I flew up the front steps of 2021 East 4th St. clutching a huge stuffed dog I’d just won at the holiday bingo at Holy Rosary, our parish in Duluth, Minnesota.

It was late evening by then. I’d been invited to go with my best friend Ibby Kubiak and her Dad. It was my 10th birthday, Nov. 19, 1958.

I couldn’t believe I was out doing something at night. I remember sitting there in a gym full of folding chairs somewhere mid-row, mid gym, looking at a giant bingo wheel. I chose the number 14, a random pick for sure. And then I won!

I ran inside the house to tell my sister Margie, 20, who was waiting for me to get home. “I won!”

“Oh, Betsy.” She said. And then she pointed to the stuffed dog. “That’s a birthday present from Mother and Daddy.”

In June 1958 both my parents had died, almost two weeks apart – from breast cancer and heart disease. They were both 48.

So dreary and sad, I remember those days that went on for weeks. And I remember the ham. People from the parish kept dropping off hams. We five Mitchell girls laughed practically rolling on the floor when the fifth or sixth ham came in. It was that hysterical laughter that’s part of grief – at least it was for us that summer.

But my birthday was great. And the first Christmas without my parents was to be bearable, maybe, after all.

Meetinghouse is a community storytelling project hosted by the Maine Sunday Telegram.

Read more stories from Maine at www.centralmaine.com/meetinghouse

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