The Story of Helen and Frank, My Maternal Grandmother and Grandfather

My grandfather, Francis Stevens Joseph O’Connell, was born on February 6th, 1919 in Brockton, Massachusetts to parents Joseph Victor O’Connell and Isabelle Hunnewell. One of 6 siblings (Madeline/Maddie, Joseph/Jodie, Geraldine/Ged, Francis/Frank or Okie, George, and Marie) he grew up in a strict Irish Catholic household and all of the children attended parochial school.

At this time, the nuns who taught there were allowed to physically discipline their students. One day, Frank did something that was considered out of line and Sister Susan, a particularly tough nun, grabbed Frank, slapped him, and pushed him against the wall. In protest, he threw his hands up and pushed her away. This infuriated the sister and a note was sent home expelling all 3 of the O’Connell children who were in school at the time. After this incident, Frank attended the Goddard school, where he made fast friends with Eddie D’Amarino, my grandmother Helen’s brother. 

Frank and Eddie were in the same grade in school and only 2 days apart in age. They were the best of friends and often spent time together at each others houses. Helen fondly remembers Frank coming over to the D’Amarino house to trade a slice of cake for a hunk of Lucia’s homemade Italian bread.

Before long, Frank started to show interest in Helen, and he was now coming over to the house to visit with her more than Eddie. Soon enough, the 2 began to go steady and about a year later, Frank proposed to Helen on her birthday and they became engaged.

They set a wedding date for July 2nd, but there was one problem: Helen was 19 and Frank was only 20, and at the time, the legal age to be married was 18 for women and 21 for men. Because of this, Frank had to ask his father Joseph to sign for him so they could be wed, which he happily did.

They were married July 2, 1939 at St. Patrick’s Church in Brockton. The reception was at the D’Amarino house on Lawrence Street and Helen’s sister Angie was the maid of honor, and Frank’s brother Jodie the best man. They honeymooned in New England and visited Western Mass, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. When they returned home, they rented the first floor of a house on Lawrence Street, next door to where the D’Amarino family lived, for $15 a month. Their first child, Edward O’Connell, was born here.

Meanwhile, there were rumblings coming from Europe and people were talking about what was going to happen from the situation in Germany…

Frank’s First Communion

Joseph Victor O’Connell & Isabelle Hunnewell
Helen and Frank

Helen and Frank’s wedding day: July 2, 1939

Helen exiting the church on her wedding day

Frank in New Hampshire on their honeymoon

Helen on their honeymoon

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