If these Walls Could Talk : Four sisters re-live childhood, youth in Avondale home

If these Walls Could Talk : Four sisters re-live childhood, youth in Avondale home
Mona Bloenk, Betty Crosby, Falli Shah, Patty Foulk, Janet Ward

If the 80-year-old Ward family home at 4236 St. Johns Avenue could talk, it might have a lot to say about the six sisters who grew up within its walls.

Built in 1937 for William “Buck” Ward and Ruth Burt Ward – classmates at Robert E. Lee High School, the two-story brick house was home to six girls with a 23-year gap between the oldest, Patty, and the youngest, Janet. The four surviving siblings – Patty Foulk, Mona Bloenk, Betty Crosby and Janet Ward – recently shared some of the secrets the walls have kept for the past eight decades.

1959: Betty, Frances with daughter Christine, Mona, Ruth with Janet, Patty with daughter Karen, Cathy

1959: Betty, Frances with daughter Christine, Mona, Ruth with Janet, Patty with daughter Karen, Cathy

Some of those secrets aren’t so secret – they were written on the walls for all to see.

“Phones in those days were attached to the wall; ours had a long cord,” Bloenk explained. “We dragged it down the hall or onto the stairs to the ‘dormitory’ so we could talk. While we talked, we wrote on the wall.”

The sisters attended St. Paul’s or St. Matthew’s Catholic schools, the Bagaley Juvenile Theatre for tap and ballet, and either Lee High School or Bishop Kenny. The sisters eventually married and moved away; sisters Frances and Cathy have passed away.

The walls in the old home tell of beaux calling for prom dates, of elegant cocktail parties and weddings, of things shared and things coveted.

“We shared everything – even pantyhose,” said Foulk, born in 1937. “Three of us wore the same wedding dress – Sissy (Frances), Betty and me. It came from Purcell’s. Mona was married in front of the fireplace, the rest of us at St. Matthew’s.”

Ward, the baby of the family, had a crush on oldest sister Mona’s boyfriend. “I loved him – he should have been mine,” Ward said jokingly. Five decades later, the wall still says, “I love Ron!”

Imagine six girls, one small bathroom, a tiny closet, an attic full of things to explore and a grate by the stairs, which made for good eavesdropping on what was going on in the living room.  The Ward sisters’ parents’ upstairs bedroom and bathroom were off limits which, of course, added to the mystery.

Even with the gap within their ages, a little bit of sibling rivalry went on.

1981: Ward sisters Betty, Patty, Jan, Mona and Cathy with parents Ruth and William

1981: Ward sisters Betty, Patty, Jan, Mona and Cathy with parents Ruth and William

Foulk remembered when she had a date and Bloenk, then three years old, lifted up Foulk’s skirt to show the date her panties. All agreed Bloenk, born in 1949, was “just too bratty,” although she did serve as Foulk’s flower girl when she married.

“Jan [Ward] was bratty,” said Crosby, born in 1944. “She was six years younger. I would give her 25 cents to go next door to Griffin’s Pharmacy and get candy so she wouldn’t tell mother and Dad that I spanked her.”

“I was definitely an ‘oops’ but babysitting me should have been a privilege,” joked Ward.

The sisters kept up a continual line of teasing and joking. Ward said she never married because she meant to at age 50, but then she turned 60 and realized that 50 had slipped past.

The women laughed even more as they reminisced. “Our dad always introduced mother as ‘The Ever Pregnant Mrs. Ward,’” said Crosby. “Mother said, ‘We will fill this house until the yard is full or until we get you a boy!’ I don’t know what we would have done with a brother!”

When she was getting married, Foulk said her mother came to her to tell her that she was sorry but she was pregnant [with Jan] and didn’t want Foulk to be shocked or embarrassed at her wedding. “Better you than me, Mother!” remarked Foulk.

“Dad was always teasing,” said Ward. He had nicknames for the girls: Patty was First Born, Betty, Daddy’s Queen, Jan was Sixth Born and Mona, The Sheriff, because of a favorite hat and, according to her siblings, because she was so bossy.

In later years, when the girls and their husbands retired and they came home to Jacksonville, the sisters took turns going by to check on their aging father.

“I was the first one to help him get a shower,” said Crosby. “After he died I’d go to the shower and say, ‘Hi, Dad!’”

“Dad sold juke boxes, pool tables – so he traveled a lot and mother worked at Rosenblum’s at Roosevelt Mall for 20 years,” said Ward.

“He worked for Wolf Distributing on Riverside Avenue,” Foulk, the oldest, reminded Ward.

“Remember when he rolled a juke box into the house and rolled up the rugs for a party?” asked Crosby.

“Oh, the best was Betty’s 65th surprise birthday party!” chimed in Bloenk and Ward. “It was magnificent! The house wasn’t rented at the time so we rented it for the night. We cleaned and cleaned, and cried and cried.”

“Every time we would bring something in from our houses that had been in here – like the clock – we would just cry and laugh,” said Foulk.

One of the most interesting architectural features is the Heart of the Cypress wood paneling in several of the rooms and the intricate wood design in the living room ceiling.

“Our father was so proud of the wood in this house,” they said. “He would sit on the porch and talk to everybody – even Pat Boone [whose grandparents lived around the corner] – and invite them in for a tour. He lived here from the time it was built until he died at age 91.”

For a few years the house was rental property, then a dog-grooming establishment. Now it is a day spa.

When Falli Shah, owner of Seventh Wonder Holistic Spa, and two of her four sisters walked in the door in 2014 she said she fell in love with the house.

“I immediately felt such good energy – feminine energy – especially in the back room,” said Shah, noting she felt the beauty and peace of the house and wanted it for her business.

Although the house needed some renovations, Shah kept many of its tangible memories intact and allowed the sisters to salvage some of the discarded wood. They made crosses for their own homes and smaller cross necklaces for their daughters and nieces.

The Ward sisters feel great appreciation for the preservation of their memories and regard Shah as another sister. “It’s unbelievable that she kept almost everything,” they said.

By Peggy Harrell Jennings
Resident Community News

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