NOTE: The outpouring of support, particularly from the Meet The Matts team, has had this hardened sports gumshoe reduced to a teary-eyed mess… more than once. Wilmer Flores, eat your heart out.
GORTEENAVEELA, CO. GALWAY – Mom’s parents, Nanny and Poppy, were from tiny towns in Ireland. Her dad, Bernie McGuirk (not the Imus pal) was from Sheshkinshule, just 12.3 miles from Omagh, the big city with a population of 21,000. Sheshkinshule itself had a population of 153 in 2001’s census. That’s the most recent number on the internet because the census guy ran away with the village apothecary. That’s a prevarication. I don’t know that for sure and don’t want Mom to box my ears from afar.
Mom’s mother, Katie Costello, was from a tiny townland outside of Galway. A townland is the smallest land division in Ireland and Gorteeneveela is 6 miles from booming Ballinasloe, which has 7000 people. I was in Gorteeneveela with Mom and Dad for my 14th, 15th or 16th birthday (not sure which, but did get away with ordering a pint of Guinness) and met our cousins. They were equally over-the-moon about our visit and the prospect of running water and a toilet being installed in the house, finally replacing the outhouse. The outhouse wasn’t half bad, for the record.
What’s the point?
The point is that these people(Nanny & Poppy) came from nothing and went from those extremely rural surroundings to being thrust into the heart of Jersey City – Journal Square at 57 Cottage Street– to be exact. They left as teenagers, leaving everything behind, including siblings they’d never see again, and came over in the bowels of ships like the Titanic. They met here and got married. In a time when the Irish weren’t exactly embraced by the American majority, Nanny scrubbed floors and Poppy shoveled coal into the furnaces of a factory. They managed to raise 5 kids, 4 girls and 1 boy. Peggy (aka Margaret Mary, was the youngest.
Like Nanny, Mom fought hard for her kids to make it in this world. If you came home at night, she was there with the flashlight in your eyes and sniffing you. The Velamints & Visine hidden two doors down in Brickner’s front yard were no match for a vigilant Peg. And being the youngest of 4 boys didn’t matter. She was tireless and still up for the challenge. Correcting grammar, emphasizing annunciation, building the vocabulary… And she ALWAYS met with our teachers. That was not fun.
Somehow, she loved opera and would meet dad in the city on Friday nights during opera season at the Met. They sat in the nosebleeds – the Family Circle – and the deal was Dad could sleep but not snore. If he did, Mom would drive her nails into his hand. Anyway, she’d compare Luciano Pavarotti to Placido Domingo in the same way she could compare Joe DiMaggio to Ted Williams because, oddly enough, she grew up a baseball fan. So did her sisters –especially Eleanor (Grinding Ax’s mommy), who still watches the Stinkees at 96 and still dances with me at functions – and her lone brother, Uncle Bernie. (We scared the bejesus out of Eleanor in our suits at Shea, by the way). Mom would race home from Dickinsion High School to listen to DiMaggio and the Yankees on the radio. That passion was passed on to yours truly, with the exception that I am NOT a Bronx Bombers fan and cannot say without dropping expletives how I truly feel about the Stanks. Doesn’t matter though, Mom switched to watching the Mets because of my affliction and the abominable Yankee broadcast team. In fact, she loved Gary, Keith and Ron… until one of them bashed Daniel Murphy. You don’t bash a Murphy in front of a McGuirk girl. Plus, she liked David Wright, whom she referred to as “The one with the cute little face.”
And baseball is why we are all here, really. Literally. Mom lost a bet to her brother – Bernard (pronounced Bern-id, not Ber-nard)- and had to serve him and his pals food and drink at their monthly poker game at Nanny and Poppy’s house. Dad was one of those guys and asked Uncle Bernie if he could ask Mom out. Three months after meeting, he proposed on a long distance call after getting recalled for Korea – because WWII wasn’t enough – with an operator listening in… If you don’t believe any of this, verify it with Henry Seminack, who was at that poker game and now dating Dad’s sister – Aunt Lila (who at 87 is a Facebook whiz)… or ask Dad’s baby brother Joe, who was born while Dad was overseas fighting in WWII. Mr. Seminack drove to the wake, the pre-funeral ceremony, the church, cemetery and repast. He’s in his 90s. You think he plays hurt?!
Dad’s family wasn’t exactly rolling in dough, either – as Aunt Lila can tell you.
It didn’t matter.
Peg and Tom made a great team. Many of us are better because of them and us boys grew into the men we are because of their hard work, perseverance and love.
But Mom was admittedly lost without Dad, and that picture above at Yankee Stadium was one of too few smiles after he passed in 2010. She is where she wanted to be – next to him.
And THAT is a good thing.
Love you Mommy. We know you are now truly resting in peace.