These pictures of our parents were taken in the 1940s, a few years before their marriage. Curran Dempsey is shown at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, where he was the captain of the cross country team. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Gonzaga University. He worked for the Washington Water Power his entire career, first as a draftsman and then as a professional electrical engineer.
Carmela Scarcello was valedictorian at Rathdrum High School, not to mention a scrappy softball player known as "the slugger." She couldn't afford to go onto college when she was 18, but was determined to be educated. She left the family farm to work at Fort Wright in Spokane and then enrolled in the Sacred Heart School of Nursing (see graduation photo left).
Mom enjoyed working at Sacred Heart Hospital part-time in the maternity department for many years. She started college after her older children did, earned a teaching degree and became a special education teacher. After earning an additional degree in school psychology, she returned to nursing, her first love. She retired as a psychiatric nurse manager at Eastern Washington State Hospital in Medical Lake.
At the 40-year reunion of Sacred Heart Nursing School, Mom said her proudest achievements were her seven children and the fact that they were all college graduates.
Our parents grew up during the Depression, survived many adversities and came of age during World War II. Neither Mom nor Dad had parents who were college graduates, but credit them for their interest in learning. They explained that their parents had grown up in harsh times and had to go to work at an early age. They wanted their children to enjoy the educations they never received.
Mom remembers that her father, Tony, after completing his many duties on the farm, would teach himself English by studying his children's schoolbooks at night. When she had trouble in typing class and worried about wasting paper, he would reassure her and tell her to use as much paper as she liked.
"I'll buy your a whole truckload," he would say.
Dad's mother had been a legal secretary before her marriage. She would have continued afterward, but her husband got jealous of her handsome boss and burned her shoes (a story that is either funny or tragic, depending upon who's telling it).
Dad's father never had the chance to go to college, because he had to leave school to work in the family hotel, but he made sure that his son had that opportunity.
Dad considers Darwin's Origin of the Species to be ordinary reading material and is a whiz at crossword puzzles. He read fairy tale and adventure books to us at bedtime when we were little. When we got older, he hauled out the Bible and books like Worlds in Collision, which explains how the parting of the Red Sea and many Biblical events could have occurred in real life. Dad was also our math tutor, ready to help any child who needed it, especially when it came to the dreaded geometry.
Dad and Mom always stressed the importance of family and education. Getting bad grades? Thinking about dropping out of college? Not speaking to a sibling? No way. You would hear from them and pretty soon would mend your ways.
Our parents met one long-ago summer day at Twin Lakes, Idaho. Dad was 12; Mom, 10. He was out fishing and got to talking to her brother Henry on the "Foote dock." Mom happened to be there, a skinny girl with a shy smile.
"I was a tomboy," she says, "so he liked that. I would go into the water and swim. That day I had tucked a piece of syringa into the top of my bathing suit, and he pointed that out and laughed. I was embarrassed, so I snuck into the water and took it off."
There were nine kids in her family. Dad was an only child who often felt lonely at the lake. So he started hanging out with the Scarcellos, stopping by the family farm to enjoy Grandma's famous spaghetti and bask in Mom's beauty.
After a tumultuous courtship, involving comical misunderstandings and dramas worthy of Shakespeare, they got married. Their children gave them a 50th-anniversary party at the farm a few years back, and they're still going strong.
Twin Lakes is still our family meeting place. Back when Dad met Mom, he was staying with his grandmother in the little Dempsey log cabin that still stands today on the hill above the lake. The Dempseys sold it years ago, and subsequent owners added a sundeck and electritiy. The new owners merged it with an adjoining property and, alas, use it as a garage.
The older children in our family can remember summers in that dark little one-room cabin, with kerosense lamps, Indian corn hanging from the ceiling, faded Persian carpets on the floor and chamber pots to use at night. Later we moved from that mysterious ghost-ridden place a couple of doors down to our present one-acre property, which has a much longer beach and a beautiful meadow.
Our folks bought the new property for $3,500 from the family of a homesteader called Mr. Nicky, a longtime friend of the Scarcello's. It had 1 3/4 acres. For years Mom and Dad managed to cram all their kids into Mr. Nicky's house, even when they had so many that it took two cars to ferry us all off to Mass.
The "new cabin" consisted of a log cabin with a wonderful stone fireplace and rickety porches built all around. A skunk lived underneath, chipmunks scrambled across the attic. A huge fir tree filled with termites, a field full of grasshoppers, an apple orchard and many other things fascinated the children. Although rickety, it was a step up from the Dempsey cabin, because it had running water and electricity.
Even though the price was a bargain, our parents worried about how to pay it. This meant no money for a motor boat. "We are lake people, not boat people," Dad would say with pride, as he put us through our swim laps every morning. We were the best-conditioned kids on the entire lake, with really great tans.
Every year our Braunstein and D'Ambrosia cousins would come up from Portland for a two-week stay. For the first few days we would engage in turf battles and other ridiculous quarrels at the lake and farm, and then settle down and have fun together.
Luckily, our Uncle Henry, used to show up with his boat and give us all water-skiing lessons. He was a sweet-natured man with twinkly blue eyes and a big smile. He died in his early forties, far too soon, and we all miss him.
We miss our Uncle Sam too, tall and dignified, with neatly combed black hair and a calm manner. He always thought before he spoke and whatever he said would be wise and sympathetic. He was lucky enough to marry an Italian girl, our Aunt Ann. An elegant woman with big dark eyes, perfectly put together, who always wore pretty dresses to our potlucks.
We now have a new cabin on the beach, where the family gathers each year. The old cabin up on the hill is just a pile of rubble, with only the old stone fireplace to mark the spot.
And we finally have a motorboat. Our brother Curran bought the famous bright green Bosch boat from three docks down, a dream boat we used to admire from afar when we were kids. Every year we have a big reunion at the lake, with as many of our children as we can round up. What could be better than that?