Meet the Roses: Minnie (Claudine Lerline) and Tom (Thomas Riah), ca 1920.





Johnnie. Johnnie, wake up,” Mom said, shaking me for the umpteenth time
this week. “You’re dreaming about the crash again. You were hollering,
‘Move over, you jerk.’ At least that’s an improvement over just screaming.”
“I guess I was, Mom,” I groaned, coming awake. “I’m sorry. I can’t get it
out of my mind.”
.......I’m not sleeping well these days. But the way I figure it, if I’m awake half the
night anyway, I might as well put this crazy story on paper. Maybe it’ll make
more sense to you than it does to me.
.......And maybe – if it turns out I’m not crazy – it’ll give you something to
think about. Lord knows I’ve got enough to think about for the rest of my days.
And seeing how’s I’m only seventeen, we’re probably talking a lot of days – at
least if Jack keeps giving me the old helping hand whenever it’s needed. As
you’re going to hear, it’s needed a lot.
.......There are a few things you need to know about me right off the bat. I was
born on a cold winter morning, February 6, 1938, on Clay Street, in Rushville,
Massachusetts, exactly two years to the minute from the day my older brother
Jack died.
.......According to Mom, “God sent us a son to take Jack’s place. He took Jack
away, and then gave him back.” They gave me the same name – John. Only
Mom made it good and clear that I was to be called John or Johnnie, but I was
never to be called Jack or Jackie. I’ll tell you more about that later. A whole lot
.......Oh, yeah, and according to family lore, I was the second Immaculate
Conception, no disrespect intended.
.......Okay, let’s start with the cast of characters – and trust me, they’re all characters,
every last one of them. My parents, Minnie and Tom, for starters. The
odds of Tom Rose and Minnie Webb ever meeting and getting together are just
plain off the charts.
.......The way I heard it, an ancestor of Tom’s left Scotland with the King’s navy
and ended up in Jamaica in the seventeenth century. Tom left Jamaica for the

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.......United States just after the turn of the twentieth century. He was an
adventuresome lad, I’m told. No one was surprised when he announced his intentions.
.......Tom settled in Lebanon, Missouri, working for another family from
Jamaica, and he eventually courted and married their daughter. Myrtle Williams
Rose gave him three children. After loosing all three to crib deaths, she
died herself, of a broken heart.
.......Tom was grief-stricken. He hit the road, drifting about the country,
staying in any one spot only long enough to amass a cache big enough to allow
him to move on. One day he drifted into Rushville, aiming to stop by and visit
his sister, Hilda, her husband and family. He figured if he liked it, this was as
good a place as any to next hang his hat.
.......Minnie Webb’s family, Anglican missionaries, set out for Jamaica in the
eighteenth century. Minnie migrated to the States in 1914, when she was sixteen,
and settled in Hollis, Oklahoma. She quickly came to dislike Oklahoma intensely,
but it was in Oklahoma that she met and befriended Mary Rose, one of Tom’s
sisters. Mary didn’t like Oklahoma any better than Minnie did and
suggested that she and Minnie pair up and head east. Their destination: Rushville,
Massachusetts, to visit Mary’s sister, Hilda.

Mom and Pop, with the three eldest boys, Ken, Jack and Tom Jr., and the
house that Pop built, 1926.

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.......Hilda had been surprised enough when Tom had showed up on her
doorstep. She was doubly surprised when Mary arrived with Minnie in tow.
This was toward the end of 1921. Tom and Minnie took one look at each other
and that was that. It was a classic case of love at first sight, and it must have
been the chemistry they both needed to put their pasts behind them and start
anew. They were married in February, 1922. There was a considerable difference
in their ages. Mom was twenty-four. Pop was thirty-seven.

Pop was a hard-working, very bright, self-taught person with minimal schooling
prior to leaving Jamaica. All of the talents he drew on came from the school
of hard knocks. Right from the start, however, he demonstrated take-charge
ability and ingenuity. He had an opportunity to pick up a small lot for next to
nothing, land next to a swamp and woods that covered many acres. It must not
have been much to look at, when he took Minnie there and said, “Let’s build
us a home for our budding family.” And build it he did, a little bungalow that
would provide shelter for a lot of Roses over the years.
.......Their “budding” family was already in the works. Kenneth, their first son,
was born in December, 1922. Fifteen months later, in March of 1924, John was
born. Twenty months after that came Thomas Jr. By then Minnie Rose must
have been one tired lady! However, they didn’t slow down; Claudia arrived on
the scene eighteen months after Tom Jr.
.......That was enough! Tom had his boys and Minnie had her girl. Then oops,
in September, 1929, along comes George. A second girl maybe, my mom
moaned – but not another boy!
.......My folks both came from big families. Pop’s mother had given birth to
fifteen and Mom’s mom thirteen, so it’s no wonder they didn’t quit there, even
if they thought they should. But at the ages of thirty-one and forty-four when
George was born, Mom and Pop decided they were more than content with
their five. Their first four children were all born in less than five years. Ken, the
eldest, was now six years older than his new baby brother.

Somewhere in there, my dad landed himself a really good job. New England
was a major manufacturing center in those days, and Rushville was the home
of some big companies, including Indian Motorcycle, the first producer of
motorcycles in this country.
.......Pop did well, rising to the position of superintendent of fabrication. Thank
God for his skills and the success of the company. This winning combination
kept him employed throughout the Great Depression of the 1920s and ’30s.
.......Think about it. Here was this couple, trying to make it in this new world,
building a home and stamping out kids. A woman once told Mom, “Gee, you

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and your husband must be good Catholics.” The way she tells it, she just smiled
resignedly and responded, “No, just dumb Protestants.” The woman didn’t
know what to say.
.......Like I said, this was in the middle of one of the worst periods this country
has ever seen. Many of their relatives lost everything they had. They showed up
at my parents’ door laden with young children, with nothing but the clothes
they were wearing and whatever they could carry. Mom and Pop never turned
any of them away.
.......The little bungalow Pop built somehow managed to soak up anyone who
needed to live there, multiple families when need be. Some got their lives
together quickly and moved out. Before long, another family showed up to take
their place. Pop worked and supported this extended family, provided a roof
over all their heads and something to eat.
.......As the depression went on, Mom and Pop tried not to have any more
children. They were okay until just before Halloween, 1933, when they were
blessed with their second baby girl. Joyce had arrived. Number six.

Okay. Before I go on with the story, let me tell you a little bit about life in the
Rose household. Right from the earliest days I can remember, it was a household
of cleanliness, organization, regimentation and punctuality. Mom believed
devoutly that “cleanliness was next to Godliness.” She not only preached
this, she practiced it, 100% of the time. She was always saying, “No matter how
poor we are, we will always have soap and plenty of water. Your clothes may
have patches, but they will be clean patches.”

Mom and Pop and the eldest five children: (R to L), Ken, Jack, Tom Jr.,
Claudia and George, 1930.

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.......Wherever we went, we were neat, clean and punctual. Mom was a fiercely
proud woman, and as her expectations went, so went the conduct of her
home. Oh, man, would she ever get irritated if she went to someone’s home
and the lady of the house blamed her untidiness on having children!
.......Beds were made the minute you got out of them. There was no such thing
as a messy bedroom. Everyone’s clothes were always washed and pressed,
hung in the closet or folded neatly and placed in their dresser drawers.
Everything operated on a schedule. You arose at a certain time, even on
weekends or holidays. Mom would say, “Spending too much time in bed
makes you a laggard.” There were set times for retiring as well.
.......Meals were served at specific times. If you were late, without a darned
good excuse, you went hungry. Over the years, her children tried every excuse
in the book and then some. Mom would say, “Do you think I’m running a
restaurant here? I cook one dinner a day, and if you miss it, that’s your tough
luck. And don’t think you can get away with raiding the ice box, either.”
Regardless, all of us children loved her dearly and respected her every wish.
We knew she was there for us when we needed her – and there were many
times each one of us went to the well.
.......Pop, on the other hand, was a different breed. He was an industrious,
stern, private man, with no patience for foolishness. We might have occasion
to forget, but he was quick to remind us. In his younger years, he was always
considered a fair man, a fellow who’d give you the shirt off his back. Later on,
life took its toll on him. He developed a dependency on the bottle and allowed
it to influence his judgment. By the time I’d reached the mischievous age,
Pop’s patience was worn pretty thin. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The property the house was built on was, like I said, next to a swamp and
woods that covered a whole bunch of acres. The swamp and woods were
referred to as “the Dingle.” I never once heard an explanation as to where the
name came from. The Dingle rambled past both my Aunt Mary’s house and
my Aunt Hilda’s house, too.
.......The Dingle was a great place for young boys. My buddies and me, we
practically lived down in the Dingle, playing there and building all sorts of
things as we were growing up. What we didn’t get into hadn’t been invented
yet – but was about to be!
.......The Dingle was woods, meadows, swamp and the best high bush blueberries
you could ever imagine. The only negative about having the Dingle near
the house: it was a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
.......Directly across the street from our house was the highest point in Rushville.
That hill was one of the best sources of fill dirt. Steam shovels were
always digging into it and cutting it down.

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.......Some of this fill managed to find its way across the street where it was
used to wrap around the Rose residence, giving us a nice, level lot. The hill
disappeared in the early ’40s. Once leveled, the area became the site of a
housing project. As kids, we hated to see it going, because it was great for
sliding and tobogganing in the winter. Climbing up wasn’t much fun, but
coming down was a blast.

Okay, it’s time we brought me into this story.


- 9 -







Like I said, as the story was told, I was only the second Immaculate Conception
ever recorded. That’s not bad, on top of being a seventh son – well, the
seventh child who happened to also be a son. Just think of it, all those special
powers automatically come along with this type of distinction. I hadn’t walked
on water. But, I’m still getting ahead of things.

Two years after Joyce was born, in the winter of ’36, Mom became severely ill.
An influenza epidemic was going around. With prolonged contact from caring
for her children, Mom was weak; flu and colds had her resistance way down.
She had nothing left to fight with. She was not expected to live.
.......Jack, the second oldest, was twelve at the time. When Mom fell ill, he took
over nursing duties. He was the last to fall pray to this terrible epidemic, and
not until after Mom was so deathly ill. He was grief-stricken over the condition
of both his mother and the others. As she fell into total exhaustion, he took on
more of the burden of caring for the others so Dad could work. It ended up
knocking him right off his feet.
.......Once the flu got hold of him, Jack couldn’t shake it off, even though he was
strong. It got worse, finally developing into double pneumonia. Tom Rose now
had six sick kids and a wife on her deathbed. He had been there before with his
first wife. Now, the one child that had stood up the best appeared to be fatally ill.
.......There were no miracle drugs in those days. Penicillin wasn’t widely available
yet. No matter how the doctors tried, Jack kept slipping further and further
away. The older children came to him, crying and pleading with him to get
better, fearing they were about to loose Jack and their mother, both.
.......Jack tried to assure them that everything was going to work out all right.
Their dad was a strong man and he’d see they were taken cared of, he reminded
them. Their Aunt Hilda and Aunt Mary took turns coming into the house
preparing meals, changing sweat-drenched bedclothes and doing the laundry.
.......One day, Jack gathered his siblings and told them, “Mom will recover. I had
a conversation with God and he assured me Mom will be all right,” he insisted.
.......Finally, Jack’s lungs filled up and it was over. He passed away early on the
morning of February 6, 1936. The children found out when an ambulance
arrived to take him away. Pop gathered them and, looking at them through red
eyes, told them, “Jack has gone. He will be watching over us all from heaven. He
told me before he died that your mom will recover soon.”

- 10 -

Within the next few days, Mom recovered enough to regain consciousness.
Shortly, she was taking nourishment. Next, she asked for the children. Pop
realized that at least a part of his prayers had been answered: Minnie had been
spared. That unfortunately meant he had the unbearable task of telling her Jack
was gone.
.......Mom refused to believe him. “This can’t be true,” she said over and over.
“Tom, take me to him.” This was more than she could bear, and he almost lost
her to her grief. Jack was the only one who was still well when she had fallen
into the depths of her illness.
.......“Minnie, he’s gone and there isn’t anything we can do to get him back,”
Pop told her, I’m sure as kindly as he could. “The doctors did everything
possible. There was nothing anyone could do.”
.......Mom recovered – physically. But she couldn’t accept Jack’s death. She
cried endlessly for him. She talked to him, blaming herself for failing him. They
all tried to convince her, without success, that it wasn’t her fault, that there
really was nothing she could have done. The older ones insisted Jack had told
them everything was going to be all right.
.......The doctors told her they did all they could. She couldn’t – or wouldn’t –
try to understand. Why had the good Lord forsaken her? “He should have
spared my boy and taken me instead,” she would say to anyone who’d listen.
.......All involved tried to convince her. “Minnie, the Lord knew best. You’re
needed here to care for the other five children and your husband,” they’d tell
her. Pop somehow managed to remain strong throughout it all. “The fact that
you recovered so quickly after Jack’s death is some kind of message,” he told
her over and over.

Time went on, but Mom’s memories of Jack, his loving nature and his fresh
wit, lingered on. He was everything a mother could want in a son. She loved all
her boys dearly, as she loved her two girls, but there was something undeniably
special about Jack. The way he made her laugh, his ability to change her mood
when she was angry. His older brothers had long recognized this special talent
– they’d always let Jack intercede for them when they were in trouble.
.......Mom apparently spent hours sitting, rocking and reminiscing about
clever or witty things her Jack had done during his twelve short years of life.
She was often seen talking to him. Frequently, she would capture one or more
of the kids or Pop in an attempt to get them to reminisce about Jack with her.
She talked about times they didn’t know about or had long since forgotten.
.......Pop pleaded with her again and again. This went on for more than a year
after Jack had died. He would say, “Minnie, please, stop this self-persecution.
Start thanking God for all the blessings we’ve been given. You have five
wonderful children that love you and need you very much.”

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.......Mom cried herself to sleep most every night and insisted on going to
Jack’s grave frequently. She was always taking flowers and praying for his
forgiveness. She would just kneel there and cry.
.......And then, one day when Pop started pleading with her for the hundredth
time, she looked up at him and said, almost lightly, “Tom, stop worrying! I
know things are going to be all right now.”
.......Pop was dumbfounded. “Minnie, I’ve been telling you that for well over a
year! Of course we’re going to be all right!” Tom said, amazed.
.......“No! You don’t understand. Jack came to me and told me it was going to
be all right.” she explained.
.......“Minnie, whatever you say, that’s wonderful. But – what are you talking
about? Jack – came to you?” he asked.
.......“Jack came and he told me not to cry any more. God is sending one to take
his place,” she said. Those were her words: “God is sending one to take his place.”
.......“What do you mean, ‘one is coming to take his place?’ From where?
Adoption? Or are you pregnant? Do you realize how ridiculous this sounds?
First off, I don’t see how a child could have come from me – we’ve hardly been
together since you recovered and found out Jack had died. Don’t tell me you
believe in the myth about washing our underwear together! What do you
mean, Jack came to you?” Pop questioned her again.
.......“Jack appeared to me early this morning,” Mom explained patiently. “I
told you what he said and, no, I amnot pregnant. I couldn’t be – at least I don’t
think so. And I don’t have any intentions of adopting another child. Heavens,
I’m going on forty and you are already fifty-two! We’re getting a little long in
the tooth to be having more children. No, I don’t know what he meant. I just
know what he told me. I assume we’ll find out in due time. Maybe God realizes
what a sad thing it was and has decided to give him back to us,” she continued,
as if she had been touched in a special way.

This visit by their departed son took place in May of 1937. As time went on,
Mom did in fact find out she was pregnant. “Tom,” she said, one night after he
came home from work. He was relaxing after dinner and reading his paper. He
looked up and she told him, “You may not believe this, but I am pregnant,” she
said calmly.
.......“You are – what? Are you sure?”
.......“Wouldn’t you think after six children I’d know when I am pregnant?
Besides, I went to see Dr. McSweney today and he agrees.”
.......“Did he say when he thought the baby would be born?” Pop asked anxiously.
.......“End of January, or early February… Strange, isn’t it? That’s when Jack
died. It will be just two years,” Mom said.
.......Pop didn’t say a word – he just sat there in shock and amazement for a
while. Finally, he said, “I don’t believe it... I – I just don’t believe it!”

- 12 -

During the months that followed, it became quite obvious that Mom was
pregnant. Since the visit from Jack, she was a new woman. The crying ceased.
She was busy sewing and getting ready for this new child, as she had done so
many times before. It had been four years since her last pregnancy. They had
gotten rid of everything, not expecting anymore children. She wondered if it
would be a boy.
.......Relatives couldn’t believe what had happened. Many asked, “Are you sure
you aren’t making this up? Maybe just a little?”
.......“No,” they insisted, “it happened just as we’ve told you.”

So – it was a cold winter morning, at 6:00 AM precisely, on the sixth of
February, 1938. Exactly two years to the minute from when Jack had died. Dr.
McSweney delivered a nine-pound three-ounce baby boy. That much they
knew for sure. Mom looked up at Pop and said, “He was right, Tom. God sent
us a son to take his place. He took Jack away and gave him back. The baby will
be named John.”


So there I am, son John number two, come into the world. I was never called
Jack, at least not consciously in Mom’s presence. John the second became
known as “Johnnie.” If anyone called me Jack, tears would well up in Mom’s
eyes and she’d say in this forlorn voice, “Please, don’t. He’s – Johnnie.”
.......I was born with the job of filling the shoes of my namesake, and she never
let me forget it, for the rest of her days. When I was old enough to listen,
anything I did that didn’t find favor with her, she’d look me straight in the eye
and say, “He wouldn’t have done that.” It became clear, as time went on, that
I’d never quite measure up. Of course she wouldn’t let anyone call me Jack –
how could she? I was only a marginal replacement. I was not my mother’s
model child! I didn’t go out of my way to upset her, but when I did, she was
quick to assure me that “he” wouldn’t have done whatever it was I’d just done.
Then she’d burst into tears, wailing about how she’d failed, yet again.
.......This made growing up interesting, to say the least. Please don’t misunderstand.
I loved my mother dearly. Everyone did! She was a wonderful woman
who never had a bad word to say about anyone. Nor could anyone remember
ever hearing anything bad about her, either. She was always giving of herself to
whoever needed her. Heck, she nursed me for three years, they tell me.

I grew up in a house that was way over-populated. It just wasn’t big enough for
the family. Pop was always saying, “I guess we better think about putting
another wing on the house or at least add another bedroom and bath.”

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.......“Tom, we’ll manage,” Mom would tell him. “We won’t need extra space
when the children start getting married and leave. It’d just mean more rooms
for me to clean. I think not.”
.......I can’t imagine what it was like during the Depression, with other families
living there. As it was, I didn’t have a bedroom to share. I slept in with my
parents, until Ken and Tom left. We had a three-bedroom house, with three
brothers in the front bedroom, two sisters in the side bedroom and, like I said,
me and my parents in the back bedroom. Mom didn’t think it’d be a good idea,
putting me in with three boys ranging from eight to sixteen. I’m sure there
were times when Pop must have pleaded, if the good Lord hadn’t been so
generous, for some privacy. I remember hearing whispering between them.
Aah, come on, Minnie. The boy’s asleep.” All I know is, he never minded
when someone offered to take me for a day…

Jack, age 11, 1935.