Tuesday, January 24, 2017

An Uncommon Woman - Memories

It has been far too long I have posted in this blog. Truth be told, my life has become more cluttered and I have not felt it appropriate to write about living a less cluttered one. I may need to redefine what that means.

But today, I felt it right to write about my mom. A woman who really had it all together, raised four kids. Held the same job for over 35 years - only taking a few months off each time she had one of us. Maintained a household. Kept my dad - pretty much - on the straight and narrow. And still had time to have coffee or tea in the morning, do her crosswords and read her books.

She always amazed me. Still does.

So today, January 24, she would have been 83 years old. She passed away in 2005.

Years ago I started writing a biography of her. Originally I thought about publishing it. I thought about expanding it to encompass my grandmother - her mother - and my oldest sister (who passed in 2011).

But I realized that it was just someplace for me to write about her. To keep her with me. To add to over the years whenever a memory or two came to mind.

So here, in honor of my mom, a truly uncommon woman, I post a small snippet of her biography.

Tales Of An Uncommon Woman

The Unauthorized and Completely Biased Biography of Sally (Sarah) Ann Reynolds (nee Gallagher)

Nineteen thirty four saw the first Masters tournament in Augusta, Georgia. One of the first public Laundromats opens in Texas. John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, “Baby Face” Nelson, and Bonnie and Clyde all died that year. The first nylons are manufactured, the first Donald Duck movie is released, Shirley Temple appears in her first movie and the first full body x-ray is performed.

In Philadelphia, Babe Didriksen pitched a scoreless inning for the Philadelphia Athletics in an exhibition game against the Brooklyn Dodgers.

And on the cold Tuesday morning of January twenty-fourth, Catherine and Charles Gallagher were busy themselves. Already with one mouth to feed, they had just had another delivered to them. But this new life was not a burden. They knew she was a gift from God, just as their first daughter had been.

And into this happy little home and family, Sally was born. She would be the second of three daughters the couple would eventually have.

As good Irish Catholics, Charles and Catherine raised all three of their daughters as the church said. Obey the commandments, go to church, give to the needy.

But her name is Sally,” Catherine replied, visibly upset.

The Reverend Charles Counary certainly sympathized with the young mother. But he was bound by the Holy See of Rome. Sally was not a true Christian name and therefore could not be used to baptize a child.

Now, Katie,” her husband Charles tried to settle his poor wife. “Lets hear out the good reverend.” He turned to their pastor. “What choice do we have, father? Tis her name, a goodly Irish name, that we have given her.”

Yes,” Reverend Counary said. “However, its not quite Biblical. But don’t fret. A goodly Irish name it may be, but its also a form of Sarah, is it not?”

Yes, I suppose,” Catherine replied uneasily. “But . . . “

And,” the reverend continued as she paused. “She can only be baptized in the church with a right Christian name.”

Catherine looked to her husband, who in turn had come to a decision.

Very well, father,” he said. “Sarah it is.”

And so, Sally became Sarah.

The former tale of the name change is a bit of dramatization, as the parties involved are not around to elaborate or verify. However, the truth is, mom’s birth certificate said Sally Gallagher. Yet her baptism on February 11th in 1934 at St. Francis Church, was for Sarah Gallagher. And at that time it was the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church not to baptize a child without a Biblical based name.

Later, she took the name of Ann as her confirmation name. Somewhere in the mix, mom thought her given name was Sarah Ann Gallagher and that with her confirmation name, it became Sarah Ann Ann Gallagher. Yet the fact remains, she was born Sally Gallagher. A goodly Irish name, indeed.

I relate the following tale since I heard it somewhere, though cannot confirm the source. And it was later disputed by my Aunt Han.

Catherine Patricia, Sarah Ann and Hannah Elizabeth rolled along the railroad tracks looking for the spare chunk of coal that had fallen off the passing trains. Some of their bounty their mom and dad would use in the house, the rest their dad would sell to buy food and other necessities.

The summer of nineteen forty one, the last summer of American innocence. Six young friends trekked through the neighborhood and into the park. They were searching for Gustine Lake, a local swimming pool, to have some fun.

Do you even know where we’re going,” Helen whined to her sister Ann.

Of course I do,” Ann replied. “I’m oldest.” At twelve, this was true. Her younger sisters Helen and Yuni, along with their brother Earl, had all gone on this adventure with Mary, Sally and her older sister Catherine, who was eleven and the next oldest.

Yea,” Catherine chimed in. “She’s oldest.”

Look,” Earl called out as he sped past the others. “There it is!”

Up ahead, through the trees, was the glint of water.

As the group of girls caught up with Earl, they found him not by the ‘lake’, but next to a little inlet. Part of the Schuylkill River.

This ain’t Gustine,” Helen whined again.

So,” Mary said cheerfully. “Its still water. We can still go for a swim.”

Before anyone else could agree or disagree, the young girl jumped into the river. Catherine noticed right away that there was something wrong. Mary was struggling to get back to the edge of the bank.

Help,” Mary said between gulps of air. “Can’t . . . make . . . it.”

Come on,” Catherine called out. She moved to the edge of the water and reached out her hand. “Help me!”

Earl, Sally and Ann all grabbed Catherine’s hand and made a chain so she could try to reach the friend. Catherine went into the water so she could get closer to Mary, who was not getting any closer to shore herself. And found that the water was deeper and faster than any of them had realized.

Catherine’s fingers touched Mary’s and the other girl kicked harder, though her strength was ebbing in the chill of the river. She caught hold.

The current pulled at her now that she had hold of Catherine’s hand. This in turn dragged on the human chain the young friends had formed. And they were all now being stretched to their own meager physical limits. Helen and Juni ran back for help.

Bob Sargood, one of many children my grandmother helped raise, told me that he and his friends, were all playing in the street when one of the mothers in the neighborhood stood on the corner screaming her daughter’s name. He knew the girls had snuck down to play at the lake and went to see what was going on. There were his “sisters”, Sally and Catherine (Cassie, as he calls her), crying and holding their arms. He later learned their friend, Mary, the daughter of the woman who’d been screaming, had drowned. Catherine and Sally, along with Earl and Ann, had tried, in vain, to rescue their friend and had severely strained all of their muscles.

I did not remember this story until Uncle Bob told it to me and my sisters filled in the blanks. But it helped explain in some further detail reactions by my mom growing up. I merely thought she was being overly cautious when she would yell while we were at the beach and she couldn’t see us. Or that she was just being a protective parent when we were horsing around in the lake or a pool. But it now amazes me that she reacted this way, due to her childhood experiences which left her afraid of the water, yet she still allowed us to go into the water ourselves. She didn’t let her fears hamper us, just made her more cautious. She taught us to respect the water, nature.

I myself grew up with a deep love of the water and the ocean. Which probably accounted in part for my decision to join the Navy.

* * * * * * *

I struggled to find the right excerpts. I tried the Forward, the Introduction and Preface. But they didn't seem right. So I just included some of the stories.

Thank you all for letting me take a few moments to remember my mo. And share a little bit more with the world. As I wrote in the Introduction but decided not to include the whole of it,

 "Sally Ann Reynolds, born January twenty-fourth in the year nineteen hundred and thirty four, passed from this earth on August twentieth in the year two thousand and five. She left behind a husband of fifty three years, three daughters, a son, two sisters, nine grandchildren, several dozen cousins, nieces, nephews and many, many friends.

But she didn’t leave empty handed. She took with her years of love, life, joys and happiness.

Nor were those she left behind empty handed either.

She left them with her love and strength, her wisdom and humor, her spirit and countenance. She touched so many lives, from Philadelphia to Massachusetts, from Florida to California; from the shores of the Atlantic and Pacific to the West Indies and Australia."

Until next time, may you find a few moments to relax and live a little less cluttered life.