The Eulogy for Barbara Burke
Barbara Burke was born on April 12, 1954 in Jersey City and grew up in the projects of Hoboken, a richly diverse community where all races and ethnic groups got along well, and a child could feel safe going out into the world.
She was the third born child of a big Italian Roman Catholic, working class family in which mother served lots of pasta to fill the bellies of the eight children. The first born was Michael, then a year later came Nancy, and then Barbara a year after that. Then came Pam a year later, then Jimmy born another year after that, and then Dawn a year after that, followed by Starre, a year after that.
Are you seeing a pattern here? Finally there was a slight break in the flow of babies as it wasn’t until two years later that Dale, the last of the babies was born.
Barbara’s mother was a stay-at-home mom, while her dad held a variety of jobs to try and keep ahead of the bills: he was a tow truck driver, and a bus driver, and he worked in a junk yard. They didn’t have a lot, materially speaking. There TV was black and white – not color. But they didn’t lack for the essentials, with clothes handed down through the siblings. Generally speaking it was a happy, though somewhat chaotic family life. Patience didn’t seem to be a quality that ran in the family, and when their mother got mad at one her children she would call out all of their names, and they’d all come running, unsure of who it was that was in trouble.
The house was crowded, to say the least. There were just three bedrooms for eight kids.
Barbara had yet another ninth sibling – a grown half sister named Judy who was married and lived nearby. To escape the tight quarters of her home, Barbara would often go to Judy’s house, or over to her friend Olga’s house, and Barbara’s absence from the home would make her mother mad sometimes.
Within the home Nancy, the oldest girl, ruled the roost — except on the rare occasions when the younger girls would unite to stage an uprising. There was a natural division in the family between the four older children and the younger four in regards to who kept company with whom. Barbara commanded the respect of her younger siblings because, I am told, she was tough – she could kick their butt when they got too irritating.
The exception to the division between younger and older siblings was when Barbara would take Dale, the baby of the family under her wing to explore the world. Barbara introduced Dale to the world of pop music, and in particular, her love of Elvis. She took Dale into New York City to shop or to walk around Central Park, or to the movies. Barbara took Dale to see her very first movie — The Exorcist — which Dale remembers as being a comedy.
Soon after graduating from Hoboken High Barbara moved out of the crowded house to live with Olga and other friends, first in Hoboken but soon in Jersey City.
But as the years passed Barbara remained close with her family, going out to dinner to celebrate birthdays and to the home of sister Starre – reportedly the only sibling in the family who really knew how to cook — for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Barbara’s presence, said her nephew Angel, “made Christmas special.”
As the years passed, Barbara lived in a variety of New Jersey towns – Fairview, North Bergen, Cliffside Park, Weehawken, Clifton, and Bloomfield before ending up in Belleville. Along the way she held a variety of jobs, in the course of which she acquired a wealth of practical knowledge regarding life in this world. Barbara began as a nurse’s aide at a nursing home, where she enjoyed giving patients a little fun with fast rides in wheel chairs down inclined walkways.
After that Barbara worked at a machine operator with silk screen at AQL Factor, followed my fifteen years as a machine operator at All Lace factory.
Barbara also worked part time as a cashier at Pathmark. At some point she went to school to learn bookkeeping after which she worked for five years as a bookkeeper for Barnes and Noble. During this time she also got her commercial driver’s license and — following in her father’s foot steps — worked part time as a bus driver for NJ Transit, as well as for Academy and Red & Tan bus lines. She drove buses in and out of NYC, as well as tour buses around Manhattan, which had to take a lot of gumption and grit, to say the least. In later years Barbara worked in a group home for disabled and Down Syndrome adults in addition to assorted part time bookkeeping jobs.
Though there was a toughness to Barbara, there was also a strong nurturing streak to her personality. She loved children, and took advantage of every opportunity to babysit. Barbara longed to have a child of her own, and at one point she applied to become a foster parent, but her application was turned down when she acknowledged that at times she suffered from depression.
So Barbara expressed her nurturing spirit on a series of cats, her favorites being Sammy, Nicky and Mindy.
It wasn’t an easy life Barbara lived. She spent most of her life living alone and feeling some degree of loneliness. She found help through support groups, where she formed some pretty strong friendships.
Barbara suffered throughout her life with a variety of physical ailments. She was plagued with stomach problems. She struggled with her weight, developed diabetes, high blood pressure, neuropathy, joint pain, and a few years back breathing issues that required her to have an oxygen tank with her.
About eight years ago a serious car accident left Barbara with severe back pain, and that is when she began coming to Dr. Jean Montecuollo for chiropractic treatments, having been referred by Barbara’s friend Eric, also a patient of Jean’s. Before long a friendship developed between Jean and Barbara, with Barbara particularly attentive to Jean’s need for help babysitting her daughter Kathryn. Along with her chiropractic practice, Jean had a wedding to plan, and so Barbara delighted in ample opportunity to spend time with Kathryn, who she came to adore.
In spite of the pain she endured through the course of her life, there was a child-like quality to Barbara that came out when she was in the company of Kathryn. Barbara took her to Chuck E Cheese and to see kids movies, enjoying them every bit as much as Kathryn did. She had an instinct for picking out silly things that Kathryn would like – things that would never occur to Jean: funny glasses with slinky eyes, and a package of fake moustaches. Kathryn loved the Karaoke machine Barbara got her for Christmas.
Over time Barbara became a part of Jean’s extended family, helping out with Virginia, Jean’s beloved, elderly life long family friend who was bedridden for the last year of her life. Through her work in a nursing home Barbara had knowledge and experience to draw upon that was useful in helping to make Virginia comfortable in her home during the last months of her life.
As Barbara helped care for Virginia, she became close to Jean’s niece Dion who lived with Virginia. They could commiserate together about the trials of finding a job. Through Deon and the dogs she took in to care for, Barbara managed to overcome her life-long discomfort with dogs dating back to a bad experience with a neighborhood dog she had as a girl. The thing that struck Deon about Barbara was that in spite of her troubles, she was always looking for a way to be of help.
Her family knew this quality in Barbara as well. Her sister Judy’s son John remembers how one time a water heater fell through their roof, and Barbara provided the cool head that helped get them out of the house safely. She was always there to help when you needed her. Starre remembers how Barbara would come over to hem her pants, because Starre wasn’t the seamstress Barbara was. Barbara enjoyed taking her sister Dale to buy shoes.
She was innately generous with gifts and offers of help. Although throughout her life Barbara was often strapped for money, she would share the little she had with neighbors whose need touched her. Through a charitable organization Barbara made monthly financial gifts to help support a child living in poverty.
In spite of the difficulties of her life, Barbara loved to laugh, and to joke. Her comedy taste ran in the direction of slapstick – she was a big fan from way back of the Three Stooges.
Barbara was a rabid Rangers fans, and introduced Starre’s son to the love of hockey by taking him to see the Rangers play. He ended up a Devils fan, so they enjoyed trash talking one another about their teams.
Barbara enjoyed reading, baking, and crochet, and loved making dolls and doll clothing, teddy bears, and afghans. She planned to get involved in our prayer shawl ministry. She loved horses and had a collection of horse statues, paintings and books. She loved to drink tea (but only Lipton’s.) She detested onions.
Barbara was never cold, and she always had a warm heart. She joined our church just last summer, sponsored by Jean. In her introductory bio Barbara wrote, “What I like best about the church is that the people are warm and friendly, and I feel comfortable here.” With a nod to Tom who runs out church’s kitchen, she wrote, “And since I have a sweet tooth, I also appreciate all the great snacks at coffee hour!” When invited to share some wisdom gleaned from her life, she wrote, “Be honest, be true, and treat people the way you want to be treated.”
She was developing eye problems and was scheduled to have surgery when suddenly a stroke took her down. Fortunately, she didn’t suffer long, spending her last days in a coma. Her family gathered around her bed to bid her farewell as she breathed her last breath in this world.