Tuesday, April 19, 2016

My Family in the Twentieth Century

Mary McLaughlin 1969

At 91 my mother, Mary McLaughlin, told us she didn’t want to go through another winter in Lovell. She did not want to move in with any of her children, several of whom invited her, and picked an assisted-living facility in Quincy, Massachusetts near my sister, Kathy. We persuaded her to just take her essentials and move in there last November, after which we would sort through and pack up whatever else she wanted to keep. Then, we would each take whatever items we each wished to have and leave the rest for our nephew, who is leasing the house, to keep or dispose of as he wished. 
I took a steamer trunk, a suitcase, and boxes — all filled with family memorabilia. Now the musty smell of pictures and keepsakes permeates my house. On my dining room table and in my office are piles of photos, some professionally produced in cardboard frames now crumbling with age, and some smaller, curled-up, black-and-whites from now-extinct Polaroid cameras. When I’m done, I’ll take them all to Quincy so my mother can identify the people, places, and times depicted. If I don’t, that information will die with her.
I remember my father’s friend, Gerry Hurley, pulling them from his Polaroid, peeling off a layer, then swiping a pungent, chemical-soaked cylinder over each photo’s surface and waiting for it do dry. Sections the chemical didn’t cover have turned brown, but I can see my brother Danny and myself swimming in Little Sebago Lake where our two families rented a huge camp for two weeks around 1959 or so.
There were few photos of my mother or her siblings until she was a teenager and her brothers were in uniform during World War II. Maybe they couldn’t afford a camera. I’ll have to ask her about that. There’s a Medford High School yearbook from 1942, the year my mother graduated, but no wedding photos — because she eloped with my father while he was home on leave in 1943. There were faded shots of my older brother and sister when they were toddlers, then several professional group shots of our growing family with five, then six, then seven, then eight of us through the fifties and sixties. I remembered posing for those and trying to hold a smile as my cheeks cramped.
That's me in the middle

In one photo were assembled guests at a wedding from the late forties or early fifties. My mother and father, my maternal grandmother and grandfather, as well as my Uncle Joe and his wife Pat. Seated front-row-center is great-grandmother Kate McDonnell, who died around the time I was born. She married my great-grandfather, Peter Haggerty, after each had emigrated, separately, from County Mayo, Ireland in the 1870s. They met in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and married. Peter worked in the coal mines there and died of black lung at 40, after which Kate moved with her young son, my grandfather, John Haggerty, Sr., to the Boston area so he wouldn’t work in the mines. The oldest item from the trunk is a diploma from Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Roxbury, Massachusetts earned by John Haggerty in 1903 when he completed eighth grade. There’s also an American flag, but I don’t know if it’s from his funeral in 1957 or my father’s twenty years later. In 2009 when John Haggerty’s son, my Uncle Joe Haggerty was 90 and my mother 85, I took them to Ireland to try and find where Peter and Kate had come from. It was a grand trip and we found two places we believe were where they lived in Crossmolina, County Mayo.
My mother and father top right

There are copies of the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle editions from August 14, 1945 with the bold headlines: “JAPS QUIT!” and “TOKYO SAYS ‘WE WILL QUIT” respectively. My mother had moved there to work because my father’s ship had departed from there to Okinawa months earlier and would soon return. Next to the paper was a scrapbook with receipts, menus and other souvenirs from San Francisco venues, most of which had come unfastened from its crumbling pages. My father had told me how scared he was during kamikaze attacks off Okinawa as we watched it all on “Victory At Sea” in the early sixties.
Teaching 20th century US History, I emphasized that WWII was that century’s pivotal event politically, of course, but also personally for millions. It’s possible my mother and father would not have married and produced me or my siblings if my father hadn’t pressed her before going off to combat with the plea so many other young women heard: “Let’s marry now because I might not live through it.” She’s told me since that she didn’t really want to get married but gave in when he told her that. My father and fifteen million other surviving American soldiers and sailors were discharged in 1945 and set about begetting us Baby Boomers.


Ted R. said...

Lotta Boston Irish called out here, Tom. Very familiar.

Peter Callahan said...

Thanks Tom, I have never heard most of this history. I especially like the photo of the seven of you..... Sorry uncle Paul

Jannell Haggerty Tardif said...

Thanks for sharing, Tom! Love the pictures and leaning about our family history.

John Haggerty said...

Thanks Tom. Was great learning all that. Hope you have more to share

Anonymous said...

OMG, I WISH you wouldn't print stuff like this. You might just as well have publicly proclaimed "Don't put beans in your ears" with a bull horn.
The "Can't we just......" move to another, warm, country? stuff has been rearing it's ugly head for a few years, with ZERO appreciation of what to do with 30-40 years of two peoples assorted, accumulated memori....um, junk, OR the associated "inherited"....junk, of 4 generations.
"Um, honey, folks don't speak English there!" seems to have no deterrent effect.
"You'd be 3500 miles from YOUR family!" seems to alleviate the symptoms.

Kevin McKenzie said...

Hi Tom, That first picture of your mom, in your kitchen, brings back a flood of memories I have from that time growing up. I can hear the percolator and smell the coffee. That's a great picture of your brothers and sisters and you. (Missing Paul so I would guess about 1960...ish)
I love being around you and your brothers, but especially hanging around with your sisters. Loved them all and wish I got to know Paul. (He was little back then, reminds me of your dad from his pics now)
Thanks for the memories Tom, miss you guys, Kevin