|Judith Frances Austin, 1938-2015|
I found out last Saturday, December 12, 2015, that my Aunt Judy had passed away . . . on November 29th. In fact, I found out the same way most of my family did: from a phone call long after she was dead and buried. In fact, if it hadn't been for a family member driving by the cemetery last week, and seeing fresh flowers and a new grave next to Judy's husband's grave, we would have no idea that she had passed. A nice way to inform the family, right?
As for my Aunt Judy, I had no knowledge of her existence while growing up. When I asked what happened to her, my mother said that she "ran away" when she was young and the family was always looking for her. So Judy was my "missing aunt" up until about 1991 when I received a frantic call from my mother one evening.
"I found Judy!" she said while crying over the phone. I couldn't believe it. After almost 35 years with no contact, my mother located her long lost sister. And she did it the way I as a genealogist would have done it: she used an obituary. For some reason, Mom read the obituary for a Joseph Froehlich in Honesdale, Pennsylvania and a wife was listed as "Judith Austin." So that evening my mother hopped in her car and drove several hours to Connecticut where she found out that Aunt Judy's son was living. She knocked on the door and saw her sister for the first time in over 30 years.
Within a few weeks, my mother arranged for a reunion with the remaining brothers and sisters in June 1991. It was held at our house and was the first time in over 30 years that all 12 siblings had been together. There were many tears and stories shared that day.
I can only imaging how overwhelmed my Aunt Judy was. I have located a letter she wrote to my mother on June 28, 1991, after that reunion:
I know your [sic] not home from vacation yet, but I wanted to talk to you. My head is still spinning from Saturday, no it isn’t the booze. I normally don’t drink, but I was so nervous, WOW, all of my sisters and brothers were there, and seemed so very happy to see me. I still can’t believe everyone wants me. How strange life can be, it takes away something that means everything to you and give you something that could mean as much.
I have to admit, my son and daughter-in-law love you. They think you are great. They want me to invite you to come here for a few days, or a day. Whichever you want. I do want you to come, whenever you like. I don’t plan on spending too much time at my home in PA, I can’t yet. It’s going to take some getting use to – it was Joe’s favorite place of all the one’s we lived in. He was happiest when there. He never wanted to go anywhere, not even to town once a week. I guess he felt secure when away from people. He fussed something terrible when I went to work but had to accept the idea after awhile.
Well, I can’t put everything I want to say on such a small sheet of paper. So, I’ll just have to come visit you one day or evening so we can talk about how ours [sic] lives were after I left home.
Hope you enjoyed your vacation and left some of Washington DC for me to see when you and I go.
Will call on Monday the 1st.
Judy* * *
There are many more details to the story, including the reasons for her disappearance, but in order to protect the privacy of family members, and out of respect for my family, I can't post them here. What I do know is that Aunt Judy came into my life in the early 1990s and made up for lost time: she was fully integrated in the family and loving life with her seven sisters and four brothers. She will be missed.
© 2015, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.