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Rest in peace Mary Janice Colegrove Wickwire Bjornsen. Her obituary will be in the Syracuse Post Standard on Sunday.

coupleMy mother had been in a "rehabilitation center" not being rehabilitated for several years. The last time I visited her was in Aug. 2011 for her birthday; she was 82 then. She was 84 on her last birthday. I last spoke to her on the phone in Jan. but she didn't appear to be in a mood to talk (or state to hold a conversation).

I wish i could say she lived a good life, but mental illness struck her in her teen years and it was always a struggle for her. She wanted to be a good mother, but was not able to. Her second husband, whom I call "Ozzie", gave her many good years - at least 20 or 25 of them were good and we saw them once or twice a year most years during those good times. My mother asked me to write "her memoirs" which were just a few stories she shared with me:


A story that was often told was that at age 3, when my mother was hanging up clothes, I kept taking out clean clothes from the basket. My mother kept telling me to stop but I kept doing it. So my mother hit me and then I lay on the floor & went into a tantrum. Mother had never seen anything like that so she went to get my father who had a good rapport with me and got me to stop. From that time on, my mother was reluctant to hit me or discipline me and would always call my father if I wouldn't do what my mother wanted. I'd do it right away when my father asked (raising his voice slightly), though I wasn't afraid of him.

I remember having measles at about age 5, because Esther, my sister, was working and not living at home. She would come to visit on weekends and had brought home the virus. Don and Phil got it at the same time. They put them on cots in the living room and mother and Aunt Nell nursed them. It was an unusual experience for them to all be sick at the same time. Phil, being a young teenager, was concerned about the lack of privacy.

Aunt Nell lived upstairs and would sometimes make clothes for me. By the age of about 11, I didn't want to wear hand-made clothing. I wanted to wear what everyone else was wearing. I took Mother to every clothing store in town to find just the right outfits. Mother wasn't very pleased about it.

Mother had learned to sew at home like everyone else at that time.  When she was a teenager, she wasn't very good at sewing, so she went to the Ag-tech school, which was a two-year college, to learn sewing and other home-ec-type classes for the full 2 yrs.
1936 class
When I was 8, we went to a cottage on Cuba Lake, which was more like a house. We went with another family, the Pommanters, who had a boy, Keith who was about 10. We had a great time racing, playing in the shallow part of a lake, and we went on a carousel. It was my first vacation. Then the next year, we went again. I remember waking up on the floor where my father put me while I was sleeping because there weren't enough beds. My dad often worked nights so he couldn't always be there.

When I was 9, we went to the lake cottage again with another family with a son, Phillip Woodruff.  We didn't have many common interests, but he took me fishing. That was the first time I ever went fishing with someone besides my father. We caught several fish.

The first time we went to the lake, Keith & I had clip-on skates & went to the rink in the park. I think it may have been closed the following year.

I'd go with my parents to different families' houses where we'd play the card game, 500. At about age 12, I played in Keith's bedroom with trains, but my mother didn't approve. She made me come out of the bedroom and play board games in the living room where we could be watched.

Phil took care of someone's plough horse and Father agreed to keep it there for a while. I didn't really ride on the horse and never had the opportunity to ride a real riding horse. We didn't ever own one because they're too expensive and too much work.

Our friends were mostly farmers whereas my father only did farming part-time. We always had chickens, cows, and dogs. I enjoyed living on a "farm" (it wasn't a real farm because we didn't sell, except occasionally eggs). I also enjoyed riding the school bus. I was pampered because I was the baby and the only one home during the war years. Phil went into the service and Don worked as a machinist. Don worked on a thruway and lived at home, but was hardly ever there since he worked a lot.

I always wanted to do things my older brothers did, like use rifles. I wasn't yet 12 when my brothers helped teach me to shoot a BB gun that used to belong to my brother-in-law (Steve Simon). My mother was concerned I'd have an accident. I seemed to worry my mother a lot.

My first boyfriend at age 17 was Ray who was 25. He played guitar, accordion, and violin. His father was also musical and Ray taught himself how to play most of the instruments. He played at square dances and took odd jobs which changed frequently. He preferred jobs with music if he could find them. One year he worked in a place that made leather-like seat covers. My parents didn't approve of my dating a much older guy and someone who didn't have an ambition to do work that made much money. His parents divorced and he went back and forth between parents as he did with jobs. So I felt he wasn't very stable.

Altogether, I dated Ray for over a year. He had a job delivering "pop" (what we called "soda") and would stop by to ask me out, but I didn't want to. He had a temper and was jealous, too, which I didn't like. He once thought I was flirting with his two married brothers. I may have been teasing them a bit, but I thought they were safe since they were married. I didn't like Ray being over-protective.

I didn't have a boyfriend before I was 17, because there weren't any boys around I was interested in. Though when I was 15, a young man, maybe age 22 or 23, in seminary was interested in me. I met him at church. He held the Bible-study class I was in. Mother discouraged the relationship, so I never really got the opportunity to know him.

I liked boys at school, but mostly as friends. One boy, Royce, I was especially fond of, but Father told me that he was not like other boys - he was a foster child, so he discouraged the relationship. Then he left the school. I was real bashful any way, so I never really got to know him well.

When Phil came home from WWII and he saw a picture of me with one of his hats & a tom-boyish outfit, he said he couldn't believe how much I looked like him.

When I finished high school, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, though Mother encouraged me to continue my education in a school such as Ag-tech. I was considering it while I was working when I met Don. I was also thinking about becoming a nurse.

I started dating Dhighschool graduationon when he was a student and was out of the service. I was working in a grocery store and a school friend of mine knew his roommate. I'd seen him play piano in a church-owned building with a lounge where I went to read during my one and a half hour lunch break. He used to eat at the campus cafeteria where I would also go to eat lunch, because it was near the grocery store.

We dated a few times, going to movies and double-dated with college friends. I invited him to dinner and Mother liked him.

I was in a mental hospital about 3 mos. before we got married. Esther's husband, Steve, was too fond of me and I was confused about it. I was upset about what happened when Steve brought me home from a visit and I confided in Steve for comfort and it turned into more than talk. Esther had been upset with me for Don coming with me to visit and our fooling around when they were trying to sleep. I was considering suicide by starvation. I clammed-up and refused to talk or eat. I couldn't cope with the idea of having a relationship with a family member.

Don asked me to marry him after I got out of the hospital. I felt it was because he knew the cause of my being upset. [Wedding photo]

I continued to work until I was pregnant with Carol. Don said I could continue my education when the children were grown.

When Carol was a baby, she was afraid of Phil and cried. She never did take to Phil and thinks she has an aversion to a particular type of man. It made Phil feel bad because he liked children. She liked Don & her father, though.

After Carol was born, I went into the hospital again. Each time I had electric shock treatment and had to bite on a padded stick. Mother took care of Carol. Metrosol treatments with needles were given to me in the hospital, too, which later I found out was probably not safe. I didn't know I was manic-depressive.

The first time the family went camping was Memorial Day 1955. It was pouring rain when we pitched the tent. We had to tie Joyce, who was not yet 2, to a tree to keep track of her and she screamed the whole time. We never took a baby or toddler camping again.

I would always get worried when the kids wondered out of sight when we were camping, but Don assured me that it was OK. It was good for them to learn independence.

My brother, Don, came to live with us. He was active and liked babysitting for us. The kids always liked him. He came to live with us because he finished the job on the thruway and got a job at Carrier in Syracuse. My husband, Don, liked him. He was quiet but got along with people well. Don, my brother, was in the hospital for a while after a car accident and he lost his license, so he had to move to the city. He never tried to get his license back. He later married Vera and she did all the driving.

We moved to Lysander because Don preferred the kids start school where they would be moved up to an advanced group if they were an advanced learner, but he didn't want to live so close they'd have to walk to school. [Some family photos from the 1950s in no particular order - some not pertinent to her life.]

The last time I was in the hospital before leaving the family, which was the third time I was in the hospital, I was pregnant with Karen (1961). I went on my own accord because I wasn't coping. [Some family photos from the 1960s in no particular order - some not pertinent to her life.]

I read a lot and tried to find out about my illness after the first hospital stay. Don said the doctor told him I was "over-sexed" which I thought meant "nymphomaniac". I believed that was true. I had a desire for other men. I felt really bad about my illness and didn't want my children to be without a mother. I couldn't understand why I couldn't get through it without a doctor's help.

I was only in hospitals less than a couple of months each time. I didn't know it was manic-depression until just before I met Ozzie. I didn't know much about manic depression. When I was in the hospital in 1961, Don talked to the doctor and was told that this would probably be an on-going problem. Don didn't think it was a good idea for me to come home. I don't remember much about what happened when I got out of the hospital.

I saw a psychiatrist (psychoanalyst) once or twice a week after the hospital stay in 1961, but lived at home. There were a lot of things going through my mind and I was unhappy with things Don said to me. When I left the family, I lived in a boarding house operated or funded by the state. The time in between leaving home and marrying Ozzie was a nightmare.

I flew into New York City to visit the family in 1973 (photos at Cloisters), which was right before I met Ozzie. I remember going to a kosher deli in lower Manhattan where the bakery had a big strawberry cheesecake, but they didn't allow us to eat it there in the restaurant.


I later added that she was proud of her Avon President awards. She was an Avon representative for many years, especially during the 1980s and 1990s.

Note: Memorial slideshow here

1975.00.00 Janice