Born On The Fourth Of July: An American Life (Part One)

THAT’s her!

That’s our Mom, “Your Pal, Julia Lazun,” who actually WAS born on the Fourth Of July!

When I was a kid, I always thought how cool it was that our entire country celebrated my Mom’s birthday . . . and with fireworks too . . . as well they should!

She was a true blue All American Girl. Thanks, Tom Petty, for writing that great song about our Mom!

Her people were Ruthenian. Wait! What? What’s “Ruthenian?” you ask.

Ruthenia was a kingdom of slavic Christians in eastern Europe that existed for a thousand years until when after the First World War it disappeared and got absorbed into surrounding countries. Modern day Ukraine is where Ruthenia largely once was. Mom was raised in the Byzantine Catholic Church, but later became a Roman Catholic out of convenience because it’s hard to find a Byzantine Catholic Church when you marry a ramblin’ man, like my mother did with my father who fought the Second World War to come back and marry his neighborhood sweetheart in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and build his military career with her in the new United States Air Force after he had promised her that they would buy a little plot of land in New Jersey and have a farm, which was always her dream.

She’s Got Betty Grable Gams

Our Mom’s father, Vasily Lazun, had walked across the entire continent of Europe as a teenager, learning seven languages along the way, and stowed away on a ship crossing the Atlantic to come to America, where he met another teenager named Mary whom he had known from their little Ruthenian village in the old country, married her, and had nine children, although two of Mom’s siblings died in childbirth. Our Mom was the eldest daughter.

We never knew our maternal grandfather because he died when our Mom was fifteen, but our Mom told us stories about him. He worked all his life in his beloved America as a day laborer. He worked on the Holland Tunnel in New York City. He too had always promised our maternal grandmother . . . who we called, “Baba,” derived from “babushka,” the shawls that the old women wore in Ruthenia . . . that he would save enough money to buy a plot of land and have a farm for her and their ever growing family. He never did and their family was poor all their married life, and his early death only made them even poorer.

But there was life and love in the Lazun home! Our Mom told us how when her father came home after a hard day of labor that he would clap and sing and she and her sisters would dance around their little house and everyone would laugh and tell one another about their day. When he died, my mother had to quit school which she loved to help her older brothers support their family of eight mouths to feed.

Mom and her brothers scavenged coal from the railroad tracks, which is technically illegal to do, to heat their home in the freezing cold Pennsylvania winters. I guess there could have been a “Necessity Defense” for my mother’s family of thieves, but they were too quick to get caught, and so the need for any legal defense was thus obviated.

They also scavenged old bread from the town dump to bring home for dinner. Mom said that the kind bakers would set their old bread in a clean spot for the poor to glean, but some bastard bakers would rake their old bread in with the trash so that it couldn’t be so easily gleaned, but that the poorest of the poor took the garbage home anyway, because it was either eat that trash or starve to death.

When she was old and volunteering at the St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic charity in Phoenix, Arizona, taking phone calls from poor people who had subsidized housing, food stamps, government welfare checks, and donated clothing, but were still complaining about their lot in life, our Mom listened with sympathy and then said, “You know, when I was your age I had only two dresses, one for work and one for church.”

Julie Ann Lazun (later Hessinger) worked hard and prayed hard to put food on her families’ tables, clothes on her siblings’ (and later children’s) backs, and keep a roof over all our heads all of her life.

But it wasn’t a life of poverty and drudgery for our Mom. She probably never gave it a thought. She couldn’t go to school anymore, something she sorely missed, but her younger brothers and sisters did. And her older brothers worked their way through school, even eventually earning their college degrees. But our Mom had her church charity work, which was a form of play for her because it was her spiritual gift, and the church choir, and her beloved sports. The factory where she worked for ten years before marrying our Dad sponsored a ladies softball team, The Armorettes, and our Mom played shortstop. Derek Jeter should have been so gifted.


When she was in her eighties, we were visiting the only house that our Mom and Dad had ever owned long after Mom was in her widowhood. I walked past the doorway of my old bedroom, saw my Mom, and almost had a heart attack! Our Mom who was no more than five foot something in her prime and had now shrunk in her old age was standing tip toe on the kitchen step stool reaching full body length up to the top shelf of my old closet so that she could get the spare coffee maker to take to her long time neighbors, the Wilsons, for what it’s worth, the only African-American family in the entire neighborhood. The Wilsons had had a death in their family and their large clan was gathered at the late Reverend Wilson’s widow’s house across the street for their post funeral family reunion. And Mom knew that they could use an extra coffee maker. I wanted to say, “MOM! What the hell are you doing!” but I swallowed my shock instead and quietly inched my way into the room and positioned myself behind her to catch our Mom in case she fell. Mom carefully pulled down the spare coffee maker, climbed down the two steps of her step stool with the coffee maker in one arm like the football player on the Heisman Trophy and the other arm outstretched for balance like a one armed tight rope walker. But when she was safely on the floor, I really scolded her, to which my mother simply answered, “What were you so worried about? I was an ATHLETE.”

Our Mom’s One True Love, Our Dad

In “Allentown,” Billy Joel sang, “Well our fathers fought the Second World War, spent their weekends on the Jersey Shore, met our mothers at the USO, asked them to dance, danced with them slow.” That was our Mom and Dad who got married in 1945 when our Dad came home from war to the waiting arms of his “girl” who wrote to him everyday that he was overseas, just like she would do for the rest of his later thirty year career in the new United States Air Force in which he had re-enlisted when he couldn’t work in the steel mills like his father because of all the post war strikes and he couldn’t afford to buy the farm Mom always dreamed of, and he soon had a family of his own to feed.

Our Mom was 27 when she married our Dad who was 25. They had a big church wedding, and Mom was a virgin on her wedding night. It’s hard to believe when you see what she looked like on their honeymoon in Atlantic City, but that’s just how they did things in those days . . . or, at least, that how our Mom did it.


Having waited that long to sing the Song of Solomon, our Mom and Dad made up for any lost time.

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! We Hessinger kids got banged out by those two lovers like clockwork!

Mary Francis, Pappy, Grammie, Me, Little Joe, Susan Jean, Mom, Kathy In The Oven
(With Dad Taking The Picture)
What’s My Problem? Not Enough Attention?
(Williams, A.F.B., Arizona, U.S.A.)
OK . . . NOW I’m HAPPY!
(Zaragoza, A.F.B., Zaragoza, Spain)
American Girl

3 responses to “Born On The Fourth Of July: An American Life (Part One)”

  1. Joe’s Email Avatar
    Joe’s Email

    Ah yes I remember it well…

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Me too, Bro. It was so much fun remembering her as I wrote this. We had a great Mom . . . and Dad too . . . but Mom gave me so much material, I’m just hoping I can finish this tribute to her in two parts, but it might go three!

  3. PS: How’d you like the “BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!” to summarize our arrivals!

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