Ithaca Blog

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Our Other Mother

(For Mother's Day, here is an excerpt from our book, "Brooklyn 3, New York.")

There was no such thing as divorce in Brooklyn 3. No kid ever lost a parent, nor got an extra one, that way.

Some kids got an extra parent through family, if a real parent got sick.

This happened with us.

Early in her marriage, our mother was hospitalized with polio. She had little kids. So her mother, Maryann Keane, stepped in.

Maryann lived a mile from us, with her husband, Patrick, in a fifth-floor walk-up, on the corner of Church and Brooklyn Avenues.

Maryann Lynch and Patrick Keane were from Ireland. Both came to America as children, fleeing poverty.

Maryann came alone, at age 16.

She'd had the misfortune to be born a girl, first child in a dirt-farming family.

"That's one for America," her father said when she was born, not male. He shipped her to New York as soon as it was legal.

There were boarding houses for such as Maryann. She went to work scrubbing floors in Manhattan.

On weekends, she went to dances for the Irish. She met a man - from Tuam, back home. He was good.

They married. Maryann was 24. Things were good enough that she stopped working.

She bore three children. She was thrilled with it and so was her husband.

Like herself, her husband was denied education as a child, thus choices later. Patrick worked digging ditches and pouring asphalt in the streets.

Their three girls slept in one bed. Maryann washed clothes by hand, in a tub with a washboard and wringer. By no means was there money.

But her husband was faithful, kind, and pious. Also, good-looking and fun. He played the accordion at parties on Saturday nights. Sunday mornings, he cooked breakfast for the family, before ushering at church.

Their girls were all spirited, smart and beautiful.

How much did she love Brooklyn? She loved the place entirely, she told me many times, in a brogue she never lost - jute-strong, song-sweet.

She'd built a life, against all odds, more solid, by a million, than the stone house she was cast from in Longford.

Presumably, to help a sick daughter raise children was no great burden, in her mind.

Maryann came to our house by bus each morning before our father left for work, and took the bus home once he returned. No need to bother him with driving, tired as he was. Some nights she stayed, if needed. On weekends she drove with her husband.

We children were small, and of course had all bonded normally with our mother, but there arose some confusion about the role of these two women in our lives.

Other kids saw their mothers a lot, and their grandmothers a little. With us, it was the opposite.

We referred to our grandmother as "Ma." Of course, our mother was Mom. But whatever a grandmother was, or was supposed to be, ours was more. Hence the splitting of the title.

I don't know if anyone tried to clarify the issue for us, or correct us. If they did, it didn't stick. We never referred to nor addressed Maryann as anything but Ma, our whole lives.

No comments: