Me, Gramma and my sister Dale
I've joked a bit over the years about my neglected childhood, how Jay got special treatment because he was the oldest, Dale was the only girl, Tim was the youngest, and then Sean got especially pampered as the only child. I was number two.
It's all baloney, of course, because we had great parents and were all treated well. But even if I had been ever so slightly overlooked, I had one advantage the other kids didn't have.
I was Gramma's Boy.
At least that's what she always told me.
Mary ("May") Agnes Goodison Going Nichols by most secular standards had a tough life. The youngest of six children, born in 1900 to a barely scratching along Brooklyn Irish family, she was either virtually or totally blind until she turned seven. The poor, who are closest to God, were pleased, thankful, yet not at all amazed by the little miracle that gave her the gift of sight. She took her new vision to PS 73 in Brooklyn where she managed to achieve a satisfactory if not spectacular academic record.
Her mother died in 1917 of influenza and not long after she met James E. Going, a horse wrangler for Uncle Sam, who was busy winning the Great War by shipping horses to France via Brooklyn. They married in 1920 and a couple of years later moved to his home town of Amsterdam, with Aunt Marie in tow and Dad on the way. Grandfather Going's asthma had kept him out of the FDNY, so he started anew, among other things operating a gas station in Tribes Hill with accompanying tourist cabins (like the ones in It Happened One Night
) that rented out for the princely sum of a dollar. Eventually he started his own ice delivery business and they even manged to buy a house on Wilkes Avenue, then in pretty much the farthest region of incorporated Amsterdam.
When our grandfather died in 1934, only shortly after Gramma had attended her own dying father in Brooklyn, she was all of 33, with no social security, no pension, little if any life insurance, and two kids 12 and under. Lost the house, lost the business, moved into a dismal four-family house on Williams Street and struggled along through the Great Depression. By and by she caught the attention of Des Nichols, a colorful, amusing, but not particularly responsible character. They dated for thirteen years before finally marrying in 1949, only when both her children were settled on their own.
They had fun, even while stretching from paycheck to paycheck, riding in a series of ancient automobiles one step from the junk heap.
Her Faith came as naturally to her as the gift of sight. When she kept a scrap book, she filled it with Holy Cards. She thought it would be a nice idea if I became a priest, preferably a Jesuit. (She was mighty fond of the Jesuits at the Auriesville Shrine who often helped out at St. Mary's, and her friend Helen Poulin's boys).
She suffered from arthritis as long as I can remember, painfully, with bandaged knees and cortisone shots that made her face all puffy. The bandaged knees came in handy when an insurance adjustor came to the house to work a deal when their car was hit on Market Street while parked. When the adjustor asked whether anyone had been in the car, Des answered, "Yes, my wife," just as Gramma hobbled into the room. Afterwards they laughed uproariously that the guy had written them a check on the spot for twice the $200 Grampa had paid for the car a month earlier. And it still ran.
It's hard to believe, but she was only 68 when the arthritis brought her to St. Mary's Hospital that December, and she quite unexpectedly caught pneumonia and died on this day, forty-five years ago.
For the final eight years of his life, Des was totally and completely lost.
And I, at 17, for the first time felt that awful emptiness you get when someone you love is gone and will never come back.