Brennan family history

Long Ago…

I know “history” implies that we’ll go far back into the family’s past, but the truth is that I don’t know all that much about the history of the family before my parents met. Here is about all I know. On Dad’s side, his mother was Lillian McSpadden. She had two siblings — Liala and Brother. That’s the only name I knew him by. Yep, I had an Uncle Brother. He was born in the days before they had mandatory birth certificates. He never married, never worked at a regular job, never got a social security number. He was a bookie. His death certificate was the only proof he had ever lived. Actually, my grandmother was the oldest of the kids in her family and they called her Sister and her brother was called Brother. Then the family had another girl. So they called her Sister Baby. Clever, huh?   My Dad’s father was Daniel Patrick Brennan. He got to pick his own name. He and his brother were the 12th and 13th children in the family and I guess their parents got tired of naming kids. So they called them Pud and Punk. When they started to Catholic school around the age of 7 or 8, the priest would not let them use those names so he had them pick out names of saints and my Grandpa picked Daniel Patrick. That turned out to be an important decision for a 7 year old because his two grandsons were then named Daniel and Patrick and I used both of those names when naming my sons, too. My grandfather had a pretty exciting life in his younger days. He ran a carrousel which he took through Mexico, along with some kind of gambling board which was against the law. He was frequently on the run and once was chased by Pancho Villa. He finally settled down in Houston. He was always afraid of dying from TB so he would always get the TB screenings when the mobile units were out. One day in 1956, he stopped at Lewis & Coker grocery store in Palm Center for a screening and, while waiting for his turn, he had a heart attack and died. I was really sad when he died because he was a fun Grandpa and he really spoiled me when I was little. My grandmother, whom we called Big Mamaw, lived much longer. I liked hanging out with her sometimes. She lived across the street from where my Dad worked and I liked it when I’d spend the day with her and then get to meet my day as he walked to her house. We would ride the bus to the downtown Foleys and she’d buy me stuff and we’d eat at the LC cafeteria. She gave me $5 a week for my allowance, which was much more than any of my friends ever got back then. She died in 1973 when I was pregnant with Danny. My Dad was the only child of Lillian McSpadden and Daniel Brennan.

On my mother’s side, her parents were Lukie Bessie Winslett and Branton Anderson Durden.  They both lived in Georgia and got secretly married, but didn’t tell anybody until after the harvest season because there was so much work to be done. They moved to Houston to have their family. They had three children — Bessie Hazel, Ollie Doris, and Branton, Jr. When my mother was in junior high, this was during Prohibition, and her father was a Houston Police Officer. He was convicted of accepting a bribe to overlook a speakeasy and he was sent to prison. This was major news and my mom was really embarrassed to go to school. Lots of her friends wouldn’t speak to her, but one student she didn’t know introduced herself to her as Yuba Belle Couch. Her Dad was also in prison and she told my mom that she knew how she felt. They became really good friends.(foreshadowing) After my granddad got out of prison, he didn’t come home, but instead went to live with another woman, whom he later married. They lived on a farm in Cleveland. I saw him a few times, mostly when my Aunt Hazel would take me to his farm. My mother didn’t really have a relationship with him at all. My grandmother had to work really hard to raise her kids alone. She had almost no education and no real skills. She did janitorial type work, eventually working for and retiring from Maxwell House. She was a very devout Christian and the Central Park Church of God really became the center of her life, as well as of my parents who raised their kids there. My grandad died when I was an adult, but I don’t know exactly when. My grandmother died in 1985.

How Jack Brennan and Doris Durden met:
 
My mother and her best friend, Yuba Bell Couch, were about to graduate from high school and they were planning to double date to the senior prom. My mother’s date was the one with the car. Two days before the prom, report cards came out and my mother’s date didn’t do too well. His father grounded him which left my mother without a prom date AND left Yuba Bell and her date without a ride. So Yuba Bell told my mom that she had a cousin named Jack who had a Taraplane (which apparently was a kind of car) and that he would be her date. The rest, as they say, is history.They married on October 6, 1939, and had three children — James Patrick born on August 24, 1942, Daniel Durden born on September 9, 1945, and Jacqueline Ann born on September 16, 1951. They celebrated their 50th anniversary on October 6, 1989 with a big party at my house. Less than a year later, our family gathered again for my father’s funeral. He died on August 10, 1990.

Growing Up Jac

To say that I had an idyllic childhood is almost to minimize how truly wonderful it was. When I was born, my parents bought a house “way out on the edge of town” at 4901 Winnetka. Our phone number was MI5-8596. Back then, phone numbers started with two letters, which were the first two letters of a word. In this case, it  was “mission.” That word thing started about the time I was born. Before that, there were just 5 numbers for a phone number, but as more people started  getting phones, the word became a necessity. Now, of course, numbers are 10  digits long and we don’t use words at all. The house was a split level on the corner of Belvedere and Winnetka, right across the street from MacGregor Park.

That area is practically a stone’s throw from downtown now, but back then, people thought my parents were crazy for building way out on the edge of town.The house had a big porch and a two car garage that was separate. We had a  big back yard with a clothesline, a swing set, and a dirt basketball half-court. The whole yard was easily converted into a makeshift baseball, and later wiffle ball field, when necessary. Our front yard had a long sidewalk from the front door to the curb, which made it the perfect spot for neighborhood games of  hopscotch, red light green light, and mother may I. We had two mimosa trees, a mexican ratanda, an ash, and a china berry tree in the front yard. We had two bedrooms and one bath when we moved in, but Dad turned the second level into  two rooms and a bathroom. At first, that space up there was just for a pool table and later a ping pong table, but eventually, Mom and Dad took the big bedroom  up there with the bathroom and at some point, I got the other room, which was a  great room.

The only things I know about my infancy are things I’ve been told, of course. My mom went into labor on a Sunday while Dad and the boys were at church. She called the church to tell them to come home. My dad always used to tell me the story of how, after I was born, he wanted to see me and the first thing he looked for was to see if I had eyebrows. His hair was so fair that his eyebrows didn’t show so he always worried his kids would have the same problem. I had a little difficult breathing and they put me in an incubator and my mom couldn’t see me. But Dad raised such a fuss that a nurse finally came to her door and showed her to me and said, “Look, here she is. Now tell your husband you saw her.” Then, as the story goes, they put me in the nursery on the very center of the front row because (my dad told me this and he wouldn’t lie) that’s where they put the prettiest baby!

Except for the pictures I’ve seen, I don’t really have any actual memory of anything until I was about 3 or 4. I remember that I had a little sprinkling can and I was out watering the rose bushes in the back yard and my brother Danny came over to me and told me I was doing it wrong. I was watering the  tops of the bushes. He explained to me about roots and how you have to water the ground for the plant to drink the water. It was one of those moments  of grace, of fireworks and sudden knowledge. I can still remember even the smell of the roses as he told me, and thinking that he was the most brilliant  person who ever lived.

I also have a memory from around that age of playing with my dad’s father. We called him Pappaw. He had a green vinyl folding door in the garage apartment on Greenwood where he and my grandmother lived. He would hide behind it and  sing a popular song at the time called “Green Door.” And we laughed and laughed. When I was 5, he died. He was at Lewis & Coker, a grocery store in nearby Palm Center, which he loved. They had a mobile x-ray van there to take lung x-rays. He always had lung x-rays taken because he was really frightened of lung cancer. While he was waiting to have his x-ray, he had a heart attack and died really quickly.  I do remember my mother taking me into  the living room in the early morning and there was no light on. She sat in the rocker and I stood in front of her and she told me that God needed someone to help him take care of all the animals in heaven so he took Pappaw and that meant Pappaw was dead. I don’t remember how I felt about that at the time, but it seems a kinda mean thing to tell a kid about a God she’s supposed to  love. Forty years later, when my infant son died, people said God needed a little angel and that’s why he took Tyler. I still think it’s a mean thing to say.

Our house was on a great block and there were lots of kids for me to play with –

Faye Chippendale, Anitra Hughes, Janet Browne, Christy and Melody Lightfoot,

Adrian Finch, and Pam von Rosenberg. We were just two blocks from the

elementary school. We were one block from The Chuck Wagon, where we

bought hamburgers (wheels or hubs) every Sunday after church, unless we

ate at Bill Williams Restaurant. On the other end of our block was a little strip

shopping center. It had a U-tot-em in it, which was just a little convenience

store. It had a dry cleaners and a beauty shop and a bar called Rays. My only

memory of Rays is that one time a car ran right through the front of it. My friend

Janet Browne and I went down to look and we saw pink elephants painted on

the wall. I told my mom about it and she got mad because there was a rule that I

was not supposed to go down to the end of the block unless I was with

someone older. I calmly explained that I had been with Janet and she was a full

three months older than I was. My mom laughed so hard that she forgot all about

being mad at

me. Across from the strip center, was a bigger strip center. It had a “five and

ten cent store” called Madings, with a soda fountain that made the very best

cherry cokes. It also had an A&P grocery store. We shopped there and we

bought our Christmas tree there every year that we lived on Winnetka. I think

I was 10 or 11 when the very first shopping center in Houston opened less

than a mile from our house. It was called Palm Center. It wasn’t a mall or

anything, but it was the first of its kind at the time. It had JC Penney and

Lewis & Coker Grocery store as its anchors. It also had Three Sisters,

Nathan’s, Brown Toy Store, Walgreens, Gordon’s Jewelers, a hair salon,

and other stores whose names I can’t recall. Later, Gulfgate was built. It was

just like Palm Center, only bigger with stores like Newberry’s and H&H

Music, and Brown Book Store, and Bakers Shoes and Joskes and Sakowitz

and Weingartens. It later became the first air conditioned mall. In high school,

my friends and I went there every single Saturday with our hair in curlers and

lacy hairnets. If your hair wasn’t in curlers on a Saturday, then everybody knew

you must not have a date that night, so needless to say, everybody who was

anybody had their hair in curlers.

I went to Lora B. Peck Elementary school and my kindergarten teacher was

Mrs. Holly. She was good. I remember only two things about kindergarten.

I remember that Mrs. Holly would always praise me for being good and I was

always telling her I was bad. Maybe it was just the arguer in me. Finally, she

said that if I was bad she’d give me a spanking and she did right then and there

in front of the whole class. It was more ceremonial than painful, but I sure was

embarrassed and I can still see everything about that scene in my

mind. The other thing I remember is that we had a visit from the Chief of Patrols,

which was a group of sixth graders who helped out at crosswalks before and

after school. The Chief of Patrols was my very own brother Danny, and I was so

proud!

I was what was called a “mid-termer.” Because my birthday fell after

September 1, but before January 1, I started school in January. It seems

weird now because mine was the last class to do it, but we actually had

summer in the middle of the year’s grade. We called in “low first” and “high

first.” Anyway, I was a mid-termer until the summer between junior high and

high school. I went to school all summer and made up a whole semester so

that I would be able to start high school in the fall. I never regretted that.

In kindergarten, I had my first true love – Bruce Allen. I had actually met Bruce

when I was four. His mother had a little deal in her house called “Rhythm Band.”

Years later, when I had two kids of my own, I did the exact same thing that Mrs.

Allen did. Anyway, Rhythm Band was a group of about 6 or 8 preschoolers

and we all sat around for a couple of hours three times a week and played

rhythm instruments like tambourines and triangles and bells and sand

blocks while Mrs. Allen played classical music. We listened to music and

stories about music or with music in the background. It was really my

introduction to music and I always credit Mrs. Allen with giving me that.

Bruce and I were both five when, while playing boat one day on a redwood

picnic table in my backyard, he asked me to marry him. I said yes, but that we

were too young to marry so why didn’t we just go steady. He agreed. He

wanted to tell his mom, but he was afraid he’d forget the term “going steady”

so we asked my mom to write a note to his mom. It said, “We are too young

to get married so we are just going steady for now. Love, Bruce and Jackie.”

My favorite story about Bruce is that my dad took us to the Delman Theatre

to see “Old Yeller.” During the movie, Bruce started crying. According to my

Dad, I put my arm around him and said, “It’s not real, Bruce. It’s just a movie

. Don’t cry.” And then on the way home from the show, Bruce and I sat in the

back seat and he put his arm around me. Very grown-up.

My first grade teacher was Mrs. Humphries and the thing I remember most

about her was that, when she would write on the board, the flab on her arm

would shake. I vowed then and there and I would never wear a sleeveless

dress after the age of 30 and I never did.

My second grade teacher was Mrs. Herring and I remember we were divided into

reading groups and I was in the blue birds, which was the best group. Also,

I was in Brownies, which I liked.

My third grade teacher was Mrs. Havens. She was really old and should have

retired by then, I think. I was in choir in school and I started taking piano

lessons from Mary Starr. I loved piano and stuck with it throughout school and

ended up majoring in it in college. My mother would fix my hair in the mornings

while I practiced the piano. She would put it in a bun with a pony tail coming

out of it or a french twist.

The most outstanding thing that happened in third grade, though, was that I

started having periods. I didn’t have any idea what it was at all. I remember

that my Mom saw my panties in the laundry hamper and she was starting to

yell about what was on them and then she realized what it was and she said,

“Oh, you’ve become a young lady.” So then she sat down and told me what was

happening, more or less, and how to use sanitary napkins and a belt. I

remember she wrote a note to my teacher, asking her to allow me to “check

on things” during the day if I needed to do so. I think she felt she had to write

the note because I literally never went to the bathroom in school so the teacher

probably would have thought it strange. I was only 8 years old, which is

extremely early to start menstruating. It took 2 or 3 years for any of my friends

to start.

Gloria Henze was my fourth grade teacher and she was great. It was her first

year of teaching and she had a twin sister named Gaye who was also a teacher.

Their mother was a sales clerk at Wards, where I got most of my clothes and

I even met her one day while my mother and I were shopping. I made a

valentine card for Miss Henze that said, “I wanted to send you a card with a

lot of feeling.” And when you opened it, there was a piece of sandpaper with

the words, “so feel!” I was so so proud of that! I will never forget what Miss

Henze wrote in my autograph book – “Keep that active and creative imagination

of yours.” She was a teacher who really made a difference to me.

My best friends throughout elementary school were Donna Gore, Donna

Glasscock, Donna Lanning, Melanie Bailey, and Vickie Samuels. The guys

I was friends with were Randy Ranton, Johnny Walzel, Steven Wanstrom,

Gregg Jolly, and Bruce Allen. In the neighborhood, I played with Faye

Chippendale, who lived next door, and Christy Lightfoot and her little sister

Melody. In the summer before 4th grade, I met a little girl named Gabriella

Nesson. Her mother was a German immigrant and had a heavy accent.

Gabby’s father had been injured in the war and died later of his injuries. I

would go over to Gabby’s every afternoon to play with her for an hour or two.

She was much younger than me so I sort of thought of it as babysitting. I’m

sure her mom enjoyed the break. When my birthday came, I invited Gabby

to the party and her mother wrote my name on the card as “Jacquie” instead

of “Jackie” as I had always spelled it. I just thought it was beautiful and have

been spelling it that way ever since.

There were two big events at Peck every year. We always had a big

Halloween Carnival and my mom was always involved in it. She was a PTA

officer all the time and so she was pretty involved in everything at school. And

every spring, we had a May Fete. Each class did dances and had very

elaborate costumes. The sixth graders did a May Pole Dance. The boys

wore suits and the girls wore long flowing pastel dresses. I was so looking

forward to that, but it was not to be because the world was changing and we

were too late for the beginning of the change and too early for the end of it.

We were right in the middle.

My 5th grade teacher was Mrs. Ashmore. I really don’t remember much about

5th grade except that a new girl moved into the school and her name was

Jean Kelly and we became fast friends. It was almost, but not quite, like a

“romantic” friendship. Later, when I was studying psychology in college, I found

out that this kind of pseudo-romantic relationship between pre-adolescent girls

is pretty normal, as it is when a girl has a “crush” on an older woman. You

don’t think of it in those terms at the time, but only in retrospect, of

course. And I think I went through that, too, at about this time.

Church played a very important role in my life growing up. My family went to

Central Park Church of God. As Protestant families in the 50s went, ours was

pretty liberal in terms of religion. We went to church every Sunday and

usually on Sunday nights, too, and Wednesday nights most of the time. Yet,

my parents did not think that we had the market cornered on religious truth.

In fact, my Dad was relieved on teaching Sunday School classes by the

minister because one of the kids asked him if there would be Catholics in

heaven and my Dad said, “Of course.” Ooops. Apparently, only saved Christians

who went to church every Sunday would get into heaven and not statue

worshipping heretics who didn’t practice birth control.

My grandmother had helped to found this church. It was like an extended

family. It was a small church with the average Sunday attendance at about

100 adults. My mother was the Sunday School Superintendent during most

of my childhood and she was always in charge of Vacation Bible School.

The one life lesson I remember from my years of VBS is to always put about

twice as much sugar in the koolaid as the package recommends. My

mother said it would taste watered down otherwise.

Church gave me a lot of opportunities to shine. I started singing in church at a

young age and I never felt afraid to get up to sing or talk in front of a crowd. I

played the piano in church. I also really got to know my Bible. I always won the

Bible Drills. I always memorized the most verses and could recite the books

of the Bible, the ten commandments, the beatitudes, and the Christmas story

from Luke. I loved all of it.

I made friends with people I would otherwise never have met. Our family became

lifelong friends with the Joneses. My parents met them at church when both

families had boys the same ages. I was born a little later. Andy and Louise

Jones were the only friends my parents ever had as a couple. They were the only

family we ever had over to our house for dinner. They were the only family we

ever visited. When I was about 6, they moved to Alabama, but we still got

together for vacations and kept in close touch. Even after the kids were

grown, my parents and Andy and Louise took trips together. When we had

a big party for my parents’ 50th anniversary, Andy and Louise flew in for it.

Louise was quite sick by then. Both Louise and my dad died within a year or

so of that. I thought maybe Andy and my mom might get together, but it

just never did happen. Another family with whom I shared some really different

experiences was the Langfords. I was friends with the daughter, Linda, but

there were seven kids in all. That in itself was different for me. And they were v

ery poor. They lived in a run down old house near the church. I had never

known poor people and I guess I was kind of fascinated by their lifestyle. The

mother took in ironing and the father fixed cars. I remember that velvet bows

were the really “in” hair accessory back then and I must have had a million

of them. I let Linda borrow one once and she just loved it. I told her she should

get herself one just like it because it matched her Sunday dress. She said

that they couldn’t afford it. I kinda laughed and told her they were only 10 cents.

I didn’t even realize she was serious. I let her have the one she borrowed and

she wore it to church every Sunday for as long as I can remember. When I

spent the night at their house, there were four kids to a bed and everybody

slept “potatos.” After we got in bed, the mom came around and sprayed

Raid all around the floor surrounding the bed. The roaches were that bad.

Once, they invited me to go spend the night at the beach. I was pretty

surprised when we got down there and I found out when were actually

spending the night ON the beach. We slept on the sand and when we woke

up, the tide was coming in and covering our legs. It was fun.

I can’t move on to the next part of my life without talking about something that

became central to my life – music. My first experience with music that I can

remember was called Rhythm Band. Mrs. Allen had it in her home on OST,

just a block from our house. Several preschoolers gathered a couple of

times a week and we listened to music, played rhythm instruments, sang,

and danced. It was my introduction to music and the start of a lifelong love.

Mrs. Allen put music in my heart. When I was 8, my Dad bought me a piano.

His ultimate goal was to have me play Rhapsody in Blue, which he had first

heard at the World’s Fair in Chicago, when it was conducted by Paul

Whitehead. He told that story often. Anyway, I started taking piano lessons

from Miss Mary Starr. She played the piano at our church and taught at a

conservatory. I was her only “at home” pupil. My lessons cost $5 a month. If

Mrs. Allen put music in my heart, then Miss Starr put music in my hands. I

did not know one thing when I started going to lessons at her house. She

taught me for a total of four years before she told my parents that she could

not teach me anymore because I had surpassed her level. After that, we went

through a couple of truly awful piano teachers, including one who held a yard

stick above my hands and hit my knuckles every time I made a mistake.

About a year later, I quit taking lessons, but I never quit playing. I

accompanied choirs all through school, even into college, where I majored in

music. And still today, music is the most magickal thing to me. It can take

me places where my soul would never go without the music.

There were some things that happened when I was in elementary school that

were unique to the times. Safety was never a real concern in school, or even

going to and from school. Of course, we were told not to get in a car with a

stranger and things like that, but no parent worried about children when they

were going to and from school or playing in the neighborhood. But that started

to change while I was in elementary school. The first big event was the “mad

bomber.” A man and his son went to Poe Elementary school and went out on

the playground to talk to a teacher. He had a briefcase with him and when

he put it down, it blew up, killing and maiming many students. The police

didn’t know at first what had happened and they feared he was on the loose

and would go to other schools. We were not allowed out on the playground

that day. They finally determined that he had been killed in the explosion. We

had a friend who lived across the street from that school and she said there

were arms and legs in her front yard from the explosion.

Another big event was the bomb drills. We learned how to duck and cover.

Every Friday at noon, they would test the sirens to see if they worked. If we

heard the sirens, we were supposed to get down under our desks and put a

hand over the small of our backs. Apparently, this was to avoid any

spinal cord injuries. And obviously, being under our desks would save us from

a nuclear bomb. It’s so ridiculous looking back on it, but it was deadly serious

at the time. I always thought the, if I were in charge of the Russian

Communists, I would strike America at noon on a Friday because then

everybody would just think it was a drill and no one would pay any

attention. During the Cuban missile crisis, things were especially tense.

The Cuban Missile Crisis marked a change in my family’s politics. Prior to

that, my parents were staunch Republicans. We voted for Eisenhower and

then for Nixon in 1960. We didn’t like Kennedy at all. He was Catholic and

there was actually talk that he would let the Pope run the country.

Seriously. Plus he had that Massachusetts accent. We didn’t like

Yankees all that much. But mostly, he was a Democrat. But during that

crisis, my parents found a new respect for him and started liking him.

I will, of course, never forget the assassination of President Kennedy. I was in

school at the time. The principal announced it over the loud speaker. One

odd thing was that a cousin of Governor Connally was in my class. Her name

was Melanie Bailey and she was upset about him getting shot because it

was awhile before they announced how he was doing. When they a

nnounced that President Kennedy was dead, everybody was crying. I

wondered how Vaughn Meador felt because he had a stand up routine

in which he imitated President Kennedy. I guess I never really had been

exposed to political humor before that so I didn’t understand. Anyway, school

got out a couple of hours later and it was so strange. Usually, there was a lot

of noise as we all left school. Chattering and yelling and calling out for others

to wait. But not that day. There was complete silence. I walked home and

walked into the living room. My mother and Pat were sitting there watching the

television. I dropped my books inside the door and joined them and none of

us said a word for awhile. We watched TV all the rest of the day and all day

Saturday. On Sunday, my Dad stayed home, but the rest of us went to church.

During church, the minister told us that Jack Ruby had killed Lee Harvey Oswald.

My Dad had seen it live on television.

Then Monday was a national day of mourning and the funeral,

which we watched on television, of course. I had never felt so sad.

The change in the world that I mentioned earlier that impacted our May

Fete was the advent of integration. America was largely divided into two

separate communities – black and white. I grew up in a time in which, at our

grocery store, we had two water fountains. Over one hung a sign that said

“whites” and over the other hung a sign that said “coloreds.” There were

businesses with signs that said, “no coloreds.” We had different restrooms.

We had separate schools, of course. People sometimes called it “separate,

but equal.” Nothing could have been further from the truth. Houston

schools were ordered to integrate. They came up with a plan whereby they

would integrate one grade per year. In other words, first grade would be

integrated the first year and then as those kids moved through the grades, the

other grades would be integrated. That way, those of us who had already

started school would not have to sit next to black students. So ridiculous.

Anyway, that was the plan. When that plan started, May Fete stopped.

The reason? There was a potential for a black person to have to dance with a

white person or to at least touch hands. That, of course, was out of the

question. So we stopped May Fete. Later, when I was in junior high, that plan

was abandoned and schools were integrated. Although we did not have any

black students in my junior high, the District cancelled all dances held on

school campuses at that time. My last school dance was the Valentine

Dance when I was nominated for Valentine Sweetheart in 7th grade.

At the end of sixth grade, out of 30 kids who graduated from elementary

school that January, 27 went to Cullen Junior High, where my brothers

had gone. But our elementary school had recently become zoned to Jackson

Junior High and I did not ask for a waiver to attend Cullen. Looking back, I

can’t really remember why I didn’t want to go to Cullen like everybody else, but

I chose Jackson. It may have been just to be different. I think my belief that

there is little value to “normal” probably was in my core long before sixth grade.

At Jackson, I would say that I was on the second tier in terms of popularity.

I was not in the “in crowd” when I got there since I didn’t know anybody. Soon,

however, I became friends with people in that group and became part of it.

My friends there were Nema Frye, Candis Davidson, Patti Wimberly,

Augustina Cutaia, Carolyn Crawford, Sheryl Culbertson, Jane Turner,

Karen Rodgers, Donna Glasscock, Diana Thomas, and Susan Arto.  I dated

Thomas Bennett and Gary North.

In 1964, the Presidential election was between Barry Goldwater and Lyndon

Johnson. Since my family was still quite Republican, we were for Goldwater. I

didn’t know too much about politics, of course, but I became a “Goldwater

Girl.” I went to my first political rally, which was at the Astrodome, and b

ought tons of Goldwater paraphernalia, including a sweatshirt that I still

have. In that election, Goldwater was portrayed by the Democrats as being a

warmonger. There is a famous commercial in which a little girl is singing

and picking a daisy and then it shows an atomic bomb exploding. Considering

that Johnson was responsible for the later escalation in VietNam, its funny

to look back on that political tactic. Of course, Johnson was an unbelievably

great President in so many ways, particularly in the area of civil rights.

The next year I wrote a paper for English about Goldwater called, “I’d

Rather Be Right Than President.” I felt so smart and also so superior when I

wrote it! I really wish I had a copy of it. I’m sure it would make for hilarious

reading now.

When I was in junior high, my mother started working outside the home.

During my entire time in elementary school, I knew only one mother who

worked outside the home and she was divorced so there was no man in the

home. But back then, it was just the norm. Men worked. Women stayed

home. But that had started changing in the 60s. My mother got a job,

through Verda Harrison, at Ben Taub Hospital working as an admitting

clerk in the ER on the graveyard shift – 11 to 7. It was perfect for her because

she would leave after I was in bed at night and then she’d get home in time to

see me off to school. Then she would sleep while I was at school. She

worked for Ben Taub until she retired. She really enjoyed her work there. The

reason she went to work was the reason that most people work. She needed

the money. Both of my brothers were in college by then.

When I started high school at Austin High School on Dumble, I joined the

drill team, called the Scottish Brigade. Being in Brigade was something that

nearly all of the girls in the “in crowd” did. There were parts of it I liked –

the little traditions, the rituals, the friendships. Yet in spite of those good parts,

overall, I hated it. I did not like the militaristic aspects of it. I did not like taking

orders, even if it was just to dance a certain dance at a certain time. But

mostly, I did not like the unflattering uniforms that we had to wear on

Fridays and above all, the bobbie socks we had to wear as part of that

reserve uniform. I lasted about three weeks after school started and then

I just couldn’t take it anymore. It was actually a very difficult decision and I

ended up crying about it a lot. I was a very loyal Brigade supporter after

I left, but I never really regretted the decision.

The one organization that held my loyalty during high school was, of course,

choir. I sang in the Choralettes, which was the girls choir, as well as the

Chorale, the mixed choir. I played the piano some of the time, too. I also

loved speech and wound up competing in lots of forensic competitions.

I did improvizational, comedy, poetry, and duet. My duets were with Bonnie

Weeks. We did scenes from The Miracle Worker. I played Helen Keller. My

big claim to fame about that was that, during the really physical scenes

when Helen is wild and Annie Sullivan is trying to control her, I would bite

my tongue so that there would be real blood. My tongue would be SO

sore if we made it to the finals. I was also peripherally involved in the Future

Farmers of America. Actually, girls were not allowed in FFA when I was in

high school, but I was an FFA sweetheart in my junior year and I was the

FFA Queen in my senior year. I dated a couple of guys in FFA and one of them

actually did become a farmer after he graduated, but only because his family

had owned a farm. In my junior year, I made it to the finals for Most Beautiful

Junior. I looked fine, but the real reason I made it was that I have always been

excellent with people skills. I listened to the introductions of the judges. One

had a degree in music from some midwestern school. One had a degree from

Rice. The third one was a teacher. So when I went up for the interview and

they asked me what I wanted to do after high school, I said, “My dream, really,

is to major in music at Rice and then teach in the public schools.” Yep, I was

a shoe-in.

My family moved while I was in high school. We had lived on Winnetka since I

was born, but Blacks were moving in, and in 1966,  that meant that Whites were moving

out. For awhile our Civic Club distributed signs that said: “This is my home.

It is NOT for sale.” But eventually, more and more people sold their homes

and so did we. At the time, I didn’t hate leaving the house at all, but my

parents sure did. It had been their dream house and they had helped in its

design and watched it go up and it was home. It didn’t bother me to say

goodbye, but ever since then, when I have dreams about home, they always

take place in that house on Winnetka. We moved into an apartment –

called the Beautiful Marlin Apartments – at 1617 Marlin and lived there for

two years while I finished high school. It was a two-bedroom, two-bath

apartment. I lived in the master bedroom and my parents had the other one. I don’t know why they did that — giving me the master bedroom, but it just seemed like the normal thing to do at the time.

It was an upstairs apartment. I liked it, but I’m sure my parents must have

hated it. Moving from a big split level into a tiny apartment had to be

devastating. The apartment’s saving grace was that is was directly behind

Rettig’s Ice Cream Parlor. My dad went over there nearly every night.

We had always been a Rettig’s family. There was one on the way home

from church and we would frequently stop for ice cream if we were at a night

service. We would get banana skyscrapers or hot fudge sundaes. The

apartment was within walking distance of a Weingarten’s and was much

closer to my Dad’s office and to his mom. It also provided me with an

endless source of babysitting jobs.

There were three traumatic events that happened in high school that shaped

my experience. The first took place the first year, tenth grade. Just before

Christmas time, we were all standing outside waiting for school to start

and it was a pretty cool morning. I was standing with Butch Reid in front of

the school. He had on a cardigan sweater with pockets. I put my hands

in the pockets of his sweater. Miss Hart, the girls guidance counselor saw us

from her window and just about stroked out that we were standing so close

together. She was a gigantic woman – probably close to 400 pounds. She

came running down the stairs to catch us, but fell. I didn’t find that out until

later, but it really made me feel better about the entire incident. Anyway,

the assistant principal, Coach Katrola (honest, that was his name), came out

and we both got U’s in conduct for the semester. What this meant was that I

could not compete in speech tournaments and I could not run for twirler, which

was my plan. It was awful for me. My parents tried to fight it, but there was

really no way to turn things around. They considered just pulling me out of

that school and moving so that I could go to a different high school. I’m glad

they didn’t because I wouldn’t have ended up with Danny and Kendra, but I’m

sure it was tempting at the time.

My mother was working at Ben Taub and a former psychiatric patient came in to

be admitted and he stabbed my mother. I got the call, right after I had

arrived home from a basketball game. I stayed at Nema’s house that night.

We stayed up all night long, waiting for word of how she was. It turned out that

she was fine. She had to miss about six weeks of work, but she enjoyed

that. She was home for Christmas, which was nice. My brother Danny got a

hardship leave from the Air Force and Bill Worrell drove him home. At that time,

Pat was stationed on the Lexington and he did not request leave. He finally

wrote to us about it and he said that, when you work with animals, that’s what

you should expect. His Naval years were not his best years, to say the

least. In fact, on his birthday each year, he says he was born __ number of

years ago, but that he’s only lived for ___ (that number minus two) years

because he did not live during his two years of involuntary servitude in the Navy.

On January 17, 1969, my friend Carol Cole fixed me up with a friend of her

boyfriend, Frank Parrish. The friend’s name was Lonnie Vara. We’d been

in school together for nearly three years, and he had been on the football

team and was elected Most Handsome Senior, but I’d never actually met

him. We started dating that night and never really stopped dating until we

became engaged three years later.

I graduated from Austin High School in May, 1969. Graduation was really not

that big of a deal for my family. There was no party or anything. I graduated in

the top quarter of my class. I applied only to the University of Houston and I was

accepted there.

I majored in music at the University of Houston. Just about everywhere I’d ever

been, I was the best musically. I had always played the piano for every choir

and I sang solos in front of groups. In short, I was pretty hot stuff. I thought.

Then I hit UH. I decided to major in voice. They had try-outs in the summer

and I went in to knock their socks off. The only reaction from the professor

was, “So you sing a lot of pop music, do you?” The way he said it, I knew

for sure it wasn’t a compliment. I was assigned to Jean Preston as a voice

teacher. I really liked her. She was extraordinarily nice to me. I didn’t have

the best voice in the school, but what I lacked in talent, I made up for in volume. Not my voice, my music. I memorized more songs that anybody and had a knack for learning

the different languages of the songs I was assigned. We were also given a

theory placement test. I had never really been taught theory when I took

piano lessons so I didn’t know very much at all. I learned it all quickly, though.

I loved it.

UH had orientation weekends during the summer. Bunches of incoming

freshmen stayed in the dorms for two days and learned about UH. The person

who roomed with me asked me if I was planning on joining a sorority. That

was the first time I ever really thought about that. I decided to see what it was

like. I signed up for rush.

Because I had basically skipped a semester of school to keep from graduating

at midterm, I missed the last half of ninth grade, which was when Driver’s

Education was offered. Without Driver’s Education, I could not get my license

until I was 18. The only problem was that I didn’t turn 18 until two weeks

after college classes started. And rush was before that. I could not possibly

have my mom drop me off at rush parties, so I learned how to drive. Paul

Daigle, a dear friend from high school, taught me. He stayed in the car with

me while I drove around and around the parking lot at Gulfgate.

During that summer, we moved from the apartment into a house at 6029 Clover

Ridge. It had  been built by the Jollys, who were the parents of a guy who

worked for my Dad at the Houston Lighting and Power Company, where my

Dad was the supervisor of Stores Accounting. The house was great and it had

a swimming pool in the backyard, which I loved.

So it was a busy summer between moving, learning to drive, dating Lonnie

(my Dad got him a summer job at the Light Company), working part time at

Sears until I got fired because they thought I was stealing, and getting ready to

start college. When rush started, I had decided in advance that I wanted to

pledge Delta Gamma, but once rush started, I really loved Delta Zeta. They

had the best songs. I pledged Delta Zeta and loved the feeling of being part of

a group like that. I felt such pride. During the first semester of college, I

became a little less enthralled with Delta Zeta, mainly because of the arcane

rules. It was the end of 1969, meaning we had already been through the 60s,

and yet, as “greeks,” we were not allowed to wear bluejeans to school. We

could not wear slacks at all, unless they were “pants suits,” which meant that

the top and slacks had to be the same material and the top had to come down

to the fingertips. Just stupid rules like that. Then came the big one. Lonnie

and I were still dating and we had gotten “pinned.” Our big winter dance was

coming up and I had my dress and Lonnie had rented his tux and the

sorority board called me in and told me they were kicking me out. I didn’t

understand why and their reasons didn’t make sense. They said I just wasn’t

cooperative enough and I didn’t put enough work into the pledge song I was

in charge of writing. They asked me to go to the Dean of Women and just

resign so that no questions would be asked. Looking back, I don’t know

why I cared enough to make it easy on them, but I did as I was told. A couple

of weeks later, I found out that the real reason they “de-pledged” me was

that I was dating a Mexican. I felt a lot better about the whole deal then.

Jac’s Kidlets

Daniel Brennan Vara, born Monday, February 4, 1974 at 1:58 p.m.
Six pounds, 15 ounces, 20 and one-half inches long
 
Danny was my first born. He taught me how to be a mother. The whole time I was pregnant with Danny, I was very focused on the birth, but didn’t realize until I brought Danny home how I had not focused on actually being a mother. That changed pretty quickly. Danny was a great baby. My mother would help take care of him when we first got home from the hospital and she got him on a schedule. I’m pretty sure that was the last time he was ever actually on a schedule. She would talk babytalk to him and he would coo at her. I had no idea how to talk babytalk so I would read my college text books to him since I was still in college. As Danny grew, he was just the cutest little boy ever. We lived at a house at 8425 Baker Driver from the time he was just three months old. We had lots of plants and whenever he would bump into one, he would always say, “Sorvy, plant.” So precious. He had a rolling horse that he loved to ride everywhere in that house. Hardwood floors were perfect for that kind of play. He was excited about having a new baby in the house when I was pregnant with Kendra. The day I brought her home from the hospital, we went to the bedroom and she was crying and I said that she was hungry. He jumped down off my bed and went running into the kitchen and came back with a bottle. By that time, she was already breastfeeding and Danny looked at us and said, “She’s eating YOU?” We called Kendra “baby Kaci” but Danny got confused and called her “Kaci Baby” and that kind of stuck. When Danny was little, he could NOT say “ice cream.” He would always say, “ah-ummm” instead. He could say “ice” and he could say “cream,” but when he put it together, it always came out “ah-ummm.” So we all just started calling it that. When Danny was two, I wanted to teach him how to play hide-and-go-seek. I explained the concept and let him try to find me. I didn’t make it very hard. Then it was my turn to try to find him. After I hid my eyes and counted to ten, I looked up to see him standing in the middle of the room with his eyes covered. He thought that if he couldn’t see me, then I surely couldn’t see him either. When Danny got into school, he was a good student. Academics came fairly easily to him and he didn’t have to put in a lot of effort to do well. He got into baseball big time. He loved LIttle League from Five Pitch to Pony. He would always say, “Baseball’s in my blood.” That love of sports has definitely stayed with him. After he graduated from Dobie, he went to UH (college — the best 7 or 8 years of his life!) and majored in media production. After graduation, he worked at a couple of jobs before landing his dream job at 610 AM. He worked there, where he had a sports talk show, and at 740, too. But it’s hard to make a very good living in radio. He got his teacher certification, but couldn’t find a job teaching the subjects he wanted to teach. He asked me about becoming a paralegal. He ended up taking my class at UH. It was really fun to have Danny as a student, and we kept his status a secret throughout the class, until the very end. He would even come over to my house for midweeks, and look around and ask questions about things as if he was seeing them for the first time. Of course, we’d already taken down every photo of him in the house. He got a job at what is now Locke Lord, an international law firm. Kay Haggard basically got that job for him because she was working there. He started out in the IP department as a paralegal assistant, but worked his way up to being a trademark paralegal. He really loves being a paralegal, and still manages to do some radio. He has a foodie show that airs on Saturdays. Danny is so special to me because of all he taught me about being a mother and all that he allowed me to teach him about — being.

Kendra Colleen Vara, born Thursday, February 3, 1977 at 9:38 in the morning, weighing seven pounds, 3 ounces, 19 inches long.

When I was pregnant with Kendra, I really really really wanted a little girl. I already had the perfect son and I was pretty sure this would be my last child so I wanted a daughter. I was thrilled when she was born (even though, as all my children know, I temporarily died (temporary dying being the very best kind) during labor with Kendra). She was a perfect little girl — so beautiful from the very moment she was born. She took to nursing from the time she was an hour old and didn’t stop for a couple of years. Some of my sweetest memories about Kendra’s babyhood center around her breastfeeding. Since I was the only one who could feed her, I got up with her during the night and those were very special times, just cuddling in the dark in the rocking chair that had rocked five generations of Brennans. When Kendra was two, she would still nurse from time to time. She called nursing “mama,” which was a convenient and nonembarrassing word when she would use it in public. I can remember her nursing, then wiggiling out of my arms to leave the room. She turned just when she got to the door, licked her lips, and said, “Good MAma!” I can still hear her voice saying those words. What a sweet little bit. Kendra always had an adventurous spirit so it wasn’t a real surprise when she wanted to go to another country to live for a year as a foreign exchange student. She selected Iceland so that she would have a truly different experience and she sure did. She experienced many firsts there — first time to eat yogurt, first time to eat lamb, first time to experience real snow, first time to ski, first time to scale fish, first time to clean out lamb skulls, and some even more important firsts. She came back home, got her GED, got into UH, majoring in political science. She then took on another adventure as a White House Intern during President Clinton’s last term. She learned a lot and it helped her focus on what she did and did not enjoy about politics. She did not like the policy end and really preferred the grassroots level. When she left DC, she enrolled in Georgia State University in Atlanta, majoring in political science and marketing. She became more focused on what she wanted, at that time, to do with her life — working in political campaigns. She graduated from GSU and continued to live and work (for Congress member Denise Majette)  in Atlanta. One weekend, she went with a friend who was helping a friend of his move. The friend who was moving was Chris Swiedler. He was moving to San Francisco. Kendra and Chris hit it off and kept in touch. There were a lot of trips back and forth before Kendra ended up moving to San Francisco, where she worked for another member of Congress (Lynn Woolsey). In 2007, Kendra and Chris got married in a ceremony at Emerson Unitarian Church, followed by a reception at The Children’s Museum of Houston. It was an amazing night. Two years later, on May 23, 2009, Kendra gave birth to twin boys — Jack and Andrew. They have a separate page on this website and even a website of their own, mostly because their journey was not an easy one at first. As I write this, they are three years old. Watching Kendra become a mother was the most spectacular thing I’ve ever experienced. I’m so fortunate to have been the mother of such a incredibly wonderful daughter. With a child who is such a gem, you just polish her and let her shine.

Colin Patrick Brennan, born Friday, June 25, 1982, at 8:33 in the morning, weighing eight pounds, six ounces, 19 and 3/4 inches long.

Just thinking about Colin when he was a baby makes me feel all sentimental and gooey inside. He was a perfect little baby. He slept a lot, breastfed well, and had such a sweet disposition. This has pretty much continued all through his life. When other kids were in the terrible twos, Colin was a delightful toddler. When he got mad, he would just get quiet. If he was furious, he’d turn his back on whoever made him angry. It would be easy to see the negative aspects of that — of keeping his feelings inside. But he didn’t do that. He was always good at talking about what was bothering him. He simply didn’t get overly hostile about it. Colin has a husky little voice when he was a preschooler and just thinking about it makes me smile. He worshipped his older brother, Danny, and definitely got his love of sports from him. He also wanted to be like his Dad and got his love of music from him. When Colin was in first grade, his teacher told me, “This is a strange thing to say and I’ve never said it about a first grader, but Colin has a good heart.” That is so true. He really has a good, open, loving heart. He is a wonderful big brother to all the little kids. I have seen his heart brimming with love. I’ve always seen his heart shattered into a million pieces — when his baby brother Tyler died.

Colin has learning disabilities and it has made school a real challenge for him. But Colin has learned to enjoy what he loves about school and just put up with the rest without much complaint. I have had to fight for some things for him in terms of his education, but he makes every fight worthwhile because it really matters to him.

Colin is 30 years old now. I can hardly believe it because, if I close my eyes, I can still feel his baby breath on my neck when I used to rock him at night. He is in college and working and forming his own opinions based on his own reasoning on all kinds of subjects. I never thought that the child with whom I would have the most political conversations would be Colin. I so enjoy talking politics with him. He’s got great insight. I’m so proud of the young man he has become, but I’ll never forget the sweet, gentle, dazzling boy he was. And is.

Sean Tomas Brennan, born October 30, 1984 at 12:15 in the afternoon, weighing nine pounds, two ounces, twenty inches long.

I will never forget the day Sean was born. His birth was scheduled for October 30 and I was SO ready for it to happen. It had been a difficult pregnancy and I just couldn’t wait for my little Megan to be born. That’s right — Megan. I was positive that this baby was a girl.I had to have a bunch of stress tests where they saw the baby’s heart rate and every nurse said it looked like a girl. Plus I already had two boys and only one girl, so I thought that would be perfect. When we were in the delivery room and they said he was a boy, I was astonished. I asked the doctor to double-check. Tom was there and said, “Oh, he’s definitely a little boy!” And oh — he was so beautiful. And BIG! Nine pounds, two ounces. I went back to my room and Sean came with me. They put a little pumpkin hat on his head because it was the day before Halloween. Some friends from church sent me ballons tied onto a bottle of “its a boy” champagne. I remember that so well because, when those balloons arrived, I thought of the birth of Sean as a real celebration.

And Sean has been a celebration every since. It seems so strange now, looking back, that I ever thought having a girl would have been better. Imagining Colin without Sean is impossible. Those two have been so close from day one. I’ll never forget Tom bringing Colin to the hospital and Colin was sitting in Tom’s lap and Tom was holding Sean in his other arm. I said to Colin, “What do you think of that baby Daddy’s got there?” And Colin looked at Sean, and then said — “TWO babies!” If Sean was a baby, well then — he was, too! And those boys have been each other’s best friends ever since.

Sean is the child who is most like me of all my children. That’s both good and bad, of course. He’s very smart and very grounded in common sense. He’s good at figuring things out. He’s emotionally volitile sometimes. He loves with his whole heart, which means it sometimes gets broken.

Watching Sean grow up has been wonderful for me. He wasn’t a particularly easy baby. He became an adorable toddler. His preschool years were filled with an obsession with Mr. Rogers, which translated into Sean wearing coats and ties all the time, listening to Mr. Rogers tapes, and even having a poster of the man in his room. Sean was good in elementary school — both academically and in sports. He even won a trophy in the Big Shoot Out. He was easy going in school — doing well without getting too compulsive about it.

Sean is probably the most responsible of the kids, which is saying something since they are all very responsible. Even before he was an adult, though, he had an adult sense of responsibility.

This year, he married Cindy Campos, the love of his life. I love having another daughter, and watching them take responsibility for each other in ways that married people don’t always do. Sean works with young people at Neighborhood Centers right now and is finishing up his degree at UH. He is on the Board of Directors of A Simple Thread. I could not be prouder of his commitment to help other people and to live a good life.

I love being Sean’s mom and I am loving every minute of watching his future unfold.

Kelsey Brenna Roach, born September 17, 1986 at 11:04 at night, weighing seven pounds five ounces. Gotcha day was January 10, 1990.

Kelsey came to us in a really unusual way. We had adopted Paul and Megan already when we had a foster baby named Michael. He had Down Syndrome and we were in love with him from the start. We wanted to adopt him, but Catholic Charities had a rule that we couldn’t adopt two babies in the same year so he ended up being adopted by another family. Our experience with Michael really made us want to adopt a baby with DS, though, so I wrote to agencies around the state. We got lots of calls about babies, but none with DS. Finally, we sat down as a family and decided that there was just not a baby with DS out there for us now, but there were so many other kids waiting for homes that maybe we should really consider the next call. It came within minutes and was about this three year old little girl in Dallas with severe mental retardation of unknown cause. They sent us a picture and we fell in love immediately with her. We visited and then started the adoption process. Kelsey (her name was Stacy Stanton before we adopted her) had been adopted as a newborn by Dan and Rhonda Stanton. Nobody knew that anything was wrong with her. When it became apparent that something was VERY wrong, the Stansons asked the adoption agency to allow them to relinquish their parental rights because they knew they just couldn’t handle it. The adoption agency, Hope Cottage, was fine with that, but the judge in the case would not allow it. He villified the Stantons in the media and appointed a friend of his, John Barr, as the attorney ad litem. This guy was a piece of work and to tell this whole story could be a website all to itself. Ultimately, we became friends with the Stantons and were able to get the judge recused from the case. I ended up giving an ultimatum to the court, which got me on the cover of The Texas Lawyer, long before I became an attorney. It worked and we finalized Kelsey’s adoption. There was lots of media coverage, including a great trip to New York for the whole family to be on the Maury Povich Show. National television news, national magazines, and lots of local stuff both in Houston and Dallas. We got a diagnosis for Kelsey. Angelman Syndrome. Good to have a name for it, but bleak in terms of prognosis. Kelsey has an IQ of 19. She will never talk or be out of diapers. She will always be basically a 3 month old baby in a big body. Three month old babies don’t physically hurt people, but only because of their size. They throw things without much force; grab hair and ears and noses and earrings and anything their hand touches without doing much damage; they kick when their diapers are changed without hurting. But these activities from a child who is almost your size can practically maim. It got to the point where we couldn’t keep Kelsey at home. We were fortunate to find a wonderful group home for her in Orange where she stays in a suburban neighborhood in a house with five other girls that have similar disabilities to hers. They have awake staff there around the clock and, although Kelsey is not making progress and is never expected to, she is well cared for and loved. Every time I go to see her, I spend the whole drive there thinking what a terrible mother I am and the whole drive back being totally grateful that we found such a good place for her because we just could not do it. Unlike my other kids, when I look into Kelsey’s future, I do not have hope for her. I know that this is all Kelsey will ever be. It’s tragic for everyone, especially Kelsey.

Paul Callahan Roach, born April 23, 1987, weighing six pounds, 5 ounces, 20 and 1/2 inches in length. His Gotcha Day was May 15, 1987 at 3:00 in the afternoon. 

Paul came to us when he was just three weeks old as a foster baby. Eventually, he was diagnosed with Prader-Will Syndrome, but we didn’t know that for about nine months. At the time we got Paul, we were not looking to adopt any kids. We had our four and that was plenty. Funny how love can change your mind and heart. The whole family was head over heels about Paul from the start. We adopted him just before his first birthday. Our struggles with PWS are constant. Paul is extremely typical of the syndrome. His appetite is insatiable and he is extremely clever, in spite of his mental retardation, when it comes to getting food. He is amazing at doing puzzles and legos. He catches on quickly to games. He is compulsive about routine and keeping everybody on a time schedule. He’s 25 now and functions at about a 6 or 7 year old level. The problem is that he is not so mentally retarded that he doesn’t know what’s going on, like Kelsey. But he has mental retardation and he will never have a normal life. Yet, that’s what he wants. He wants to be just like Colin and Sean.

A kind of a miracle came to us when we found Rock House, which provides small group homes for adults with mental retardation, and they have homes specifically for Prader-Willi Syndrome. We got on their wait list and he moved there in 2008. At the time, he weighed nearly 400 pounds. Three years later, he weighed 155 pounds. Rock House literally saved Paul’s life. He graduated from high school and works in the recycle center, which is a sheltered workshop environment. It allows him to make money, though.

It’s so amazing to think of the limp little baby he was when you see the man he is now. Paul is constantly amazing and keeps us laughing all the time. I really can’t wait to watch Paul’s future unfold. He’s our miracle.

Megan Siobhan Brennan, born May 12, 1988, weighing seven pounds and thirteen ounces, 20 and one-half inches long. Her Gotcha Day was December 15, 1988 at 4:00 in the afternoon, weighing seventeen pounds and one ounce, 25 and one-half inches in length

In 1988, we already had five children – Danny was 14, Kendra was 11, Colin was 6, Sean was 4, and Paul was 1. We had adopted Paul early in 1988. He had come to us as a foster baby and he had a lot of medical problems. Eventually, he was diagnosed as having Prader-Willi Syndrome. Our whole family loved Paul and the agency (Catholic Charities) couldn’t find a family to adopt him, so we asked if we could adopt him. His adoption started us down the road to adopting kids with disabilities.

Shortly after we adopted Paul, our daughter Kendra asked if we could adopt a little girl. She now had four brothers and really wanted a sister. I wanted another daughter, too. We had had several foster babies who were girls and I wanted another little girl as my own. So we told the agency that, if they got a little girl with special needs, we would like to be considered. We knew it would probably be a long time, because this agency didn’t really get a lot of babies with disabilities.

Four days later, our caseworker called us and asked us if we would consider adopting the baby girl that was in foster care with the Spears. The Spears – Paula and Rob – were friends of ours who were also foster parents. We knew the baby girl they had in their care. We had “met” her at a picnic when she was only 4 days old and had seen her several times over the preceding six months. She didn’t really have severe disabilities. She was just missing a facial nerve so her face didn’t work quite right, but she was cognitively normal.

The call came in November and we adopted Megan on December 15, 1988, just in time for her first Christmas. . Megan was diagnosed with Moebius Syndrome around the age of 3 or 4. Her 7th facial nerve was missing. This meant that she looked a little like she’d had a stroke on one side of her face. She had only slight movement on that side of her mouth. That eye closed almost, but not quite, all the way when she slept. She could not close her mouth at all, so she could not pronounce the sound for P, M, or B.

Megan’s infancy and toddlerhood were wonderful times for our family. She was loved by everybody. She was really adorable and funny and had this great husky little voice. She was just a really bright light in our family.

 The only odd behavior I ever noticed when Megan was really little was that she would, usually when she was in trouble for something, just stand completely still and stare off into space and be unresponsive no matter what was said. Kendra started calling this her “statue mode.”

Megan has had problems in her life and they increased in her teen years. Almost monthly, I would think that she turned a corner and things would get better, but I was wrong about that every time for many years. She has spent more than a year out of public school because of all the behavior problems she had, but started back to junior high at  Jackson Middle School — which is where my Dad and I both went to junior high. She did really well there and got involved in soccer. She made a lot of friends. She went to Austin High School, but soon started having serious problems. She started running away again. I would get calls from the police when they would pick her up. One time, she took a bus to see a boy in Michigan and made it all the way up there. She ran away for a week, and the police found her after she broke into an elementary school in our neighborhood, where she stole food from the cafeteria and was watching TV in a classroom when they found her. She dropped out of high school, got her GED, and joined the Army. She didn’t even make it through basic training before she was medically discharged, mostly because of psychiatric problems. She had a little money when she came back and we got her an apartment and she found a job, but eventually, she got into drugs. She got HIV. Lonnie was her savior during this time and paid for her apartment and for her to go to school. Ultimately, though, she just got worse and worse. More into drugs and doing whatever it took to get money for drugs. She was homeless. Finally, she was caught after the burglarized a home and she was sentenced to 2 years in prison. Prison seems to have been good for her. She got clean and sober, found religion, and generally just grew up.

Her life is completely different now. She is with Jeremy Weiss and they have a son together. His name is Casey Patrick and he is an adorable one-year-old. My friend, Susan, said to me the other day, “Are we ready to relax and say that Megan is going to be all right now?” I realized that I thought maybe we could. Maybe. I never thought I’d get there, but I think I did. Megan is taking courses at ACC to become a nurse. I hope she stays on this road.

Brigid Mila Brennan, born April 21, 1991, weighing six pounds, nine ounces. Her Gotcha Day was Thursday, June 13, 1991, weighing eight pounds, eight ounces, 20 and one-half inches in length.

I will never forget the day we adopted Brigid Mila Brennan and how she came into our family. We were in the midst of the legal battle over Kelsey and there was lots of news stories about us. In one of them, the reporter asked if we would ever adopt another child, considering the problems we were having trying to adopt Kelsey. Tom said we still wanted to adopt a baby with Down Syndrome. A couple who had been in one of my Childbirth Education classes read the article. A few weeks later, some friends of theirs had a baby with DS and did not want to keep her. She put us in touch and we met with them and agreed to adopt their baby girl. They brought her to our house a week later and Tom took her in his arms and said, “Hello pretty girl! Give your Daddy a smile.” And she did. She was so adorable and that hasn’t changed a bit. Brigid is as stubborn as a child gets, and as sweet as a child gets, too. And you think you know what manipulation is? Brigid could teach it! She’s the master. 

Brigid graduated from high school last year. She lives in the Rock House group home as Paul and they’re still best friends. Right now, she’s into WWE wrestling and whoever the current teen heart throb is. She works at the Rock House recycling center and enjoys the friends she’s made there.

Any list of my children has to include Tyler Clinton Roach, born on November 9, 1994, weighing seven pounds, six ounces, twenty and one-fourth inches in length. We were there and his Gotcha Day was when he got out of the hospital on November 11, 1994 at noon, but I won’t really write about him here because the story of his life is on the “Eulogies” page.