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Rainbows, Butterflies & One Last HugA Mother's Spiritual Journey Losing Two Children to Cystic Fibrosis
By Peggy S Imm-Anesi
Balboa PressCopyright © 2012 Peggy S Imm-Anesi
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMy Life as a Child
Without sounding self-absorbed, I guess I should start at my own beginning. I was born on September 7th, 1953 during a hurricane. I was the fifth of six children to a blue-collar worker and a stay-at-home mom (the traditional dysfunctional family). I guess even when I was very young, I knew I needed to bring something more to the world around me.
When I turned 3, I was referred to as "quite the little actress" because I was always singing and dancing with thumbtacks in the bottoms of my Sunday-school patent leather shoes. I would always dance with pride on the wooden floors of our home. My parents didn't have the money to provide me with real tap shoes. My dad worked on the railroad during the day and during the nights and weekends, he worked at our church cleaning and as a groundskeeper (known as a sexton). Quality time with my father would be about half an hour a night spent in the basement of our home where I would sing along as he would play the accordion and the violin. I credit him for my love of music and dance.
Growing up with 5 other siblings could be rough at times. When my youngest brother, Lee was born in 1956, we ranged in ages from newborn to twenty years old. By having that many kids, money was tight in our family. Soon, my older brother and sister would marry, at which time I was about to enter school ... but of course not to each other ... lol! My older brother got married first to his wife Marilyn and soon to follow in his footsteps was my sister who married her husband Harold soon after.
On weekends, my family and I would always get together for Sunday dinner and during the summers, we had backyard picnics. Everyone would bring their instruments and it would turn into a hoot-a-nanny (we weren't hillbillies but we just acted that way). I grew up in Croton, NY and it was the place where my story truly begins. What can I say about the town I grew up in ... actually quite a bit. I was actually born in "The Old Ossining Hospital" on Spring Street in Ossining, NY (which is the next town over from Croton). The hospital is no longer there but most of us whose families lived in Croton were either born here or in The Old Peekskill Hospital. Now, for a little trivia: "The Old Ossining Hospital" was right next door to the Warden's House and the famous "Sing-Sing" prison. People mostly hear of Sing-Sing prison in many movies and it is located on the beautiful Hudson River and was also known as the town of Sing-Sing many years ago.
My father, Ellsworth Imm, was also born in Ossining in 1911 at home to his mostly German parents on the corner of Spring and Revolutionary Road (near the famous "Pine Tree Restaurant"). At about 5 years old, my father moved to the Archville section of Mt Pleasant Scarborough/Briarcliff/Tarrytown (which is now known as Sleepy Hollow, the town known for the "Headless Horsemen" famous legend). My dad's parents were mostly German and his mother came to Croton-on-Hudson from Germany as a little girl and grew up in the Mt. Airy section of the upper village. Her name was Mary Vespermann (my paternal grandmother) and she went to school on Grand Street in Croton in a little schoolhouse back in the late 1800's which is now "The Grand Street Firehouse". She later met my grandfather, Carl Imm, when she was the cook and he was the caretaker for John D. Rockefeller and his family in the town of Mt. Pleasant. My grandfather, Carl Imm came to this country from Europe (after being born in Poland to a German mother and a Russian father) and as an adult he lived in New York City for a short time and then settled in the Tarrytowns with his wife and they remained there until their deaths in 1963 and 1969. At twenty-five years old, my dad, Ellsworth Imm met my mother (another Croton girl). My mother Sarah Emery was born at home in a place referred to as "Soap Hill", which was off of Riverside Avenue in Croton in 1918. My father and my mother met in 1936 while she and her best friend Dot Kimball worked as waitresses at Julian's in Crotonville, NY. At a later point in 1936, my parents married and moved to Croton as a couple and lived there until their deaths in 1993 and 1994. My mother's friend Dot married my dad's brother Carl and they lived in Ossining. My Aunt Dot came from the Kimball family from Croton and was 1 of 9 children. Some of her family worked at The Van Cortlandt Manor House also located in Croton. In my mother's family, her mother, Margaret Place Emery was from Dutchess County. She was a Shecomeko Indian and my grandfather Nat Emery was from Elizabeth, New Jersey and his heritage derived from his family coming from Surrey England.. They married in the town in Dutchess County where former Croton-Harmon High School principal and Mayor of Croton Stanely H Kellerhouse, was from and lived in Croton until their deaths in 1956 and 1976. My mother's father worked as a pipefitter for New York Central plus he had his own side business and also worked for Mamie White Funeral Home on Grand Street (which later became Carter's Funeral Home) which later moved to its new location where it stands today. My mother, Sarah Emery Imm, went to school in Croton at the Municipal Building and later at Croton-Harmon High School. Now, the Municipal Building named for Stanley H Kellerhouse is home to the Croton Police and village office workers as well as "The Croton Historical Society". Her parents lived in a few different places in Croton before building their permanent home on Hamilton Avenue near Van Wyck and Grand Street, a few houses in from the current funeral home and from the towns bed and breakfast. My brothers and sisters, Ellsworth (Ellie), Patty, Bobby, Mary and Lee also attended school in Croton and graduated from C.H.H.S as well. My children went to Croton schools at some points in their lives as well.
When I was little, until almost 3 years old, we lived across from where the "Tavern at Croton Landing" is now, which is formerly known as "Honeys". Honey's was the major spot to go for most Crotonite's and at one point Jackie Gleason star of the Honeymooners played pool there and even though now it is under new ownership, it still seems to be the hot spot in town. We lived at 4 Depot Square in front of the Old Croton North Station and Winklers along with many of the older original Croton families. Some names I remember are the Depalmas (my sister Mary's Godmother was Angie), Gibson's (my Godmother was Rose), Mezger's (my best friend Judie's family), Waters (Harold and Bobby owned Honeys for years), and D'Alvia's (Josephine was a historian in Croton for many years and her sons were attorneys and her husband Carl was the town judge). In this section of Croton, you had Brook Street, Farrington, Bank Street, and of course Riverside Avenue (which was also known as the Old Albany Post Road). A lot of people had to move because the "New 9" which we called it, was coming through so in order to build the highway, they started knocking down our homes to make room for the road. So we, "The Dock Rats", as we were referred to back then (from this section of Croton), had to find new homes.
In 1956, my parents bought a home in the Harmon section of Croton. We lived at 44 Oneida Avenue, 2 houses in from the Croton Carvel (where everyone seemed to gather socially).
When we moved into where the new homes stood, there were sand lots across the street and down on the corner of Oneida and Riverside. As kids, we used to play baseball and other sports in these sandlots. This section of Croton was named for Clifton Harmon who had a horse racetrack there before most of these homes were built on the street where I lived and it had been built with streets forming circles for the races. Near our home, some of the streets were Young Avenue, Hastings Avenue, Penfield Avenue, and Whelan and all of these connected to Benedict Boulevard and Cleveland Drive. We were also the children of many of the railroad workers. My dad, both of my grandfathers, some uncles, and 2 of my brothers worked there until their retirement or until they moved on to another phase in their life. I later married into a family where many of them also worked for the railroad. My husband's family was well-known in the workforce in Croton as they are the Anesi family. In the late 1800's early 1900's, they owned a tavern at the bottom of Mt. Airy Road and also across the street the stone house on Grand Street known as "The Gingerbread House", which was built by the Anesi family. The older generations of the Anesi's were stone masons that not only helped to build Croton Dam but many of the stone houses in Croton that have stood all of these years with such beauty and precision. My husband's grandfather, Marcus Anesi (whom my youngest son was named after), owned the stone house on Grand Street across from the foot of Mt. Airy. The family legend says that as the Anesi's were building this home, they wiped each stone by hand as the stones were put together. Also, the stone used in this home was said to have been leftover from the building of "The Croton Dam".
Well, now that I gave you some of my family history, I have to say growing up in Croton back in the '50s-'70's gave me a sense of security. When I was a child, I remember playing a lot of hopscotch in front of our house or jumping rope or hula-hooping. I never had to worry about being hurt like in these days when us as parents and grandparents worry about our kids being abducted or something worse. At a young age, we Croton kids had the Starlight Bowling Lanes, Miniature Golf, and the Drive-Inn. Our parents were never afraid of us walking there day or night or being hurt because it was a different age back then. Families back then knew each other by name and had each other's backs at all times. They were the good old days for sure. One last thing about growing up in Croton, it was also the home to many famous people such as Jackie Gleason (from The Honeymooners), Allen Funt and sons John who was in my class at C.E.T. and Peter Funt who took over the show after his father (Candid Camera), Gloria Swanson (actress). My mom would actually sleigh ride on Gloria Swanson's driveway as a child. Other famous people living in Croton were Peter Strauss (Rich Man/Poor Manseries), Kathleen Beller (Dynasty), Greg Wangler (Folgers commercial and General Hospital), and New Yorker Magazine's artist Abe Birnbaum (whose wife, Frieda who was taken care of by me when I had my homecare business) who shared so many wonderful stories of their travels, Robert Klein (a famous comedian) whose parents had a house on Mt Airy and whose ex-wife Brenda Boozer (Metropolitan Opera Star) attended my church St. Mary's in Scarborough and sang in our choir when they lived in Briarcliff, and Peter Frampton ( famous recording artist) who lived behind me on the outskirts of Croton in the '80's and many more which made Croton one DAM town for sure!
When I was 9 years old, I became very ill and spent months in the hospital diagnosed with a rare form of encephalitis. Years later, I would find out that it was actually Multiple Sclerosis. After being so ill as a child and the added exposure of other sick kids in the hospital ward (back then the kids were put into wards instead of private hospital rooms), I learned a lot about myself and my strength. We all had something different in the ward from Polio to Cystic Fibrosis, etc.
Seven months later, still being 9 years old, I came home from the hospital in Grasslands and from a Convalescent Home for Children, which was located in Chappaqua. Now, I seemed to look at life differently. I learned that prayers work. I became a nurturer to my family and friends while at the same time developing a strange psychic ability. It wasn't always that I was predicting the future but I would get feelings right before something was about to happen. Also, being sick for so long and away from the other kids at school caused some of them to bully and tease me when I returned because they heard I had a brain disease and assumed I was crazy. At the time, I had started experiencing panic attacks and even though I had a brain disease (which was thought to be Encephalitis), I later learned it was the beginning of M.S.
Chapter TwoTeenager From Hell
After my illness as a child, as my parents would call it, I transitioned through what they called "the teen from hell" years. I was the rebel of rebels, I thought I had all of the answers, and I made my own rules. Though I never did drugs, I hung out with all different types of people (the greasers, the druggies, the losers, and even some nerds). I started smoking at thirteen, began drinking at sixteen, and became a clown. Even today, I have the ability to make people laugh at the most inappropriate times. As a teen, I had several boyfriends, some who were just friends over the years in the surrounding towns. At this point, I never took life too seriously.
One of the guys I had met when I was only twelve years old was named Johnny and he was in and out of my life until his untimely death (which was a month to the day of my eighteenth birthday). Johnny was not only my best friend, but he was also my boyfriend. I had just graduated from high school in June of 1971 and on August 7th, I came home from my job at the local Grand Union deli to find my parents and friends all waiting in my front yard waiting to tell me that Johnny had shot himself and died that day. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed by grief. I felt as though my own world had ended that day. Among some other horrors that summer, I had decided that it was time for me to settle down and grow up. On the night of my eighteenth birthday, my brother Lee's friend, Jack was at my house and his older brother came to pick him up after my birthday party. His brother, Don and I started talking and fourteen months later, Don became my husband. Don and I had lived two blocks apart and our fathers worked together. I assumed that it was fate that we should marry. After living through the events of that horrible summer before, I thought I was supposed to now live the American Dream. This would include the prince, the white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and to live happily ever after ... Not!
Chapter ThreeThe Fairytale Life
Don and I married in November of 1972 and we had our first child, a perfect baby girl named Meg, in September of 1973. Six days after she was born, I turned twenty years old and was looking forward to a perfect life of watching my beautiful daughter accomplish all of the wonderful things she dreamed of. A year and a half later, my son Donnie was born and although I had a very difficult delivery, I was now told at twenty-one that I shouldn't have any more children because I had developed a rare form of toxemia which landed me on the critical list. I was happy having my boy and girl but growing up as one of six kids, I really wanted to have a large family.
Even though I was a new young mom, when Meg was a few months old, I had a feeling that something was terribly wrong with her. I couldn't put my finger on it but I still knew that something wasn't right. I spoke to her pediatrician and was assured that I was just being an anxious new mom and that it was probably just allergies. After a few years of caring for two babies, I started to notice that Meg seemed to cough a lot. When I kissed her, she tasted very salty and she had a very odd odor to her bowel movements. Though no one's B.M.'s smell great, there was an un-godly odor to hers. My son, Don, who was also in diapers, never emitted that kind of an odor.
I picked up one of Dr. Spock's baby books and although I had some medical background, I immediately turned to the page about the genetic illness called "Cystic Fibrosis". Most doctors in the '70's didn't even know much about this illness. I called her doctor right away and asked for her to be sweat tested (this is how they tested for C.F.). After much resistance, her doctor agreed to schedule the test but she acted as if I were being a "Drama Queen".
We went to the County Medical Center where they performed the sweat test and it resulted in being positive for Cystic Fibrosis. We immediately left Westchester County Medical Center and went directly to the pediatrician's office. She looked at us and basically said how sorry she was. My perfect little girl would probably die between her 5th and 10th birthday. At this point, she was five months shy of her 3rd birthday. Because C.F. was a genetic illness meant that both my husband and I had carried the gene and in each child we had together, there would be a 1 in 4 chance that they would also inherit this dreadful illness. Our son was just 1 &fra12; years old at the time and he now needed to be tested also. After trying to deal with this nightmare diagnosis, we were now going to see if our son was going to face the same fate as our precious little girl.
Excerpted from Rainbows, Butterflies & One Last Hug by Peggy S Imm-Anesi Copyright © 2012 by Peggy S Imm-Anesi. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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