My Mother and Her People
Mother was born on February 25, 1856 in the city of Clonmel, County Tipperary,
Ireland while her parents were visiting relatives there. The family home was on Main Street Clogheen in
the same county and as of 1940 was still occupied by her Brother William’s
Her maiden name was Mary Theresa
She was fourth of child a
large family included were William, Paul, Margaret, Mary, Christopher, Kitty,
Nano, Edward, and Charles.
Six of these
children emigrated and died in America.
Grandmother Sullivan’s maiden name was O’Kelly and I believe her mother’s name was Spottswode. The O’Kelly’s were hatters. The Spottswodes operated a grain mill and were said to have been of excellent English stock. According to my mother, I am named after a grand Uncle Joseph O’Kelly, the only boy born to that family who lived to maturity and died at twenty one. The constant grieving of Great Grandmother over her son’s loss so impressed my mother when a child, that she promised granny to someday name one of her own family after “Uncle Joe”.
At the age of five, mother began learning the dressmaking trade under the jurisdiction of her Aunt Mary to whom she remained a constant companion until shortly after my grandfather’s death from an old injury which necessitated a plate in his skull for many years. He died early in 1871 and the following June, Mother and her sister Margaret came to America and located with her Uncle Martin Sullivan on the Strand in Roundout ( Kingston) NY, where he conducted a general store and operated a small men’s clothing factory.
Mother and her sister remained with and worked for their Uncle Martin until they were married. This Great Uncle of mine came to America in the (Eighteen) “fifties” and worked in New York City at plastering and bricklaying until the outbreak of the Civil War when he went out with the Old Sixty Ninth (Irish) Regiment for the duration. Besides contracting the small pox he also received an abdominal wound which advised his not resuming his trade after being mustered. Coming to Rondout in 1865 he remained in business there until the panic of 1873 when he returned to New York and resumed his trade. This aggravated his wound and he died a short time later. Another uncle of Mother’s is said to have been a retired British naval officer. Her Father was a rebel in 1848, three of her brothers were Fienians in 1867, and two more were Sinn Feiners. Two of her nephews served in India, Africa, and France with the British regulars and three of her own sons served in the American Army in the First World War. One of these (Thomas) lost his life in France in 1918.
Grandfather Sullivan had many grandchildren among which were seven named after him. These were distinguished in family conversation by mentioning their father or mother’s name in addition to their own. Three of her brothers and a sister came to America to live. All of them married and raised families. Uncle Charlie located in Quincy Massachusetts. He had two sons Will and Charlie Jr. and a daughter Julia. Will died in Boston Massachusetts and Charlie in Hollywood California. Uncle Ned of Port Richmond Staten Island (NY) had one son William Edward. Uncle Christopher of Brooklyn (NY) had a large family among whom I recall: William, Joseph, Arthur, Mary, and Margaret *. All of these were Sullivans. My aunt married a Thomas Hogan. They had two children Josephine and William, both of whom lived in the New York City area. Will Hogan is said to have served in the Spanish American War.
Two Sisters and two brothers of my mother remained in Ireland, Aunts Kitty and Nano never married. Uncle William lived lifelong in the old homestead at Clogheen. Of his family I only recall “Will Will”, a First World War veteran who once visited us in Rosendale, NY. Uncle Paul’s wife died leaving three children. Their father took them to the Manchester area in England. Years later they came to America. Maggie located in Philadelphia until her marriage, after which she returned to Ireland. locating in County Mayo where she died. Cousin Molly returned to England where she married. Cousin “Will Paul” a British army reservist and veteran of African and India campaigns was called back into the service at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. He was in the artillery service throughout the entire war and later during the occupation of Germany. He was slightly gassed at Mons, and he returned to America after the war and worked awhile as a plasterer and bricklayer for Uncle Charlie in Quincy Massachusetts. Later, he revisited our family in Rosendale where I discovered him to be an excellent carpenter when he aided me in constructing a storage building. He then visited my brother (Patrick) in Plattekill NY. A building boom in that locality kept him there. About two years after his arrival he went missing. My brother in searching found “Will Paul’s” tools lying in the yard of an old house that my cousin had been remolding. My nephew Donald had notice an old well with a broken cover and there lay the body of a veteran of twenty years heavy war campaigning.
Footnotes: Cousin Charlie of Boston died in Hollywood Californai where he was associated with Ambassador Joseph Kennedy in the moving picture business. Cousin “Will Charles” a longtime salesman in Boston Massachusetts died in his middle age. Of his two children only Thelma survives.
My Mother arrived in Rondout July 4 1871 and married my father a year later in St Mary Church. Rondout was at the height of its activity then due to the canal boat and ice industries. There seems to have been quite a few residents there then who knew her family in Ireland. Among these were the Pendergrasts and the Dwyers - the elders of the Dwyers informed her that they were schoolmates of both her father and mother. Mother’s bridesmaid was Kitty Pendergrast.
Mother claimed to have given birth to fifteen children. Three of these died within a few hours, two in infancy, two in childhood and eight lived to maturity.
The record reads:
James Jr. 1874 – 1931
Edmond 1875 – 1875
1877 – 1956 *
1879 – 1950 *
1881- 1950 *
Katie 1884 -1884
Eddie 1885 – 1891
Thomas 1887 – 1918
1889 – 1957 *
Mary 1891 - 1944
Francis Leo 1894 – 1897
Patrick 1897 – 1977 * * Dates in italics were recorded after this was written
Mother never recovered from the death of my brother Tom in the First Word War, never ceasing to mourn him she failed gradually and died in 1931. The influence of her blood temperament and character has been of immeasurable value to our family. It has strengthened, balanced, toned, modified, and strengthened the high Fleming temperament and matched that family in virtues, intelligence, honesty and general good qualities. Although rather matter of fact and common sense herself, from her family comes a high sense of humor which has proved a saving grace to me in times of stress. My father’s wit was caustic and deadly, delivered without laughter and usually directed against wrong doing. He never played a prank though his impersonations were devastating.
On the other side of the house however, although one of mother’s brothers was a serious minded intellectual (Uncle Christopher) the others I knew posed a more humorous vein and I understood Grandfather Sullivan enjoyed almost any legitimate form of joke. I feel that this humorous streak in the family has had a unique and strengthening influence upon my own most a scholarly essays; recognition of its value as an argument force in me seems inherent.
rhymester complex seemed evidenced by mother.
Comparable to, yet unlike my father’s native fluency and eloquence,
mother had “words at will”, much of which seemed spontaneous original poetry
which I as a slow witted aspirating rhymester admired and envied.
Mother had that simple faith that a poet claims transcends Norman blood. She never questioned anything that emanated from the Church or priesthood. With her the power was almost absolute. Clean spoken herself, she discountenanced profanity, “common talk” and “scandal gossip” saying of the latter: “I’d rather remain innocent of it”.
Very contentious of her “duties” as a wife and mother, she was an excellent cook and worried if any of us rushed off to work after “just barely breaking fast”. She had a sense of justice that bespoke character. Whereas father boasted occasionally being able to take either side of an argument and hold his own, mother never sought to evade a truth or principle no matter who it favored. He conscience would not permit to argue against a truth as she saw it. This may have been due to her deep religious nature but I like to attribute some of it to her fundamental character.
Father had Norman blood, brilliance, argumentative ability and the side stepping tactics of an “out to win” debater. Mother had the simple faith and something else tht prevented her from opposing the truth wherever it arose. “Never wrong even the humblest” was a familiar warning of hers. I feel fortunate in having her balancing characteristics superimposed upon my heritage from my father who, by the way often said that there never had been a great man who did not have a greater mother. In some respects I resemble bot in a hodgepodge sort of way. Short like mother, lean like father, etc. etc. A share of the attributes of both, slower paced in thought than my father, serious and reserved in judgment like mother, my impulses seem deadlocked.
was a common trait in both my parents to resort to quotations to define a
position, illustrate an example, or state a fact. As I have elsewhere recorded some used by my
father I herewith submit a list of those in my mother’s repertoire. Most of these I presume were Tipperary “pistroges”, others
seemed general in Ireland of old as father used to say.
She recalled the “Rising of ‘67” and her father and four brothers attending Fenian meetings and later taking up arms. She told a story of a very decent “Peeler” (policeman) who rented a room in their home. When the trouble started brewing, this policeman gave up his room and told grandfather that he knew too much about the family’s Fenian activities, but did not want to betray them or get the blame if they were arrested. What mother lacked in stories from the old land she compensated by a vocabulary, which though of milder accent than that of my father, she enriched with quaint Celtic expressions the majority of which differed from and sometimes squelched many freely used by my father. Evidently both of my Irish parents while sharing a common heritage of Irish idioms each seemed to have expressions peculiar to their own county.
While not of the chronic “God Help Us” type, mother had many devotional expressions such as:
“With God’s help”
“He is before God now, let him rest in peace”
“Speak no ill of the dead”
“God for us all”
“Don’t fly in the face of God, welcome His holy will”
“God forgave His enemies when He was in the agony of death on the cross and who are we to want revenge?”
“Blessed are the merciful…etc.
Similar colorful expressions and traits follow throughout this book.
I have heard mother mention that both sides of her family had their traditional burying grounds. These were respectfully, Shanrahan and Castle Grace (Clogheen lies directly in between). The gist of long ago stories she told follow:
certain Major Reel seems buried on an Irish hillside where a monument commemorates
that soldier and his beloved horse sharing a common grave.
Another concerns a Clogheen lad who went to Lodon and became a full-fledged “Shoneen” (A man who turned his back on tradition) and didn’t know the family cat when he returned. According to him, no such animals lived in England.
Another is the story of a fellow who stole a tethered pig and “confessed” having picked up a piece of rope along the road.
Then there is the story of a beautiful Irish song that has a curse on it and which mother would never sing or repeat the name lest the devil tempt anyone to sing it. My father seemed familiar with the old legend. Forty years after his death I am obliged to guess its Irish name thus: Cailin Deas Crúite na mBó and it's English title as "The Sweet Maid Milking a Cow"
* The rendition by Cathie Ryan is hauntingly beautiful and can be found here.
Tá blian nó níos mó 'gam ag éisteacht
Le cogar doilíosach mo mheoin,
Ó casadh liom grá geal mo chléibhe
Tráthnóna brea gréine san fhómhar.
Bhí an bhó bhainne chumhra ag géimneach
Is na h-éanlaith go meidhreach ag ceol,
Is ar bhruach an tsruthán ar leathaobh dhom
Bhí cailín deas crúite na mbó.
Tá a súile mar lonradh na gréine,
Ag scaipeadh trí spéartha gan cheo,
's is deirge a grua ná na caora
Ar lasadh measc craobha na gcnó,
Tá a béilin níos mílse na sméara,
's is gile ná leamhnacht a snó,
Níl ógbhean níos deise san saol seo
Ná cailín deas crúite na mbó.
Dá bhfaighinnse árd Tiarnas na hÉireann
Éadacha, síoda is sróil
Dá bhfaighinnse an bhanríon is airde
Dá bhfuil ar an dtalamh so beo
Dá bhfaighinnse céad loingis mar spré dhom
Píoláidi, caisleáin is ór
Bfhearr liom bheith fán ar na sléibhte
Lem chailín deas crúite na mbó
Muna bhfuil sé i ndán dom bheith in éineacht
Leis an spéirbhean ró-dhílis úd fós
Is daoirseach, dubhrónach mo shaolsa
Gan suaimhneas, gan éifeacht, gan treo
Ní bheidh sólás im chroí ná im intinn
Ná suaimhneas orm oíche ná ló
Nó bhfeice mé taobh liom óna muintir
Mo cailín deas crúite na mbó
It was on a fine summers morning,
The birds sweetly tuned on each bough,
And as I walked out for my pleasure,
I saw a pretty girl milking her cow;
Her voice so enchanting, melodious,
Left me quite unable to go,
My heart it was loaded with sorrow,
For cailín deas crúite na mbó.
Then to her I made my advances;
"Good morrow, most beautiful maid,
Your beauty my heart so entrances!--"
"Pray sir, do not banter," she said;
"I'm not such a rare precious jewel,
That I should enamour you so,
I am but a poor little milk girl,"
Says cailín deas crúite na mbó.
"The Indies afford no such jewels,
So precious and transparently fair,
Oh ! do not to my flame add fuel,
But consent for to love me my dear,
Take pity and grant my desire,
And leave me no longer in woe,
Oh ! love me or else I'll expire,
Sweet cailín deas crúite na mbó.
"Or had I the wealth of great Damer,
Or all on the African shore,
Or had I great Devonshire treasure,
Or had I ten thousand times more,
Or had I the lamp of Alladin,
Or had I his genie also,
I'd rather live poor on a mountain,
With cailín deas crúite na mbó."
"I'll beg you'll withdraw and don't tease me
I cannot consent unto thee,
I like to live single and airy,
Till more of the world I do see,
New cares they would me embarrass
Besides, sir, my fortune is low,
Until I get rich I'll not marry,"
Says cailín deas crúite na mbó.
"An old maid is like an old almanack,
Quite useless when once out of date,
If her ware is not sold in the morning,
At noon it must fall to low rate,
The fragrance of May is soon over,
The rose loses its beauty you know,
All bloom is consumed in October,
Sweet cailín deas crúite na mbó.
"A young maid is like a ship sailing,
There's no knowing how long she may steer,
For with every blast she's in danger,
Oh consent love and banish all care,
For riches I care not a farthing,
Your affection I want and no more,
In comfort I'd wish to enjoy you,
My cailín deas crúite na mbó.
Songs that mother did sing and sing well were of mixed origin.
Definitely Irish, were The Rose of Tralee, and the lullaby, Tura
Lural Lura, Tura Lura La fifty years before it became the rage in America.
Other lullabies I liked her to sing were By Oh Baby Bunting and
Rockabye Baby on The Tree Top.
Both of my parents called being late for religious services “Getting the soldiers part of the mass”. This seems derived from the practice of neighborhood encamped Catholic soldiers in the British regiments marching in a body to the nearest Catholic Church, often rather belated. Mother had a song accompaniment to one of the bugle calls of these soldiers. It sounded like revile and ran thus:
Run to the stable me byes while you are able
And water your horses and give them their corn
For if you neglect it the captain will know it
And the dark guarhouse you’ll languish forlorn
During the eighteen nineties there were many very old Irish people residing in our village. Some of these had come to America around 1800 and later. Best remembered of these was a near neighbor and frequent call at our house which she fairly dominated. She often clouted me and my brothers, and sometimes my mother too. She aided Mother during six confinements after having watched her like a hawk for months previous. This woman had twelve sons and daughters; the youngest of these was born in 1850. Her older sons had had served in the American Civil War.
Father always handled this woman with gloves and conveniently alleged having some work to do when she opened fire on him. He often remarked “I’m afraid of the old harridan. She would rout the devil himself. Despite her rough exterior however, this woman was very warmhearted and kindly. She often brought apples, cookies and other things to the smaller children, and examined Mother and the babies as thoroughly as would a good doctor; at a period when doctors were called in only as a last resort. The attitude of the local doctors was similar to that of my father, as while ill at ease with her around they nevertheless admitted she was an excellent though untrained nurse.
Typical is a comment she made when informed that a generally disliked old localite was dying:
“Oh God speed the owld devil. Hell has been waiting for him all too long.”
Amusing too is her coming in our house and practically ousting a calamity howling neighbor who always had the bad word:
“Where is your funeral dress you crepe hanging owld wretch” asked the midwife adding, “If I catch you frettin this girrell I’ll wring th neck av ye”. Shortly after this incident one of my brothers was born.
Aiding the midwife on such occasions was an elderly Irish neighbor we always called Mitty. Born in 1825, Mitty was a soft spoken good natured easy going woman. Jolly and full of pranks, she often had the neighborhood children chasing the sparrows in the attempt to capture them by putting salt on the birds tails. For the youth of the period, Mitty’s dooryard was the evening gathering point and local equivalent of the section of New York City immortalized in the old popular song titled The Stone Outside Dan Murphy’s Door and The Sidewalks of New York.
Father and Mother met in Rondout, Kingston, NY and they were married in St.
Mary’s Church in 1873.
Mother was only seventeen, whereas Father
was twenty seven.
About ten years after their marriage, they
moved to what is now our old homestead where seven of their twelve children
Here as I write I see before me aged trees,
shrubs and flowers which they planted.
Mother kept a variety of flowers and
adopted many pets that we children brought home and often forgot.
These wise animals quickly learned to
associate Mother with food and quickly adopted her.
Some of them virtually tyrannized her.
Another autocrat was “Orphan Annie” the lone chick of one of my father’s hens. Abandoned too early by her mother, she was hand fed by my mother. Later, frequent attempts to keep her with the main flock were only partially successful as Annie spent most of day up at our house. At maturity she selected mother’s clothespin box by the family pulley clothesline as a nesting place. After tossing out the clothes pins, Annie arranged a suitable nest and laid herein her first egg. Every time mother replaced the clothes pins Annie defiantly tossed them out again amid angry cackles berating mother until she finally yielded saying “All right you bowld hussy, have your own way. I’ll use a hambag”.
Rube the parrot, a gluttonous old scoundrel virtually dominated mother who dreaded and hastily appeased his shrieks of “Hurry up I’m Starving”, “I’ll Tell The Neighbors”, and “I’ll Curse You”, which certain smart-aleck members of the family taught him. Despite this however, the old devil loved her and my sister dearly. He shared their grief and cried with them on occasions of family mourning; referred to them in affectionate terms, and when all was well he enlivened the household with various antics and songs we taught him. His entrainments included multiplication tables and the alphabet taught to him by my sister, many songs with emphasis on “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” as a courtesy to my Tipperary mother. These supplemented with innumerable wise cracking comments and other reportorial features. He called my sister “Maywee” and my mother “Wurra Wurra”. He knew no profanity and seemed to regret it. To him I was a liar and a wise guy with whom he enjoyed shadow boxing.
Rube shares his point of view - Tipp
Memoirs of a Family Parrot
By Ruby Duby
I am an old guy, ‘bout a million years I guess and plenty tough. A bad egg what was hatched from a bad egg. That’s what Joe says, and for once I guess the idiot is right. He’s the wise guy what thinks he can rite. Huh! Just wait till I get goin’. I know him and all the rest of the Fleming’s, and small potatoes they are no matter what the neighbors think. I know ‘em and furdermore, everybody else is going to know ‘em better after I spill the beans.
Me? Oh I’m a Mexican Greaser. My old man got popped off robbin’ a cornfield and Ma married up with another guy. We couldn’t hitch and I went on my own. I was young, but I got around plenty before I got caught in a trap. I was sent north to the Estados and an old Dutchman shipped me east to the Flemings. They were nice to me and I had things pretty much to my liking, but if I only knew what a bunch of squalling bras I’d have to put up with in the coming years, I’d have broke jail then and there.
Jim and John came along first, then a little fellow that died before Bill was born, then that pup smart Joe; just as fresh then as he is now and as big a fool. Then there was a little girl what only stayed a few months. Then Eddie, and he died too. Ta (Tom) and Paul and Maywee (Mary) followed. Poor Frankie didn’t live long. Mister Patrick, the youngest, was born later and in spite of the deaths in the house, lived full. There were cats, dogs, chickens, pigeons, goats, pigs, ducks, and rabbits so dere was always a lot goin’ on. We had a lot of udder families on the street too, and how the brats used to stare at me. Polly want a cracker they’d say, just as if dat was all I lived on huh! I liked brats dough. And de kids in our own house wasn’t bad.
Wurra Wurra (Mrs. Fleming) always cared for me and believe me I made her step around. I had to have a share of everything that was on the table or there would be hell to pay. The old man was nice enough, but he wasted too damn time on the dogs chickens and pigeons. Whatever he saw in them I couldn’t see it. The low down things made me a royal Montezuma. Hah! He was funny udderwise, he’d sit for hours just lookin’ at a piece of paper just like Joe. Ta was worse, he not only looked at papers a lot, he tried to make them by machine. Just puttin’ a lot of marks on pieces of paper. I never could get the idea.
Da old man went to bed one day and dey put him in a box and dat was the last I ever seen of him. Scotty the Shepard Dog cried a lot, but old Duke didn’t seem to care cause he was sick himself and died soon after. Scotty musta went after them, cause he went up to the cemetery one day and never came back. Beau the cat died the same summer and believe me she would have died about five years sooner if I would only have tricked her into thinkin’ I was one of the canaries. Every time she killed one of them Joe called me a murderer. That made me mad, not that I wouldn’t have liked to done the job, but to have that pest accuse me of it. Wouldn’t I like to murder that guy, but he won’t stand and fight it out with me. I got him buffaloed all right.
Some of the boys used to go away for a long while and then come back again and I was glad. One time though, Ta went to France where they was buildin’ a war. I never saw Ta after that, but just as sure as I’m here, he did come back years and years afterward nailed up in a box. They couldn’t fool me, I knew. I called and called him but he didn’t answer. Wurra Wurra changed after that she got slower and slower every day and cried all the time. All the rest of them were away all week and we would be all alone and all we would say was poor Ta poor Ta oh Wurra Wurra poor Ta.
Bimeby Bill and Jim came home to keep store. That made company for us and it wasn’t so lonesome. After a while Pat started to bring kids here with him when he came and I began to get jealous. Say, who were those kids anyway and why all this fuss about them? Teasie (Patricia) HA! I got her scared all right. Don Heh! Maybe he thinks it’s fun to run by my cage , but it’ll be a whole lot funnier for me someday if he forgets to run. I’ll get him right! Renee (Maureen) is a young kid and I’m jealous of her, but do you know there’s a lot of noise and hell raisin’ when she is around and I like her for that but she’s got no business cuttin’ me out. I’m boss here and mean to stay boss.
One day Jim died and a little while afterwards Wurra Wurra went away too. That made it awful lonesome for me here by myself all day while Bill was in the store. Maywee and de wise guy came home weekends. That helped a lot, but now Bill stays home all the time and that’s better for me. I’ve got him eating out of my hand, even if he thinks it’s the other way around. I get my seven square meals a day, my head scratched when I want it, my cage covered at night, and an early breakfast. That helps some. Yet I often sit on my perch dreaming and thinking back over the long years. I’ve been here and you know it’s saddening the changes I’ve seen and it worries me to think I’ll outlive the family. And what then? Joe says “Only the good die young and those whose hearts are as dry as the summer dust, burn to the socket.” Bah! I’ll bet he read that in one of those books he always has his nose in. He’s no spring chicken himself.
As dumb as the Fleming’s are, I learned a lot just listenin’ to ‘em. Religion, law, politics, prize fightin, baseball, and lots of udder stuff. I enjoy the ratio very much. Maywee learnt me my ABC’s, the multiplication tables and a lot of nice songs. She teaches brats for a livin’. I’d teach ‘em for free if I got a chance. Ta learnt me some songs too a long time ago. I most forgot ‘em now but they was somthin’ about a long way to Tipperary, My country tis’ of thee, and the Good ol’ Summertime. I get ‘em all mixed up now. Guess I am getting a little along in years myself with the rest of the family but I feel like a yearlin’. The wise guy says it’s because the devil takes care of those he’s sure of gettin’. Smart pup that wise guy, he’d make an educated dog if he was only right in the head. He’s one guy I’d like to slam, He’s garrulous and blustery, but he high tails it out when I try to land one on his beezer. Heh! He is allers blusterin’ and talkin’ tough and sarcastic to me, but yells for protection when I try to land a haymaker on him. What business is it of his what I done in Mexico? It’s none of his affair or anyone else’s. He’s gotta stop prying into my background or get a bust on the nose.
I’m neither a vulture a pig or a buzzard, and even if I was I’d consider myself a peg or two higher than him. I wish I knew some nice swear words that I could call him but that’s one thing I never had a chance to learn except one day when I was in the blacksmith’s shop and the man there said an awful lot of funny words to me over and over again. I wish I could remember them so I could tell that smarty Joe a few things. If I call Joe a liar or tell him to shut up, they throw a cover over my cage and leave me in the dark. All on account of that pest.
Maywee went somewhere last winter and ain’t never coming back again they say. Heaven is her address now.
I feel awful bad about it. She was good to me and I loved to have her fuss over me. Her voice sounded like them wild doves up in the woods from our house. She used to sing lovely songs for me and claimed she thought I was a good parrot. I liked to have her pet me. She always took my part too when big mouthed Joe accused me of things I’d rather not have advertised. Poor Maywee, she worked hard teachin’ brats over in Poughkeepsie all week and was tired and sick when she got home, but was always nice to me.
One cold winter night she came home sick and the doctors took her away. She was gone a month and oh wasn’t I glad when she returned. About a week later she got terrible sick again and Bill had to run out and get Dukie Huben’s people (Duke was the Huben’s dog) but Maywee got worse and they had to send her back to the doctors again. They sent her back in a lovely box with loads and loads of flowers. Gosh, you’d oughta see all the people that came to the house then. I didn’t think there was that many people in the world. Then one day, the church bell started to ring sad like and they took poor Maywee away. Joe says Ma came after her and I think that’s just about what happened. Poor Maywee, me and Bill needn’t listen for the buss on Friday nights because Maywee ain’t comin’ home anymore.
I often worried about what would become of me when all the Fleming’s go away for good, but I heard Bill and Joe talking about It a coupla times and I feel easier because they both agree the when deres only one of dem left dere goin’ to ship me off to heaven with Ma and Maywee and Ta. That’s fine! I suppose I could go over to Pat’s house but I’d feel outa place where I couldn’t bully and boss everybody around and I think I’d like to give heaven a trial anyhow. Although I suppose God would raise a fuss about it, I’d soon show Him who was runnin’ things and it wouldn’t do Him any good to crab about it. I’d soon put Him in His place. I’d have lots of brats around because they appreciate me, and of course all de Flemings even Joe, although deres udder places more fittin’ for him like jails and hell for instance. But I like his clowning. I’d invite Dukie Dog but not Percy Cat cause he’d look at me as if I was a canary.
My idea of heaven is a place where deres lots of brats, big people to admire me, a radio playin’ nice music, the Moline Kids singin’ nice music, and lots and lots to eat. I like to eat things. I figure the more I eat the less there is for others. What I eat I got and what ain’t good to eat ain’t worth havin’. Joe collects hundreds of things like books, stamps, relics, and a lot of udder trash and can’t eat any of ‘em. I collect food, eat it and live high and that’s the difference between a smart bird and a big mouth fool. Ha!
I wish I only knew how to swear, I’d tell that dope a few things. Him! He even tried to get the National Guard after me. Just because I belted him around a bit. It didn’t do any good though cause when he wrote da president, all Mr. Roosterfelt said was dat he heard all about how tough I was and he did not want to get me down on him as he might hafta ask me to settle da war for him some day. Maybe I will. I started a rebelution down in Mexico when I was only a brat, or I mean it took a rebelution to get me outta dat country so I’d ought to be able to settle a war or two if I wanted to.
I used to like wars until poor Ta went over to France and came back asleep. Dat was sad, and the way Wurra Wurra and Maywee took it made me feel awful bad. None of our men folk got into the mixup that followed. They are all too old I guess, but I don’t see why they take old Joe over and let him shoot off that big fresh mouth of his. It would save ammunition and maybe make the Dutchman sick enough to quit. I’m in favor of them tryin’ it dough I wouldn’t want anything to happen to de idiot cause he’s good company and generous wid de grub.
Folklore Witt and Philosophy
Mother had the Tipperary version of many of father’s best Irish tales. While in general they tallied, some had twists and amendments which either added humor or emphasized a point. Hence quite a few bits of folklore, wit, humor, and philosophy accredited to my father can also be said to be derived from my mother’s Tipperary repertoire. Mother had two versions of a story of an audacious theif who went to confession. One involved a priest overcoat and is included with stories from my father. The other tells of a rouge who stole a tethered pig and on going to confession admitted picking up a short piece of rope while on his way to church. Sensing an evasion his confessor after close questioning, found that although the rope though described as old, short, and of little value, was attached to a nice fat pig.
In addition to her maxims and stories, mother seemed crammed with quaint descriptive figures of speech appropriate to many situations and individuals. Once while reprimanding a witticism made by my brother she replied “Tom, Ye have words at will, tis kind for ye. What comes by nature costs no money”. (A backhanded slap at my father who merely uttered a devout “Ahem” and beat a juditious retreat). Of one hard drinking neighbor her comment was “He is not fasting”. Of another she remarked: “Sign is on he have the cut of it and again, I could tell be the cut of his jib what he is”. To treat a matter arbitrarily, mother called it “giving it the short shift” Laggards to her arrived at the heal of the hunt”. Close friends she described as “Cheek by jowl”. Sparkling was her name for courting. To her “sick sore and sorrowing” was the depths of despair. To have neither chick nor child disqualified a person to criticize neighborhood children. On hearing a review of a record of a recently convicted jailbird, her only comment was “Consequently”.
Her expression “Worra Worra” seems equivilant to the English “Oh Dear Oh Dear”. One expression that sounded to me like “Yerra my grief, muhcrockus milar” seemed of a mixed nature. Always used in a sorrowful tone and circumstances it implied regret and I like to persuade myself that translated it would read: My loss, my grief, oh my thousandfold grief. (Irish scholars attention: Please do not disillusion this ignorant Yankee on this point. I know nothing of your tounge, but much of the soul and spirit of you people and hope that my bungling half literate attempt to interpret a few of them will be considered tolerantly).
Always aware of her responsibilities in bringing up a large familyof lively boys; mother was alert against bad influances upon them. She had repeatedly warned us against all sorts of danger:
“Trust no one”
“Put nothing in anyones power”
“Let nothing tempt you”
“Shun bad company”
“God sees every move you make”
These are just a few of her admonitions. I recall several occasions when I was cuffed severly “…just for the fear that the devil might tempt me” to imitate an example set by a bad neighborhood boy. “Don’t let them knock talk out of ye” she would warn my father when conspiring members of the family plotted starting up an agitation. “You have the devil’s fashion” she would accuse any of us who broke a promise. She met drawling hesitancy and vagueness of statement by saying “There’s a hole in the ballad and the song fell out”. Whenever one of us didn’t know our piece at school, she would warn us “Take care me bad or you’ll be pushing a muck barrow when you grow up”.
Nothing displeased and hurt her more than to have any of us turn our nose up at the food. “Tis the best I can do and tis well for us to have at it” she would say, “You’ll sup sorrow with a long spoon for this me lad”. If one of us overslept and rushed out to work or school on an emty stomach, she would worry all day. Tho mother often threatened to “raise a hand” to us we never feared such threats until she either emphasized them by adding “And theres God knows in it now”, or stopped talking altogether. In either of these cases we who knew her got out of the way – fast! I never saw a person more appreciative of even the smallest token of consideration than was my mother who often said “When a thing comes from the heart and shows good will, tis a sacrilege to scorn it”.
Mother brought eight of her children to maturity and did all the housework for them and my father alone. Sister Kate died in infancy and as sister Mary showed from childhood extreme brilliance in scholarship her education was continued through high school, Normal Collage and Columbia College from which latter college she earned two degrees B.A. and M.A. She taught school for nearly 30 years, chiefly I the city of Poughkeepsie NY. At the time of her death in 1944 she was planning to earn a PhD at Columbia College.
Yes, mother did all the housework alone, all in the old fashioned way. This meant the baking, boiling, roasting, peeling, dressing, washing, ironing, canning, mending, knitting, patching laundering, making over clothing, bed making, new clothes and bedding out of whole cloth, dish and pot washing as well as a thousand and one incidentals to the needs and convenience of a crowded household. There were quilting comforters, designing window curtains, table cloths, shelf drapes, doilies, caps, hats, paper flowers, and carpet rags for weaving. Hers was a 7 days a week job 365 days per year plus 1 day for leap years. Up week mornings at 4:30 AM she was lucky to get to bed at 10 PM. Sundays brought but little relief, just time to run out to Mass, then run back and prepare the dinner.
As my father was bitterly opposed to child punishment, mother while not severe, was often obliged to maintain family discipline. Yet I never received but one unearned whipping at her hands. The incident that brought about this whipping, while amusing in retrospect, marks one of the most terror stricken experiences of my life. It happened when I was seven or eight years old, when a playmate quarter Indian boy cornered me in a wagon shed beneath a hillside barn. Seizing me, he announced his intention to cut my throat. I cried, begged and pleaded unavailing. Wild with terror decided to go home and did so, in record time. Shortly after this boy’s mother called to mine. Mother went out and helped the other woman to carry the boy indoors. Returning, she grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and pushed me into the neighbor’s house where she flogged me severely. Pointing to “the poor unfortunate child”, the victim of my brutality, she thrashed me again and forced me to apologize to the victim and his mother for many things which for the past sixty years I have strongly doubted my responsibility. All that I recall of the incident is that I was absolutely terrified and decided to go home, and home I went. If as I suppose, the other kid foolishly tried to detain me, that was his misfortune.
A splendid side of my mother’s character was revealed in an incident which occurred about 1889. A family had removed from the street, abandoning a very old dog. Blind and tottering he snuffed out food whenever available. Mother saved kitchen scraps for him although we had two dogs of our own. I and other neighborhood boys thought it fun to throw stones at “Old Jack”. One day I hit him and mother caught me in the act. I expected a whipping but instead I learned a lesson that has influenced me lifelong. Mother called me in a quiet serious voice saying “You are a wicked child but I am not going to punish you. What you have done is beyond my punishing and I hope God will forgive you. Now I want you to look at that animal. He is blind old hungry and homeless. God made him too, and he can feel pain and misery the same as we can when it comes to us. If you have no pity for that poor crayture how can you expect God’s pity and mercy in your trials and sorrows in life and death? You are young and the world is before you. I hope you will always remember this and ‘be said by me’. Go now, I leave you to God and your own conscience. I have done my duty by ye and can only pray that God will give you sense and put compassion in your heart”. I value this extemporaneous, on the spur of the moment utterance of my half literate, unread old fashioned Irish mother above any and all the gems of thought originated and quoted by scholarly father.
Don’t think however, that this approach to a grave child problem was the only expedient mother used. When combating influences not inherent in children, she prompt and arbitrarily stamped out what she called the influences of bad company, literature, etc. that set a bad example. Although there were far fewer demorilizing influances in my childhood and adolescence than there are nowadays, mother was alert and watchful against them all. Had this not been so, my life record would include a thousand fold greater errors than the few miner parenthesis I now regret.
Intoxicated with the glamorous career of the bandit Jessie Boys as imagined by the penny a liner New York City scribbles of the period, myself and a gang of neighborhood adolescents resolved to not only emulate the careers of these “heroic” brothers but to avenge Jessie’s death. But alas for me, mother unearthed one of my James Boys classics and a toy pistol concealed by me. Hell and eighteen thunderstorms accompanied by chain lightning broke loose. From this emerged my sorely wounded humiliated meek and thoughtfully chastened self, far better informed of the decent world opinion of Jessie James from angles and aspects that far from canonized my former hero.
Sixty years after my abandonment perforce of a spectacular and epical career I write in a vastly changed and awry world. Side by side with the major problems of wars and worldwide economic conditions crime multiplies due largely to aposterior consideration. Only in a few ways are there attempts to strike at the root of evil. On the other hand the stimuli, influences, and inspiration to crime increase alarmingly. Children nowadays can be observed togged out cowboy and Indian fashion, armed to the teeth with guns, bowie knives, etc. Thus attired they attend Wild West and gangster movie shows. Many stores sell enticing lines of toy weapons. Were this true in my younger days and had I not a real old fashioned mother to guide, direct, advise, and discipline me God knows to what vicious way my path would have led me along to a bad end. Requescat!
Mother came to America as a girl of fifteen and knew little of affairs outside of her home village. Clogheen in mother’s girlhood seems to have had only a few streets as the only ones I ever heard her mention were Main Street, Chapel Lane, Cockpit Lane, and Pound Lane. There seems to have been a Flemingstown nearby where Grubb and Fennelles had a flour Mill. As previously mentioned, mother was born in Clonmel, but save for a few visits there, knew but little concerning that city. I believe however that she visited Father Sheehy’s grave there several times and I believe that her own grandparents on one side are buried close to the martyred priest. She sometimes quoted a poem inspired by a woman who allegedly got past the guards and stole Father Sheehy’s head from the spear upon which it was affixed, and concealing it in her bosom, escaped with it for burial by those who reverenced Father Sheehy and the principles he died for. How near this is to the historical facts I cannot say. All that I remember of this poem is the first line.
Head of our martyred priest to my breast I hold thee.
When and if this book is ever published, some Irish scholar may identify the old poem quoted; it may be of interest to note that a Yankee retained this line in his memory for at least 65 years.
I know but little concerning Father Sheehy, but understand that he was executed in the early ninteeth century for “treason against the crown”. I recall fragments of a story told by my father concerning Father Sheehy’s death. Pieced together it appears an effort was made to obtain a reprieve. In apparently an eleventh hour attempt an expert rider was given a fast horse and told to get the reprieve before the execution took place. Both man and horse performed their duty magnificently but without effect. Whether due to the denial of a reprieve, or being too late, I do not recall. But I do remember something about a blacksmith ripping the shoes off of the exhausted horse’s feet when it arrived. My father said a local man was his authority for the story. The man, a blacksmith himself was born in Ireland in 1815 and he resided in my hometown until he died at the age of 96.
Some overlooked stories told by my mother include espades of a certain Petticoat Loose a brazen hussy who haunted the hils of Tipperary often frightening otherwise brave men. “Petticoat Loose bate her mother and was cursed for it. Her arm was turned to iron.” and was so heavy, that when she jumped on the farmers wagons, the horses could not pull the load and would act as if paralyzed with fear. Nothing would cause Petticoat Loose to leave but holy water. Finally, a priest banished her to the Dead Sea and there she is today, condemned forever to measure out the sea’s water with a thimble. Divvil a word of a lie in this. Petticoat Loose stopped me own great grandfather’s team on a level road in front of a cemetery one rainy Holloween Eve in the long ago.
Mother had a very nice story that illustrated maternal sympathy. It told of an old Irish woman very proud of one son who was a fine mason yet sympathies were for a less fortunate son who worked as a laborer. Mike was the mason and John was the poor drudge. John was disfigured with a broken jaw. The mother could scarcely make herself understood in English and in telling my mother about the two boys she brokenly stated, Pon Mike pon mason, yes dollars good, easy. “Pon John no mason, work hard, no money poor. Poor John jaw brisk”
While we were growing up our parents kept a goat to supplement the milk we bought. Mother always cared for and milked the animals. I remember three of the goats; logically they were all named Jennie. I remember about six cats coming to our home as kittens and staying until they died. One of these called Beau was stolen and returned months later lame and exhausted as tho from a long journey. Arriving on a cold November night when we were all in bed, he climbed to a porch roof outside my bedroom window and awakened me. When I let him in he dashed downstairs to the room where my mother and sister were sleeping. Awakened they gladly got up and gave the wanderer a midnight supper. Beau only lived about a week after his return. He died very quietly under our kitchen stove.
Another cat we called Thunderbolt because of his lightning like exit when discovered loitering in our chicken coop. He sometimes roosted with the hens who paid no attention to him except for trying to help him when he caught a rat, or cuffing him around when he got too near to a brood of young chicks. These cloutings seem to have given Thunderbolt the impression that he must not steal anything from the chicken coop as whenever he caught a rat he scooted out of sight, pronto, and seemed shame faced for days. Other household cats were named Wildy, Yallar, Satan, Blackie, Midnight, and Jumbo. The latter we alluded to as Fat Cat. Another named Whitey we called Catholic Cat because of his frequent quarrels with a neighborhood Tom alluded to as the Dutch Cat whos Lutheran owners enjoyed the humorous aspects of the cat feud as much as did our own family.
As most of the dogs kept by my father were game fighting animals, mother was afraid of them and beyond serving them their meals, avoided them. Those gentler breeds however she occasionally petted. She liked Luath the Scotch Collie and she and my sister adored the Pomeranian Lily, for whom Rube the parrot alternately voiced friendship, compliments, and contempt as he also did for Charlie Horse an oat destroying gentle drudge owned by my brother Pat.
Contemporary with the Pomeranian we also had a Great Dane named Belle over whom Lilly dominated. In spite of this mother was terrified at Belle until one day the dog became entangled in its leash and mother tried to help it. Unintentionally Belle knocked my mother down and it soothed mother’s fright by licking her face. Mother cried as she told of the experience and later when Belle was whelping, insisted as acting as a midwife.
But few items remain in this survey of my mother. From her early background is the story of her curiosity as a little girl just able to read about the American Civil War and descriptive newspaper articles on Negro life in America and lovely melodies voicing the soul of a race of people she had not seen. Another explained her make believe glee when hot milk boiled and overflowed. “Oh God increase, God increase” she would say as she removed the milk. In explanation she would then tell a story about a simple old Irish woman who seeing her own limited supply of milk rising as it heated prayerfully shouted God increase, God increase until the milk was burned. She then wept at her own unworthiness to the blessings that a more deserving person would enjoy. Best of all is a story she told of having myself and my brother Bill together when hungry herself when my father was too ill to work.
Well-spoken herself, mother loathed bad language in others. This aversion I learned very early in life, when at the age of five I sought to emulate the colorful blasphemies of the drunken owner of a runaway horse. Mother’s prompt and decisive reaction on that occasion has had an emphatic influence upon my judgment in this respect lifelong. A rugged fine looking woman, the hardships of a life of poverty, child rearing, and hard work, failed to destroy her fine character or spirit. Constitutionally strong, she fought off many things that would have invalided other women. Despite two “milk legs” both raw and bursting with varicose veins she worked incessantly until her sixtieth year, after which she indulged in many things her earlier busy life did not permit. She sewed as usual, and scorning to waste or throw away things she once badly needed. She made her own shroud beforehand too, and up till her death at 76, she could knot a thread as quick as a flash of lightning.
earlier he limited leisure was given to her Rosary and devotional reading of
her prayer book; she latterly added general reading, advertisements, catalogues,
etc. etc. and became a specialist of Dahlias besides growing other varieties of
Prosperity seemed to humble her
however and often amid plenty she thanked God and wept at the remembrances of
her early poverty.
While at times cheerful, the death of my brother Tom in the First World War shadowed her remaining days. Accustomed to and active life when she could sleep without rocking, lack of exercise brought on extra weight and insomnia, the latter gave her added time for dangerous contemplation. She was hence never out of grief or truly happy. Mother suffered great hardship until about ten years before her death. When she was 62 years old she lived for the most part alone as father was dead and most of her children either in the army of working away from home and could only call at intervals.
I recall coming home very ill during the influenza epidemic of 1918 and found my sister there ahead of me and extremely ill. The next day my brother came home stricken with the same complaint. Mother nursed us all back to health in about a month. With time to reflect and observe I pitied mother’s plight as she not only worried over us, but also for those of us away. Three sons were then in France, and three more were working at a distance. At that time our home town was at the lowest ebb in its history. Our street contained more empty houses than full ones. Scarcely a footfall echoed from the sidewalks after nightfall. I will never forget those cold November evenings when mother walked to the village in the hope of a letter from the boys overseas. We used to listen for her returning footsteps. All too often she was disappointed. Tragically in the case of Tom who died in the war.
Poor mother was alone when the notification cam and would have probably died were it not for some very good neighbors; One of whom a deputy Sherriff who got ahold of a letter from Brother Bill and phoned the address given. Bill came home and notified the rest of us but mother was inconsolable. My sister then resigned from teaching in New Jersey and later obtained a similar position nearby. Later our eldest brother Jim, tired of extensive work in many parts of America as an insurance man, came home and promised mother that he would never leave her again. Dramatically emphasizing his sentiments by quoting the immortal lines of a poet whose name escapes me. The concluding lines of his selection read:
When all the world is old lad, and all the leaves are brown.
And all the sport is stale lad, and all your wheels run down.
Creep home and take your place there lad, the spent and old among.
God grant you’ll find a face there lad, you loved when you were young
A few years later brother Bill came home and managed a local store for a local chain grocery store. My sister then resumed city teaching, locating in nearby Poukeepsie NY. Our youngest brother after the war married, and operated a local grocery of his own until he was made Postmaster of his wife’s home village. Mother enjoyed frequent visits from two of her three grandchildren Patricia and Donald, and added them to her worry list. Luckily for Patricia, mother’s intuition saved the little girl from a proposed operation and possible disfigurement.
Two Doctors had agreed to operate on Patricia’s neck. Forced to let mother know that the child was ill, the symptoms were described. She will have the measles by the end of the week she told us, and then recommended quite the opposite treatment than the doctors described. The morning before the operation was due; Patricia was covered with measles and of course would not be received at an ordinary hospital. The embarrassed physician in a face saving statement told Patricia’s parents that luckily the measles would obviate the necessity of an operation.
Patricia was mother’s first grandchild and having spent her infancy in our home village received mother’s close attention. When very young she seemed quite cross and failed to thrive to her grandmother’s satisfaction. Examining Patricia closely, mother prepared some old fashioned “goody” as we then called home made infant food. The child ate it ravenously. Your milk is too watery; you’ll have to spoon feed the child from now on mother told her daughter in law. Mother never saw her granddaughter Maureen or any of her great granddaughters; Sharon, Sandra, and Pamela Mary. Strangely, the once predominance of males in our family no longer prevails. As of 1949, the family is represented by six males and five females.
Mother retained her dark glossy hair for a surprising length of time. Brother Tom’s death brought on the first stage of graying, and though she aged otherwise, I her fifth son, was white haired before she was wholly gray. “She faded slowly” somewhat like another Munster girl in a half forgotten song that mother sang. Age too has no pity. She grew gradually feebler until the death of my elder brother Jim brought on her final collapse, and that same summer she joined him in the gone before in our family plot. There seems but little more to add in these annals of an obscure, immigrant Irish girl and her direct and indirect contribution to American heritage. A contribution multiplied by that of many millions of other immigrants from various nations and races constitute much of the legacy enjoyed by Americans today.
A nearly overlooked characteristic of my mother was her attitude towards infidelity. Referring to a local man generally stigmatized as an atheist, her comment was: “Ah the poor man, he don’t realize what a comfort God is to all poor creatures that turn to him. It must be a terrible thing to have no one to confide in when in trouble, grief, sorrow, and disappointment, and it’s worse yet not to give God credit for the blessings we enjoy.” Mirror worshiping individuals enjoying a full measure of the Creator’s beneficence, might well give pause to these words of my old fashioned Irish mother.