Sunday, August 26, 2018

St. Mary Of Portland Avenue

In my second book, The Portland House: a '70's memoir, I delve into a bit of history about our family ties to my step family, the McKasys. My mom, Mary Lou, dated Jack McKasy for nearly ten years before they finally married in 1979. Jack had divorced his first wife, Mary Ann, a few years earlier leaving her to raise eight, (count 'em, eight!) children on her own.

Now, coming from a kid from a family of six kids who was raised by a single parent for many years, I recognize that what Mary Ann did as a single parent was nothing less than a feat. To take what my mother had done and add two kids to it leaves me with nothing but admiration for Mary Ann.

What I don't know is what the day-to-day was like for her. I've kept in touch with many of my step siblings over the years, mostly via Facebook and in particular, my stepsister, Maggie. In our exchanges she has told me some shocking stories about the struggles they had as a family. Because we were mired in our own struggles as a family, I never knew much about the struggles of our step-family literally two blocks away.

There were stories like the electricity being shut off because they had no money for the electric bill at times. Stories of living check to check and ongoing financial burdens. Stories of the pain of suffering through the death of her son at a young age. Stories that would make most people bend and break.

And yet, like my own mother, Mary Ann persevered. She raised the whole family through the Catholic school system and they all came out to be beautiful, healthy kids with families of their own. Like my own mother, she could have given up, checked out and left her kids to figure it out. But she didn't. She steeled up, pushed on and did the best she could. Maggie told me recently that her mother loved to write poetry and nonfiction and, after reading some of her work, I gained a new appreciation for who she became after the kids moved out.
The 3 Mary's of Portland. L-R. Mary Pat, Mary Lou, Mary Ann

When my mother was dating Jack, Mary Ann was not too keen on the McKasy kids hanging with "the other team," namely us Landwehrs. I can remember Timmy saying once that if she asked who I was, he'd tell her a false name, which I thought was hilarious. Over time, she softened her stance and eventually, after Mom divorced Jack, Mary Ann and my mother became friends. They shared war stories of some of what it was like raising kids both with and without Jack around.

The pinnacle of the blending of the two families though came to the fore when my sister Pat married my stepbrother Kevin, making him my stepbrother in-law, if there is such a thing. There were a few other crushes between the families, but none that ever manifest themselves in anything more than puppy love.

In my book, I mention that at one point there were two Mary McKasys living on Portland Avenue, both with 6+ kids to their name. I also mention that both should have been referred to as Saint Marys, because nothing short of sainthood would be a worthy descriptor of who they were as women and mothers and people.

Mary Ann passed away quietly this week after fighting some health and Alzheimer's issues over the past few years. Up until a few weeks ago, her son Patrick was still taking her out to the casino every couple weeks to gamble a little. That pretty much sums up her character. Loving, fun and in the moment.

She will be missed by many people, including her family, our family and her friends. Her kids all inherited her wicked sense of humor and I think they would all agree that after a life of 88 years, many of it raising kids, she can finally get some peace and quiet.

I thought I'd publish one of her poems that was written as she reinvented herself. It speaks for everything she became in life.

No Guarantees    by Mary Ann McKasy

Excuse me please
I'm coming through
A new model
Long overdue

I'm scratched and dented
Here and there
I lean to the left
Drive with no spare

I made some changes
Reclaimed what was mine
Smoothed out the dents
Put on a new shine

I unloaded the trunk
Threw out the debris
When I finally finished
Voila' a new me

I come as you see me
Open and free
Laughing and loving
With no guarantees.


God bless you, Mary Ann.

Blogging off...

2 comments:

Unknown said...

What a lovely tribute. Thank you. Mother Mary was so special to everyone she came in contact with . May her generous spirit live on! 💖

Unknown said...

How beautiful. Thank you for sharing.