When I think about my father and my grandfather, my recollection is blurred about how alike they were, physically and mentally. My father had the same “black-Irish” wavy hair and blue eyes of my grandfather, although there the relationship ends.
My grandfather was a portly man with the abdomen of those who choose political life and attend a lot of banquets; my dad had the physique of working engineers, a teacher, hospital administrator, and in retirement, intensive gardening and the training of convicted felons who were being released from jail without a marketable skill.
Mentally, they were alike in all things: family values, a love of all things Irish, a compassion for oppressed fellow-citizens, and a keen sense of learning.
When my grandfather saw my father depart with his engineering degree and his clarinet for South Carolina — the only sibling to leave the fold — he knew his second son was determined to be part of a shoreline explosion of new hotels, as well as his ability to be part of the fun of nightclubs without a cover charge demanded, as part of a jazz band. And when he proposed marriage and was accepted by the pretty-girl-who-worked-for-an-ice-cream-parlor-at-Myrtle Beach, as a means to leave Florence, South Carolina, and spend the summer of her junior year of college at the beach instead of being a member of the DAR, my grandfather knew that desperate measures were called for.
He boarded a train in Baltimore for Charleston, S.C. with his wife, stern-jawed and confident in his powers to talk his recalcitrant son into returning to his family home in Baltimore with his by-then bride. The date was June 2, 1929, the year the Great Depression started. My father’s job disappeared at Consolidated Engineering, as well as his nighttime job as a jazz clarinetist, and he meekly boarded a train with his wife of a week, for Baltimore, Maryland.
My grandfather owned a large Victorian home in the suburb of Overlea, large enough to accommodate all of his children while they waited out the Depression, and a bedroom had been set aside for the happy couple, my eventual father and mother. My mother was homesick, then pregnant, so she lived morosely with her in-laws and looked forward to better days. True to his word, my grandfather used his influence in municipal affairs with the nuns of Mercy Hospital who promptly hired my father as an engineer at Mercy Hospital. My parents then moved to an apartment a block away from my grandfather’s home on Belmar Avenue, and never lacked for baby-sitters of their two daughters, Mary Elizabeth and Caroline.