A Day in My Life, March 27, 2024 — Happy 70th Birthday to My Late Sister, Patty

Mar 27, 2024 | Day in the Life, Memoirs, Uncategorized | 9 comments

My cousin Helen (birthday: March 25, 1947), sister Patty (birthday: March 27, 1954) and me

My cousin Helen’s 77th birthday was March 25, 2024

Today would have been my sister Patty’s seventieth birthday, had she not passed away in February 2006.

She was a funny, beautiful, young girl who did modeling when she was a teenager. She laughed all the time. To say she wasn’t a serious student would be an understatement. When she was modeling in the late 1960s, she used street drugs to keep her weight down.

And so it began. She became a drug addict.

Patty was always a follower. She was part of a crowd that hung around at our local beach, called Wessagusset, in the summer, and at her friend Rhonda’s house when it was too cold or the weather was bad. Rhonda’s house had a finished basement, and her mother didn’t seem to care if Rhonda’s friends smoked or snuck beer while they were underage. She had no idea that “beer” had morphed into marijuana and cocaine. Rhonda’s mother had been in her forties when Rhonda was born, so she wasn’t cued into the real world of drug use in the late 1960s and early ’70s.

Patty also managed to find diet pills (amphetamines) to keep her weight down. My parents always made me clean my plate at meals; Patty rarely finished a meal, with or without drugs. Since I was a fat kid (note the Campbell-kid face, above), our parents never put any pressure on her to clean her plate. She stayed slim and kept her model-esque body. She was called for many modeling jobs and made enough money that she could hide some of it from our mother so that she had disposable income to buy drugs on the street.

She was madly in love with a guy whose nickname was Skipper. He didn’t like her drug use and told her she had to quit. She tried. Honestly. When she couldn’t stop, he broke up with her. She was a wreck. Her drug use increased.

Patty and Skipper before the breakup

She was depressed; she met and married someone else (Jim Troy), whom our parents really didn’t like. They had three kids (Sara, Whitney, and Jesse). Jim was a long-haul truck driver, so he was gone all week and only home on weekends. While he was out of town, her drug use increased. Sara, the oldest, was left to take care of the other kids. Sara got a job at McDonald’s when she was fourteen and often had to give part of her wages to Whitney for lunch money.

Our mother was beside herself. She and Patty fought all the time. Jim was oblivious. When he came home, Patty was reasonably sober, thanks to many cups of coffee and Sara’s help to clean the house.

She went in and out of rehab programs, thanks to pressure from our parents. Our dad was a recovering alcoholic, so he was familiar with addiction. Finally, Jim seemed to realize what was happening. Patty went into a nine-month, in-patient rehab program. When she came out, she seemed terrific.

The kids, however, were still neglected. I called child protective on Patty. Here’s what they did: They called and asked if it would be convenient if they came over at 2 pm. She had plenty of time to drink coffee and tidy the house, as well as to give Jesse a bath. They found nothing wrong.

She also learned that Jim had a lady friend while he was on the road. The marriage was over. Patty started to hang out with her dealer, who was a convicted felon.

In 1997, she was arrested for possession of heroin with intent to sell. She spent nine months in jail. Where would her kids go? Jim’s job kept him on the road.

Our other sister and I stepped up. The two girls came to my house, at a time when my two adult children were in college, and the boy went to our sister’s house. When we went for guardianship, Patty sent a letter to the judge saying that we “ripped her kids from her in. the middle of the night.”

We helped her girls graduate from high school; Jesse ultimately went back to live with his father and new wife. Before he went back to live with Jim, Jesse had cancer, which my younger sister and her husband got him through.

Patty was getting ready to have her gall bladder out in the fall of 2005. Blood tests revealed “blasts” in her blood. I knew what that meant. She had leukemia. The drugs she had taken had worn her body down to the point that she couldn’t fight it. Four months later, she was dead. The doctors at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center took amazing care of her. She had no money, no insurance policy, no retirement program.

When I called her ex-husband Jim to report her death, he didn’t believe me. He thought I was making it up. He died of a malignant brain tumor eight years later.

Today she would have turned 70. I remember the day she was born. So much in between. Her choices affected many people, which is what happens when an addicted person takes over a family. Today, I remember her sense of humor, her laugh, and the fact that even when she was hooked up to tubes and monitors in the last days of her life, she wanted a cup of coffee and just one more cigarette.


  1. Pat Garcia

    Hi, Wanda,

    This is so sad. I know of a person who was on their deathbed and craved to smoke one last cigarette. So, the doctor permitted the nurses to take her to the balcony so she could smoke one cigarette. When they took her back to her room, she closed her eyes and was gone.
    Your sister’s death was probably very hard on her children. Do you have contact with them?
    I hope they have found peace with their mother’s death.
    Thank you so much for sharing.
    Take care, and have a charming day.
    Shalom shalom

    • Wanda Fischer

      Hi Pat–I do have contact with them. The older girl lives nearby. She had lived with us until about a year ago. It was difficult for us over the last decade because she came in late at night, open the garage door, and make a lot of noise after we had tried to go to sleep.

      The younger girl is married and has three children. She moved to the Atlanta area. She keeps in touch with us. Her children do as well. She was always a hard worker and made sure she was on time for school and did all her school work.

      The boy has long decided not to communicate with either my sister or me. We have tried to send him birthday cards, Christmas cards, etc., but he sends them back to us. Maybe one day he’ll understand that we did a lot for him.

      Happy Easter!

      • Karen Black

        Bless you, Wanda for sharing such a sad and personal memory to help others understand that horrors of addiction. Patty was lucky to have you in her life.

        • Wanda Fischer

          Thank you, Karen. All of these experiences help to create new ones. My sister was such a funny, happy-go-lucky person that most people who met her wouldn’t ever guess she was having problems with addiction. The domino effect it had on her children was tough to deal with, though. It had an impact on my own children as well, but they were older and, because hey had a more stable background, they were able to handle things a little better–but not much.

  2. Patty Perrin

    Hi, Wanda,

    You write about your sister, Patty, with a heart of compassion and love. Addiction, easy to fall into and a nightmare to get out of, is a disease that affects families from every socio-economic group. I’m so sorry it affected your family. Patty died too young, and my heart aches for you, her children, and the rest of your family.

    Have you read Harriet Hodgson’s wonderful books, yet? She and her husband raised their twin grandchildren after their parents passed on.


    • Wanda Fischer

      Thank you, Patty. I have read Harriet’s books. There are more grandparents and other relatives in the world raising their grandchildren than people would realize. I hear these stories in the school where I volunteer to read. A few weeks ago, I had to sit down with one of the bullies, who was razzing one of the kids because he lives with his grandmother and mother. His dad’s a construction worker and is often working in another state. The bully kept making fun of this kid’s grandmother.

      I took that bully into the hallway and asked him, “What business of yours is it, where and with whom he lives?” The bully said, “I dunno, it’s just not right.” I told him the story of my sister and her children. His response? “I didn’t know that stuff happened to white people.” Seriously? I told the young boy who was being bullied to tell his grandmother I was proud of her. I don’t know if he ever did. (BTW, this same kid was having a bad day when I went in on Tuesday. I hope he has a good vacation.)

      Happy Easter to you and your family!

  3. john

    Wanda, we shared many similarities. My parents raised me to finish every morsel of food on my plate because there were starving kids in Africa. In the service, they allowed us to take as much food as we wanted, but we also had to finish what we took.

    I think every family has somebody they’re dealing with who has an addiction. We have my BIL who just turned sixty-five. He is an alcoholic and lived in my MIL’s house for ten years after she died…he was only supposed to live there for six months. Needless to say, he trashed the house and broke ceramic, electrical, faucets, sinks, etc. We finally got him to move out last fall – this is the same house my daughter bought at a discount. It is also the same house we’ve stripped all the way down to the 2x4s and have worked on refurbishing since. Daughter and Scarlett should be moved in within the next two weeks.

    Dealing with the BIL who doesn’t have a license and still sneaks money to buy Vodka, is nerve-wreaking. My two SILs are enablers and the biggest complainers. Jan and I have enacted the ‘tough love’ principle.

    • Wanda Fischer

      It really takes its toll on the entire family, John, not just the addict him or herself. I wrote this because I want people to know that the addiction has such a domino effect on everyone.

      I hope your daughter and Scarlett will be happy in their new home, and all your efforts will pay off. It’s never easy. I salute you.

  4. Shirley Harris-Slaughter

    Whew Wanda! That was a lot! I know about living with an addict too. My father was a weekend drinker. He went to work and took care of us but eventually it took its toll on my parents marriage and my mother kicked him out. My first husband was cross addicted. I left him after 2 years. God was with me during that time. They told me I was an enabler being the child of an addict. My present husband wasn’t buying it. He said I just made a bad mistake. Drugs were so prevalent during the 60s, and 70s. We lost a whole generation in the Black community and devastated communities. I vowed never to touch the stuff. I didn’t like something controlling my mind. No way!

    Thanks Wanda for sharing.


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