FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

My Mother

by DANIEL CASSIDY

My mother Doris Frances Cassidy was a “hot sketch,” full of laughter and quick on the uptake. Smart, sharp, resourceful, and the most loving mother anyone could ask for.   She talked to everyone: doormen, neighbors, waiters, salesgirls, hackeys, someone sitting next to her on a bus, a lady in line at the supermarket. She liked people.

But she could sit by herself contentedly for hours; finish a NY Times crossword puzzle; follow a 12 inning Mets game on the radio; listen to Tony Bennett CDs all day; read Maeve Binchy romance novels, “I love stories with happy endings;” and finish Pete Hamill’s book The Drinking Life in two days — one of her favorites. My mother could entertain herself as well as she could entertain others. She was a doozer (duasóir, duaiseoir, prize-winner, someone or something remarkable)!

Mom was seventeen in late 1935, in the depths of the Great Depression, the first person in our family to graduate from High School, and the only person to have a full-time job — as a phone operator for AT&T. At 74 she was still working full time as an executive secretary and living in midtown Manhattan. She walked to work every day and retired reluctantly. “I like the money. And I like the people I work with.”

My grandmother raised my mother through some of the worst Depression-era conditions imaginable; the kind of poverty you just want to forget. Mom almost never talked about it, but she did a few times: evictions, furniture put out on the street, at times not enough clothing to go to school. “We ate mashed potatoes for breakfast, fried potatoes for lunch, and baked potatoes for supper. That’s why I love to eat,” she’d laugh. “And it’s probably why I eat so fast.” She never left anything on her plate.

Mom always said she never envied anyone or anything in her life, except once. She told me: “There was a little girl around my age in one of the buildings where your grandfather worked as a “super” in Brooklyn. We lived in the basement apartment.  I remember watching that little girl go to school one morning dressed up in pretty new clothes and for that moment I envied her.” But that was it. I got over it.   “Forget it. Get over it.” That was Mom’s mantra.  Let the past go. Be strong. Love one another.

Mom not only survived, she flourished. She got into Julia Richman, the premier public high school for girls in New York City. Her grandmother, “Mamie” Byrnes, who worked as a maid for an opera singer and his wife, gave her a dollar a week for the subway fare to East 67th street.   Back then the average wage was $ 17.00 a week. Mom’s grandmother was lucky if she was making half that as a housekeeper. But that dollar insured that my mother became the first person in our family to graduate from High School. It was June 1935. She was 16.

The day my mother graduated Nanny hocked her wedding ring and bought her a typewriter as a present.  My grandmother said: “You see that typewriter, Doris?  That typewriter means you’ll be the first woman in our family that won’t clean other people’s houses.” Then Mom always joked: “Instead I cleaned up after you kids!”  Whatever we needed, she was always there for us

Mom was at home on 40th Street and 2nd Avenue.  She could stand on the roof of her building at night and see her history flow down the East River — in reverse: from the Upper East Side, where she lived with my father in the late 1960s, just before Dad died, to Murray Hill, where she spent her last thirty years. Across the river — the old Pepsi sign still lighting up the edge of Queens – she could see Sunnyside off in the distance, where she raised her first children. Then she’d follow the river across Newtown Creek to Greenpoint, where my father’s Irish-speaking grandfather settled in the 1870s. She could even see East New York, the neighborhood of her childhood, on the edge of the horizon. Further down the river was the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where I was born in 1943, next to Irishtown, where the O’Brien family landed as Famine immigrants in the late 1840s. My grandfather, Pop, was born there in 1895.

Perhaps sometimes on that roof, 40 stories above the East River, my mother imagined she could hear the Atlantic Ocean, breaking against the jetties of Rockaway Beach, and thought of old summer times walking along the boardwalk and of Playland with its Merry-Go-Round, Fun House, the Whip, Haunted House, loop-de-loop, bumper cars, and hordes of hucksters, selling cotton candy, popcorn, caramel corn, hot dogs, French fries, and candy apples. Old Rockaway’s boardwalk was crowned each summer night by a spiral necklace of lights that lined the tracks of the giant roller coaster we called the “Sinnig Railway.”  — I only found out years later that its real name was “Scenic Railway.”  We just mispronounced it!

Rockaway Beach was the other “Irishtown” of our family history — where we escaped from the sweltering city summers before air conditioning —  with its life-giving ocean breezes, and bungalows for rent with cold showers and porches a five minute walk from the boardwalk There were endless crowds, laughter,  Irish music spilling out of the bars lining the boulevard, dance halls featuring live bands, courting couples, hordes of teenagers, tired sunburned parents dragging tired sunburned, freckle-faced kids along with the umbrellas, towels, sandy blankets, and empty baskets of a day at the beach. High above it all like the racket (raic ard, loud uproar, noisy fun) of raucous angels, were the joyful screams of the roller coaster riders as the cars rose and dove down the tracks next to the breakers. It was in Rockaway’s “Irishtown” in all its noisy glory, seventy years ago, where Irish-Americans forgot about the Depression for a day or two, and my mother first met my father, Daniel Patrick Cassidy, and fell in love.

When my grandmother, who we called Nanny, went into premature labor in September 1918, the women in our family delivered a tiny premature baby girl who weighed less than four pounds. Aunt Tootsie rubbed her down with cooking oil, wrapped her in a towel, and put her in the oven with the door open. (I am not kidding.) That tiny baby survived nine decades. Her first months on earth, the fall of 1918, were spent making it through the greatest influenza epidemic in history, which killed 675,000 people in the U.S. But it didn’t kill that little baby. My Mom was born a survivor.  She was a true doozer (duasóir pron. duasór, al. duaiseoir, n., a prizewinner; someone or something outstanding or remarkable)!

Doris Frances Cassidy, 1918 – 2008; R.I.P.

DANIEL CASSIDY is the author of How the Irish Invented Slang: the Secret Language of the Crossroads, CounterPunch/AK Press., 2007.
In a lecture sponsored by the N.Y. Public Library, on April 19, 2008, “Twenty Books Every Irish American Should Read,” the author and critic Tom Deignan designated  How the Irish Invented Slang number #1 on the list. This column first appeared in the Irish Echo newspaper: http://www.irishecho.com/index.cfm. Dan Cassidy can be reached at DanCas1@aol.com

 

 

Your Ad Here
 

 

 

 

Daniel Cassidy is the author of How the Irish Invented Slang: the Secret Language of the Crossroads, CounterPunch/AK Press., 2007.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail