Helene Cummins

February 25, 1926July 6, 2018

Helene (Goodman) Cummins – 92, of Newton, former longtime resident of Columbus, OH, entered into rest July 6, 2018.

She was the devoted mother of John Cummins of Steamboat, CO and his late wife Kathy; Jacqueline Ducharme and her husband Stan of Wayland, MA; Lisa Kamieniecki and her husband Barry of Steamboat, CO; and Helen Strahinich and her husband John of Jamaica Plain, MA.

Cherished grandmother of 6 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren.

Loving sister of the late Leon Goodman, Jr.; and former wife of the late Herbert Cummins.

Helene will be laid to rest at a later date in her hometown of Columbus, OH.

Memorial contributions in her memory may be made to the Alzheimer’s Association, 309 Waverley Oaks Rd, Waltham, MA 02452; or a local charity supporting the homeless.


Helene Gusky Goodman Cummins was lively and charismatic. She always had many friends. She was a very good athlete; she excelled in swimming, golf, and tennis. In her late-senior years, she became an enthusiastic walker. She walked around the building complex at Cabot Park Village every day for over a decade. As that decade neared an end, she began losing her bearings, but she continued to walk. By then, she enjoyed stopping every day at the American Flag near the entrance to Cabot Park, placing her hand over her heart, and saying the Pledge of Allegiance very loudly. Our mother was kind-hearted. After her daughters left home, she took other young women under her wing. I know from my friend Sue Weston that she was very comforting and compassionate. A corollary of this kindness was concern for social justice, which led my sister Jackie into her career in social work and hospital leadership. Our mother loved animals. We had many pets in our childhood home. She even bred our dog, the first Happy, who gave birth to 9 beautiful puppies. To get a laugh, she told her friends that she was teaching us the facts of life. I recall seeing her in our brother John's winter boots, the rubber kind that hooked up the front, but with the front open and flapping, trying her best to clean the kitchen floor after the puppies in the early morning. When our mother moved to a small apartment with her single cat, she befriended and fed the local wildlife, including a feral cat (which John later adopted) and raccoons. One evening she heard a knocking at her door. A bunch of raccoons were looking for her. One raccoon had a big Nestle's Quik can stuck over its head. Our mother led the raccoon parade to a nearby veterinarian. Problem solved. Our mother loved art. This love inspired us all to find interesting artworks and influenced Lisa's journey as a talented artist. My mother was also a capable cook, when she chose, and a good baker. Armed with recipes from her friend Margie Frank, a superlative baker, she produced delicious pecan rolls and cheesecakes. This maternal interest led to serious cooking and baking skills among my siblings and to John's professional culinary ventures. Our mother was an excellent story-teller. She became our family historian, regaling us with tales of her interesting family. There were many legends of lost glory, like my mother's maternal grandfather who built one of Pittsburgh's largest department stores in the days of Andrew Carnegie, and then died at the age of 39, leaving the family bereft and, soon, without resources. Our mother was a proud Democrat – most of the time. If she didn't vote Dem, she wouldn't tell us her choice. She had a scary knack for predicting elections. I believe the first time I discovered her flare for political prophecy was during the Gore-Bush election. I thought Gore had won that first debate. I thought it was cool that he'd stood up to Bush. I called my mother. Who do you think won? I asked. Bush, she replied; Gore is going to lose the election. She repeated her successful predictions every four years, except with McCain; she hadn't anticipated the Great Recession, and she didn't think an African American could win. But you'll vote for him, right? I asked. She didn't answer. When Hilary was still debating a run, I asked her opinion. At that point, her dementia had already taken a significant toll. She wasn't sure who Hilary was, but she didn't think a woman could win. Will you vote for her if she runs? I asked. She wouldn't answer. When the time came, Jackie and I did not remind her to vote.

From a young age, our mother attended a girl's finishing school, Columbus School for Girls, aka CSG. She studied the usual curriculum for a young woman of her day: literature, history, a little French, a little Latin, a little biology, and an extraordinarily little chemistry. At first, my mother had deluded herself that she'd be great at chemistry. Her child-prodigy brother had mastered his entire chemistry book the first week of classes. I guess she thought she'd learn the chemistry table by osmosis. Her teacher was an eccentric named Mary Martha Margaret Monica Miller who drove a Model-T, which, by the way, she was still driving when I arrived at her class, 23 years later; she also taught me with the same chemistry text as she used with our mother. Miss Miller graded on a scale from one M to five M's. I believe our mother managed two. Our mother also learned manners at CSG, lots of manners. When a lady said she had attended a finishing school, "lots-of-manners" could be substituted for "finishing." By the way, one of our mother's favorite maxims was: If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. If you think, as I did, that that saying comes from Emily Post, you'd be wrong. Jackie set me straight: It comes from the animated film, Bambi, from Thumper to be exact. But that doesn't matter. To my mind, it encapsulates a litany of good manners: show common courtesy; don't be rude, especially to adults; don't talk back; don't interrupt; don't talk with your mouth full; chew with your mouth closed; speak when you're spoken to; respect your elders; say "thank you" for any kindness however small; and don't use vulgar language. My mother claimed that she had never even heard any of our favorite four-letter words until she'd left her father's Victorian home for her own. But then there's her pesky Maxim number 2: Everybody is crazy except me and thou, and sometimes me thinks thou art, too. Maybe you noticed: Maxim 2 sort of nullifies Maxim 1; it's not so nice to say somebody's crazy… Unless you're a great story-teller, as our mother was. Friends' calamities, or her own, were fodder for her mill. For example, one old friend ended up in jail for financial transgressions and then threw a jailbird party upon his release. Our mother recounted in fine detail with some glee his jailbird costume of thick pinstriped shirt, pants, and hat; but she did not seem convinced. So too, she chronicled the Goodman's Columbus, Ohio, history: her father Leon Goodman's rise from poor immigrant's son to wealthy entrepreneur and president of his reform temple; her family's long, enduring friendship, with the Scharnfaber-Weston tribe, including 100 years of canasta and mahjong games. Helene's stories, adventures, and misadventures were sometimes outrageous, like the time she put chewing gum in our father's hair; or the time she dumped all the furnishings out the windows and doors of the home in southern Ohio where our father's second wife lived. Passersby, apparently, stopped in amazement to watch as couches, beds, chairs, curtains, dresses, pants, shirts, shoes, and the like accumulated in the yard and environs below. And then there was the time she pursued a waitress across a diner, hollering for a cigarette, when she was giving them up; and the time she bought a new car on the road when hers broke down en route to a bridge tournament; and the time she absentmindedly brought a ham from Sara Jo Kobacker to our Passover Seder. (In all fairness, I should explain that Sara Jo had never, ever intended her ham to be used for such a purpose.) In any case, this story has entered the Seder lore. Anybody who knew our mother knows that the defining moment of her life occurred when she was just 9 years old. That's when our grandmother, Helen Gusky Goodman, a locally famous beauty, contracted pneumonia after staying up night after night to save her genius son, our Uncle Leon, Jr. Grandma Helen lingered for a while. Our grandfather begged her to fight the illness, but she couldn't breathe, and penicillin, though on the near horizon, was not yet available. Grandma Helen succumbed. Like her father and, it turns out, her grandfather before him, Grandmother Helen was just 39 years old. Our mother and our uncle faced this terrible loss while the adults grieved and fought and tried to cope. Last week, when I saw our mother lying there on her deathbed, it brought me back 83 years, and I had a new understanding of the trauma our mother must have felt facing the unimaginable at such a tender age. Which brings me to the third maxim my mother was wont to repeat: Man proposes, God disposes. A friend recently observed that adherence to sayings was common among my mother's peers, the Great Generation, who lived through the Depression, World War II, and the Holocaust. These maxims must have offered some consolation and sustenance in the face of such disarray. And, so, our mother survived, and even thrived. Despite trauma, Helene often remarked on her wonderful luck and good fortune. After her marriage ended, she began a second life, with the benefit of experience, maturity, and a good therapist. And so, our mother enjoyed a career in selling furniture at the family store, where she became a top seller. Bridge, once a casual game, became a passion. She travelled locally, nationally, and even internationally with a partner who also loved to laugh. Finally, she settled in at Cabot Park Village, where she relished her extended family, participated in Shabbat services, took many walks, and gathered the fruits of a long, eventful life. Even when dementia took hold, she clung to her maxim: Man proposes, God disposes. She faced her demise with good humor and strength. She loved her 90th birthday party, relished the harp music supplied by Jackie and Stan, and then forgot the event the next day. Looking back on what she had wrought, our mother had good reason to be grateful and proud: four children, six grandchildren, two great-grandchildren (at last count), all decent people with interesting lives. I would hope that today she's looking down on us all, arm in arm with Grandma Helen, in the embrace of the Goodman-Gusky clan, wishing us all well, and prepared to enjoy her well-earned peace.


Helene Cummins

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