Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash
By Marilyn Pellini
My life from the very beginning has made me so very grateful. I was lucky enough to be born into a fine family and raised with morals and values by hard-working parents with a strong faith. They made me into who and what I am today. My folks were the children of immigrants, and were raised to receive and value an education. My father was a pharmacist; Dad’s brothers were a doctor, pharmacist, and artist, and his one and only sister went to business school and became a secretary.
Growing up, we lived in the nicest area of town, which meant I made steadfast, lifelong, loyal friends who had the same ideals and goals that I did. My father owned his own drugstore, which afforded us the luxury of being able to take a two-week vacation every summer. We got to experience the rarified air of Cape Cod and the mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont, the culture and education of Washington DC, and even French-speaking Quebec. We stayed in seaside cottages and even a motel or hotel here and there, which was quite unique back then as most families could not afford to travel like that.
Going off to school brought a new perspective to my life. Although I was not the “A” student my own children were, I did go to a most competitive high school where all but one classmate went on to college (and even she managed to achieve that later in life after she was divorced and had children of her own). Very few high school students back then were encouraged or could afford to attend college. I went to the local state university and became a kindergarten teacher — work that I adored.
The first school I taught at was in the middle of a city block, with parking only on one side of the street. Whenever I needed to cross the street to get to school, all the traffic came to a halt to allow me to pass; teachers were very respected. Just as my time with my supervising teacher was coming to an end at that wonderful old schoolhouse, I received a call from the assistant superintendent of schools asking me to take a special elementary class in an area where most of the children lived in a housing project. I was so grateful this assignment later in my life, as I received training I never would’ve gotten at almost any other school in the big city where I worked.
Around this time, I met my future husband, Al. Although I had been friends with his sister since fourth grade, he was two years younger, which seemed like a huge gap when we were kids. After college we begin to date, and soon married. Al’s job brought us first to New Jersey, but we were only there nine months when he was transferred to the Boston area. Two years later we found ourselves in New York.
My two children went through every grade of school in this small town where we lived. I was able to do some substitute teaching and immersed myself in PTA work and helping the local schools with fundraising activities. My son, Mike, became an Eagle Scout at age 15. My daughter, Lynn, loved taking lessons and there wasn’t a thing she didn’t try, but her intense interest and talent really did lie with music. She made the All-State Chorus, which consisted of only 100 students. My kids both went on to very prestigious colleges and worked hard to achieve good grades. Today, Michael is a lawyer and Lynn a pediatrician. Being such dedicated students, they were never into mischief or gave me a moment’s trouble. I was sad when they both went off to college, but grateful for my marriage, the town I lived in, and especially for these two wonderful children of mine.
My community is a great joy in my life. I’ve always said that the hand of God sent me here. The first day I was in my new house, the woman who lived next-door came over and, knowing that my husband and children had gone to his folks’ house for the weekend so I could do some unpacking, she invited me to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner with her and her husband. How can you beat a community like that?
I became very involved in volunteer activities that could benefit my town and my children. I headed the local women’s club, which owns a thrift shop that earns over $100,000 a year and gives many scholarships to local students. The club also works on many other philanthropic projects. Our clubhouse was built in 1923 as a tribute to those who fought in World War I. It’s of great historic importance, so it must be maintained for future generations. We started as a suffrage club in 1917, and the year 2020 is the one-hundredth year that women have had the right to vote in this country. Women’s clubs are especially significant, because they founded well over 80% of all the libraries in America.
The local Tree Board is also one of my passions. Old stately trees are being chopped down to make way for shopping centers and countless house lots. Some of these giants are centuries old and need to be preserved. Recently, my board had cuttings made of a historic sycamore, and of the hundreds of cuttings made, we were able to plant only two young saplings in an open field. They’re both really thriving. I’m grateful for any conservation efforts made in my town and in our country.
It sounds as if I’ve lived a charmed life, but far from it. I’m a two-time, big time cancer survivor, and my husband lost a kidney to this vicious disease. Somehow I managed to beat both of my illnesses, as did Al. Unfortunately, my husband was lost in a bizarre fishing accident. That tore a big chunk out of my life, and it’s only through my writing that I’ve been able to go on at all. I wrote a book called Dear Al, A Widow’s Struggles and Remembrances. I wrote this in memory of him, and to remind myself of the parts of my life I’m so grateful for. Many organizations look for speakers who don’t require a fee, and I’m happy to speak and make their members aware of the struggles of widows and widowers in our present-day society.
Today’s coronavirus has also made me grateful. I’m sure you’re thinking, “You’re kidding, right?” I’m not! For years, I’ve been a collector. Some of my possessions may not be valuable in dollars and cents, but they’re priceless to me. Things like old hat pins, glass inkwells, or brass picture frames that often hold a picture of someone from the 1800s sometimes strike my fancy in an antique store, and I think they look just swell when strategically placed in my house. My drawers are cluttered, as are my closets. They hold things that I haven’t used or worn in years, often things I didn’t realize I had.
These trinkets and old possessions will now find a new home through my Women’s Club Thrift Shop. After years of collecting, it’s now time to get rid of things I don’t need to hold onto. Every drawer, closet, and nook and cranny is being cleaned. The virus has made me hunker down and face these tasks that I’ve been avoiding for a long time. In the past when I was in lockdown, it was because I was so ill or was trying to recuperate from an operation. During those periods of recovery, I could only look at what needed to be done around my house and wish I were in a position to actually tackle it.
When this virus is past and I can go out once again, I can go shopping with a clear conscience. There will be plenty of free space for new gadgets, shoes, and some new collections of pretty little antiques. Maybe I’ll take a fancy to paperweights, or butter molds, or horse brasses! I’ll once again be able to add pieces of others’ lives to my own.
Marilyn Pellini has recently published a grief book entitled Dear Al, A Widow’s Struggles and Remembrances. It has been selling quite well. Her other credits as a writer include a recent article in Brick Magazine entitled “Memories in My Button Jar,” pieces in Westchester Parent Magazine, Bay State Parent Magazine, On The Water, Balanced Rock, and others which she would be happy to provide copies of upon request. In May of 2018, she took the first place prize in the N.Y. State Federation of Women’s Clubs writing contest.