Thursday, September 02, 2010

All in the Family – Helen Marie Heffner Brobst

Helen Marie Heffner was born at home at 810 Daly Street in Indianapolis, Indiana, as the second child of Lewis Orvil and Violet Mae Warner Heffner. She was welcomed to the family by her older sister Leona Mae Heffner, who had just turned two the month before.

At the recommendation of her mother Violet’s doctor, the family left the city while Helen was young and settled in the crossroads known as Hancock’s Chapel in the hills of southern Indiana. Violet’s health had caused the doctor some concern, and he felt living in the big city and working in the marshmallow factory as she did was not good for her. When Lewis located his siblings Herbert and Ethel, who had been adopted by the Wennings family, the tiny crossroads town where they lived seemed to make the most sense for the rest of his family.
Helen and Leona loved the outdoors, fishing in the pond, running through the hills, and playing in the barn. They attended the two room schoolhouse on the Wennings’ property behind the General Store. The two girls often sang duets at the chapel where their baby sister, Ethel Louise, is laid to rest. The baby was stillborn in 1922.

One of Helen’s favorite songs was “Fair Lilies,” and her best friend in Hancock was Mary Catherine Kennedy, whose married name was Wolfe. Helen continued to have a love for music throughout the rest of her life, and although she never learned to play an instrument or read music, she often sang as she worked around the house. She always had the perfect song to sing for any occasion to prove a lesson to her children.

When Helen was 12, the family relocated first to “B” Street in Elwood, where their grandma Mary Rose Fry Warner lived, then to Alexandria, Indiana, where they resided at 218 West Tyler Street. She remembered having sock hop dances on the new hardwood floors her father laid in this house, to help polish the floors after coats of varnish were added to them. She lived in this house until she was married.

Helen was very successful in business courses in high school, working in the school office as a student aide and being chosen as a member of the National Honor Society. She worked as kitchen help at the Colonaide, the beautiful building which still stands on State Road 9. She would walk the 2 miles to and from work each day for a meager wage, although sometimes the girls would share their tips if she could clear the dishes away quickly for them.

As a girl, she met and developed a crush on her neighbor Robert Brobst who had a crush on Helen’s cousin Roberta. Eventually, the romance worked out, and Robert and Helen were married at the home of Reverend Bigler at the corner of Water and Clinton Streets in Alexandria. Helen wore a lavender silk dress that she had made. She always wondered, however, if the marriage was legal as the minister insisted on calling Robert “Paul” throughout the marriage ordinance. Only Violet, Leona, and Winona Brobst attended the wedding because Lewis Heffner thought his older daughter should get married first.

The weather was cold and terrible on that January day, and after the ceremony the newlywed couple walked the mile from the preacher’s house to Loren and Opal’s house at 406 Walnut to spend the honeymoon night. Helen took a terrible chill which results in one of the worst colds she ever experienced in her life. She kept apologizing to her new husband and the next day they walked back to Roe Avenue and his family home. He made her a hot toddy that night, the first she had ever had alcohol, and she thought she hear trains rushing through the room. But the drink did its job and she slept through the night, awaking the next morning miraculously cured.

Over the next 45 years, Helen raised their four children (Robert Lewis, Beverly Sue, Donald Eugene, and Lu Ann), worked at Robert’s side at Brobst Photos Supplies, and developed her talents, which included cooking, sewing, embroidery, crochet, cross stitch, and writing poetry, but she never learned to drive a car. The one time she gave it a try, she became upset when she didn’t turn the car in the right place at the corner, which resulted in a chewing out from her instructor. Once she parked the car back home she said, “You can have the wheel. I’m done trying.” I think she later regretted that decision, but there was no way late in life she was going to try again.

Helen was the family historian and kept in touch with cousins on both sides of the family. She loved to read. After she lost Robert, whom she called “my best friend,”she traveled with her youngest child, Lu Ann, to Florida and Utah where she finally moved. She died there in 1995 from complications due to Alzheimer’s disease.

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