Reviews

A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Mothers Day

Last year TOF featured the maternal lines of himself and the Incomparable Marge in honor of Mother's Day. This year, he will feature the Mothers of Flynn. This will involve a small amount of honorable overlap, starting with...

Marge, Mother of the TOFlings
1. The Incomparable Marge, TOF's First Wife and Mother of the TOFlings. A native of Oklahoma with ancestors going back on one side to colonial Virginia and on the other side to the end of the Ice Age. (She is part Choctaw.) Her ancestors fought in the Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War (Union) and did the whole covered wagon heading west thingie. One of her ancestors farmed next to Abraham Lincoln's father in Kentucky.

Her mother died when Margie was young and so she was raised by a single father. He drove an armored car and sometimes took her along and she sat in the back with the money bags; and so the Incomparable One was quite literally Rolling in Dough. More often, she stayed with her grandmother or with one or another aunt. Her father taught her how to gut fish and handle a rifle. This is a skill set that TOF keeps ever in mind. Dropping in at the Catholic Cathedral eventually led her and her grandmother to be received into the Church. When she transferred to the Catholic high school, she noticed an amazing thing. At the public high school, she stopped getting invited to the parties once the other kids realized she came from the wrong side of the tracks; but at the Catholic high school, no one cared whether her father was a teamster or an oil company VP.

The House
Eventually, she wound up in Milwaukee working for a life insurance company. There, she met Sally and D, who were members of a House on the west side where TOF also lived  When they invited her to dinner one time, Chance conspired to seat her directly across the table from TOF so that he spent the meal gazing into the Prettiest Smile on the Face of the Planet™. TOF became a professional writer of sorts and rebels against cliche, but is forced by his devotion to Truth to admit that it was Love at First Sight.

This was complicated by the fact that both were dating other people at the time; but difficulties are made to be overcome and, though not without difficulties, they were. Later, they learned that they had had two other friends in common, none of whom knew the others, and so they figured that thei eventual meeting had been inevitable from the get-go.

And so they wed and as summer waned, left Milwaukee for Colorado (where TOF has a graduate assistantship) in the back of a minivan courtesy of a friend who was heading in that direction. And so, they tooled down the highway surrounded by boxes of books and 33 rpm LPs that threatened constantly to topple and crush them.

The rest, as they say, is history.

The Marge worked mostly in banking, both in Denver and later in the East with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. She worked downtown for several years until transferred to the processing center in East Rutherford, but on occasion took the train into lower Manhattan for meetings. Had she been scheduled for a meeting that day, she would have been coming up the escalators at the World Trade Center PATH station at very much the wrong time of day. As it was, they could watch the whole thing from the window of their break room across the river.

Mut Mother of TOF, surrounded by her treasures
2. The Mut. The Mother of TOF picked up the name "The Mut" somehow or other from "die Mutter," German for "the mother."  She was descended from a nexus of Baden families running back to the butt end of the Thirty Years War. They departed the Grand Principality in the wake of the '48 Revolution and subsequent famine at various times in the 1850s and settled in Bucks Co, PA. Her father served in combat in the Great War.

Sweetheart of the 7th Fleet
Mut finished a two-year "commercial" course at the parish grade school and then attended the high school across the river in Phillipsburg, NJ. She and other Easton kids did this by walking across the railroad bridge that spanned the river, timing their trek to avoid the trains. [Them was different times, for sure.] At the high school, she met Joe Flynn, who took a shine to her. When he went off with the US Marines in WW2, she wrote him letters and sent him a cheesecake snapshot to keep up his morale. She also wrote letters to others in the service, becoming thereby the Sweetheart of the Seventh Fleet.

She worked as a secretary at Taylor-Wharton during the war. But Joe passed up two chances at Officer Candidate School in order to hustle home, beat out other potential suitors as Ulysses won Penelope, and get down to the serious business of becoming Father of TOF. Et al. Between kids, Mut worked as a proofreader at the Easton Express newspaper. TOF remembers her as the best mother he ever had; and Pere once said she was the best mother of boys he knew of. TOF still remembers her sage advice when we ran to her with complaints or whines: "Dry up and blow away." Many of her other words of wisdom, such as "Where are last winter's snows?" in response to pleas for the location of some favored toy, TOF learned later, were direct translations from the German. So were her pepper pot, her crumb cake, and other delicacies. She made her noodles from scratch, possibly the last generation ever to do so. Like chipping flint arrowheads, it is a lost art.

The only time TOF ever saw his mother cry was when she told him that his brother Dennis would probably not survive the cancer that he had contracted. Of all the burdens of mothers, the death of a child is the hardest.

Blanche (l) Mother of Pere (back center)
3. Blanche Jean Cantrel, the Mother of Pere, was the daughter of a French silk weaver and an Irish school teacher and midwife (and who delivered all her grandchildren at home.) She met Francis Joseph Flynn because their fathers were both in the Reliance Hose volunteer fire company.

TOF knows of little lore regarding her life, save that when young she lived in a wooden cabin in Harker Hollow, now a golf course. Her family was doubled, since her own mother was previously married and there was a whole collection of step-brothers and -sisters. Several of her brothers served in the Great War and one did not come out of it very well and died young as a result.

TOF remembers her as resilient and no nonsense. When Pere was born, a neighbor asked if she would give her the child to replace her own baby, who had died, since "you can always have another." Granny did not strangle her on the spot, because her own first-born had lived only a short time before dying.

One time when Granny was buying vegetables from the peddler from the wagon on the street and Pere's bedroom window exploded -- he had been electrolyzing water in his chem lab -- she calmly asked Uncle Danny to check and see if his brother had killed himself. When, during the Depression, her husband was forced to go on the road to find work, she took in laundry and ironing to make ends meet and later sent Pere down to West Virginia to tell him it was time to come home.

TOF has a cassette audiotape of Granny and Pop-pop in the kitchen at their home where they are looking at old photographs and talking about them. It's enough to make him wish there had been videotape cameras in those days.

Tillie (l) Mother of Pop-pop (taking pix) and
Little Dan (in front)
4. Matilda Loretta Ochenfuss, Mother of Francis Flynn, was so far as TOF can determine raised by a single mother in South Easton, PA. She was born in South Easton PA in 1871 to Mary Ochenfuss. The family name has been spelled variously: Oukufuse in 1840, Aukofuss in 1850, also as Ackenfuss and Ockenfuss (in Windschl├Ąg in the Black Forest) so the name is not always as easy to find as its unusual nature might suggest. Mary (Maria) was the daughter of John (Johann) who had been born in 1795 in Baden. He worked for the Lehigh Valley Rail Road in South Easton for 15 years. 

 Mary married John Hetzler of Ackermanville in 1869, but in the 1870 Census, she is living with her parents in South Easton, PA under her maiden name, and Hetzler is nowhere in sight. A year later, Mary gives birth to Matilda. The baptismal record (at St. Joseph's Church, South Easton, PA) does not list a father, though Hetzler is credited in some other documents. However, he never shows up in any household records.

She met Daniel J. Flynn (age 21), originally of Washington, NJ, in Newark, where the Daniel had gone to work in the shoe factories. Possibly Matilda had gone there for the same reason. They were married in 1892 in St. Peter's Church, the German Catholic parish on Belmont Ave. (now Irvine Turner Blvd.) Newark, NJ. The only witness was Kathie Cassiday, who was Matilda's older sister. Shortly after, before 1900, they moved to Phillipsburg, NJ, where Dan went to work as a blacksmith at the Warren Foundry. That's him on the far right of the picture, above.

Although in theory, TOF should remember his great-grandmother, in practice he was too little for the memory to take and has no practical recollections and must rely on his own grandfather:
"My mother and her mother had a way with food. This priest... what was his name... Regnery from St. Joe's used to come on Sunday, cause if they had something special they used to let him know. 'So if you're interested, just stop by.' I heard my mother say the priest'd get up, walk around a bit, then sit down again and say, 'I'll have another helping of that.'
"And my mother [Matilda] and her mother {Mary] spoke German, especially when the 'big-eared Flynn' was around, because I didn't understand, y'know. The consequence was that when I did start school, my first nickname at school was 'Dutch.' 'Dutch Flynn!' Can you imagine that? 'Cause I got my wees and wubbleyous all fouled up from listening to my mother and her mother talk. For my 'w' I would say 'v' and the 'v' I would say 'w' until I got untangled. And that was my first nickname."
In 1913, Tillie's son, Martin, died of diphtheria a few weeks shy of his fourth birthday in the family residence at 161 Lewis St. The doctor had been called to the house, and after examining the child wrote a prescription and handed it to TOF's grandfather, then 13, saying, "Run as fast as you can to the drug store and bring this back." So Pop-pop set off down the block and reached the drug store out of breath, handing over the prescription. The druggist looked at it and rushed off to make the medicine. He gave it to Pop-pop, who then ran back to the house and breathlessly handed the medicine over to his mother, who was rocking Martin on her lap in the big rocking chair. Martin swallowed the medicine, coughed, and after a while he said, "Sing 'Pony Boy' for me." This was his favorite song. And so Tillie sang to him.

Partway through the song, she fell silent. Then still in silence, she rose and carried the child to his bedroom. He had died in her arms while she sang. Even many years later, Pop-pop could not help but wonder: if only he had run faster...

It is the hardest thing for a mother to see her child die.

Anne, Mother of Daniel
5. Anne Elizabeth Lynch, Mother of Daniel. The previous photograph actually showed three Mothers of Flynns. Left to right: Tillie Mother of Pop-pop, Blanche Mother of Pere, and the old woman in the center, Anne Mother of Daniel. But she was not always old.

She was born of Daniel Lynch and Bridget Barry six days after they set foot in the US. Said feet being set in Burlington VT, it is evident that the entry was through Canada during the Great Hunger and must have been off one of the first ships to reach Grosse Isle quarantine station after the ice broke up in the St. Lawrence that year. This was during the anti-immigrant fever of the Know Nothings. However, the railroads needed labor willing to work under harsh conditions, so the Lynches made their way to Washington NJ and the railyards for the Delaware, Lackawana and Western Rail Road. The Pop-pop of TOF recollected that Anne had worked "for a miller and his wife." Later research revealed this to be a farmer named "A. Miller." Anne was a servant or maid in their household. Thus does the oral tradition often preserve truths.

About 1865 Anne met John Thomas Flynn, newly arrived from Co. Galway to work in the railyards. One of her granddaughters, Anne Pippitt, later recalled how her grandmother had found John Thomas so very handsome leading the St. Patrick Day parade atop a white horse. Whether this is what originally attracted her is hard to say. All Flynns are handsome, no?

Since Catholicism had recently been legalized in New Jersey, they did not need to travel to Pennsylvania to marry, and set about effecting the usual large family. They lived in the railroad houses, an area known as "Dublin" for obvious reasons. In the 1870 Census, there were several boarders in the house with them, as well as John's brother Patrick. In 1880, the Census-taker had snarkily recorded Anne's occupation as "keeping shanty" rather than "keeping house" as was done for Sassanach women. Modern readers must understand that keeping house was a much more laborious task then than it is today.

John was killed in a railroad accident in 1881, and Anne was left a widow with seven kids. The older boys, then aged 12 and 10, hopped the freight as it rolled through the yards and went through the tunnel to Oxford Furnace, where they worked in the Nail Mill to help support the family. After the furnace "went dark," they went north and found jobs in a shoe factory. [One, Daniel, eventually found his way to Newark, where he married Matilda Ochenfuss, mentioned above.] The older daughter died young of Bright's disease. When the younger daughter married Tom Sawyer and moved to Trenton, Anne and her remaining sons moved with them and Anne became their housekeeper.

6. Honora Mahony, Mother of John Thomas Flynn. We know almost nothing of her save that she lived in Loughrea, Co. Galway, and married Martin Flynn. In the baptismal records of the parish, there are two records apiece for a Mary and a Martin Flynn born to the couple. Why two with the same names? The answer may lie in that the first two were born prior to the Famine and the second two after the Famine (and accompanying cholera plague). Every mother in this honor roll has lost at least one child prematurely, except the Incomparable Marge. We know nothing about their life in Ireland, save that Martin was probably not a landowner, since there are some lists where Martin should have appeared if he had been.

Her sons Patrick and John emigrated to America and later her son Martin and husband Martin, who died shortly afterward. It would seem that Honora had died sometime in between.

Summary.

Martin Flynn & Honora Mahony


John Flynn & Anne Lynch
Dan Flynn & Matilda Ochenfuss



Francis Flynn & Blanche Cantrel
Joe Flynn and Rita Singley
TOF and the Incomparable Marge

2 comments:

  1. This is a great tribute Mr Flynn, er Mr Floinn, er TOF. :-)

    I love your blog and have been exploring it and your posts on Strange Notions. Through them I've learned a lot. It makes me feel good to see that there are champions such as yourself who take up their swords, don their armor and do battle in the mud pits of the interwebs. Without people like yourself and a few others (like Dr Bonnette) I'd honestly succumb to despair.

    I have a question though. Do you still live in Easton, PA? The reason I ask is that I currently live in Washington NJ, which is, what 20 minutes away? Small world eh?

    ReplyDelete

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