Mary Van Deusen

Still a Child


The body may age, but the spirit? Never!

I kept my maiden name because the person who created that childhood scrawl was too precious to me to let disappear. Fighting against entropy is one of my deepest passions. I refuse to allow the chaos of death and loss to win. Each person who would be gone must be saved by spreading memories of them to others so that, in some sense, they're not really gone as long as someone remembers them. It's my job to share the memories that bring these people back to life.

I created this website to do exactly that - to create a picture, in words and images, of the father I never knew. And each person who wanders by my site takes with them a small piece of father, so that he lives again in all of us.

Memories are a marvelous gift. When you've shared some experience with another person, reminding them of those times can recover for them a memory that they may have lost. When I build a website of my high school or my grammar school, I do it partly to remember for myself, and partly as a gift for those who may have forgotten. And to make sure that my classmates, themselves, will not be forgotten.

With Dennis
With Dennis

We moved to Chicago while I was in the second half of first grade. But, more importantly, we moved next door to Dennis. I adored him, even though I was 6 and he was 3. For several years I slept with his picture under my pillow. A romantic, even then. He was as good as he was beautiful back then, and he grew up to be a dashing helicopter pilot with the Coast Guard. Who said fantasy was better than reality?


Bobby Miller lived on the other side of Dennis, and we all played together in the field across from our houses. Sometimes we'd gallop through the weeds as wild stallions. This before I knew the difference between stallions and mares. We ran, and roller skated, and ice skated when the city would open the fire hydrant in winter and flood the prairie into an ice rink. This beautiful day was my idea of the perfect birthday party - two young men and me.

Mother and me

Much as I enjoyed school, I enjoyed being home even more. Home was waking up to mother's coffee percolating, and the smell of frying bacon. Mother was, in general, a terrible cook, but she was a master of the perfect breakfast. Brother was seldom in the house while he still lived at home, and he was gone to the Air Force when I was 9 years old. So I took it for granted that the household revolved around me.

Whatever we were studying in school was a topic of conversation in the evening. And, as she did throughout my college days, mother was my tutor. I find within my packrat papers my mother's notes on government, and my own 8th grade paper summarizing those notes. Eight years later I can remember mother staying up through the night to help me with my paper on ancient Hittite pottery. And that was when she had to go to work the next morning!

Indian Nurse

Dressing up was one of my favorite pastimes. Grandmother had boxes of old laces and furs. Mother had romantic capes and heels, as well as glorious old costumes that grandmother had made for her. The Indian dress I wore was originally mother's from her Campfire Girls days.

I wasn't the only one to love dressing up. Years after grandmother had long stopped being a practical nurse, she still wore her nurse's uniform. And on New Years Eve mother would put on her black velvet evening gown that came from nightclub days with father, and I'd get to toast the New Year (if I managed to stay awake that long) with coke in a wineglass that still sits on my shelf.

As a third generation packrat, I still have mother's cape, and grandmother's furs, and mother's Betsy Ross costume. Not only that, but I still have my own long, brown braids, my baby curls and my mother's long, dark tresses from her own adolescence.


Edinburgh letter

Toronto letter front
Toronto letter front

Daddy was the center of the family when he was home between one of his many trips around the world as a consulting field signal engineer. He was a southern gentleman of quiet dignity and great love, with a treasure trove of stories and songs. He seemed to have endless time to read the Sunday comics to me as I sat on his lap, or to listen to my multiplication tables.

Forced to leave school after third grade, Daddy educated himself. A box of pamphlets on English grammar was always on the living room table, and he took for granted that we all shared his love of learning.

With nana

Nana was the one who actually raised me when mother brought my brother and I home. Working as a credit manager downtown, mother consciously chose to let grandmother set the rules for me to avoid my being confused with divided authority. It was nana who would brush out my hair in the morning, using hot water to make unsnarling it less painful, and who would put it up in a variety of braids and bows.

Grandmother was the emotional heart of the family, with a quick temper but a limitless supply of love. She would sit on the porch with me for hours, making toys out of folded newspaper and telling me stories and singing songs that can still make me cry as much as they did her.


Bob was eight years older than I was, a thin boy who kept growing to six feet four and a half inches. His formal name was TenEyck Robert Bell Cornelius Luigi Van Deusen, but he disliked the TenEyck, never admitted the Cornelius Luigi, and reversed his name into Robert T. Van Deusen.

Where I was kept close to the house, Bob was allowed to roam far and wide. As a result, he was rarely home and the age difference kept us from knowing each other well. Because I knew him so slightly, my brother was a figure of immense romance to me. His games with me were boisterous and sometimes scary. My most vivid memory is of his holding me over the trap door to the basement of a house under construction and threatening to drop me. Playing with a little sis was not his idea of a good time.


When Bob left for the military, I wrote him countless letters, often changing the color of the ink with the paragraph. That single year before he married was the one in which we were closest because he looked forward to receiving 20 page epistles with all the news from home. And he wrote me back! When he married, his letters stopped, letter writing being a task he could delegate to his wife, and my brother went back to being a handsome, though distant, romantic figure.

Grammar school graduate

I graduated from Warren, confident that the apprehension of a new high school would be mitigated by the familiar faces that would go with me to Bowen, and by the fact that mother, too, had gone there. Alas, it was not to be. In the middle of the summer, my brother returned on a visit from his Air Force posting and announced that it was important that I be sent to a Catholic high school. Since school registrations had closed, I thought I was safe, but I hadn't reckoned with my brother as a force of nature. By dint of polite persistance, Bob convinced the principal that my attendance at Aquinas was inevitable. Since I have a Panglossian belief that everything happens for the best in this best of all possible worlds, perhaps it really was inevitable.

I understand they called out my name as absent at Bowen for several weeks.

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Still a Child    

When I Was 17    
    Love Letters
    A Young Married Lady




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