By Jane Swingle
Our grandparents Charles Petersen and Anna Kenney were married in 1913 and had three children. Their son, John Anthony, was born in 1917 and lived for 10 days. Their daughter, Marie Gertrude, our mother, was born in 1919 and has been living for 100 years. Mary Catherine was born in 1920 and lived for 24 hours.
Marie, who eventually married to become Marie Mack, always wanted a sibling and was told as a child that if she put salt on a windowsill, she would get a brother and if she put sugar on a windowsill she would get a sister. She said she remembers that at one time she had sugar or salt on 11 windowsills. Unfortunately for Marie, she remained an only child, and Jan. 18 of this year she celebrated her 100th birthday. A surprise birthday party was held for her Jan. 27 with over 90 guests in attendance.
She was loved dearly by her father who in 1898 joined the Navy during the Spanish-American War at the age of 15. She remembers him having a dry sense of humor (we’re sure she herself got this from him). He was a good cook and she always looked forward to a batch of potatoes, eggs and onions after work. Her dad loved coming out to Long Island to vacation and in 1928, when Marie was 10 years old, he bought the house in which she currently resides. They had spent their summers in the same house beginning in 1924, the same house that was the Mount Sinai Post Office and General Store from 1908 until 1922.
Her mother was very different from her father. She was very melancholic most of the time unless she was taking the Putnam Avenue trolley to downtown Brooklyn to go shopping. She crocheted beautiful baby outfits for her grandchildren and loved going to the movies. Marie said her mother had a beautiful smile and always wondered why she didn’t smile more often.
They lived at 83 Saratoga Ave. in Brooklyn in what was known as the “Railroad Flats” where they paid a monthly rent of $25. As a child she remembers the iceman delivering blocks of ice two to three times a week to keep their food cold. Milk was delivered at 4 a.m. and they had dumbwaiters so they didn’t have to carry everything upstairs. They lived on the third floor and once Marie even put our sister Elizabeth, “Betty,” in the dumbwaiter so she didn’t have to carry her up all those stairs.
In 1934 Marie saw our future dad, John Howard Rogers, working in a candy store and continued to eyeball him until they finally started dating in 1935. They went to their first prom at the Hotel George and she remembers wearing a pink taffeta long gown, silver shoes and our dad gave her her first corsage. They continued to see each other and in 1941 they were married and had their reception at her home on Saratoga Avenue. Our sister Ann Marie was born in December 1942, but our dad left soon after she was born for the Pacific front in April 1943. He did not see his daughter again until 1945 when he returned from the war. During the time that he was away our mother moved back in with her parents — she had only 35 cents to her name. She became an air raid warden and was given a certificate for selling war bonds.
When dad returned from the war, they became very busy making a family and in 1946 Elizabeth was born, followed by Nancy in 1951, Jane in 1953, John in 1954 and Thomas in 1956. With this expanding family they could no longer live in Brooklyn so they moved to Woodhaven in 1948, then to Rockville Centre in 1962 and eventually to Mount Sinai in 1968.
When asked when her favorite years were, Marie told us during the 1950s when she was raising her children. She got us through chicken pox, measles, mumps, ear infections, the teen years and the death of our father in 1969. She went back to work in 1970 at the Probation Department in Yaphank and remained there until 1977 when she married Bernard Mack. She again lived in Woodhaven for a short time after they were married but moved back to her home in Mount Sinai.
In 1996 when going into her attic to open a window she fell through the ceiling and shattered her knee, which required surgery and many months of rehabilitation. During this time Bernard passed away, but she rallied around again with her children pushing her to recover and get well.
She often wonders why she has lived so long. On many occasions she has said: “I’m not good enough to go to heaven, not bad enough to go to hell, so I guess I’m still here to torment all of you.”
When we think about her life spanning 100 years, we are astounded with all the changes that she has experienced in her lifetime. She was born before most people had electricity in their homes. She remembers gas lamps still being used, when there was no TV, no computers, no cellphones and when it cost 2 cents to mail a letter. She has lived through the Great Depression, World War II, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, 9/11 and 18 presidents. She was even born before they started slicing bread in 1928.
She credits her long life to her family for keeping her – in her words – “Alive, alert and stimulated.” She’s had many bumps along the way, especially the passing of our brother John and our sister Ann Marie, but she’s always had a positive attitude and has always wished our father could have been with her to share this journey. What amazes all of us is her incredible memory – she remembers names of friends when she was a child, teachers’ names, games she played, street names where she used to live, movies, actors, books she read and all the places she has ever worked. As a child she enjoyed going to Coney Island for hot dogs, the hurdy-gurdy man who played the accordion with his monkey, putting hot bricks in her bed at night to warm her feet and attending the World’s Fairs in both 1939 and 1964.
When asked what important lessons she wanted to pass on to her children, her 12 grandchildren and her eight great-grandchildren, she told us to always remember how important family is, to be respectful, considerate and always take the time to listen. She was the best teacher of these lesson and we couldn’t have asked for a better mother.
Jane Swingle is a resident of Norwich and echoes the sentiments of her siblings, Betty Mulligan, Nancy Rogers and Tom Rogers. Their mother Marie Mack has lived in Mount Sinai for close to 50 years.