What She Put Together Has Stayed Together

Nancy Ruth Goodwill Knight Bonavita died on March 2, one day shy of her 72nd birthday.

She had given birth to three of the children who gathered during her final illness. I am the birth father for two of them. However, six surviving children were, rightly, listed in her obituary.

During our 28 years of marriage, spent in DuBois and in Warren, our “blended” family had been put together from both of our previous marriages. Our attitude, taken from the shining examples set by our own parents with respect to “instant” grandchildren when we married, was, “Let’s not talk ‘step-this,’ and ‘step-that;’ If we have to do their dirty laundry, watch them empty our refrigerator, get them gifts on Christmas and on their birthdays, they are just ‘children’.”

Back in the early 1970s, Nancy and daughter Theresa had been moving on after the death of an older daughter, Maria, and a divorce.

Naturally, they attended Easter egg hunts, parades, swims. There, she kept bumping into me; we had dated as high school classmates. She also bumped into Chris, Mike and Matt, ages 8, 6 and 4, with Matt the same age as her daughter Theresa. These were my sons, being raised by me after my own divorce.

Nancy and I got married. Her family went from one sweet, shy daughter to four children, the three rambunctious, noisy, teasing and sometimes argumentative boys generating noise from before dawn to well past dusk.

She raised those three boys plus her daughter. In time, another son and another daughter were born to the two of us. She raised them all.

That son, Greg, was born on an October morning. After the obligatory new-father tasks, I went to work.

“You had better come back to the hospital,” Nancy said. “There’s something wrong.”

That “something” turned out to be not wrong, but still devastating. Greg has Down syndrome, a chromosomal defect that would lead, we were told, to significant mental and physical disabilities.

Me, I staggered around, whined and had a “Why me, God?” pity party for two full months.

Nancy simply asked the nurse to bring her baby to her. She held him in bed, bonded, and with no further fuss, set about raising Greg, plus Chris, Mike and Matt, plus Theresa and, four years later, Natalie.

Nancy wasn’t a perfect wife, wasn’t a perfect mother, just as I was far from perfect. There is a reason why “The Brady Bunch” iconic TV sitcom of the early ’70s is fiction. Our “blend” was, at times, as hilarious as were the antics of that TV family – and at other times, contentious, tense, the way of real-life families.

I was a doofus during many of those years. Left to my own devices, I would have been a loudmouthed martinet raising puppetkids bullied into sullen silence.

Not Nancy. Kids are people, she felt and she committed herself and influenced me to raise them all as best we could.

With crucial help from my mother and Nancy’s folks, we followed their example. Nancy’s mother, Ruth Goodwill, put it succinctly: “We just got more grandchildren, that’s all.” Never mind that the three boys weren’t genetically linked; never mind that Greg had been genetically wounded. On weekends, holidays, birthdays, our parents didn’t do the “step-this” or “step-that” routine. Led by that example, neither did our children’s aunts, uncles or cousins.

We were just family.

That took a huge amount of work. Nancy met the challenge each day. There was no respite from laundry, child-chauffeuring, dispute refereeing. Whenever she got scarce time to herself, she was inclined to sit quietly, knitting or reading. That quiet time would regularly be shattered because someone’s socks did not match, or brothers became bumptious, or the “paterfamilias” was making a federal case out of a misdemeanor.

Through it all, Nancy was … there. She got the family to church, smoothed disputes, mothered them as best she did.

Decades later, when all those children had grown up, our marriage came apart. Nancy moved from DuBois back to Warren. We went our separate ways, civilly.

That happens. But what stayed for those six children and their own children is – family. Six children had seen Nancy at school plays, dance recitals, baseball games, weddings, the birthdays of their own children. Now 30-something and 40-something, they converged as her final illness took its toll.

At her funeral, there were brothers and sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews – and children. No “step-this” or “step-that.” It wasn’t a totally unruffled idyll, of course; bumptiousness ‘r’ us. There were, I am told, laughter, tears, a strained exchange or two among extended family. That happens.

Though Nancy died earlier this month, the family she nurtured through those decades endures, and will live on for generations to come.

It doesn’t need to be perfect to have been successful.

Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: denny2319@windstream.net.