Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Signing Out for a Long Weekend

While it is certainly true that mighty oaks from little acorns grow, it's not always desirable to end up with a huge oak tree in your flowerbed.

 I'm putting the family records away for a few days while I work on re-vitalizing the writer side of my life.  Genealogy is great fun. I understand how some people can spend their entire lives working on the reconstruction of their family trees. But it can also be too seductive. As more and more records become available from places like Fold3 and, the temptation is always there to follow each separate family branch until you have not just a little sapling of a family tree but one of those huge spreading oaks. Now I need to step back and remind myself that not every family connection needs to be laid out for the reader of a historical novel.  For that, I need a gathering of like-minded writers, and I just happen to know of one. So, off I go to find inspiration, encouragement, and guidance from the members of the Military Writers Society of America.  We'll get back to work on family stuff next week.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Uncle Frank and the First Hospital for the Criminally Insane in North America

I grew up in Massillon, Ohio, a steel town of about 30,000 people. The other McCaskey sisters and their families ended up either staying in Ellwood City, PA, or moving to Canton  or Akron, Ohio. My parents chose Massillon, not because of any prior connection, but because the railroad ran a bus between Massillon and Brewster for its employees, which meant that my mother got to have the family car during the day, while my father walked two blocks and caught the bus to work.

Massillon had only two distinctions to its credit. The local high school had a crazy-good football team; the legendary Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns got his start there as the head coach at Massillon High, and he was followed by such other rising stars as Tom Harp (Cornell, Duke, and Indiana) and Lee Tressel (father of Ohio State's infamous Jim Tressel.) The other distinction (not so glamorous), was that the first North American institution for the treatment and incarceration of the criminally-insane was opened in Massillon in 1898 under the auspices of  US President William McKinley, whose family came from near-by Canton.

And what does that have to do with the McCaskey family, you ask? Well, Aunt Lola's husband, Frank Connor, became a frequent patient at what was called the Massillon Insane Asylum. It later  had its name changed to the Massillon State Hospital, but that " insane asylum" was a label it never escaped. Uncle Frank had always been a little strange, my mother told me.  Here's a picture of him as a young man, By day the driver of a butcher's meat wagon, by night a flamboyant tent revival preacher, he began to have periods of hallucinations and violence in the 1940s. My childhood sleep was periodically interrupted by a middle-of-the-night phone call from Aunt Lola (or her sister Pearl who lived in the same house) asking for help because Frank had Lola locked in the bathroom, or was chasing her around the house with a butcher's knife. Invariably we all got up, dressed, and drove to Canton, where my father's gruff voice could get things under control until the police arrived to place Frank in restraints and haul him off to the insane asylum.

He would stay there for days or weeks, until they decided he was no longer a danger to himself or others. Then he would be released - - until the next time. Aunt Lola did not drive, so she could only visit him if my mother took her to the hospital.  Usually I went along, but would be left alone in the car, while the two women went in for a visit. Of course those were days when car windows went up and down with a crank handle, and doors looked with a push button, not some airtight electronic system. So it was probably not as unsafe as it sounds today, but I still remember huddling in that back seat, all by myself, terrified that one of those "homicidal maniacs " would come bursting out of the asylum to get me.

Gradually Uncle Frank's stays grew longer and the periods between them shorter.  What was wrong with him? The only term I ever heard used was "criminally insane." He may have been a paranoid schizophrenic, or, as I think more likely, simply a victim of a little-understood Alzheimer's Disease, terrified by waking up and not knowing where he was or who that woman was in his bed.

 How did they treat him at the hospital? Again I don't know, and there are no records left,  All patient records were systematically destroyed as the years passed.  It was not a pleasant place, I know. Pictures like this one suggest that their patients spent much of the time in straitjackets.  There was talk of shock treatments.  Whatever they did, it was not very effective. In 1958 he died there.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Silence is Not Always Golden. Sometimes It's a Weapon.

The youngest of the sisters was Margaret, my mother. Our relationship was always a bit ""fraught" and some 37 years after her death, I'm still trying to work it out.  My comments about her will be limited to the first 35 years of her life, when my total knowledge of her is based only on what people have told me and what I see in the family records. That will keep her information on a level with that of her other sisters, and it puts a time limit on any book I ever manage to write about the lives of the eight McCaskey girls.

I can start with pictures of her as a child. Here she is as a 10-year old, with her older sister Florence, and her niece Gladys (Minnie's daughter).  In the group photos, she is alternately pouty or flirtatious. Overall, she gives the impression that she was pretty self-assured, a typical youngest child, spoiled by all the grownups around her. .

Her life changed dramatically, however, when she quit school in the eleventh grade to marry a newspaper man from Canton, Ohio.  I never did hear the story of how she met Joe Kerner, but the tales everyone told left an impression of a dashing journalist -- hard-drinking, cigarette-smoking, always with a small notebook and a pencil cocked behind his ear. He was an "older man" -- probably 25 or so in comparison to her 16-17 years. He seems to have promised her a house, which he delivered, and agreed that her mother could live with them, which she did.  I was shocked recently to learn through my searches in genealogy records, that his real job at the Canton Repository was not as a reporter at all, but as the fellow who cleaned the printing press.

Margaret and Joe produced a son -- Jack -- in 1917, but some time shortly thereafter, Joe developed "galloping consumption," no doubt caused at least in part by his job working on the printing press. The local doctors held out little hope but his Catholic priest recommended that he go to Colorado Springs for treatment at the Cragmor Sanitarium -- a facility quite well-known at the time for treating famous patients suffering from tuberculosis. On the priest's recommendation, he was taken in as a charity patient there and stayed for a couple of years, leaving Margaret, her mother, and young Jack to fend for themselves back in Ohio. They survived, largely with the help of the sisters and their husbands who lived nearby, and by grandmother Caroline going back to work as a practical nurse.

Joe was finally pronounced "cured," but the nuns and priests who ran the hospital informed him that his illness had been caused by his failure to convert his wife to Catholicism and to raise his son as a Catholic. He returned to Canton a healthy man pursuing the fulfillment of a holy vow -- to make his wife and son become good Catholics. Margaret said NO. Joe declared he would not speak to her again until she changed her mind. And he never said another word to her.  They lived in silence for months before she got up the courage to leave him, file for divorce (in 1924), and move her mother and son in with sister Florence.

Joe did not contest the divorce but refused to acknowledge it because Catholics were not allowed to divorce.  He did move out of the house, however, and let her have it. Florence's husband gave Margaret a job in his hardware store, but in a year or so she moved into a much better position as a comptroller in the main office of the Brewster Division of the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad. Her boss was a handsome young civil engineer named Floyd Poling, and she dated him for ten years before agreeing to marry again once her son was grown up.  I always had the impression that those ten years were some of the happiest of her life. She was young, beautiful, loved, and fiercely independent. This picture comes from 1935.

I will leave her there, because after she remarried, everything changed. But that's another story.

Except for this CODA: In 1978, shortly after Margaret's death, I found myself living in Colorado Springs with my Air Force husband, and once our son was in grade school, I went back to school myself at the Colorado Springs Campus of the University of Colorado. After I received my master's degree, the school gave me an adjunct position as a sabbatical replacement in the history department. My first class was scheduled for a building at the top of the hill -- a campus building known only as Main Hall. I had never been in that building.  It was old, with lots of rooms that were either tiny or long, narrow halls. I finally asked about its origins and learned that it was the original hospital of Cragmor Sanitarium.  There were many ghosts in those halls.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Go ahead. Fall in Love with a Rich Man.

That was her mother's advice. Grace always remembered the mantra her mother taught her: "It's as easy to fall in love with a rich man as it is to fall for a poor man." And Grace did her best to comply. Of course, in her position as the sixth daughter in the family, she grew up seeing what happened when you didn't listen to Mama. Emma was married to a teacher -- nice guy, but poor,  with his nose in a book. Minnie loved her coal miner but they never knew the meaning of modern devices. Mary had her fat, coarse farmer husband who cared only for food and sex. Lola's lot was a butcher who wanted to preach the dangers of hell. And there was Pearl, who believed that no man was better than any man.

Grace left home as soon as she finished high school. Off she went to the "big city," where the rich guys were supposed to be.  She deliberately set her cap to catch somebody who had money. Kaufman's "Big Store" in Pittsburgh seemed a likely hunting ground. (To understand her story, you need only think of the shop girls in the recent "Mr. Selfridge" series on HBO.) The pretty little shop girl from Ellwood didn't take long to capture the attention of one wealthy "dandy," and she soon found herself afloat in luxury.  Pictures of her in those years always show her in staged settings, wearing the most fashionable of outfits.

Margaret, the youngest of the sisters, idolized this older girl who seemed to be leading a charmed life. Margaret talked endlessly about Grace's beautiful yellow diamond solitaire engagement ring, and her stole of three stone marten furs. It was made of three skinned animals, intact down to its beady eyes and sharp little claws. Each skin seemed to be biting the next one to hold them all together as they draped around one's shoulders.

Sadly enough, Grace's life of luxury did not last long. With the collapse of the stock market in 1929, her rich husband lost his entire fortune, and in what may have been a fit of utter despair, he and Grace set out from Pittsburgh in his fancy Pierce Arrow Runabout. The car crashed, and Grace was killed. 

Ironically she had willed her youngest sister the two items she knew Margaret most admired -- the ring and the stole. And I, in turn, inherited both of them. The stole ended up in the costume closet of the theater department at the college where I taught, but I confess I still wear the ring. It serves as a reminder that objects may last, but the people who so value them do not.

Monday, September 14, 2015

What Are We To Think about Mary?

Of all the eight girls in my mother's family, Mary is the most puzzling, perhaps because no one ever talked about her. The other seven came alive in my imagination as I listened to the sisters talk about their life growing up in the hills of Pennsylvania. But Mary? Oh, I knew she was there, in a vague sort of way.  I tended to think of the sisters in groups of two.  Ella and Minnie were the old ones; they married within a year of one another, and had children who were the same ages as my mother. Lola and Pearl were forever joined in my mind because they shared a house for years while I was growing up. If we visited one, we visited both.  Florence and my mother were the two youngest girls, separated by only two years and sharing the dubious distinction of being the two disappointments  -- the family's only son had died at the age of two, and these two were failed attempts to produce another heir.  And then there were Grace and Mary, linked in my imagination because they had both died at young ages, before I was born.

I had always assumed that Grace and Mary were about the same ages, within a year or two, falling before the birth of the only son but after Lola and Pearl.  Then one day, when I was old enough to understand, I witnessed Aunt Lola attacking her younger sisters for their failure to support Mary's son during a terrible crisis in his life. "You treat Carlyle the same way you treated Mary. You pretend he doesn't exist.  All the time I was growing up, I was the only one who defended and took care of Mary. The rest of you ignored her." I was taken aback when I remembered a 1900 Census that showed that Mary was the second child, some six years older than Lola. So why was a child "caring for and defending" a sister who was much older than she was?

Again, family pictures bring a possible explanation. Mary appears only in formal, staged portraits, and she is always next to her mother, in at least one being held forcefully in place.

The other girls  usually have characteristic expressions on their faces--Lola looking worried, Florence being smug, Minnie with a smile, my mother with her head cocked flirtatiously, Ella serious behind her glasses, and of course Pearl off to the side in her ill-matched dress. But Mary? Her expression is curiously blank. There's no personality there. Even in the four-generation portrait of her mother, her son, and her granddaughter, her face is vacant. The child is perched on her lap but her lands lay useless on either side of the child, not holding her as a grandmother might be expected to do.

Other census records offer a few more clues.  At the age of two, Mary's son, Carlyle, appears in Lola's household, listed as her "adopted son." Ten years later he is living with his father. In both census records, Mary lives with her mother. Apparently she was not capable or interested in raising her own child.

I am tempted to guess that Mary fell somewhere on what is now the autism spectrum. There were also vague suggestions that she had an unusual birth -- perhaps "born with a caul," the rumor went -- a membrane over her face, or perhaps the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.  Perhaps she had experienced some sort of brain damage.  Whatever the cause, it's obvious that Mary suffered from some disorder or disability -- something that was seen in the 1880s as shameful, something to be hidden away. How sad her story becomes in that light!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Aunt Pearl and the Conventions of Society

So what did Pearl do to keep her family on edge? How about these episodes?

1. She ran away from home at the age of seventeen.  She may have worked for a while as a housemaid in New Castle, Pennsylvania, although it is hard to track records of household servants. But we do know that sometime in 1903, when she was about 20 years old, she returned home with a baby in tow.

2. She raised that little girl with her mother's help.  There was talk of a marriage (probably common-law) with a man who was willing to give her and her daughter his last name.  He was apparently an itinerant tinker, living in a wagon full of the tools of his trade.  He and his mule made their way from small town to small town, sharpening knives, fixing tinware and other common household objects, and generally making himself useful.  He managed to support himself to his own satisfaction, but would have been incapable of providing a stable home for a family. Their relationship suited Pearl just fine. She could call herself "Mrs." while living independently and doing exactly what she pleased. Eventually he disappeared from her life entirely.

3. She upset many members of the family by leaving the fundamentalist church in which she had been raised and becoming a follower of Mary Baker Eddy, whose Church of Christ, Scientist, taught that all sickness was an illusion and a result of sin.  Both her mother and her sister Lola became practical nurses and supported themselves by taking care of those who were ill.  Pearl escaped all such nasty chores, even within her own family, by denying the reality of illness.

4. During Prohibition, Pearl fell in love with and married a bootlegger who ran his own speakeasy. From what I remember of my parents talking about him, he was a pretty terrific guy who handled this difficult woman without any trouble. Still, for Pearl, his main attraction seems to have been his willingness to break the law.  What fun!

5. After her bootlegger died, she moved into the upstairs apartment in Aunt Lola's house, where the two of them bickered their separate ways for years. When Aunt Lola had to sell her house, Aunt Pearl refused to live with her daughter's family and moved into a tiny apartment above a drug store.

6. On her door she kept a sign posted, telling people what to do if they found her dead. They were to call  a certain number and let medical researchers come pick up her body. They were to give any usable parts to those who needed them and to then let students practice dissection on the rest of her.  Her fondest wish was to continue her "life" as a museum skeleton, where she could be of use to those who needed to learn about anatomy.

7. In her nineties, she lived in a retirement home, where she spent her last days playing pinochle until one evening, she put down her cards, announced she was ready for a nap, and went to her room, where they found her body the next morning.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Do You Know How Pearls Come into Being?

How do you make a pearl? Well, you start with an oyster, and you insert a grain of sand into its shell. In the same way that a small pebble in your shoe becomes a major irritant, so that grain of sand spurs the oyster into isolating it by building up layers of nacre, or oyster-shell lining, around those rough edges. Eventually the pearl takes on a lustrous round shape, but at the heart of that pearl is still the irritating bit of sand. 

What has that to do with my mother's family? Meet Aunt Pearl. Yes, that was her real name, and I'm sure my grandparents had no premonition that their new baby girl would grow up to be the irritant in the family shell. But she certainly did so.

I started to realize that fact when I was going through family pictures. Here's one of Grandmother Caroline and all eight of her daughters. It was taken sometime around 1915 on the steps of the family home, "The Old Nye Place" outside of Ellwood City, Pennsylvania.  Can you spot the contrary one? Of course you can. Mother and seven daughters are dressed in almost identical white dresses.  In the front row we see Ella, Grace, Caroline, Mary, and Minnie. In the back are Margaret, Lola, and Florence. Pearl is wearing plaid.

Here's another, taken in Canton, Ohio, sometime around 1930. Three oldest sisters are missing. Ella and Mary were both dead by then, Mary just recently, which accounts for the appearance of mourning outfits. ; Minnie was still living back in Ellwood City. Here are the other five: Grace (in the fur-trimmed dark coat), Grandmother Caroline, Lola, Margaret, and Florence -- all dressed in dark dresses with long sleeves and  just a touch of white at the neck. And at the edge of the group is Pearl -- in a frilly short-sleeved light-colored summer frock. 

Lesson To Be Learned

Genealogical researchers should pay careful attention to what the pictures of their subjects are revealing.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Aunt Florence and the Honey Bees

I wasn't very old when Aunt Florence had her encounter with bees, and I didn't get to witness it because my mother would not let me go over there while it was going on.  Still it made a great ongoing story, and I was fascinated.

Aunt Florence was the quintessential homemaker.  She raised five kids, canned and baked all their food, belonged to The Grange, and delighted in having a house full of people all the time.  For years, we went to her house for Sunday  supper.  It wasn't anything special, except to me. She usually just laid out sandwich fixings, but they were things I didn't get at home: white bread, mayonnaise, yellow mustard, sliced bologna with the rind still on, and homegrown tomato slices.  I thought those sandwiches were heavenly.  And when she brought out fresh-squeezed lemonade instead of milk, I knew there was no finer meal.

The bees broke up those Sunday suppers!  It all started with Aunt Florence hearing something that no one else could hear.  Her children and grandchildren knew she had good hearing, because she could always hear them getting into trouble. Still, her husband shrugged off her reports of a humming noise in the house.  She went to the ear doctor, but it wasn't tintinnus -- she didn't hear it outside the house. 

Next, she spotted a stain on one corner of the dining room ceiling.  She suspected a water leak, but they determined that all water pipes were on the other side of the house. It might have been coming from a roof leak, but this was a two-story house, and there was no sign of a leak in the attic or on the second floor.  What could it be? 

Uncle Laurence owned a hardware store, and he sent the fellow he used to install gutters over to take a look around the outside of the roof.  In just a few minutes, he came scurrying into the house, saying that bees were after him. However, there was no sign of trouble on the outside of the house, unless someone got too close to a certain downspout.

The ever-resourceful Aunt Florence now convinced the repairman to put up a stepladder in the dining room and feel the stain to see if it was wet.  He reported that it was sticky! Taste it, she suggested. Sure enough, it was honey. Bees had entered a small hole where the downspout attached to the house. Then they built their honeycombs inside the walls of the house.

Removing them became a major undertaking. A bee-keeper came to capture as many as he could by using some sort of jerry-rigged vacuum cleaner and a long hose.  Then poison was pumped into the wall to kill the rest. (I know! That was probably horribly dangerous, but it was effective.)  Then the walls had to be knocked out, and pounds and pounds of wax, honey, and dead bees were pulled out of the wall.

I've never liked honey, since then.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Aunt Minnie and the Outhouse

 The Swicks were  in many ways the typical western Pennsylvania family at the beginning of the 20th century.  Minnie was my mother's second oldest sister. She married John, a coal miner, in 1900 and lived happily with him for 48 years.  He moved out of the mines, I suspect at her demands, and went to work in the local steel mill, which was just as dirty a job but marginally safer.  His son, Hilliard, followed him into the mill, but John campaigned hard  to keep Hilliard's sons, Billy and Chester, out of the mill, as well as the mines.

Minnie was a loving and kindly woman, always concerned with the welfare of others but wanting nothing for herself.  When she died in 1948, she still lived in their original house -- no running water  -- only an outhouse and a pump in the kitchen sink.  The house stood along a fairly busy road outside of Ellwood City, and at her request, John had a gas pump put in the front yard so she could make a bit of pin money during the day.  And later, they added a small lean-to on the side of the house, where the children sold candy to their friends.

As a child, I was fascinated by Aunt Minnie's outhouse.  It sat out back among the trees,
And I thought it was great fun to use it.  Not until I was much older did I realize what a living cliché it was.  It was a two-seater,  which meant my mother often went with me and we would sit side by side.

Toilet paper was an unknown luxury, but I was always eager to discover what old book Aunt Minnie was using -- maybe the Sears catalog, or an old telephone book.  We'd rip off a page, and then I'd sit there and read it before using it.

Then there came the year when  we were warned not to approach the outhouse without making a lot of noise.  It seemed that a porcupine had moved in, because he loved to chew on wood. If we were loud enough, he would run away. But if we startled him in the doorway, he might stick us with his quills. I remember singing all the way to the outhouse, hoping to see him come scurrying out.

I never met him, but he made a good story for one of my novels many years later. (See Damned Yankee, Chapter 30.)

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Aunt Lola and the Devil Chair

 Lola and Frank Connor when they were first married.

This chair was hand-carved in Ohio in 1905.  Uncle Frank  gave it to his wife Lola as a wedding gift. 

It's called The Devil Chair, and it came with explicit instructions. It must sit in the living room, facing a window. Why? Because if the Devil comes by, he'll look in that window, see the chair, think there's already a devil living in your house, and he'll go elsewhere.

  Can you see the face in this close-up? Find the eyes first, and then the rest -- a flat nose, a sneering mouth with huge fangs, a stylized beard, and elaborate curving horns -- all appear.

I grew up being terrified of that chair. When we visited, I couldn't take my eyes off of it for fear the Devil would jump out. So what did Aunt Lola leave me in her will? Naturally, the Devil chair! And yes, it  sits in my living room facing the window. I've owned it for 55 years, and, so far,  it seems to have worked! 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Aunt Lola and Her Chickens

One day Uncle Frank came home upset about the price of eggs.  Who knows what it was -- five cents, maybe. Anyhow, he informed Aunt Lola that if she wanted eggs from then on, she would have to get a chicken -- which she did, because Lola always did what she was told.

She tried raising the chickens in the back yard, but the neighbors complained, so she moved them into the basement.  Can you imagine what that did to the house?  For years afterwards, the entire house smelled like chicken droppings. They got rid of the chickens, but they never got rid of the smell.

And speaking of chickens, one of the family legends concerned a chicken dinner at which there was an unexpected guest, so that by the time the plate of chicken was passed to Lola, all that was left was the tail.  She took it, uncomplaining as always, and professed to find it delicious. So from then on, everybody saved their chicken tails for her, and she ate them for the rest of her life.

The same story also spawned a famous family quote.  When she was asked how she liked the tail, her answer was "It was good, what there was of it." Then, afraid that sounded like a complaint, she added, "Oh, there was enough of it, such as it was."

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Mysterious Dynamics of Family

The more I dig into my mother’s family history, the more I am surprised by how different their life was at the beginning of the twentieth century.  Now, let me say, first, that I was born in 1939, and I grew up convinced that the twentieth century was “modern.” We had great cars, television, single-party telephone lines, women voted, girls got to wear slacks, and we had McDonald’s as a hang-out.  Oh, i know things have changed a lot since I was in high school, but the changes I've experienced have always seemed to me to be a natural progression, not some grand sea-change.  But now, as I look back at my mother’s life, and the lives of her seven sisters, I’m recognizing a tremendous gulf between our worlds.

Among the stories I’m finding are these:

    •    A developmentally-disabled child, raised without benefit of medical intervention or therapy or adaptations to make her life better. She just lives out her life as best she can. And if she cannot do something, or reach something, or understand what's happening, then it’s just too bad. Things pass her by.
    •    A child born out of wedlock, who carries that label of “illegitimate” as if it were she who has committed some great sin. Her mother, too, faces a lifetime of shaming and ridicule, which drives her to make even worse decisions with her life.  Who was the father? I wonder, but I find no record or even any effort to identify him or make him bear part of the responsibility.
    •    A father, knowing that he was dying, mortgages the family farm to hide the fact that he cannot work, which ultimately leaves his wife and children homeless and penniless when he dies.
    •    Another child, born to a mentally unstable mother and left solely in her care although she is clearly incapable of understanding her responsibilities. Even when the child comes close to dying at his mother’s hand, there is no intervention. There’s no social worker, or child protection agency, or thought of notifying some authority — because there is no authority to turn to if a child’s life is just plain rotten and dangerous.
    •    A man with what appears to be early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, whose tendency to get lost, whose forgetfulness, whose failure to recognize family members, whose sudden and violent  rages are all explained by his devotion to God.
    •    A teenager who dies from a lack of medical attention, and another scarred for life by an incompetent doctor — both of whom should have been able to live long and healthy lives.
    •    Another teenager, taken in by a new family when she was left an orphan, only to find that when the  wife died, she is expected to marry the husband.
    •    An adolescent boy, so traumatized at the age of twelve by the loss of family members that he develops a debilitating stutter that leaves him unable to communicate. and he is made fun of, not helped to overcome his problem.
    •    A young wife who suffers a devastating stroke that leaves her unable to say anything  beyond “a-no, a-no.” She never sees a doctor, never receives treatment. She is just allowed to wither away from neglect.
    •    An alcoholic husband who refuses to speak to his wife because she will not join his church.  And his absolute silence lasts not just for a period of days, but for years.

These stories, horrible as some of them were, were not told to me as anything other than simple explanations of why things were as they were.  And when, in the course of these tragedies, someone did step in to help, it was not a parent or a grandparent, a policeman, a pastor, or a teacher.  Invariably in this particular family help came only from one sister to another. I’m struggling to understand.