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  • Today would have been my parents’ 71st wedding anniversary. I always loved the story of how they met, their whirlwind courtship, and their wedding day. So much happened in that short four months’ time that presaged much to come, both good and not-so-good.

    Mom (Rosemary) was a beautiful 20 year-old full of talent, potential and desire, but without a lot of prospects. Highly intelligent, she’d graduated high school at age 15, with a full scholarship to Duquesne University. She’d never even considered that she could go to college, as her family, in her words, were “dirt poor”. However, a nun-teacher had helped her to apply for and obtain a scholarship to Duquesne, and she got accepted.

    When she got to Duquesne, she was disappointed by the quality of the education. She’d thought it would be more challenging than it was. She really became upset when she learned they expected her to play basketball. She was quite tall, but didn’t know the first thing about the sport, and had better things to do with her time than play a silly game trying to put a ball in a hoop. She quit college after a year, presumably to go to work to help support the family. She got a job with the telephone company.

    When the war broke out, she wanted to join the women’s services, but was told that because her job with the telephone company was important to the nation’s security, they needed her to continue doing that - it was the better way to serve her country. While she did want to serve her country, she desperately wanted to get the hell out of Pittsburgh . She was frustrated there, and felt like she was going nowhere, there. She wanted to see the world.

    (Photo above - Rosemary on the far left, her friend Ruthie next to her, along with Ruthie's sisters Fran (my Godmother) and Joan)
  • By the time she turned 20, the war (WWII) was going strong, and there weren’t many men available on the open market. Most of the able-bodied guys were off fighting the war. Her best friend, Ruthie Bridgeman, asked if she’d like to meet her brother Jim, who was just getting out of the Christian Brothers. Reluctant at first, because she’d had an unhappy encounter with a priest a few years before, Ruthie convinced her to go out with Jim one time, to see for herself what he was like.

    Jim had joined the Christian Brothers at age 20, and spent 6 years in the order. There, he’d found he loved the level of education he received, and enjoyed the intellectual comradery with the other brothers. He felt he’d frittered away his earlier education, trying to fit in with the other kids and not stand out, he’d acted dumb, and hadn’t really applied himself. The Brothers were a way for him to really tap into his intellectual curiosities and to develop himself, intellectually and spiritually. He was a very devout catholic boy, and really thought he would remain a Brother for life.

    However, as his father grew older, he could see how much he enjoyed being fussed over and looked after by his daughters. Jim looked at the older Brothers, and thought they were a sad lot. He didn’t want to be an old man and have only other men around him, and no real family. When he reached the point where he had to make a decision to commit to the brotherhood for life, or leave the order, he left. He wanted a family.

    His sister Ruthie took it upon herself to help her dear brother Jim with his re-entry into civilian life. She had several dates lined up for him, beginning with her best friend, Rosemary Egan. Thus, the tables were set for their first date.

    (Photo above - Jim during the war)
  • Jim found Rosemary absolutely stunning, and was completely smitten with her from the start. She quickly decided he was a keeper, and knowing her friend had other dates lined up for him, she didn’t waste any time nailing him down, and getting him to commit to another date with her.

    That was no problem, as far as Jim was concerned. He could not believe his good fortune that such an amazing gal would have any interest in him. He hadn’t dated in six years, and wasn’t expecting such an auspicious beginning.

    She was kind of funny, though. She told him on that first date that she was an alcoholic, like her father. That simply couldn’t be. Such a lovely, talented girl couldn’t possibly be like one of those drunken rummies he’d seen around and heard about. But, boy, she could polish off the beers! Jim was used to having a beer, maybe two, of an evening. Between them, they’d demolished a couple of six packs on that first date.

    When he dropped her off back at her home after their second date, she leaned in to kiss him, and said, “Oh, Jim, why on earth do you want to marry me?” He was flabbergasted! He’d never said such a thing – but, on the other hand, he also could not deny such a thing, either. Marrying this beautiful, intelligent girl was beyond his wildest dreams. So, he went along with it, and told her because he loved her, of course.

    Just like that, the whirlwind courtship began in earnest. They were set to be married four months later.

    (Photo above - Dad with his youngest daughter, Mary, who was always there to care for him and fuss over him for the last 35 years of his life)
  • The wedding was on a bitterly cold, snowed in day in January, in Pittsburgh. Rosemary’s Aunt Helen, from Butler, Pa, well known for her baking prowess, insisted on bringing the wedding cake. She showed up with cupcakes! Rosie and Jim went scouring the bakeries in Pittsburgh on their wedding morning, through the snow and ice, to find a suitable wedding cake, at the last minute. It was a chaotic beginning to a chaotic union.

    Another relative from Butler, Uncle Jerry, showed up in Pittsburgh three sheets to the wind drunk. His siblings took one look at him, and said, “You’re not going to the wedding like this!” He’d fallen into a hopeless state of alcoholism, the kind that usually wound up in an insane asylum, or worse. They took him to a drying-out hospital, where he was approached by some of the early AA guys. He got the message, and got and stayed sober for the rest of his life.

    As the first recovered member from a family in which alcoholism was rampant, Jerry’s impact on the rest of the large family would prove to be profound. Certainly, my generation owes a huge debt of gratitude to that man, as four out of seven of my immediate family are members of AA. It is a family disease, but it is also a family recovery.

    The wedding came off, with many hitches, and the adventure began. Jim was drafted for the war, and was sent to study languages at the University of Minnesota, where Rosemary was able to join him for a few months. He was to become a Japanese interpreter, and was sent to Hawaii for the next year or so, until the war ended. Rosemary, now pregnant with their first son, returned to Pittsburgh. The rest, as they say, was history. I came along, their sixth child and fifth son, a mere eight years later. By then, the family was in total chaos, as Rosemary’s alcoholism began to go off the rails.

    (Photo above - Mom and Dad in Key West during one of their last journeys together. They traveled the world together, many times)
  • Nine years later her little brother, Pat, who’d found AA through a fellow their Uncle Jerry had tried to help for years but never got sober himself, was there for Rosemary when she finally reached out to him for help. She got sober, and went on to work with thousands of alcoholics for the rest of her life. Jim helped Alanon get going in the Pittsburgh area, the program designed for the spouses and families of alcoholics. There, he would find his niche, and discover he had a real knack for helping people in trouble. He would continue to help others in this fashion for the rest of his life, even from his death bed, 40 some years later.

    He’d had a hotline tied to their home phone, and even though he was no longer responsible for it, somehow a call came through, and he took it. He didn’t let the caller know about his own condition (dying), but rather spent the next hour or so providing comfort and wise counsel, being there for that person. After that, he got back to the business of dying. So typical of him.

    We celebrated their 50th anniversary in style, in Pittsburgh, less than a year before Dad passed away. It was a glorious celebration, put together by my brother Brian, and attended by many who knew and loved them through the years, including much of the large family.

    The seven of us kids sat with Mom and Dad at a table in the center of the large ballroom, with about 120 of our closest friends and family sitting at tables arranged in a large oval all around us. We each took turns toasting the remarkable couple who called themselves our parents.

    That was really something – a moment I will always remember and cherish. Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad. You guys done good.

    (Photo above - Mom's brother Pat, who got her into AA. We still consider Uncle Jerry and Uncle Pat, a couple of drunks, as saints in this family. Their example showed many of us a way out of hell)
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