The author’s grandma has beaten some odds, and had a colorful, rewarding life
By Chloe Zimmerman
Special to The Knightly News
Maureen Filson, 90, of Harrisburg, is an immigrant, from Chester, England – one who was not expected to live long past her younger years.
Mrs. Filson emigrated to the United States from Chester in 1955, after marrying Carl Filson, of Altoona.
Mrs. Filson said she and Carl met at a dance hall after he was chased by British officers – an Air Force man himself, stationed at a U.S. airbase in England – from a local pub where a scuffle began over who took whose seat. A fight ensued and Carl ran into the dance hall and grabbed the first lady he could find and began dancing with her to hide himself.
When the British officers gave up their search, Carl finally looked at the woman he was dancing with and admired her beauty.
“First thing he said to me was, ‘My, aren’t you pretty?’” Mrs. Filson (then Maureen Downward) said. “Then the second thing was, he asked to see my teeth! English girls are known to have bad teeth but mine checked out!”
Problems arise, and are solved
After a couple months of dating Carl, Maureen started to show signs of tuberculosis and would end up spending a few years off and on in the hospital, undergoing many surgeries. During one surgery, her left lung and a of couple ribs were removed.
“I told Carl when I first went into the hospital that he didn’t have to stay and wait for me,” she recalled. “The next day, he came to the hospital with an engagement ring!”
When Maureen felt well enough after her surgeries, she and Carl decided it was time to get married, but complications sprang up as their wedding day approached.
First, Carl was not permitted by the military to marry his fiancé due to her previous illness. The couple, along with Maureen’s family and close friends, decided to pack up and head to the Isle of Man, a self-governed British dependency between England and Ireland, in the Irish Sea.
Problem number two revealed itself when they arrived. To get married, the couple, along with the wedding party, had to stay at their inn for three days to get the signature of the owner so they could get married after their stay. Time was not on the couple’s side, though, being they could not stay more than a day.
Maureen’s mother, Mariam, from Chester, hatched a plan to get the owner intoxicated and slip the form he needed to sign under his nose.
“She drank him under the table!” Maureen explained “But she got his signature!”
Problem number three occurred when the couple made their way back to Chester, where Carl was fined before a judge but was let off easy because he provided documentation that Maureen was healthy.
The two spent much of their time afterward traveling and visiting castles in England and Ireland.
“One day, we were driving past Stonehenge, and since Carl had never seen or heard of it before, he said, ‘What the hell is that?’ So, we got out to look around and when we were leaving, he backed the car into one of the stones! Brand new car!” Maureen said with a laugh. “The stones didn’t even budge, thank goodness.”
After two years of marriage, Carl and Maureen decided to leave for the United States, feeling it would be better for her health if she were out of the moist weather in England.
The plane ride over for Maureen was a rough one that nauseated her and made her feel generally under the weather.
“Carl thought it was the altitude but here it turns out I was expecting,” Maureen explained.
Then – another problem: When their plane landed in New York, they were forced to wait for confirmation that Maureen was healthy enough to be in the country. After waiting for 48 hours, they were free to go to Altoona, where Maureen met Carl’s family for the first time.
Life with the in-laws
“My mother-in-law, Ruth, was the sweetest woman you could ever meet,” Maureen said. “She even cooked things special for me because I wasn’t used to the food yet.”
Maureen expressed a great love and admiration for her mother-in-law and said she always respected what a kind and gentle soul she was, one who never raised her voice at anyone.
“My father-in-law, Carl Sr., was more difficult,” she added.
Carl Sr. was a druggist who owned a pharmacy. When the Great Depression hit, he lost everything. She described her father-in-law as a very proud man who didn’t ask anyone for help but had a hard time losing his business.
“He would come home, … and all night long, he was carrying on yelling, ‘Ruth! Ruth!’”
Maureen explained that at times, Ruth had to sleep in a closet just to get some shut-eye.
“After seeing this so many times, I finally had enough,” Maureen said. “I went upstairs, got the bottle he was working on and poured it down the sink! He just stared at me in disbelief and yelled, ‘Ruth! This Englishwoman is killing me!’”
And life goes on
After Maureen and Carl had lived with his family in Altoona for a few months, two immigration agents knocked on the door, threatening to send Maureen back to England. They told her she would need to leave after the baby was born, and either leave with the child or leave and leave the baby in the United States.
“They took my passport, and I never did get it back,” Maureen explained.
After a long battle for Maureen’s citizenship, she was able to stay in the country
In 1956, Gail Filson, the cause of Maureen’s nausea on the plane ride over, was born.
In 1961, Karen Filson, Maureen’s second daughter, was born.
In 1965, the Filsons moved to Harrisburg, and settled there.
Her husband died last year, at 92. They had been married for 68 years.
After feeling confident with her new U.S. citizenship and getting another passport, Maureen traveled back and forth over the years to visit with her family in England, and to see relatives. She now resides in her home she moved into in 1965 – the first and only owner.
These days you can find her knitting baby booties – by memory – to pass the time while she watches her favorite television shows, “Cops,” “Bluebloods,” “Golden Girls” and “Downton Abbey.”
“Me and Carl actually visited the Downton Abbey castle, the Highclere Castle, when we lived in England,” she said. “We couldn’t go in, but we got to walk around the grounds.”
To this day, Maureen survives with one lung, and long past her life expectancy.
Doctors said she wouldn’t live past 50 or have children.
So much for those predictions.
Zimmerman is a Central Penn corporate communications student. She is Maureen Filson’s granddaughter.
Comment or story idea? Contact KnightlyEditors@CentralPenn.Edu.
Edited by media-club co-adviser and blog editor Professor Michael Lear-Olimpi.