I don’t learn to lighten up now, I’m quite sure I’ll still be filling my retired days with more tasks than play.

“The way we spend our time defines who we are.”  —  Jonathan Estrin

Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish beyond every day tasks because of my time-management, and I’m grateful I actually have that skill set, but when I’m so consumed with doing that just being falls by the way side, I know something has to give.

Add to it, I am slowing down, and have to learn to accept that it’s OK to take longer to climb the mountain. AND, honor the fact that I’ve earned more down time. It’s the down time I need to refuel for that climbing, and that will help inspire me for more playful pursuits.

“Don’t wait. The time will never be just right.”  —  Napoleon Hill

Of course this quote is in reference to pursuing your dreams, which ironically I have used to inspire me to keep pushing, but where I stand now, I feel it’s a reflection of the fact that I need more balance between pushing and playing. AND, no matter how hard that may be for me, I know that needs to be a “goal” for me in the New Year. Especially with all the past 2 years have dumped on the world.

SO, with that said

I hope you all have a very happy, healthy, and “time” balanced 2022. 

AND – REMEMBER“There’s only one thing more precious than our time and that’s who we spend it on.”  —  Leo Christopher

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

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

Clip Art Courtesy – ©123rf

Dawning of NEW YEAR – Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_nicholashan’>nicholashan</a&gt;

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Act 3 vs Act 1

With my Son away at college for his Senior Year, and my free time dedicated to getting my chalk art business off the ground, my mind has been wondering to the great, big world of retirement a lot. I still have about 5 years till I can really step into that stage of my life, but I can tell you I am most certainly looking forward to the days when I only have to answer to me. AND, I control what I will do every day, not just in the evenings and weekends.

I will be at my present job 20 years the end of this year, and although I’m quite content in my position, and appreciate the perks that come with working for a small business, I’m beyond ready for my retirement years. In all honesty, if not for the chalk art that came out of COVID quarantine, I don’t think I could realistically be considering retirement before at least 67 because I know I need a back up kitty in addition to IRA’s and Social Security.

Originally I was hoping to monetize this blog, but as I also discovered during COVID quarantine, is not a simple task. Especially when my content is a bit too esoteric to pin down followers, let alone businesses that would want to advertise on the site. When people started to ask about merchandise with the chalk art on it, it was the furthest thing from my mind. I realized though it just might be a great replacement plan and started to focus all my energy on looking into how to create a merchandise business.

AND, here I am, a year and half later on the precipice of opening an online store. The closer I get to this reality, the more excited I get for the prospect of actually being able to seriously start to plan for retirement. Retirement before 67. I don’t need a fortune as back up, just enough to supplement, and if I can get a jump-start on that I can also jump start my retirement.

https://thechalkcharmer.shopping

Fingers crossed and lots of prayers it works. 

As I pondered this next phase of my life, it dawned on me that I’m heading into Act 3 of my story and my Son is on the doorstep of his Act 1.

Yes, he’s 21 years old, but everything that has transpired in his life up to this point is actually a Prequel, leading into his Act 1. After he graduates from college he’s officially an “adult” stepping into the great, big grown up world of working full-time, pursuing his dream job and living on his own at some point. And all that goes with branching into being your own person separate from your parents.

Two vastly different stages for sure.

For me it’s about the stage in my life when I can work less, and play more. About having more time for me to do the things that bring me great joy, like my chalk art. About more freedom in how I spend every day. About actually having time to spend with family and friends and not having to schedule time months in advance. About actually finishing unfinished projects. AND, maybe even changing things up in my house, even if it’s just a new coat of paint.

But for my Son, it will be about working more, and playing less. About learning how to structure his day to allow time for play. About taking on the responsibilities of having a place of his own. About learning to be fiscally sound because there are now bills to pay. About balancing work, home and play.

Sure he’s been working on some of this, sort of, all through college, but he’s also had a lot of luxuries, like a meal plan. That certainly won’t exist any more, and learning how to not spend your paycheck on carry out and actually buying food and cooking can be a real challenge when you’re first starting out on your own. 

The more I pondered all of this, the more I realized although my Son and I are at two very different stages in our lives, they are also very similar. We are both stepping into the beginning of the next phase of our lives. Extremely exciting and scary at the same time. So much unknown, but we will have each other as support as we venture forth.

I’ve seen a lot of growth in my Son this school year, I think living in an apartment and having a girlfriend has helped with this. So although I still worry about how he’ll do on his own, if he comes to me for advice now, I know he will still after he graduates and eventually lives on his own. This alone gives me a little peace of mind.

As for me, starting a small online business is something I never would have considered, but my Son encouraged me to do so. And, because he has a better grasp of social media he has become a bit of an advisor when it comes to reaching a broader audience than my Facebook world.

SO, before we take the leap into our next act, we will continue to bounce things off each other. Just knowing we have each other’s back is a means to making sure we each succeed. AND, realizing just how similar our paths truly are, makes it even more special.

A Mother and Son stepping into the great unknown together.

Me Act 3 and He Act 1, both a new beginning with amazing possibilities.

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

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

Three Act Structure – courtesy of https://prewrite.com/blog/2020/07/29/a-beginners-guide-to-three-act-structure/

Daily Routine – ©123rf – artinspiring

Clip Art – ©123rf

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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.

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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

The Dechert Sisters Legacy – A Hometown Visit

In conjunction with the posts I wrote about my Mother, Helen Grace Dechert Danko, and her amazing Sisters; Kassie, Mabel, Betty and Mickey, some of my Cousins and I decided to venture to the Dechert Sisters hometown, Myerstown, PA and explore a few of the landmarks that played a big part in their lives, and ours.

https://www.myerstownpa.org/index.php

This trip was very much a walk down memory lane for us because Mickey and Kassie both remained in Myerstown, and there were many extended family gatherings either at one of their homes or the local American Legion were both Mickey and Kassie’s husbands were members and Mickey and Kassie helped out. 

PLUS, many of us Cousins spent extended time at Mickey’s home, so it was like a second home for us.

Those of us on this excursion were 2 of Helen’s Daughters, Myself and my Sister Pam; one of Mickey’s Daughters, Kathy; Mabel’s Daughter Sallie; and Betty’s Daughter Linda and her Daughter Lori, Betty’s Granddaughter.

The designated meeting spot was the Myerstown Playground were we all had many great adventures, particularly in the Summer hanging out at the pool, going to pool parties in the evening or Playground activities like arts and crafts during the day. This landmark was very much for us, the Cousins, because this was our hangout when we would be visiting Mickey’s house. For Kathy the playground held even more memories because Myerstown is also her hometown.

From the Playground we ventured to Mickey’s home, which was just a few blocks away. Driving down Maple Street was like a flashback to all the times we visited Mickey’s home. I could see the layout of the interior of the home and the smells of Mickey’s phenomenal cooking and baking wafting through the rooms. My heart was overflowing with excitement and love just driving by. Mickey welcomed everyone with a great big hug and kiss, and you instantly felt like you were at home, even though it wasn’t your home. 

Our next stop was one of legends. I had heard many a story from my older siblings about this Dechert Sister landmark, but it was no longer in use by the time I was old enough to appreciate it. So I was excited to see this spot who’s legendary stories danced through my head as a kid.

This spot of legend was the location of Kassie and her husband Krilly’s store with a small apartment above it. In addition to the stories my older Sisters Carolann and Georgene had told; Kathy, Sallie, Linda and Pam all had wonderful stories to tell of their time at Kassie and Krilly’s store, and the family picnics in the back yard.

They talked about being able to fill a bag with penny candy and pick a soda from the cooler, and how neat it was to be able to have that much freedom as a kid. Kassie and Krilly had no children of their own, so all their Nieces and Nephews filled that void, and to say they spoiled us all is an understatement.

En route to our next destination, we passed the house Mabel and her husband Lloyd lived with their 2 children David and Sallie. They were only in this house for a few years before moving to the Philadelphia area when Sallie was three years old, but as we passed Sallie noted little details about the house that she remembered, to include a smaller cottage style house in the backyard.

Which is still there, but I was unable to get a picture of because there was a Mennonite Woman outside hanging laundry and I didn’t think she would have appreciated that. We suspected she may be the one living in the smaller house out back, but that was just a guess.

One little tidbit to add here is the fact that this house was across the street from Smith Candies, a landmark in Myerstown that some how escaped me growing up. BUT, that’s probably because all the Aunts always had quite the stash of candy, which I now know why.

Before my Sister Pam and I headed home, we stopped by the retail store and it was a candy lover’s paradise. Every candy you could conceive of from the old days to today was available for your sweet tooth craving. You could purchase in bulk or just a small sampling. My Sister and I settled for a small sampling. Can’t do candy in bulk any more.

Next up on the agenda was the house the Dechert Sisters grew up in. I was excited to scout this one out because I do recall my Mother commenting when we would pass it while we were in town visiting, but I was a kid and it had no significance to me then. Now it most certainly did.

None of us that were on the trip had ever been in this house. I believe my 2 oldest Sisters Carolann and Georgene may be the only offspring that may have actually been in the house when our parents and grandparents actually still lived there. Even they were very young, but their memories painted a wonderful picture of what the inside was like.

“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.”

“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.”

Below is the link to the full post about the Dechert Sisters Parents, which has more details about the Dechert Sisters family roots.

Based on it’s appearances now though, it’s present owners have not quite given it the love Sallie and David Dechert did. We suspect it may now be apartments, which can explain that.

We knew this was the right house though, because it was across the street from the Seminary which used to be the State Police Barracks which all the Sisters would mention when telling stories about the trauma they experienced when having to take the chamber bucket from the house to the outhouse while the Troopers were out doing their morning drills. They were all mortified by this act, and seeing how close the house is, it’s completely understandable.

Note, the house they grew up in did not have a bathroom, thus the chamber bucket.

State Police Barracks – back in the day

Another spot we could not miss was the Bahney House, a landmark in town that is still an active business. Back in the Sisters days it was a bar and restaurant that their Father frequented, and where Mickey honed her amazing cooking skills. The building has certainly gone through renovations, to include adding solar panels on the roof.

Bahney House – back in the day

Plus the building also houses a hair salon and laundry mat, but at it’s core, is still the bar and restaurant. It was still early in the day when we were there, so we didn’t venture inside, but seeing the outside and the care the owners have taken in the upkeep of the building was more than enough for us.

Another destination that was a must to stop by was the infamous American Legion where many major events were held. From birthday parties to wedding receptions, this was the go to place. From an early age I can remember hanging out in the Bingo Hall when one of the Uncles was calling the numbers, or celebrating with family at private parties. It’s too bad poor management closed the place down years ago; otherwise we most certainly would have gone in just to see if the inside had changed.

This was the side entrance to the Bingo Hall

We had one more stop before heading outside of town to our final destination, and that place of many sweet memories was Kassie and Krilly’s home in the Lynncrest development.

Kassie and Krilly loved to entertain, and once they got this house they could really put on a spread. Hosting a huge Summer cookout for the entire family and their annual Easter gathering at which they held an Easter Egg Hunt for the kids and had baskets made up for each Niece and Nephew. 

Kassie and Krilly’s home when they first moved in

Although there have been some changes made to the house, and the neighborhood is more developed than back in the “Old Days” it didn’t take away from the memories that came flooding through my mind when we pulled up in front of the house. 

From Myerstown we headed into Lebanon, a short 15-minute drive, to a little restaurant called The Gin Mill. This is the place all the Sisters would meet after they were all grown and married. This became their watering hole for their annual “Sister Beer.” As their children aged, many of them would join them on this excursion, to include myself at least once.

BUT, nothing beats the days when it was just the Sisters. As part of our journey this day I wanted to recreate the one photo we have of the Sisters sitting at the bar having their beverage. And although the interior of the building has been updated, it didn’t take away from the history we wanted so much to recreate.

The Dechert Sisters at The Gin Mill enjoying their “Sister Beer” –
Betty, Mabel, Mickey, Helen and Kassie
The Next Generation Recreation –
Kathy (Mickey’s Daughter), Sallie (Mabel’s Daughter), Mariann and Pam (Helen’s Daughters), Linda (Betty’s Daughter) and Lori (Betty’s Granddaughter)

The 6 of us spent close to 3 hours lingering over our lunch reminiscing and getting caught up. I can only imagine this was what it was like when the Sisters gathered at this very spot. We had the most wonderful time and hope to make just getting together a more regular thing, just like our Mom’s did. 

We’d love to one day track down the Merkey homestead which was the Dechert Sister’s Mother’s Farm. The actual barn was supposed to be moved to the PA German Heritage Center at Kutztown University, but we don’t know if or when this was done yet.

http://www2.readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=228187

http://www2.readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=219580

We had hoped to find the Merkey home in Myerstown where their Grandfather had a bike shop, but based on the address we had the home is long gone and is a Senior Home now. 

At least the rest of the town was still like walking back in time. There’s something to be said for leaving things untouched for posterity.

Speaking of posterity, if you have not read all the posts on the Dechert Sisters, below is a link for my wrap up post that has links to their individual stories.

History transcribed for all the generations.

© 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

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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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#MomMemoir

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#Father’sDay

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#DaddyTribute

#Family

The Dechert Sisters Legacy – SUMMARY

Mickey, Betty, Helen, Mabel, Kassie

Individually each one these women were amazing in their own right.

Kathryn Amanda Dechert Krill
August 24, 1911 – January 10, 1998
A Rosie the Riveter and Small Business Owner

Mabel Mae Dechert Swanger 
October 24, 1912 – March 3, 2013
Pursued a Career as a Hairdresser in her 40’s

Helen Grace Dechert Danko
September 13, 1920 – April 10, 2015
Registered Nurse, ran the health services for students at DeSales University

Elizabeth “Betty” Mary Dechert Koblentz Kutz 
November 12, 1926 – July 11, 2011
Beauty Shop Owner

Mildred “Mickey” Alice Dechert Bortz 
March 23, 1928 – July 10, 2020
Home Health Care Provider, long before it was ever classified as a real occupation

As a group though, they were a force to be reckoned with. 

Mickey, Betty, Helen, Mabel, Kassie

All strong women forging their own paths at a time when that was not the protocol for women, they were certainly pioneers. BUT they didn’t see it that way. They never saw themselves as anything other than ordinary.

BUT ordinary they were not.

They were feminists before feminists were a thing, but they never came off as anything other than caring, loving women, who wanted nothing more than the best for every person they ever met, especially their family.

Family always came first, no matter what. 

Mickey, Kassie, Helen, Mabel, Betty

They loved completely, lived fully, and persevered through some of the toughest situations: divorce, loss of a spouse, loss of a child, health challenges, and financial difficulties. 

And lived through some of histories greatest events: The Great Depression, World War I and World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, President Kennedy’s Assassination, Watergate Scandal, Persian Gulf War, and the Terrorists Attacks on 911. 

Plus, endured ridicule for being poor, their heritage, their “duchy accent”, and their religion/faith. 

YET, they never flinched.

Kassie, Helen, Betty – front row; Mabel, Ralph (step-brother), Mickey – back row

Did they cry? Most definitely. No matter how resilient they were, they were human, with huge hearts that felt everything. 

Did they get angry? Sure, why wouldn’t they? Once again, they were human, and felt everything very deeply.

Did they retaliate? ABSOLUTELY NOT, it wasn’t in their nature. They wouldn’t stoop to the attackers level. That was not who they were.

They had each other’s back and were always there to support one another. They were all cut from the same cloth and they understood each other better than anyone else.

Regardless of what they may have been confronting, others always came first. A rarity no matter what era. Their empathy for their fellow man was greater than any struggle they may have been enduring.

Mickey, Betty Helen, Mabel, Kassie

Kassie, Mabel, Helen, Betty and Mickey, lived their lives by following the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

They were the “Personification of Love and Kindness.”

Their every action was motivated by their deep, unadulterated love of family and their fellow man. At their core they knew nothing more.

The Dechert Sisters legacy of love left an indelible mark on the hearts of all who knew them. They may have achieved great things, but who they were at their core, what made their souls shine, is how they are remembered. 

“You have no idea what your legacy will be because your legacy is every life you touch.”Maya Angelou

Kassie & Mabel
Helen
Mickey & Betty

Their children and grandchildren cherish every memory they have and honor the beauty of their souls by trying to carry on their legacy.

Living up to these women’s example is a tough feat, but the amount of love that flows through this extended family is a true extension of the love these five beautiful women bestowed upon every one of them.

Family continues to be the priority for each of their children and grandchildren, and it’s obvious the circle of love will continue for generations to come.

Especially by keeping their astonishing stories alive.

Kassie with her nieces & nephews
Mabel with her children David & Sallie
Mabel’s grandchildren: Amanda, Kim, Stacie, Mike & Aria
Mabel’s great grandchildren: Huck, Evan, Jessica and great nephew Roy
Mabel’s granddaughter Stacie with her husband Micah and their son Django
Mabel’s granddaughter Kim and her daughter Mia
Helen with her children Carolann, Georgene, Pam, Fran, Mariann and Bill, grandchildren Dustin, Ethan, Dylan, Billy and Roy, and great grandchild Ian
Betty with her daughter Linda, granddaughters Lori and Jenn, and great grandchild Ashley
Mickey with children Judy, Kathy, Mike and Jim, her husband Forrest and sister Kassie
Mickey with her son’s Jim and Mike and their family’s, Joanne Jim’s wife, Valerie Mike’s wife and Mike’s children Kellan and Alex, and Jim’s daughter Jaimie
Mickey with her granddaughter Jenna and great granddaughter Merritt
The Dechert Sisters with their parents David & Sallie – where the Legacy of Love started

© 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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#MomMemoir
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#KathrynAmandaDechertKrill
#MabelMaeDechertSwanger
#HelenGraceDechertDanko
#BettyDechertKoplentzKutz
#MickeyDechertBortz
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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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