My sister ‘Benj’

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 30, 2003

We were eight. At the time when I was growing up this was a very average sized family. Bernice Cecilia Coyne, called &uot;Benj,&uot; sometimes Bengie, was number six. We had a number seven but it would be 19 years before number eight was born. That would be Brother Richard born in June 1937, the same June I was graduating from teacher’s college. My Dad came alone -mother was busy birthing. Dad and I came home from Salem, Mass. (where the witches played) to find he’d evened out the boy count. It now read four boys and four girls.

But back to sister Benj. She was strange growing up (weren’t we all?) She worried about things that might happen. A real &uot;but what if,&uot; or &uot;suppose it…&uot; We always talked her out of things so the &uot;suppose&uot; and &uot;what ifs&uot; went by the board.

Brother Bud had a close friend – close as a brother. He got nicknamed &uot;Beef&uot; He was big! I don’t think any of us knew his actual name. Well, Beef became a Coyne. He started the day with breakfast at my house and also any meals that followed. As he felt like a Coyne he changed Benj’s name to Bengie and it stuck. No one questioned his right. Crazy family? But, of course.

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Well, Bengie grew up. She was pretty, very lively and she was so loved! Add to this, she was the best-dressed girl in the sophomore class in Somerville High. How come? I was now a full-fledged teacher and had clothes you could die for. I kept them locked in a special closet. Bengie talked Beef into getting a key for said closet. I left for my job before Benj left for school. I found out when a fellow teacher admired a suit I was wearing and remarked her sister said Benj had a lovely wool dress with mink pockets. Her sister was in Benj’s class and was jealous of all the outfits she wore! My hard-earned money made Benj the belle of the ball as it were. Sister or no sister we straightened it out and I didn’t have to kill her.

Now it was WWII and I chaired a dance at the Parker House for the military. I got as many teachers as I could (most going steady – not interested) so in desperation I asked Benj if she’d come. Did she ever! She met an adorable sailor from New Jersey. Couple of years and they married. Benj vowed she wanted six children – got them – all girls! Smart, too. One became a major in the Air Force. Years later, one owned her own company. So &uot;what if&uot; and &uot;suppose&uot; had a great life and happy kids. She still is.

This is Benj – you’d love her. Just keep her out of your closets. Year ago there was a successful show called,

&uot;My Sister Eileen&uot; – couldn’t come close to the real thing – Benj!

Florence Arena is a resident of Hillcrest Retirement Center and a regular News-Herald columnist.