To: Irene Modarski Andreoli
My middle child, (a 23 yr.old named Rosemarie)called me excitedly to tell me to hurry and turn on the television.
When I asked whether or not she was on television she replied,
"No mom, but if you don't hurry, you're going to miss Irene".
"Irene?", I said.
"Mom, she replied, stop talking and turn on the T.V".
I did turn on the television, to see Irene Modarski talking about the OLA school fire. I had never before seen this woman, or Charlene who also played quite a significant role in my own childhood and adolescence.
I was not yet even born on December 1, 1958.
As I sat watching the documentary. I wondered if and how I would have the chance to tell anyone that the angels are all of you, not just those who perished. Charlene and Irene have been mine.
God uses everything as a blessing.
While looking on the internet to find the book that was mentioned in the documentary, I found this site.
I have a very mild cerebral palsy which is, as far we know, a post birth trauma due to the fact that I was born prematurely and had a twin whose lungs collapsed. He died, and I was apparently given too much oxygen, causing this form of mild paralysis. I believe that there were problems during the birth and delivery. I can't say for sure, because I am blessed twice, once with biological parents and second with those loving parents who adopted me at only 5 months old and raised me as their own.
I wore braces on both legs as a child. During the summer between fourth and fifth grade, I had extensive orthopedic surgery for "cosmetic purposes" which greatly improved my posture and gait.
I spent the entire summer wearing plaster casts, sitting a wheel chair with both legs sticking straight out. Bathing was a series of sponge baths, washing hair was a nightmare. The surgery was painful.
Bones were fused, and my hamstrings were lengthened.
Before I went into the hospital, my great Aunt Ang sent my mother an article with a picture of Charlene in her hospital bed. She noted that Charlene at that time was exactly my school grade. She also sent another article of with a photo of "healed Charlene". To me, the fact that she was a burn victim wasn't what stuck in my mind. To me, Charlene was another 4th grade girl who obeyed the doctor, and as my mother explained, was a teenager out having fun, as I one day would be.
My Aunt Ang and Uncle Fred lived on Avers Avenue for many years.
Uncle Freddie had a twin brother. He and his twin owned a tavern. He later drove a taxi. They belonged to OLA. They were very kind to me.
My aunt had saved many of the articles because OLA her own parish family. She took the time to look through them years later for the sake of giving several of them to me.
I went into the hospital believing that I was going to feel "some pain", but that all of this would leave me walking just like rest of the girls in my grammar school class by the time the cast would be removed. WRONG! The summer of 1969 was a long one! I spent about one month at
Michael Reese Hospital in the children's ward, while my little sister spent every day at my grandma's house. My mother slept in a chair at my bedside every night for 2 weeks, leaving only to change clothes. My dad went from our house,to work to the hospital,and back again.
Of course I presumed that since Charlene got cards, I would too.
The neighbors and my relatives, our friends and my father's co-workers sent sent tons of mail.
During the latter part of July 1969, I was released and went home.
The days passed. I knit,and needlepointed while I waited for the big day when one cast would be removed and the other replaced by a half cast. When finally that day did arrive, every person in the cast room heard me scream in terror. I couldn't bend my knees. My muscles were stiff. When I finally I did, I couldn't straighten them. It was agony.
We went home. I was supposed to try to walk. It was a nightmare. Every one of our neighbors could hear me cry. It was summer, the doors and windows were opened. Central Air conditioning? We were happy to have a fan!
I never thought I would walk again. We knew that one foot would now be shorter than the other--that was part of the drawbacks. Buying shoes would be a nightmare, but the way things were going, I didn't think I would walk. I was both terrified and heartbroken. I had told my classmates that I was having these legs of mine fixed, and that I was going to be standing and walking straight. I envisioned myself returning to school that fall ready to show both classes of 5th graders that I was a new and improved Deborah. I couldn't even bend and straighten my knees, much less stand and try to walk!
Aunt Ang and Uncle Freddie drove out to the suburbs to see me.
They'd spoken to my mother on the phone and knew that I didn't think I would ever be able to bend my knees or stand up. My poor parents were worried. I had always been a very brave girl. This was not like me. They wondered if perhaps there was another problem.
My dear soft-spoken Aunt Ang sat in our family room and visited with me. She'd brought a gift, but she had something else with her. She showed me an article and a photograph of Irene. This was not a fourth grader like me. God apparently put the notion into my aunts head to bring me both of these girls as an example because I used to cry and worry even before the surgery.
I knew that I was one of the smartest girls in school, and that sitting down, I could be pretty enough, but I was really very self conscious. After all, prior to the surgery, I walked like a horse and had the posture of the number "7" if you looked at me standing sideways.
In my heart of hearts my special intention and prayer was to grow up and go out on dates, meet someone nice, go to college, get married and have children. Not need braces. Not walk like a clydesdale horse dragging along my leg as I walked.
My Aunt Ang talked to me about courage. She left me the article about Irene. I looked at that picture. Here was a girl, a role model for me who had to learn to walk again. A "big girl" who looked like a Barbie Doll, someone who obviously knew what it meant to actually babysit, probably a patrol girl, I thought. Somehow the word "bride" came into the discussion. No bride's picture, but my Auntie Ang and Uncle Fred said, so there was no doubt in my mind.
Irene was brave. She learned to walk. My parents used to promise that I would make grandparents of them, because the neurologist had said so! This was proof that someone did--a real person.
Space would not permit me to tell you the nonsensical questions that I asked my great-aunt, or those that I asked my parents, who explained the fire. They were driving home from work, not yet parents themselves, when they saw smoke. We talked about the brave children, like Charlene, who obeyed the doctor's orders and did her therapy. My braces had been on my legs--Charlene's on her back. This to me was more of an example and left more of an impression than I can ever express.
I found the courage within myself to succeed through their examples,and with the love of others. Always with prayers.
My words are so inadequate. I apologize. Your challenges were part of my blessings. God does use all things for good. I did walk before the end of the summer.
As a public elementary school student in the 1960's I was often teased. My "challenge" didn't require a special school or classes with handicapped children. We didn't have logos and ramps and legislature like The Americans With Disabilities Act.
I went on to become class president of my freshman class at
Trinity High School. I held class office or student council office three out of four years. I went to proms and dances. My classmates were like my sisters.
Those public school children who used to tease me have since grown up to be wonderful people who are so kind and of whom I am so proud.
I found the beauty within myself to pursue a social life.
I was blessed with the chance to be married for 12 years. I have three beautiful children. Two daughters ages 24 and 23 and a son who just turned 20. I am also a grandparent. Though my marriage ended in divorce, I have many happy memories, and am now studying at Harvard.The daughter who called to advise me of the documentary is named for my late mother, Rosemarie.
God did not call his young cherubs on December 1, 1958. He accepted them into his kingdom to have charge over you, and your families after having fulfilled their purpose on this imperfect earth.
Many people have stories of angels who appear at times of crisis never to be found again. Mine are your classmates. Irene and Charlene.
I am sure that my mother was among the first to welcome Charlene into heaven, telling her that she has bene a mythological hero on earth, along with Irene, without ever knowing.
You are all in my prayers.Thank you for being my example Irene. You are an angel on this earth.
I will always pray for you. I have to find that article!