I remember one summer day in the mid 1980s when I was in my grandmother’s backyard. I was about 7 (and therefore my grandmother was about 73) and I was excited because my birthday was coming up. I asked my grandmother what was her most favorite thing about birthdays and she responds “when it’s over.” I couldn’t understand why someone would want their birthday to be over.
Catherine Ann Donahue Sullivan was born May 3, 1914 in Woburn, MA. She was the 6th child and 2nd daughter of two Irish Immigrants, Peter Donahue and Mary Duran. She attended Woburn Public Schools (she told me that Catholic School cost 50 cents per child, per week and my great-grandparents were too poor to send 9 children to parochial school). She went to nursing school during the Depression (total cost of nursing education in 1930’s including cap=$75. Total cost of Kerry’s Psychology book, spring semester 2001=$130. The look on my grandmother’s face when I told her that=priceless). She married my grandfather in 1946 and went on to have 5 sons.
Even though I grew up two towns away from my grandmother, I didn’t start to become close to her until my grandfather died when I was in 6th grade. After that, every Saturday was spent at her house while my father and uncles took care of tasks around the house and I would play with my younger cousins. Though I was shy in general, I was very outspoken around my family and my grandmother used to like to egg me on. It was funny. I, um, developed a lot sooner than most girls and I hated it. I was kind of a tomboy and, let’s just say, “they” got in the way. I would complain about them to my grandmother and she would just tell me that, “Someday you’re doing to be thankful…” The jury is still out on that, Grandma. Though Bryon definitely seemed to appreciate them.
My grandmother had 5 sons and one grandson before I was born. I ended up being the first of four granddaughters. My grandmother always told me she wished she had had a daughter but I made her thankful she didn’t.
My grandmother would always give me $20 whenever I visited. It was for ice cream. Of course ice cream at the local ice cream place, Breakers, only cost about $3. She would always make sure to tell me that “When I was a kid, we were too poor to buy ice cream. And there was no one around to give us ice cream money.” When I was in college, Grandma was always giving me $20 for gas money (that was back when you could fill your gas tank for $20.)
My grandmother taught me that you can still be a lady and use profanity. My other grandmother taught me that a lady never uses profanity. Luckily, it all seems to balance out.
My grandmother taught me that it is okay to tell guys who give you unwanted attention to “piss off.” One time, when she was in her 80’s, she slipped on the ice and fell. Another old guy stopped and tried to help her and she told him to “piss off.” I asked her why. She told me it was because he had two girlfriends.
My grandmother also taught me that I can not go wrong dating Irish-Catholic guys. She did warn me to stay away from French men. In the 1930’s, when she was in her mid-20’s, she dated a French guy. He had the nerve to ask her to move to New Jersey but didn’t want to get married. She told him to piss off. Then, at the age of 29, she met my full-blooded Irish-American grandfather and married him when she was 31.
My grandmother spent her years as a nurse and her later years in politics. My cousin takes after her as a nurse and is a hospice nurse which I think is one of the most noble jobs there is. I seemed to inherit the political gene although I am on an indefinite sabbatical from politics. Like my grandmother, my mouth sometimes gets me into trouble. She passed before she could see me run for Maine State House or see me run the Maine Federation of Young Republicans. Though it drove her Boston Irish Democrat sensibilities nuts that I was a Republican.
It always made me sad that she didn’t live long enough to meet Bryon. They would have understood each other and appreciate each other’s sense of humor. I think Grandma would have approved even though Bryon was only one-eighth Irish.
I remember one time during Mass back home our priest was commenting that the generations of a family are like a chain and each one of us is a link in that chain linking the generations. I remember when my grandmother died and my father mentioned that he was the only one that remembered his grandmother (my great-grandmother) as my living uncles were either too young to remember her or weren’t born yet. My father is the only living member of our family that is linked to my great-grandmother and he provides that link to us and especially my daughter. One person who links five generations. As long as my father is here, that link exists but someday that link won’t exist. Luckily, my father has stated that he plans on sticking around until he is 120 so that link should be around for awhile.
Bryon went into the ICU when my daughter was 18 months old and passed away a month before her second birthday. My daughter won’t remember him and it is as if there are no links in that chain. It’s like that direct chain has been cut clean but in a way, Bryon’s friends and I will serve the link between my daughter and Bryon.
So Bryon, Grandma, and also Grandpa, Papa, Uncle Peter and Uncle Brian, as long as I am alive, you will live on. I will make sure my daughter knows you. And if I am privileged enough to live long enough to meet my grandchildren and maybe even my great-grandchildren, they will know you too. You will live on for generations.
And Grandma, I am still going to wish you a Happy Birthday in Heaven. Even if you wish your birthday were over.