By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News
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Mary Healey, 73, last saw 2-year-old Margaret and 10-year-old Betty in a hotel room in San Jose, Calif., in 1947, when she and her sisters were given away to strangers
“It used to really bother me,” Healey said Sunday.
Healey’s mother, Gladys Gage Rowlett, was born in Mary Healey’s grandmother’s Kentucky log cabin.
“Every time [Rowlett] was going to have a baby, she’d go back to her mother’s house,” Healey said.
Her father, Shelby Thomas Rowlett, was from Tennessee. She recalls he loved baking and often had flour on his clothing.
The years of 1945-1947 were devastating.
Her father and younger brother, Johnny, 4, both died of an illness of some kind, which she recalls as pneumonia or something like it.
Her mother, she said, was forced to live with her three daughters in a hotel room at the El Troubadour Hotel in San Jose.
It was too much for Rowlett, Healey said.
“I remember the day when my mom just put out the word she had kids to give away,” she said.
Healey recalls that Betty and Margaret were quickly taken by two different families who were relatives of the hotel owner.
“Betty was 10 and big enough to help, and Margaret was a baby. I was 7 and just big enough to be in the way,” she said.
While the couple who took Mary — Jim and June Ruth — registered her in schools as “Linda Lee Ruth,” they never legally adopted her and didn’t leave her in school very often.
Healey said her new parents spent most of their time as migrant farmworkers, following the fruit harvest.
Being a migrant, Healey could attend school only between picking seasons.
“I didn’t learn much. I spent most of my time literally up a tree,” Healey said.
Eventually, Healey left the Ruths, reverted to using her birth name, and located her original birth certificate in Kentucky.
She married Charles Healey and has several children of her own, but she hasn’t been able to find any record of what happened to her sisters or her mother.
What few memories she has of her grandmother is that she was, as Healey is today, a woman of faith.
That faith has gotten her through the mystery of her long-lost family.
But she said she would still like to find out what happened to her biological sisters, and possibly find them, if they are still alive.
Today, Betty would be 76 and Margaret would be 67 or 68, she said.
Healey said that she doesn’t have the knowledge or the tools to track her family members and would welcome help to do so.
Healey can be reached by phone at 360-963-2288.
Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.