The USPS has issued Forever stamps commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of Air Mail. The first route, which commenced in August 1918, connected Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York.
My mother Helen Louise Henry was born on August 8, 1933 at New York Hospital, the second of four siblings. She is predeceased by her sisters Peg and Irene, survived by her brother Bill.
Helen’s early education took place at the St. Catherine of Siena school and St. Thomas Aquinas high school. At Hunter College, she obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Physiology which served her well in subsequent editorial positions at a start-up called MediVisuals (they were pioneers in the high-tech field of overhead transparencies) and trade publications with sexy names such as Dental Laboratory News. Later in her professional career, she worked in administrative and development capacities for an eclectic mix of nonprofits, including the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the American Psychoanalytic Association, and The Collectors Club (a hub for postage aficionados). She also volunteered for local Democratic political organizations, and most memorably for the Mondale/Ferraro ticket in 1984. In her collegiate alumnae/i directory, Helen listed her occupation as Fundraiser.
She married in 1956, and raised three wonderful kids: Thomas, Ruth, and Elizabeth. She was a good mother, loved her children, and did the best job she could under sometimes trying circumstances. After her divorce, I was pleased when Helen chose to reclaim her maiden name. She is also survived by three wonderful grandchildren: Oona, James, and Connor.
When I think about my mother’s defining characteristics, foremost among them was her identification as a New Yorker. It existed mostly in the background, like cosmic radiation, but as indelibly as a clear sky is blue. She saw the city in herself as something splendid, special, sophisticated, cosmopolitan and worldly. Manhattan born and bred, the City was the center of her universe: the only place she’d ever wanted to live, the place her ashes will be spread in Central Park per her wishes.
Helen was a gourmet: a curious and intrepid sampler of international cuisines, with a palate that could withstand the spiciest Hunan pepper, Ethiopian wat, and Indian vindaloo. While her comfort foods were fried pork dumplings, Mu Shu pork, and barbequed spare ribs, her first love was lobster, which was often requited at the inimitable El Quijote restaurant in Chelsea whose Lobster Special (washed down with an icy pitcher of red sangria) became, over time, the go-to venue for family celebrations large and small.
She will be remembered for her love of cats and crossword puzzles, prime-time quiz shows and Antiques Roadshow, late-night comics, and staying up late in general. She was usually up for a game of Monopoly or Scrabble, and, in later life, she played a lot of Bridge. Helen loved to laugh and entertain.
She loved words, and was an avid reader. Her subscription to the The New York Times was especially important to her.
Toward the end of her life, breathing and speaking became laborious for Helen. When I spoke with her, I often came armed with stories or jokes so as not to leave our calls and visits punctuated by awkward silences. There’s one joke I never got to tell her. I’m going to tell it now.
Helen died early on the afternoon of June 9th. Several hours later, a horse named Justify won the Triple Crown. After the victory, Donald Trump invited the Triple Crown winner to visit the White House. But the horse turned Trump’s invitation down, saying “If I wanted to see a horse’s ass, I would’ve come in second.”
Helen, I hope you’re laughing.