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Helen was alive before the first airplane flew. She has since seen men go to the moon and live for months at a time in space. She talked on party-line telephones and knew the panic of receiving telegrams from the War Department. Helen has seen the media develop from newspapers and radio to television and computers. She's amazed by the ease with which her great-great grandchildren gain immediate access to the world through the Internet and the World Wide Web. She has seen endless tragedies and limitless joys, inevitable in such a long life. Helen has too often experienced the heartbreak of war, and the ever-changing ways battles are fought.
Helen had one sister, two years younger than she, and they lived with their parents in an apartment above a butcher's shop in Brooklyn. Helen was a tall woman of German descent. She was married at the age of 18 to Joe, an Irishman who was several inches shorter than Helen. Among the many family pictures taken throughout the years there are a few of Helen and Joe together. These include some of Joe, looking very handsome in his Army uniform, and Helen, smiling mischievously while dressed in Joe's uniform.
Joe served overseas during World War I (click here to view Joe's diary from WWI), which was Helen' s first encounter with the hardship of war. Unfortunately, it would not be her last. When Joe returned from serving overseas, he opened his own store. He and Helen then began their family. In those days, women did not work outside the home, but Helen did handle the family finances. It was through her growing family, however, that Helen' s role in life would be defined. She experienced changes in the world through the generations of her family. Helen and Joe's first child, Joseph Jr., was born strong and healthy in 1922. Their second child, a girl named Justine, was born prematurely a year later, and weighed less than four pounds. By placing her in a dresser drawer surrounded by warmed bricks and wrapped in blankets, Joe and Helen were able to help Justine survive. (This early incubator must have worked well because Justine grew up to be a brilliant scientist.) John, Jane, Jerry, Jacqueline, Joanne, Jeanette, and Jimmy followed over the next several years, and their family grew to include a total of nine children. They eventually bought their own home in Brooklyn, a three-bedroom house with a very large attic, which served as a dormitory. Helen's mother and mother-in-law (both widows) also moved in, and remained with them until their deaths many years later.