On Thursday, May 14, 2020, I was talking with my oldest sister, Patti, on the phone. She started telling me the story of her life in a way that she never had before. Something stirred me to record all that she was sharing with me.
Patti’s life on earth ended on December 6, 2021, however, she will always live on in the countless hearts she touched. The world became a little dimmer when she left us, for she chose not to hide her light under a basket…she shared her radiance with all she met.
Here is the beginning of Patti’s story…and I am blessed to have been a small part of her story.
Patricia Anne was a beautiful, rambunctious, and a deeply lonely child. Back in the time where unwed pregnancy was rare and usually looked down upon, Patti was born on November 3, 1942, the result of an early teenage pregnancy, where her father and mother were deemed too young by the presiding judge at the time, to marry. For a while, her biological father was a part of her life, and contributed to her upbringing, but that contact was fleeting, and Patti found herself mostly being raised by her loving grandparents, due to the fact that her mother was working two jobs to contribute to the home’s finances.
While listening to Patti’s recollection of Mom as a young woman, I can almost feel my mother’s light and free spirit before life’s heavy burdens came crashing down on her, and eventually, on our whole family.
Mom would walk down the street toward home, after a long day of work. Patti would be waiting anxiously for the sound that she knew would indicate mom’s presence…a whistle! As soon as she heard mom whistling, she would bolt off the front porch and race to the person she adored, and would bask in the love and feel of her mother, while she became intoxicated with Mom’s signature fragrance of “White Shoulders.”
Although Patti was very much loved by her mother, grandparents, and the aunts and uncles that she was blessed with, she suffered an emptiness that could not be filled. She longed for the father that she was missing, the father that all of her friends had in their homes.
She felt an emptiness that could not be filled by the love she was surrounded by.
Patti acted out the pain that she couldn’t truly comprehend, by kicking any male caller that came to the house…sometimes throwing random objects at them. She also couldn’t stay in one place for long…always having the need to keep moving. Patti looked at this behavior as a child, as “being a brat.” She loved to spend time with as many friends as possible, and enjoyed physical activities like climbing roofs and trees, which Grandma didn’t like so much. Grandma would always track her down, dragging her home, all the way flicking a switch from a tree up and down Patti’s legs.
Somehow, the beatings did not dissuade Patti from the activities and friendships that she craved. She was headstrong, and this trait proved to work well for her as she continued to be a fighter through the struggles that life would bring to her.
Patti spent her childhood in the small town of Campbell, Ohio…a very ethnic and religious community. At the age of 6, she met 5-year-old Cecelia, who had just moved into the area from Czechoslovakia…only a few houses away. They were partners in crime, and forged a true friendship, which remained strong all through the years.
Around this time, new friendships were also being made at St. John the Baptist School. Janet and Patti became close, as well as Ramona, who was Janet’s cousin. The three of them clung tight to each other as friends, and spent much time together. One time in particular stands out in Patti’s memory.
Norma Jean would hang out with Janet, Ramona, and Patti. When describing Norma Jean, the word “brat” was mentioned! It seems that Norma Jean made a habit out of irritating Patti. She did things like stomping on Patti’s feet, pushing, and pulling on clothes, which resulted in Patti’s sleeve being torn. Patti, being Patti, fought back, and was told by her friends that they better take the fight outside, so Janet’s mother wouldn’t punish them for fighting.
What my sister relayed next was a little shocking for me…since I always think of her as my angelic sister, and had never heard this story.
Patti and Norma Jean took their fight outside, and Patti threw that little girl down into the snow and pushed her head down hard. She wouldn’t let her up until she cried “uncle,” which she did. Patti found her own way of handling bullies.
Norma Jean never bothered her again.
When Patti was about nine or ten years old, Bill (our dad) came into her world. Mom had brought some other boyfriends to meet Patti…usually by way of taking Patti on their dates for ice cream. However, somehow, this man was different. He and Patti forged a relationship, and he seemed to get along with Grandma and Grandpa…they actually liked him a lot. He was Catholic, so that was a positive! He was like a knight in shining armor to Patti.
Finally, she had a father figure in her life, and she relished time spent with him.
I heard stories from my mom that dad enjoyed being around their family, because his family was extremely dysfunctional and he was attracted to the warmth that Grandma and Grandpa offered him. The first Christmas that mom and dad were dating, Dad fashioned a beautiful evergreen wreath for the family to hang on their front door. They were enamored of him.
All seemed like a dream come true for Patti.
However, the warm glow of having a father figure around, was dissipated when Grandma and Grandpa learned that Bill was a divorced man. He also had a baby daughter that he left with his ex-wife in California, feeling that his daughter, Kathleen, was in a safe and happy place surrounded with her mother and grandparents. I believe that dad honestly thought he was doing the right thing by leaving his daughter to be raised by her mother, and staying out of the picture. Remember, he had no real concept of family life, because of his horrendous upbringing, which would be a complete story in itself.
So, when it was discovered that Bill was a divorced man, which was completely forbidden in the Catholic Church, Grandma started beating mom viciously. Patti was in the room and kept trying to intervene…actually putting herself between grandma and mom. However, mom pushed Patti out of the way, and willingly took the beating.
Patti must have received her tenaciousness from Mom, because Mom stayed with Dad. It took time, but eventually, he was not only accepted by Grandma and Grandpa, but was loved by them. Dad always respected and loved them, and was there for them whenever they needed his help throughout the years.
When Dad was called to work in Chicago, he and Mom moved there before they were married. Patti stayed home with Grandma and Grandpa, until home and finances were put into place for Patti to join them.
Sometime, in that period of time, they were married. However, the details and date of their marriage is a mystery to us to this day.
Patti spent a summer with Mom and Bill (Dad) in Chicago when she was 11, and returned back home to Campbell, OH, due to Grandma and Aunt Annie’s (who was more like Patti’s sister at this point) tearful prodding.
Patti returned to stay with Mom and Dad, and at this time they were living in Gary, IN. Patti, who was now 12, had a baby sister, Veronica, and she happily babysat and helped with chores while Mom and Dad worked.
At the same time, Patti found her first love, “Wayne.” He lived a few houses away, with his parents and three brothers. When his mom had troubles throughout a pregnancy, Patti cooked, babysat and cleaned for them, all the while still taking care of baby Veronica and chores at home.
When her friend, Birdie, from Chicago invited Patti to visit with her family for a week or two, Mom and Dad agreed, due to the wonderful ways that Patti was showing responsibility.
It was in Chicago that Patti most probably contracted Polio, that would change her life forever, and also deeply affect the lives of her Mom, Dad, and sisters.
Once she returned home from her vacation with Birdie, twelve-year-old Patti was riding bikes with her friends, Judy and Micky. They were exploring Horace Mann High School, where Patti would be attending that fall and were pushing their bikes up a set of stairs, where they planned to ride through the halls of the school.
As Patti was pushing her bike, the first polio symptom that she felt was an intense dizziness, almost to the point of fainting.
It was evident to her friends that it was concerning, so they told her to be sure to tell her mother when she got home. For some reason, Patti begged them not to. However, mom was told and Patti reassured her that she was just fine.
The next day, Thursday, August 25, 1955, Patti was out again riding her bike, dressed in long pants, long sleeved shirt, and a poplin jacket. She was still shivering with cold. It was 90 degrees outside.
That same night, Patti was experiencing all over body aches. She didn’t know what to do, and was moving from one room to the next, probably seeking some type of relief or comfort. She knew in her heart she had polio, and for some reason kept it from her parents.
In the morning, her fever was high, and she was laying on the downstairs couch. The doctor was called for a home visit. He said to the three of them, “It may be the flu or something else…let’s hope for the flu.” He was to be called with any changes in symptoms.
After the doctor left, Patti needed to use the restroom. When she stood up, her legs gave way and she fell. Dad started to pick her up, to carry her upstairs to the bathroom. She begged him to let her do it herself. “I think this is the last time I can do this. Let me do it myself.”
And she crawled up the stairs herself.
Dad helped Patti get into her pajamas, and the doctor was called. When she was being carried out to the ambulance, the neighbors surrounded her with love. She knew she would never walk again, but faced her reality with courage and a smile, and never once cried or lamented her fate.
She chose to be a blessing.
It was revealed later that Veronica, who was a baby at the time, had a high fever the week before, with no other symptoms. So it was not clear whether Veronica may have infected Patti, or if the virus was introduced to Patti in Chicago.
Either way, Patti’s life trajectory was forever changed. And the lives that she touched and continues to touch even in death, would be blessed in unimaginable ways. God has a way of doing that!
As a side note, Patti made sure to tell me that she shaved and cut her legs for the first time, during her Chicago visit with Birdie. That was one of her special “moments to remember.” When she shared that tidbit with me, it made me smile that she could treasure such small life events, that we all usually just take for granted.
Her boyfriend,Wayne, ended up moving away and they lost contact for a while. However, he did continue to visit and gifted Patti with a beautiful white Catholic Bible. He also gave her a box of Whitman Chocolates in a golden box. She kept that box, and I saw it for years, never knowing the story behind it until now.
They had learned about life and love as they swung on the front porch until the wee hours of the morning each night…talking about everything they could imagine. In the days before her illness and paralysis, it was just two young people sharing sweet and innocent time together.
Oblivious of what was to come…