SOUTHPORT BELLE ~ INTRODUCTION:
First of a series here of brief stories : "The Southport Belle" is my Mother - Albina Pauline ( or, Appollonia ) Filanowski Backiel Smith Duffy. Born March 6th 1926 in the Year of the Tiger - she was - to give you a quick first visual image, our Father's pride might appear a quieter version, Polish-American Sophia Loren or Maureen O'Hara - tall, loving, passionately devoted to family, lovely and social and appreciated by adoring fans. She was double-orphaned at the worst of the Great Depression - at age 6 from her mother and age 9 from her Father and both sudden deaths. Difficult time with step parents ended and she self-educated to become the grandest in wifehood, motherhood and personhood , in spite of challenges later. She took big downs and rallied to win thru every time. And fun in all of it for us all!
So I feel the stories might be worth sharing - they should really not be lost now that she is leaving us.
Fairfield Connecticut is nickname heaven and Mother has enjoyed several of them. Here is a partial list:
"Albinka", from her parents
"Little White Flower", from the nuns in girlhood one of the meanings of her name.
"the little egg girl", how she helped her large family keep food on the table, delivering eggs to the Wealthy on Southport Harbor.
"Beans", her youngest brother, and almost no one else, was allowed to use this one. When she was adopted, they let her bring the baby brother , "but he's YOUR responsibility" She was fine with that...and remained so.
"Southport Belle", she came of age and her inhertance and the tune changed - oh yes.
"Albina Smitski", My Darling, My Queen, "Smitty", - from my Father, her Romantic twin Libra and Pisces - how did they get any work done? I'd watch them at work and play and dream of my own handsome prince one day- it seemed like a grand thing, grownup life! War was done, they'd both won their medals and everyone home safe and sound - the party never ended - they kept the rules , supported the traditions and love was an sction word - and sang and danced and were very popular - LIFE.
"Motherrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!", we children, especially me...."mommy" was fine for my younger brother and sister...but, as soon as teens hit..."Mother" from me the eldest was the right thing it was decided, among the women and men on the block - doing it right meant no one would become ill or fail in our world outside the home.
"Grandma", - They never failed us to their best powers and the home was pretty remarkable. Fine weddings followed and soon fine babies to light up her life again! And great grands -5 of them- to give her a glow before aging had its way.
"My Angel", .....when health and money crashes later broke up my parents, they won thru again and remarried. Mother's Harry Duffy called her his Angel day and night with good reason and she loved him every bit as much and then some. They did well.
"Albina who jogged the Golden Gate Bridge" at 70, widowed this time, she made a new life and we children and grandchildren were some help as well....My son got mother in California powflowered hotpants jogging that bridge - a happy day!
"Albina Who Polkas" . I was her signer till she mastered lipreading and hearing aids, so people thought she could not appreciate music, and especially my musical Father's song, but she loved it all and showed me how to FEEL music and , even when the tune itself was not what it was when she could hear, she shone on the dance floor FEELING sound.
"Albina to the rescue" in two venues at 75. Dozens of "Momgate" moments were in the past, but she worked with My sister and her husband in Saint Croix storm recoveries. And me again when my accident nearly got me killed, widowed and the children off on their own and not knowing of my plight. She was there and we went dancing again.
"Albina from Curves " at 79. YES and she made my fitness things at Silver Sneakers so easy that , when the insurance dropped it , I made the peititions and got it back.
ROOTS: Mother came to Connecticut as an infant, and was born in Saint Claire, Pennsylvania, to Poland-born American Citizens. Since births were registered in the Spring if you lived in farm country , she was even unsure of her true birth date. Because the date on the Birth Certificate was likely to be the day her Dad registered the birth, since his English was not grand. Maybe the extra names were supposed to help. A friend who Astrologically charted birth dates , backward, from other information, did his best, but could not pin down a reliable date.
Whatever nickname, she is surely called "most loved". We are losing her now at 91, but till four years ago, she drove and lived independently and helped us, still, as much as we helped her. This entry is background to make the stories about her more fun for the reader.
She moved with her family, as an infant from Pennsylvania to Southport Connecticut. Her Father lost his first wife in childbirth and married the second who also died in childbirth , leaving him with eleven children - Agnes, Josie, Frances, Mary, Florence, Albina - Frank, Louie, Leo, Mike, Tony. Helen and Matt died in infancy. The older ones struck out on their own, but that still left a big table to feed, widowered and at the worst of the Depression Days. He did well working for a Grain and Feed company, and owned nice property and custom-built house
He worked near home, so would he would take lunch break to run home and cook hot lunch for his children who were then allowed the same break to take hot lunch at home, if they could get back to class on time. But, walking back to work afterward, in one plowed lane, on a snowy day three years after the death of the second wife, he was struck by a truck and died instantly.
The other children coming back from lunch saw it and told my Mother in class. Not easy for her - ever. She prayed to her parents and for them, at bedtime, all through her life. She was nine.
Still her home ground, Southport Connecticut was lovely to grow up in and has, in fact, been used recently, and one more time, as a picturesque backdrop for the movies. But when Mother was a girl , it was in earlier days for its later elegance. A century before, it was simply one more harbor - the famous Southport Globe Onion was grown and shipped and the project supplied there. The buildings on the harbor were pubs mostly till the many sailor fights prompted town leaders to set up a doctor's office across the street and a library and church upstairs. Civilization in top form followed, thanks to the generosity of the wealthy sea captains whose homes remain stunning beauties in the sun and breeze there.
The famous Pequot Library also a gift to the community from the wealthy Marchand family, stands on the grounds of their early mansion, where the lovely large front lawn is now. The Library was constructed as a surprise behind fencing there and unveiled like a statue when complete - its rose quartz sparkling like a thing from heaven. It is kept and well even today and restored not long ago.
She was very good - serious and skilled in work - devoted and joyful in love - Grateful for helps she enjoyed when orphaned, and able to give and take love in the community, and the world - not just at home. My Dad met her on leave from his pioneer Army Air Corps duties and they dated in days when a "flyboy" was like an astronaut, awesome dating material. The war was over , they had skills, beauty, money and property, and enjoyed success in all things. He helped her redecorate their "Tara". On the wooden beam in the basement, carved a sweetheart, with "Albina Smitski" carved inside...fun with the ethnic mix. Like the song, "And there upon the tree I see, I love you till I die". The definition got complicated between them, but they did.
She was interrupted in her schooling - but continued in adult classes and on her own and , since we were located in a nice place for it, learned types would join our social circle and share their knowledge and wisdom and training: she worked with success in accounting, we all enjoyed very nice and latest beauty, fashion, decorating, marriage and child psychology training - and more. Mother kept her brainier library upstairs and the one for the general public in the living-room bookcase! Both libraries were worked hard with our endless curiosity. I got my love of books and film trivia and music from my parents. Dad's people were iconic and taught us all they knew as well: History , religion, politics and the secret funstuff: Like all the girls in our family, we could also do plumbing, blade-sharpening, steam-jennying, and upholstery.
If a situation looked threatening, she'd rehearse what she felt she might need to say and how she'd need to say it, and followed through. The daily mandate from her school days: "Learn Perfect English - Be good Americans" and she was all that! At five- foot nine, not counting the pompadours they all wore, her height seemed to be one of her motives to cultivate her kind and charming way. So her speech was soft and more careful and I got to learn at her feet, winning neat moments and opportunities as a girl, just from her example.
Her smile reflected her goodness, beauty , sense of self, the happiness and sorrows and compassion for all, without ever being oppressive about it. She laughed and did fun things with us all and for us! "I love Lucy" was on tv, so she'd even do a stunt! There were most certainly days of teas but my point was , that on easy days or challenging ones, they bothered to make itA joyful home! The stories will prove.
But work was the backbone of it all. We all took the cue from both our enterprising parents, and expected to be good - learn the skills and share them for good work and love. She said she had no confidence in her parenting having lost hers so young. But I like her better than many who took their aptitudes for granted. Her motives were inspiring.
I am on the way up from grief - I caved in when she no longer could communicate or recognize me. But I AM recovering and feel compelled to share the stories - good days and bad, rich or not, in full health or coping - the love and goodness remain and gave her three children the good example - and oh, what fun we had doing it all!