My Grandpa Pete's wife, Helen, passed away last weekend. Because my family lived in California, a cool 2,000 miles from our Campagna relatives in Moline, IL (Mom's side), I only met Helen a handful of times. She was a very petite lady with large-lensed glasses and curly auburn hair. Most of all, though, I remember that she was a sweet lady who loved my grandfather very much.
Grandpa was the one who took special care to send birthday cards and Christmas cards each year, but Helen also enjoyed sending presents to us when she could. When I was eight or nine, she gave me a toy dog made of bright pink yarn. Sounds strange, right? But I loved that dog. And when I got to that age of curiosity and developed the nagging need to know HOW things were made, I carefully disected my dog doll and found that her skeleton was simply a coat hanger. Whether Helen or Grandpa made the dog, I'll probably never know.
But I do know that Grandpa was very adept and creative. He was a carpenter and built several gifts for my brothers and me over the years. I am still the proud owner of a mirror, a jewelry box (originally constructed for my mom, his youngest daughter), and a music box. On top of the box is a tiny, gold oval engraved with my name, and when you wind it up, the box still plays Raindrops Are Falling on My Head . Each of us kids owned a music box. Ted's played the Sesame Street theme... and I can't remember which one was Curt's song.
When he preceded her in death in 2003, Grandpa was buried at the military arsenal, across the river from Moline, in Iowa. Helen was presented with an American flag by the officers who saluted his death. I remember that Helen wore a fur-trimmed hat, complete with a diminutive black veil. She kept one frail hand on my cousin Sam's arm. Now, Helen will be laid to rest beside my grandfather, as she wanted to be.
The summer after my grandpa passed away, I took Jonathan to Illinois to meet my relatives... and Helen was enamoured with my sweetheart. She told me that he possessed a classic handsomeness (something I already knew, but was happy to hear acknowledged by my family).
Helen was my grandfather's third wife. Grandpa's first wife, my Grandma Jean, died shortly before I was born. But, thankfully, Helen was happy to fill-in for grandma whenever we were around. While I never could get comfortable calling her "Grandma" or "Nana" (the latter being her preference), I liked Helen very much. And I'm happy that she was able to count my brothers and my cousins and me as her grandchildren, as she never had children or grandchildren of her own.
If you're interested, the obit that ran in the Quad City Times can be found here . My Aunt Kris (Kristen Bergren), a very talented author, wrote the obituary. And, being a fan of reading the obituaries for the sake of harvesting the stories of strangers, I have to say that she did a wonderful job.
In Memory of Pete & Helen Campagna