Happy Mother’s Day To All Mothers and Grandmothers

When I think of Mother’s Day I think of my own mother, gone for over twenty years now, remembered each day and missed beyond measure.  I also think of my mother’s mother with whom we lived in a multigenerational household.  This is a little window into her life.

Grandmom was a sweet and funny soul.  Her name was Mary Josephine Finnerty McCart, but everyone in our town called her “Mom” because she was everybody’s mom. Here’s why.

Grandmom had eleven children and 47 grand- and great-grandchildren. I like to believe I was her favorite although the other 46 might disagree.  Grandmom was a happy person and even though she suffered child loss and a good amount of hardship over her lifetime, Grandmom soldiered on and never allowed her sorrows to steal away her sweet, light-hearted and loving disposition.

Grandmom also possessed an unwavering Irish Catholic faith.  In fact, the first lesson she taught me was the importance of having a religious belief and how - never mind that she was an old-time Catholic - she loved singing Protestant hymns as “The Old Rugged Cross.”

But where Grandmom drew an uncrossable line about her personal religion was with the Sacrament of Penance. That’s where in her faith the penitent said aloud to a priest in confession what wicked thoughts arose in his or her mind plus what acts were actually (more-or-less) committed.  Some people believed going to confession once a year at Easter sufficient; Grandmom McCart wasn’t one of them. Her idea of being a good Catholic meant going every Saturday afternoon. So that’s what she did.

After dinner was prepared and in a pot, she removed her full apron, took a quick bath and headed off on foot for church.  Like many women in her day she didn’t drive.  She also regularly took me with her and I suspect the simple reason was to set me on some right path which steered clear of that devil’s workshop Grandmom occasionally mentioned.  

After thinking of her transgressions on her wore-out and tired holy knees, in the small town church she had known her entire married life, Grandmom prepared to confess and hopefully be absolved.

Then the time arrived for the actual confession. Reverently she entered the small, dark, closet-like confessional where she knelt once again and whispered to the priest on the other side of the screen exactly what malevolent deeds she committed and how many times she committed them.  When she was finished confessing the priest blessed her and Grandmom opened the door always wearing a relieved smile - a signal to me that all was forgiven and she was home free.

But on this particular summer afternoon Grandmom left the confessional with her head low and her kind hazel eyes cast downward.

Alarmed, I wildly imagined she had confessed to some horrific misdeed like saying a bad word.  “What’s wrong, Grandmom?” I asked gently as only a nine-year old can. Blinking back tears, she dabbed her eyes with a hankie.

“Father McHugh offended me a bit.”  Sniff-sniff with another quick dab of her eyes.

“Oh, Grandmom,” I said in a hushed tone, “What did old Father McHugh say to you?”

After another tiny sniff-sniff she answered, “Mary Jane, Father McHugh whispered ever so low I strained my ears to hear him, ‘Mrs. McCart, he says, for the love of God, ya don’t have to be coming every bloody week to confession.  Ya have no sins; not a one; you’re good with the Lord of heaven and earth and everything in between.’” 

Grandmom started misting up again telling me that she had sins and lots of them.  I was only a kid but believe me, I had way more sins than she but I handled my conscience differently - I walked out of confession grinning like I got away with something! Maybe that’s why she took me so often -- she knew she had to reform me.

Grandmom taught me yet another indelible lesson - “drinking” could turn a person’s life upside down never to be right-side up again. It’s an understatement to say she had a strong dislike of anything to do with alcohol.  Sometimes she would shake her head from side to side and say “So-and-So should live with a little more temperance in his life.” Then she’d raise her eyes heavenward.  She never said who So-and-So was because what was said to her stayed with her.  Grandmom once told me “Mary Jane, since the 12th Century, monks practiced the art of distilling spirits but I say, “No! No!  Only believe in The Holy Spirit!”  So, in our home, if anyone wanted a drink they better have their beer or highball on the sly and sometimes my father did just that at a corner tavern in our neighborhood called Frankie Conway’s.

This favorite hangout of locals was owned by a professional boxer-gone-blind by a punch. He bought the place in the late 1930’s.   Out of respect for dear Grandmom, no one dared call this watering hole “Conways.”  Instead, everyone called it “That Place” so Grandmom wouldn’t find out.  Looking back I think Frankie Conway might have been So-and So.

I remember one of the times my dad told both Grandmom and my mother that he was taking my brother and me out for an ice cream. My brother would elbow me and grin as we walked the four blocks.  Suddenly, we found ourselves at “That Place” sitting on a spinning bar stool and sipping root beer floats from frosty mugs where lots of red-faced men told funny jokes that always began with “Did ya hear the one about…?” Now that I’m thinking about it, Grandmom probably did know where we were heading but she loved my father enough to look the other way and probably told it in confession to Father McHugh who, for all I knew, went to Conway’s, too!

So mothers and grandmothers, keep up the good work.  Continue to impact the worlds of your children and grandchildren and build those memories in their hearts in sweet and loving ways. You can count of me thinking of you on this Mother’s Day just like I’ll sigh and yes, maybe cry a little too, for my own mother and my grandmother - Mary Josephine Finnerty McCart – gone but never forgotten.