Tales of sorrow, tales of triumph Writing awards: A haunting memoir of war and a survivor's account of tragedy at sea are among the winning entries in a contest sponsored by the Baltimore County Department of Aging.

February 21, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Their memories are haunting.

Ellen Dean was a passenger on the luxury ocean liner Andrea Doria in 1956 when it collided with another ship and sank. Paula Weinstein was a 5-year-old in 1939 when German planes bombed her Polish village.

Both survived to raise families in the Baltimore area. But as the years have passed, they wanted their stories to be remembered, especially by their children and grandchildren.

Now, they will.

To capture such moments, the Baltimore County Department of Aging sponsored its first writing contest recently. Today, the 57 entrants, including Mrs. Dean of Dundalk and Mrs. Weinstein of Randallstown, will be honored at an awards ceremony at the Seven Oaks Senior Center in Perry Hall.

Some stories are dramatic; others record bits of everyday life. There is the tale of a woman denied Medicare and another of a couple watching a rainbow. Eventually, all will be compiled into a book.

"I have so many stories that I want my children to remember me by," said Mrs. Weinstein, who won first place for her wartime reminiscences. Her essay will be read aloud during the 2 p.m. program.

Her story tells of the harrowing journey of a child forced to abandon her home and belongings as she and her family struggled to save their lives. She writes about sleeping in the cold on benches, running from bombs and seeing human blood and a dead infant.

Now a mother of three, her message to her children is simple: "Throughout the worst of times, the Germans reminded me that I was Jewish. And now, my children and grandchildren, I want to remind you, 'Remember that you are Jewish and be proud of it.' "

Mrs. Weinstein, 62, said she became interested in writing after retiring as a government research analyst and taking a course at Catonsville Community College. She has written several short stories.

Mrs. Dean, 69, wanted only to write about her experience on the Andrea Doria, especially with the approach of the 40th anniversary of the sinking of the Italian liner. Since the collision, she has amassed newspaper and magazine accounts in a tattered red scrapbook held together with tape.

"I wanted to share it with others. It's an experience not everyone has had," said the widow, who placed third in the writing contest and believes she is the last of seven Marylanders who survived that night.

She plans to give a copy of her story to each of her three grandchildren.

In it, she recounts her last hours on the Andrea Doria, which collided around 11:25 p.m. on July 25, 1956, with the Swedish ship Stockholm off the coast of New England. More than 51 passengers died in the collision, which occurred about 10 hours before the ship was scheduled to dock in New York.

Mrs. Dean, who was 30 at the time, and her mother, Angela Torre, were returning from a 2 1/2 -month trip abroad that included an audience with Pope Pius XII. She remembers sitting in the ballroom and hearing the bleating of fog horns, a terrifying crash, breaking glass and screaming.

"It was chaotic," Mrs. Dean said. "I was covered in grease, oil and water."

Her worst fear was of not being able to find her mother, who was in another area of the ship watching the Jane Russell movie "Foxfire." As the ship listed dangerously, the older woman was nowhere to be found.

Mrs. Dean abandoned ship by sliding down a 30-foot rope to a lifeboat rocking in the choppy water. "I didn't see how I would survive. It was so confusing," she said.

The drama ended on board a rescue ship, where Mrs. Dean and her mother were tearfully reunited. From the ship, Mrs. Dean watched the Andrea Doria as it was claimed by the Atlantic at 10 a.m. July 26.

Her mother, who died in 1984 of complications from a stroke, never traveled again. Mrs. Dean, who has a son, continued to explore the world -- and even became a travel agent.

She is planning a second pilgrimage to Israel in the fall -- by jet. "It's the only way to go," she said.

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