The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Happy Birthday, Mom

Today is my mother's birthday. The daughter of Irish immigrants, Martha Catherine (Cavanaugh) McCarthy was born 107 years ago on June 28, 1909 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. She died on March 12, 1977 at the age of 67.

Interestingly, on Mom's birth certificate her name was entered simply as Martha Cavanaugh, with no middle name; and yet on her baptismal certificate she was given the name Catherine Martha Cavanaugh. Since she was always called Martha, I had assumed this was her first name and Catherine was her middle name. Now I'm not so sure.

Thinking about my mom today brought to mind others in her family: her sisters Margaret, Rose, Mae, and Lu, and her brother, Bill. These weren't Mom's only siblings, but the others died young, long before I was born; and so I never knew them. It also reminded me that I know so little about my ancestors. 

Martha & John McCarthy-1930s
I never knew my maternal grandparents. Mom's mother, Julia, died when Mom was still a young girl of about 10, and her father, Thomas Cavanaugh, died within a few years of my folks' marriage in 1935, years before my birth in 1944. I suspect I would have liked my grandfather because my father thought highly of him and always spoke kindly of him. I know almost nothing about my grandmother, since my Mom rarely mentioned her and my father never knew her. But her name is also the source of some confusion. On Mom's baptismal certificate, my grandmother's maiden name is listed as "Julia Soye", which my mother always claimed was Scottish. But on Mom's birth certificate, the last name is spelled "Soier", which to me seems rather French. Which is correct? I have no idea.

According to that same birth certificate, both of my grandparents were born in Ireland, but no city or county is given, just the country. Perhaps my son, Ethan, who has been doing a bit of genealogical digging can uncover some of the hidden Irish roots of our family tree.

Mom - RN
Mom was the youngest in her large family. According to Mom's birth certificate, her mother had nine children, although I can account for only eight. She had several children from a previous marriage that ended with her first husband's death. His last name was Dorley, but I know nothing more about him. My grandmother then married Thomas Cavanaugh, seven years her junior, with whom she had several more children, Mom being the last. Like many families of that era, the death of a spouse and the need to remarry created stepmothers, stepfathers, half-brothers, and half-sisters, all thrown together into a complex family mix. If my recollection is correct, this "second family" was all girls, while the first included both girls and boys. I could have the numbers wrong, though, since Mom seldom differentiated between sisters and half-sisters and infant death was far more prevalent in those days. Indeed, I'm certain that one of the boys in that first family, whose name I never knew, died in infancy. The other boy, my uncle, Bill Dorley, was a Navy veteran of World War One and a life-long bachelor. Uncle Bill was quite the character, and as a youngster I was especially impressed by his 1954 Cadillac Eldorado convertible. It's remarkable, isn't it? -- the things we remember. I was quite fond of this uncle of mine and was saddened when he died in 1959.

After my grandmother's untimely death, my grandfather, Tom Cavanaugh, remarried. All in the family agreed that this second wife, Bridey, was a less than pleasant stepmother. I can recall my father speaking about her only guardedly when my brother and I were present. I got the impression that she was very unkind to my mother who was still quite young when her father married Bridey. I'm pretty certain that as a young boy I met her at least once, but the meeting was apparently unremarkable; however I do remember accompanying my parents to her funeral in Bridgeport.
Mom and her sister, Edna (c. 1920)
Mom's closest sibling was her sister, Edna, who died while still in her early teens. As I recall, the cause of death was rheumatic fever (perhaps scarlet fever) but I might well be wrong. The two girls, however, were very close and Edna's death affected Mom deeply. The above photo was taken not too long before Edna became ill. Mom once told me that her sister's illness influenced her decision to become a nurse. And it was during her time as a nurse that Mom met Dad. The rest is history.

Mom continues to speak to me, to guide me even now forty years after her death. T. S. Eliot said it pretty well...

And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.

Happy Birthday, Mom. Thank you for your goodness and for all you did for me and Diane. We love you and miss you.

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