My parents have passed away. On the date of their birth I spend time thinking of them. I usually do it in private. I decided this year to put some of my thoughts into this blog about my mother Alice Rogers Connolly the daughter of two Irish immigrants.
My first memories of her is when she would come into my room in the middle of the night. She had in her hand a very little bottle probably about a one ounce container which was a very dark cobalt blue. It had an eye dropper in it. She would have me turn to each side and put one drop of the warm liquid into each of my ears.
I next recall her visiting me at Children’s Hospital in Boston where I went to have my eardrums lanced. I was there eleven days. She and my father duly arrived with ice cream each evening. Never was ice cream more appreciated. Because I was hospitalized I have the records that show my earliest memories were when I was one year and ten months old.
I was the second child. The first was my sister Kathleen. When my mother was on her death bed she said to me: “I’m dying for a second time.” I learned that she almost died upon giving birth to my sister Kathleen. I never knew it until then. I cannot imagine her trepidations awaiting my birth.
I also learned at that time something that threw me for a loop. She said to me: “Every family must have its Matty” suggesting I was not quite like the others. It’s a mystery that lives on. Was it a compliment or was she telling me I gave her a lot of grief? If it was the latter I wrongly believed in her eyes that I was the perfect child because she never treated me otherwise. Perhaps she was aware of more of my shenanigans than I thought she knew.
There were others after me, three more boys and the youngest a girl. We lived in Old Harbor Village a federally constructed housing project. Eight of us tightly fit into two rooms on the first floor, a main room and the kitchen. We had two bedrooms on the second floor with a bathroom at the top of the stairs.
It was especially tight because the main room held my mother’s baby grand piano. She was the first and only one among her nine siblings to attend college. She became a teacher in the Boston Public Schools. She had to hide her marriage. At that time married women unlike married men were not allowed to be teachers. She could not hide her pregnancy so she stopped teaching other children and taught us.
The piano she put to good use playing songs for us. I would always ask for the one where the lower keys were the evil forces and the upper keys the angels who came to save us. She loved to teach us poetry and would recited poem after poem – even sad ones like Da Leetla Boy by Thomas Daly and Little Boy Blue by Eugene Fields – which taught me compassion and the transience of life. She recited Trees by Kilmer making me appreciate God and Colin Kelly by John Gaffney – the latter because Kelly like her brother James died in a B-17 bomber during WWII.
She was Catholic, attended weekly mass, but was more secular than religious. She did not send her children to Catholic grammar schools. She let me become an altar boy but not in the local parish but in the Jesuit Church the Immaculate Conception in the South End. I believe that was because her sister, Honey, had her two boys my age, Jimmy and Roger, as altar boys there. Her sister Margie came to our house and taught me the Latin that was required .
She communicated by telephone with her sisters Margie and Honey on an almost daily basis. I know one thing my mother did not like was my taciturnity. My refrain when asked about my activities was I went nowhere and did nothing. Honey through her sons would know more about what I was doing than she and I assume passed it on.
I was lucky she took wonderful care of me. If I disappointed her she never let on. I could not have asked for a better mother; unfortunately she probably could have asked for a better son.