If only Williamsport —and the world — had more Eileens
Eileen died recently after 87 highly productive years on our planet.
Chances are, you never met Eileen. She was not famous or a newsmaker in the way we view newsmakers today.
But she was a newsmaker in the neighborhood where I grew up on the northeast boundary of Brandon Park in Williamsport.
It was a neighborhood full of mostly large families, great moms and dads and an army of kids going through all the stuff that kids go through. Long before the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” became a thing, this was our village and it raised us.
During the course of a Saturday like today, we would shuttle from house to house, organizing the next game of wiffle ball, trading stories about last night’s Little League game, and making fun of the happenings of each other’s families.
It was a neighborhood full of great parents, but we were kids, so, naturally, all of us felt the other family had “cooler” parents.
And Eileen was, by far, the coolest.
How cool? She allowed us to use her family’s garage for our annual summer play that we created, produced and performed. For the record, she was not responsible for the theft of one of my mom’s bedsheets, which was used as our stage curtain. (“That’s my bedsheet!” my horrified mom gasped as she walked into one particular performance.)
How cool? Well, we all had solid parents, but all kids at a certain age get a little tired of mom and dad and are in a very questioning mood. I am not sure where they go today because people seem so much more isolated within their own homes and situations.
But we — particularly me and my younger brother, Lee – went to Eileen and Joe’s house. Joe had this high-pitched voice that belied his large frame. He would wave us in, then depart to another room. He knew who we were there to see.
We would sit ourselves down at Eileen’s kitchen table. We were not mad. We were not contemplating running away from home or doing anything that would get us in trouble. We just needed a break from our house, which had a population of 10.
Eileen would sit us down, start telling jokes and exchanging neighborhood gossip with us. Then she would get down to business. “So what’s going on?” she’d say.
We would unload a string of verbiage that we thought was important but in reality was nothing to stress about. We just needed confirmation from Eileen that it was nothing to stress about.
She would listen, tell a few jokes about our parents that put them in a good light, suggest a few problem solving paths, and send us on our way.
After that brief talk with “the cool mom,” we walked home ready to listen to mom and dad again.
The only real transgression we could not resolve involved Lee’s snow boots. You know, the black ones with the buckles that he considered totally uncool. On snowy days when we were ordered to wear them, Lee would pack a pair of shoes with his lunch and drop off the snow boots under Eileen’s giant blue spruce tree, then retrieve them and put them on after school.
Eileen let him have that one.
I have thought a lot about Eileen this past month, usually while following news that includes teens shooting up people for horrible reasons, or young people succumbing to illegal drugs or getting involved in gangs that can only result in a life that goes bad at some point.
In almost all these instances of young lives turning tragic, we find out later that the family life was not traditional or settled, often including no father.
I don’t have science to prove it, but my guess is that in almost all these cases there probably was not a neighborhood full of communal families, willing to share their children with each other and trust each other to help with the complexities of kids growing up.
It feels like there are not enough Eileens to handle the world kids are growing up in today. They have all the peer pressure to deal with that we had, plus the smothering world of cyber bullying and negative social media and parents struggling to find enough time each day to be the sounding board they need to be.
If you had an Eileen around when you were growing up, you were lucky. If you have one helping you by being the pressure release valve for your kids today, don’t be jealous. Be thankful.
Eileen – you never met her and she was not famous.
But trust me, she helped raise a neighborhood. And that’s a legacy larger than fame or fortune.
Dave Troisi is the Sun-Gazette’s retired editor.