Eleanor and Jeanne

Her birth name was Eleanor, but she referred to herself as Jeanne. Two “n’s” followed by an e. She thought Eleanor old-fashioned, the kind of woman who was demurring, subservient to her husband, a mother trapped by children, cooking, baking and cleaning all day, every day. Jeanne, on the other hand, was daring, went to college, wore serious eyeglasses. and smoked cigarettes.  More than anything, Jeanne wanted to be a career girl, and never marry. Upon graduation from University of Rochester, with a major in History, Jeanne looked studious with eyeglasses, and considered the name she legally changed for herself, more dramatic, edgy and befitting a serious journalist.

Jeanne’s parents, Lillian and Ed Brennan, began the first weekly newspaper in Greenfield Hill, Fairfield County, Connecticut during the Depression. Called “The Fairfield Town Crier”, it was an instant hit in the towns of Fairfield, Westport, Southport, Norfolk, and Easton. Readers liked its content, mostly about them, and the fact that it came with pictures. As Jeanne grew, the newspaper grew too. Once she had her college degree, Jeanne was promoted to reporter and went out into the field to find stories, using her Irish gift of gab to convince people to open up during interviews. Pretty soon she was traveling out of state too. She wrote about Farmer John’s lost cow, and Leonard Bernstein’s immense musical talent. Sometimes she attended press conferences, inaugurations of presidents of the USA, or presidential funerals. Some of her stories were generated from national news, and some were “fillers” – photos of Elizabeth Taylor playing on Saugatuck beach with her entourage.

Jeanne was born with printer’s ink in her blood. She trampled through a male dominated field where a woman’s presence was laughable. She took copious notes and wrote like a pro.  She wanted to inherit the business, then sometime in the future, move on, maybe write for National Geographic. But she was ahead of her time. Her brother, Bud, was to inherit the business, even though his talent was chasing skirt, not the elusive paying ad.  Sons were regaled, not daughters. Jeanne, who did most of the legwork right up to print deadline, pined nonetheless.  Lillian,  tenacious as her daughter, wanted Jeanne married, with children.

During a family vacation in Hamilton, Bermuda, Lillian set her daughter up on a blind date. Walking the beach, Lillian had met a Royal Canadian Air Force officer on leave from the service, and found out in quick succession, his name, marital status and age. Jack Sargeant, never married, 28. Jeanne didn’t want to meet him, but once she did, it was “love at first sight.”

The only problem was that Jack couldn’t write. He tried, but Connecticut was not the place for him.  He found a good vocation in Binghamton, NY, then Maryland.  My mother, however, industrious, would stay up late at night to write, never stopping until she died. In her lifetime, she escalated from journalist to freelance writer, to porn writer, to Food Editor of “The Baltimore Sun”, to features writer for BALTIMORE Magazine, to public relations officer, and back to freelance photo journalist before cancer weakened her resolve to write.

Sometimes life stretches you in directions you never expect to go. The main thing is to remain flexible. Sometimes life ends up better than you ever thought possible. Whether your name is plain old Eleanor, or dashing journalist Jeanne, with 2 “ns” ending with an “e”.


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