Let me tell you about Helen. Although she had only one book published (Picture of Guilt), she had written four others: Cecille, Prelude to Love, Twice a Fool, and the Wild Game Supper. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I must take you back in time.
Nobody could make her do anything she really didn’t want to do. NOBODY!!. I started teaching her how to drive in Brooklyn, before we were married. Four years later, after failing the drivers test four times, she decided she didn’t want to push the stroller with the 3 kids one mile round-trip to the market, she decided to get licensed. It was not because I’d tried to cajole or embarrass her into it, but because she wanted it. Two weeks later, she was licensed.
At 45, she was working as a Library Aide in La Mirada when she decided to return to college to get her BA so she could be promoted to Full Librarian. She was aware that she would be 50 to achieve that goal as a part time student but she applied at Fullerton Jr College.
The school insisted she take a special update class for folks who’d been out of school for over 20 years but she refused, stating she was as prepared as any of our six kids who had graduated high school. They made an exception, and she was in.
As a freshman, she raised her hand so often, that, when she stopped, the teacher asked why she had stopped, to which she replied she was embarrassed to be the only one who apparently knew the answers.
On literature subjects and authors she particularly enjoyed, she read all the books on those subjects and authors rather than the ones required by the teachers. I saw all those books scattered around the house. She knew more about Kafka than her professor.
By the time she was a senior at CSUF, she would have been a straight ‘A’ student if it wasn’t for a ‘B+’ in Statistics and an ‘F’ in Music (which she loved) but had been mistakenly recorded as having many absences. She didn’t protest; grades were not high on her priority list. Learning was! With only 6 credits needed for her BA, she left school at the urging of two English teachers who asked her why such a good writer was still in school when she should be writing full time.
Despite all the above, Helen’s TOP priorities were not to be measured by Academia. That was all dwarfed by her love of God, family, friends, life and learning. Mimi had written, after Helen died, “I think I was trying to unravel the mystery of what unique combination of genetics and environment came together to create this remarkably strong and loving personality? I’m coming up with a big bang theory that only happens once every 20 billion years.”
It had to be more than luck that we met at a St Francis dance, miles from both our homes, on June 24,1953, one day after her 21st birthday. It was destiny.
Fifty years later, on her 74th birthday, I wrote to her:
“The sun is shining but it would make no difference if it were cloudy. If I am with you, it is always bright, even if we are inside with the lights on or off. I need only to
think your name to smile. Touching you face, your arm, your anything make me feel good. You make every day beautiful because you are beautiful. But on your birthday I sense it more, and it makes your birthday MY BEAUTIFUL DAY.
Helen loved everybody and everybody loved Helen, especially her #1 fan.