My father’s first name was Francis, and so is mine. We were named after my great uncle, a Catholic priest and a scholar. I have been known as “Francis,” “Timmy,” and “Tim.” My father was first called “Francis” at home, then “Fran,” and, when he became a high school football coach, “Fran the Man” (a rewording of the nickname for Stan Musial, a famous baseball player). Following is a recollection of a day my father and I spent together in 1956, when I was ten years old.
The birth of my mother in Harrisville, New York, in 1907, must have caused a stir in the family of Fred and Alice Macomber. Catherine was their third child, but her two brothers were much older than she, and they and her Papa spoiled her silly. As Fred worked his way up the ladder of his profession as a New York Central station agent, the family lived in several small towns like Gouverneur, and DeKalb Junction. (Perhaps that early movement explains Catherine’s love of travel–something she passed down to her own youngest child, myself). Fred finally landed the station master’s job in Potsdam, a college town and a center for the surrounding, prosperous farms in the valley of the Raquette River. She went to high school and teachers college there.
Catherine was a dish: short brown hair, a nice figure, big blue eyes. She dressed stylishly, and never wanted for male companionship.
My mother was a popular person throughout her long (died at age 94) life. As a young man, I’d bring friends home, and they always seemed to get on better with her than with me. In her dotage, neighbors would spy her on her porch, and stop in for a visit. Much of the time, this resulted in a light drink and a long talk.
“How are you, Mrs. Walsh?”
“Oh, fine, Kevin. And how about you? Are you and your family having a barbecue for Memorial Day (or the Fourth, or Labor Day)?”
“Well, my mother’s not feeling too well, you know.”
“No, I didn’t know. Why don’t you sit down and tell me about it? Can I get you a drink?”
“Well, just a short one, I guess. With ice.”
“Of course. Just a light one. And I’ll join you.”
And they’d be off.
She was a bit of a seanchaí(an Irish storyteller), my mother, as was her own mother, and the man she married. She told good stories. Following is one that, in most respects, she told me.