7 minute read

How We Met

Bring The Children


When people find out we have seven children a common refrain is, “It must be nice to be able to afford a big family,” as though we saved up each time so we could go to Walmart and pick another one out. Another one is, “Did you plan them all?” The truth is a bit more complicated in our case. This book is about the road we traveled to get where we are as a family.

Helene Malinowski was born in Santa Monica, California on September 21, 1962 where her father, Bob, a World War II veteran in the Coast Guard, was running a swimming pool maintenance business and doing quite well. He had been raised by a single mother in Chicago, Illinois. Despite her best efforts and a parochial school education he loved to run the streets and fancied himself a member of Al Capone’s gang (he wasn’t).

Helene’s mother was born Pauline McCarthy in Massachusetts. She met Bob while he was in the military and they married young, soon after he was discharged. They had six children and Helene was the youngest. All three of her brothers would serve in the military and the oldest two would also spend time in the seminary.

Helene was especially close to her next oldest sister, Diane with whom she shared a bedroom and a bed.

Helene and Diane in Yuma, AZ

Because of a health issue with her mother related to anemia, the family moved across the country when Helene was three years old to the northeast where Pauline had been raised. Seven years later a friend, Helene’s godfather, suggested Bob move the family to where he lived in Yuma, Arizona and establish a pool business there. So, across the country they went again.

Helene didn’t like Arizona. Bob, recognizing how stark the Arizona setting was for the kids purchased a dune buggy for them to tool around the desert. Pauline had a foreboding feeling and repeatedly had an inner voice telling her to pack up the kids and go.

Sand dunes of Yuma, AZ

One day Helene’s oldest sister, Nancy took the younger two girls out for a spin in the dune buggy. Helene was 10 and Diane was just days short of her 14 th birthday. As they were riding around, Diane spotted a lone flower and asked Nancy to go over so she could pick it. After she got back in the dune buggy she pointed to a hill and directed Nancy to drive over it.

When the dune buggy reached the top of the hill, Nancy realized too late that the other side was a sheer cliff. The dune buggy flipped on the way to the ground and crashed hard front first, bounced and landed upside down. It had no roll bar. The girls were pinned under the buggy.

Diane had hit her head on a rock and Helene saw her lying still on the ground. Nancy had blood streaming down her face from cutting her face above and below her eyes. She couldn’t see much with blood in her eyes and was stunned. Helene was largely uninjured. She knew she needed to get help. But they were in the desert and nobody was around.

Off in the distance Helene saw two boys riding motorcycles. Nancy said, “don’t go to them” because she feared they would not help and were too far in the wrong direction. Instead they headed towards the highway. Nancy told Helene to run and later said she never saw someone run so fast, as though Helene was being carried. She flagged down two boys and a girl in a pickup truck who had seen her running through the desert. They told Helene they weren’t even planning to be out that day but had gone to the desert on a whim. Helene told them there had been an accident and told them which way to go. They went for help.

Help arrived and Diane was med flighted while Nancy rode in an ambulance. Nancy was transported to a local hospital. Diane had been killed instantly when she struck her head on a rock on impact.

In the hospital Nancy later said that she had felt very cold and was shivering but couldn’t move to pull up a blanket. She said she saw Diane at the foot of the bed wearing a pink pinafore, one that Nancy had not seen before. She said Diane pulled her blanket up for her. Later she would find out that her mother had bought the exact item she saw for Diane’s birthday but hadn’t given it to her yet.

A priest at the hospital told the family in their shock and grief that “Diane had heaven handed to her on a silver platter, but for the rest of us, it’s toil, blood, sweat, and tears.”

Helene was mostly in shock but remembered that the night before Diane had put her arm around Helene in bed, a very unusual thing, Helene said, not because Diane wasn’t a nice person, but because Helene wasn’t. Meanwhile Bob would tell the family that also shortly before the accident Diane had asked him if he would mind if she “went to heaven.” He told her he would rather she grew up and had a full life first. She also had told friends that she wouldn’t live to see her 14 th birthday.

A week after the accident, Helene dreamed that she saw Diane standing by herself in the aisle of a supermarket. Helene looked at her and asked what she was doing there. Diane said, “I’m OK.” More than 30 years later Helene felt prompted to take out Diane’s jewelry box which was filled with little personal items, trinkets and letters. One was the lyrics to the song, ‘I think I love you,’ by The Partridge Family, the memory of which caused Helene to start crying. The next day, on a short drive, that exact song came on the radio. She mentioned it to our daughter Kim who said, “And you were on your way to the supermarket.”

Poem by Diane Malinowski

After the accident Pauline still had that inner voice and six months later, they moved across the country again back to Needham, Massachusetts.

Helene would graduate from Needham High School and Aquinas Junior College and take a full-time job at a defense contractor in Needham, as a department secretary.

Meanwhile I was born on May 6, 1960 in Ithaca, New York where my dad had settled in his first job after college. I was the third oldest of four children. My dad is the son of educators who met at college and settled in the Finger Lakes region. He was fascinated with cars, electronics, and ham radio.

My mother grew up likewise in the same area of Central New York, the youngest of three children. Her father was a pharmacist and prominent in the town of Homer, the chairman of the school board and an organizer of American Legion baseball. He attended 30 world series mostly by taking the train to New York. My mother and father met at work, a defense contractor where my dad was an engineer and my mother was a secretary.

Of my four grandparents, only my maternal grandmother was Catholic. She came to all the sacramental events in my life.

I grew up in two quite different settings. Up to age eleven, I was in the suburbs, in a tightly packed close-knit neighborhood where many children came out daily to play games, go sledding in the winter, and explore in the summer. At age eleven my family moved to the country and bought horses, built a barn, added a couple of sheep, some chickens and also raised countless cats, three dogs and rabbits. I had my own horse I rode throughout the years there. My dad, brother and I also rode on snowmobiles.

Something that really caught my attention was how the bigger families many of my friends came from were tighter knit. They really watched out for each other. Families of six, seven and even ten children weren’t uncommon especially in the more rural setting. It stuck with me.

Steve and Sovereign
Bowler Farm in Pompey, New York c. 1978

After High School, I attended the same engineering college as my dad. After an undistinguished four years, characterized by partying and fraternity life, I accepted a job offer at a defense company in Needham, Massachusetts. The secretary of the department head, my boss, was a young girl named Helene. She greeted me at the front door on my first day at work and typed this memo soon after.

Original Memo From Helene to Steve July 12, 1982

Even though we wouldn’t go on even a lunch date for 6 months after I arrived, for some reason I kept the very first memo Helene typed to me.

Looking at the two paths we took, and the fact each of us had other job offers coming out of college, what were the odds we would meet at all, much less fall in love and start a family?

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