After I received my Master’s degree at Kent State University, I was accepted as an assistant professor of English at Valley City State College in Valley City, North Dakota. We were expecting a baby before the move. Gere and daughter Sheila and I were told by Gere’s doctor that we were going to have twins. Unfortunately, our four-day-old prematurely born daughters, Kelly and Ann, died at Akron’s Children’s Hospital due to their lungs not expanding, a disease called atelectasis. A nurse baptized them before they died.
After a local undertaker told me because of my lack of finances, I could either put the twins in the back seat of our car and drive them to Wisconsin Rapids for burial or bury them in a Potter’s field. That was the first time in my adult life I cried. After I telephoned my mother and told her of the circumstances, Mom really came through. “I’ll take care of this,” she said.
Mom telephoned that funeral director and directed him to drive the twins to the Cleveland airport where a plane flew them to Wisconsin. They were placed together in a tiny casket. Mom even scheduled a visitation for Kelly and Ann at the funeral home before they were taken to SS. Peter and Paul Catholic church for a children’s funeral mass. Buried next to my father, they now rest in peace besides both my parents.
After we moved, I tried my best to put the twins’ deaths behind me. I enjoyed teaching very much because my students were learning hungry and took part in lively class discussions. Sheila so wanted a younger brother or sister, but we were warned by Gere’s doctor that should not be because her next pregnancy could kill her. So, we started thinking of adoption and then actually initiated the work, going through the Fargo Catholic social services, fifty-six miles away. We attended meetings with social workers together and alone. Later on, when alone, I was asked a number of times if I minded our adopting a baby girl. I said no because real parents didn’t have a sex choice for their children. Why should I? I concluded we were going to have two daughters, Sheila and . . . And soon.
Tiny blue-eyed blonde Shelley Ann Smullen came into our lives as an eight week old baby on March 20, 1968. Such a lovely child. We named her after Percy Bysshe Shelley, the poet. She was already drinking whole milk, and that was a new twist for us because our Sheila had been allergic to milk-based formula. Another dissimilarity was that Shelley slept through the entire night but made lots of little noises, about which all of us giggled and laughed until we fell asleep
At the time, I was heavy into photography and writing poetry and short stories. When Gere thought she needed to be closer to a hospital with dialysis machines, we decided to move back to Wisconsin Rapids. First, we had to get permission from the Catholic social services. That was granted. Naturally, I would need a job and since the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point didn’t have any openings, I thought I’d give newspaper writing a try. If Ernest Hemingway could do that before he wrote his novels, why not me? The publisher of the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune hired me as a reporter.
After we found a home for rent in Wisconsin Rapids, we said goodbye to all our friends in Valley City. I drove a U-haul truck and placed little Shelley in her baby seat next to me. Gere drove the Barracuda with Sheila as her navigator. It was a time for looking ahead to a bright future.