By Matt Walker | February 22, 2013 | 5 Comment
Oh boy did she laugh. If I were to describe my Aunt Marie to you because you weren’t sure who she was, but you thought you met her before, I would just mention “the laugh” and you would know in an instant.
Marie Dechon was my Aunt. If I described to you how she was my Aunt, you would try and correct me and say, “well, she wasn’t your REAL Aunt”, but you would be wrong. By some stroke of amazing luck I was fortunate enough to be a part of this woman’s life, and this great family’s lives. I believe it started back in the 70’s when my Uncle Bill (my father’s only brother) passed away. His good friend and fellow New York City Police Officer Charlie Dechon had become friendly with my father and mentioned making a visit to the vacation home that he had built with his bare hands in the Pocono’s. The Dechon’s and my fathers family were from Marine Park Brooklyn, and if you know anything about Marine Park, you would know that being from there and being a Police Officer essentially meant you were family.
Our first trip to the Dechon’s was in the late seventies when I was only in diapers. Our family along with my cousins the Gaffney’s would all pick a weekend each year in the winter and stay with Aunt Marie and Uncle Charlie. I don’t think anyone thought that a simple trip to their house would turn into a 20-year tradition, but I was so thankful it did. The Dechon house in the Pocono’s to me was like heaven. They had a lake with only a few other houses on it, one general store and most of the roads were just dirt. In the winter there was skiing, ice skating and anything you could think of from a rustic ski town. In the summer they had swimming, boating, a fun resort next store named “Fernwood” where we would get ice cream, buy comic books, play arcade games and sneak into the indoor pools by saying we were guests. For people that lived in the city, the Pocono’s was the country back then. It might as well have been Alaska, even though now people actually commute to work to Manhattan there daily. It would be like going to rural Vermont nowadays, even though now it feels almost like an extension of New York or New Jersey with all of the traffic lights, strip malls and basic daily living amenities that never existed back then.
Growing up in a cop’s family with a mother who was a housewife meant we didn’t really have much money. Most of the kids I knew growing up in Mahopac would do ski trips with their families or wildwood or Hawaii for vacation, but we could never afford any of that. For us, our vacation was the Pocono’s at Aunt Marie and Uncle Charlie’s. If it weren’t for their generous hospitality and allowing us the privilege of enjoying their family vacation home, we wouldn’t have ever had a vacation. What started as a simple weekend once a year grew into us going for a summer visit, then my Dad dropping us off to spend a week with Aunt Marie while the husbands stayed at home to work. It is truly remarkable to me to this day that a family that barely knew us when it all started opened their homes and their hearts to us like that. It wasn’t like they didn’t have any family of their own. Aunt Marie had six children, and their kids had kids my age and younger. There were a million good reasons why they shouldn’t have had time for us, but they always did. They were always there.
My personal favorite times with the Dechon’s would be the summer visits. We would spend a week there and it was usually just my Mom, my sister Jean, Aunt Marie and me so we got a lot of one on one time with her. I remember the summer of ’85 when I was in fifth grade, Aunt Marie and my Mom took me to see ”Back to the Future” in Stroudsburg, or the summer when Aunt Marie and my Mom took us to a drive in to see a double header of “Arthur” and then “Night Shift”. Night Shift was an “R” movie, so we were supposed to be asleep because we were still very young, but Jean and I snuck a speaker box into the back seat and it was the first “R” movie we ever saw. When I think of most of my fun summer memories as a kid they are almost all at the Pocono’s.
What made the Pocono’s so great though wasn’t all the swimming or ice-skating or any of those things, it was Aunt Marie. She was such an incredible person. She had such a presence. She was such a beacon of happiness, love and insight that you just always wanted to be around her. You wanted to make her proud, but even more you wanted to make her laugh. She had the most amazing and infectious laugh I ever heard. The only way to describe it was that her laugh was “huge”. I know that may sound odd, but to anyone who ever heard it, they know what I mean. It was this booming “huh-HA-HA-HA!” that would echo across the lake and down the road. When you would go hiking or for long walks you knew you were close because you could hear her laugh. As soon as you heard it, you would get a rush of warm feelings and a smile would immediately cross your face. When you could make her laugh at one of your jokes, you felt like the funniest man in the world, but more importantly you felt love.
As my cousin Jen would say: “Aunt Marie= that laugh, those amazing hugs you felt wonderfully tiny in despite how big you were, feeling like YOU were her favorite (turns out we all secretly thought that), the way she just exuded joy in spite of how tough life is (something I wish came as naturally to me as it did to her.) Everyone should have had an Aunt Marie. Matt, my Dad said Charlie said that she had such special family & friends who passed before her that instead of having to follow the light when it was her time, all she had to do was follow the laughter.”
And what Jen said is so true. I did think I was her favorite (I am still pretty sure I was 🙂 ). For a young boy from the age of 6 until college, I would sit and talk to her forever. I always wanted to get her take on things. Religion, politics, life… it was all going to be a perspective that I had never heard before. I came from a very conservative Irish Catholic upbringing and for the first time in my life, here was this amazing warm loving woman that I knew was inherently good telling me things I never heard of before. You COULD be a good catholic and not go to church every week. You COULD have your kids go to Woodstock and that didn’t mean they were bad people. You COULD think differently than everyone else you knew and still be a good person. You were judged by your actions and your character, not your opinions. I was never exposed to thinking like that before. I always thought that if you didn’t think exactly the way you were taught to think you were wrong and you weren’t a good catholic, or you weren’t a good person. I remember sitting with her son Charlie who was almost my parents age and talking to him about hunting. He told me something to the effect of “I was in Vietnam, I fought other men with guns, why would I want to shoot an unarmed deer?” and I remember at that moment my whole world changed. Here was this manly man, who fought in war and he didn’t hunt. I thought all men hunted. I thought only liberals were against hunting, how can this happen? What a strange idea to me at a young age that we spent years with this Irish Police family and they didn’t believe EXACTLY what my family did. For someone like myself who has always questioned things, it was a huge revelation that you could question things, come up with different solutions and still be a good person! All of that came from Aunt Marie. She was so open minded and encouraged you to be open minded. Not only could she fill you with love and laughter, she challenged me to think for myself. She let me know that it was ok to disagree. I am sure if my Mom found out it was Aunt Marie who made me question every little thing my family did and basically become a pain in the ass, she would say “Marie?!” and I could picture Aunt Marie smile.
To my cousin Jen’s point, everyone should have an Aunt Marie. I feel terrible for anyone who didn’t. I drew a lot of confidence in my life from her when I chose a path less traveled. I try to preach her ideals to other people so they know it is ok to do things differently, just be a good person. Aunt Marie had a tough time the last few years when she lost her beloved Charlie. The two of them seemed like an old Fashioned Hollywood couple to me from the 50’s. Whenever I watch Mad Men or think of people having a “Night Out on the Town” from a golden Age, I think of the two of them having the time of their lives with the love of their life by their side. They were special people with so much love to give that they welcomed these extra families into their lives when they already had so many of their own. But she is with her beloved Charlie now and I can see her being joyous that she is finally back with her true love. I know she is happy.
I hope now Aunt Marie can look down on my 4 children from above and meet them. I hope she can see that I took her advice to heart and tried to bring the same ideas she taught me so many years ago. I hope she is proud of me and the man I am today, because I still want to be her favorite :).
I love you Marie Dechon. I am jealous that God gets to hear that laugh and maybe one day I can hear it again too. Rest in laughter.
Marie Dechon passed away February 22nd, 2013, at VNA Hospice House of Monroe County, East Stroudsburg, Pa. The daughter of Patrick and Eileen Murphy was born in Brooklyn, NY on December 6th, 1930. She was predeceased by her best friend and husband of 60 years, Charles J. Dechon Jr., her daughter, Susanne Marie Dechon and son, Michael Lawrence Dechon.
Life was an adventure and she enjoyed each moment to its fullest whether it was canoeing down the Amazon River, exploring the pyramids on camel back or walking the streets of Paris. Her heart and her home were always open and she could be picked out of any crowd just by listening for the sound of her laughter. There were few things in life that did not bring her joy, but nothing more so than her family and friends. Marie is survived by her sister, Eileen Meehan of Milwaukee, Wi, her children: Patricia Dechon of Lodi, NJ; Charles J. Dechon and his wife, Noreen of Ellenville, NY; James Dechon and his wife, Rosa, of Croton on Hudson, NY, Daniel Dechon and his wife, Monica of Pearl River, NY; Eileen Dechon of Bushkill, Pa.; her grandchildren: Colleen Dechon of Brooklyn, NY; Patrick Dechon and his wife, Adrienne, of Ellenville, NY, Michael Dechon of Ellenville, NY, Kellyann Dechon of Long Beach, NY, Christopher Dechon, of New York, NY, Kimberly Dechon of Pearl River, NY, Stephen Dechon of Ellenville, NY, Kayla Dechon of Croton on Hudson, NY; great grandchildren: Riley, Emma and Sullivan Dechon of Ellenville, NY and a large extended family of nieces, nephews, and friends.
I’ll be meeting with Pat & Eileen to finalize arrangement later today. The people at Hospice were absolutely amazing. They had been visiting Mom at the house prior to being taken into the Hospice and they all loved her and her sense of humor, so they doted on her and gave her that little extra care which meant so much to us as Mom had her final moments. We’ll keep you informed as things get finalized.
Love You All!