UUFE’s Mary Dunlavey answers the Five Big Questions
Where were you raised, and how?
I was raised in a prison town, Attica, New York until age 10. It was my mother’s home; my dad was a city guy from Buffalo. It was a Leave-It-To-Beaver-type growing up. I was the third of four children. My mother worked at home and dad went off every day to work..to somewhere else. My mother’s family lived within a mile radius. The church was across the street, the small parochial school two blocks away. The only thing we knew about the prison was that it looked like an old castle and we used to ride our bikes or rollerskate around it. Much later on return trips to Attica, I came to realize how small, isolated, white, and confining this little farming community was, but at the time I felt the connectedness and safety of home. I didn’t mind moving to Syracuse at age 10 and couldn’t understand why my sister, 5 years older was distraught.
We took the compactness of Attica with us to Syracuse: church, school and family remained the focus. Traditional Catholics, the city was broken up into dioceses and friends knew each other by what church they attended. Family meals were routine, everyone had their tasks and my father seemed to have more than all of us together as he put the storm windows on each fall and took them down each spring, or painted a side of the 3-story home in the summertime. We colored Easter eggs and shoveled the snow as a family. When we finally got a TV, homework still had to get done before dinner and when the TV was on we watched it as a family, usually Ed Sullivan and others, on Sunday night. I still rode my bike in high school, still had piano to practice; we each knew we had college ahead of us.
Perhaps because my upbringing was so very 1950’s, when each individual in my world knew his or her place and the rules for everyone were considered ‘normal’ expectations, the exceptions that my parents made as relative liberals in THEIR private world, found a place to reside in mine. We began to have college students from foreign countries live with us, mom helped them with English, they helped with conversation around the dinner table. Hungarian refugees graced our home for English lessons, we visited a gay couple at their lake house, we had an interracial couple visit us at home, my folks helped a disadvantaged young man for many years. I got my first job at 15 with Sears Roebuck.
I’d like to think that my bubble world shattered and I instantly found a more colorful life, but it didn’t. But it WAS stretching without me even being aware of it.
How have you made your living?
Health Care in one way or other for 50 years. First as an RN, in all kinds of settings and places…one of the first to ever perform dialysis, visited patients in their homes in Brooklyn, worked in the VA system in San Francisco. Then obtained a graduate degree and moved into management: public health, hospice and National Cancer Institute. Obtained another graduate degree at age 50 and worked as a primary care nurse practitioner in office settings until retirement.
What’s the most remarkable thing you’ve done?
The most memorable this I’ve ever done ( I’m not so sure how remarkable it was) was to take a gigantic leap of faith, quit my job, pack 2 suitcases weighing less than 50# each, say goodbye to everyone and join the Peace Corps at age 48. It was a wonderful experience in letting go, of not being in control, and of being prepared to use whatever I could give to accomplish whatever was asked.
What’s the Next Big Thing for you ?
I think the ‘simple’ glories of every day are a big deal. My goals for myself are the same now as they were when I was 5. To hear leaves flutter, talk to babies as much as I can, tickle my cats belly, and drive my car for as long as I can.
How do you serve UUFE, and why?
I participate in the UU Fellowship by joining group efforts when they are offered, singing in the choir, helping out with TIS and The Caring Circle, and by personally living the UU philosophy in my larger community interactions.
2 responses to “From the safety of home to the leap of faith”
Lovely – thanks so much for sharing! I always want to know more about the interesting lives that these “5 Questions” pieces explore.
I agree with Beth’s reply. Hearing others’ stories helps give me courage to try new things or helps me put my experiences in perspective.
Thank you for sharing.