For obvious reasons (read here) it has been almost two weeks since my last post.
It is with a heavy heart that I publish this eulogy which was written by me and read to family & friends at my sister, Susan’s memorial last weekend. She was previously known as the Irish Twin on my blog to protect her privacy, but I feel it is important to name her as my parents intended.
Yesterday is gone, today is almost over…never pass up a chance to love and reach out…tomorrow isn’t promised.
Susan was born to stand out, rather than fit in…
First Communion, 1956…Susan in her glory in the veil and white dress. My three brothers and the FM.
Some may describe her as simply a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a mother, an in-law, a grandmother, and a friend.
A family portrait, by her 1956.
Love for her because she was family was easy; at times liking her and keeping her within your circle was challenging; especially when she would seek you out in the wee small hours of the morning after you had been up all night trying to put a sick two-year-old to sleep. Most of us, her siblings, will state for the record, as we are safely out of earshot, that Susan’s apple didn’t fall far from our mother’s tree.
Our mother and Susan…a proud moment.
Through the years, I recall hearing from our mother (almost with a statement of pride) that Susan contributed to a nervous breakdown of one of the nun’s at Our Lady of Lourdes School.
Hard to believe the above was true, but trust me it happened.
The next memory repeated from our mother was that Susan stated under no uncertain terms would she attend a Catholic high school. As the story goes, because she was adamant about this, Susan would attend a local public junior high. Due to proximity, her designated school was less than desirable, per our mother. Being frightened for Susan’s well-being our mother went to the Washington Irving School (WIS) in Roslindale and told some story (probably not true) in order to have Susan enrolled. Whatever the story was, it worked. Susan would attend 9th grade at WIS and go on to graduate from Roslindale High School (RHS), where according to our brother, the Piano Man…she learned the latest dance moves and would come home with a new 45 or album to show the family how to dance. Dancing to her own tune would be the unspoken mantra for life.
Susan was a trailblazer; for which I suppose the rest of us can be grateful because if Susan had forged the route, whatever we did that may have disappointed our parents seemed far less a problem because Susan had already pushed the envelope…before us.
Relaxing on our parents brand new living room set…we were not permitted to sit on sofa unless the slip covers were present….mutiny in action!
An early memory for me, was one afternoon returning from a shopping trip in downtown Boston with our mother. I was kneeling on the train seat looking out the window on the Orange Line which paralleled our childhood home. Our mother was also gazing in the same direction as the train lumbered above Washington Street passing our house. Susan had the window to the third floor bedroom open; she had half of her body hanging out the window in order to smoke a cigarette.
The window she was hanging out of was actually in the back of the house.
The walk home with Mum from Green Street Station was grim. As we opened the back door, Susan was sitting at the kitchen table acting rather nonchalant. Our mother, who was smoking mad, laid into her with the usual inferno and brimstone that was appropriate for Susan’s rebellious effort toward doing what she wanted in a smoke free home. Unfortunately, Susan would continue on a smoker’s path for most of her life. At 13, I myself, who apparently didn’t take the advice of “Don’t try this at home”, suffered the same fate as Susan, only I gave it a try in the bathroom…live and learn. My first and last cigarette!
Around the age the window incident occurred.
Susan was quite the trendy dresser.
She saved this pink suede miniskirt. She wore this many times, single digit size on the label inside. Susan bequeathed it to Keary when Susan married, but as my nephew, his wife and I were cleaning out Susan’s home; we discovered Susan took it back.
After graduating from RHS and then Boston Business School, Susan went to work. She was truly a Downton girl, taking the subway to her job in the city. Her weekly paycheck went to more fashionable clothing for herself; although I have a vivid memory of a lime green plaid jumper that she bought for me, more cigarettes, and dancing at the Surf in Nantasket Beach or heading down the Cape.
Her good looks and sense of style earned her an opportunity as a model with the Ford Agency, New York City as part of the Fashion Board for Seventeen Magazine.
A model in the making
Susan was our parents second child. She arrived 12 months and 4 days after the Family Matriarch (FM). The term Irish Twin comes to mind, although we were clearly good “French-Catholics”.
Often undeclared; I believe, Susan looked up to the FM, but at the same time always felt like she was in her shadows. Given Susan’s bright-eyed beauty, boisterous personality, bold disposition, and fragile temperament; it is hard to imagine why Susan felt that way, but she did. It was difficult for everyone in our family to instill in her that standing shoulder to shoulder, in fact made you stronger than squaring off face to face.
My wedding… given our body mass index in this photo, we look like we have survived a famine.
Often fighting for her independence in true Boston form; suddenly Susan, felt the need to move out of our parents’ home. This day stands solemnly before me with Susan positioning herself on the second floor landing throwing some kind of duffel bag down the steps to the hall below. With the duffel bag at the Milkman’s feet, he pleaded, “Susan, cut it out now.”
My #1 said this photo reminds him of Sally Draper in the later seasons of Mad Men.
She would move mountains to make this happen. There were tears and hostile words among most who watched her dial with force, on our rotary phone, the number for the local taxi company. In what seemed like an instant she was gone.
Although she never revealed the address of her new home, if she wanted to come home, the Milkman was a phone call away. He would drive to Kenmore Square to pick her up and bring her home for a visit or holiday.
In November, 1969, Susan stood with the FM as her maid of honor when the FM married the Kitchen King, one of the sons-in-law who managed to survive our mother. Not long after this wedding, Susan would bring home a young Navy Seaman, Ronald M. to our family Thanksgiving in Jamaica Plain.
Ron was certainly smitten with Susan and when honorably discharged from the Navy stayed in Boston in hopes of winning her hand. They married in July, 1970. Without this match we would not sit here today with Rex*, Ranger*, his wife, Maggie*, affectionately known by me as “The Saint”, as well as Annabelle* and Ranger Jr.*, Susan’s cherished grandchildren. Forty-six years ago next month, our family lost Susan to distance as she moved with Ron to Muncie, Indiana his hometown.
(L-R) My mother, the Milkman (our father), the FM, Ron, Susan, the Piano Man, the Heir. July, 1970.
The once happy couple with me on their wedding day.
When cleaning out our parents’ home back in 2008, with Susan in the room, I found a letter amongst our mother’s possessions. Knowing Susan’s fondness for removing evidence, I have to be honest; I quickly absconded with it (see it’s in the blood) and brought it home to Maryland.
I forgot about the letter, but recently found it. When I read it I was filled with emotion for I knew Bill M., Ron’s father, wrote a heartfelt letter to my parents just four days before Susan and Ron’s wedding in Boston to offer comfort as Susan would soon move away from the family.
Bill tried to ease our parents worry about the family she would now be moving toward. He wrote about two young people in love who did not want to be apart. He assured our parents, after meeting Susan that not only was she easy to look at, but she fit right in with their family who did not have monetary wealth, but plenty of family love. He wrote that Susan had shared our parents’ apprehension at such a speedy Love Story and that he himself shared some of these same feelings with the two lovebirds. It is sad for me to think that I never was able to share that letter with Susan, but fortunately I have now read it to her two sons who know that she was indeed loved by the M. family. Having spent two summers in Indiana with Susan and her in-laws in my early teens I always felt they were a wonderful family who made me feel right at home.
This was a several page letter.
Susan was an incredible smother…mother. Rex and Ranger speak fondly of the wonderful science projects she created for them. She They often won awards for the projects she tirelessly produced on their behalf. In 1982, Susan returned to Boston with the boys for a several months long stint. She enrolled Rex in the second grade at Our Lady of Lourdes School, however she found no place in Kindergarten for Ranger because of the late enrollment. Due to Boston’s bussing, Ranger would have to attend a public school a great distance away. Susan would have no part of this and having learned from the best, our mother, she found the closest and best public school for the cherubic Ranger. Once again no room in the inn, so being wise on her feet and tearing a page from our mother’s playbook, she declared Ranger a Native American. A seat was suddenly opened.
Susan, her two sons (my nephews) in the front Rex* & Ranger*…my nephew, Adamo* ( youngest son of the FM) is the little guy to the right. The FM in the hat carrying a box, the Milkman to the left.
Susan would return to Muncie and eventually her husband Ron would be transferred to Oklahoma. There they tried to make a life. Circumstances were not in their favor. In 1989, Susan moved with her two boys to Maryland. I know they appreciate all the efforts their mother took to make a life for them when she was a single parent. Today, I see that they stand in awe of the fact that although their parents divorced, somehow these two people managed to push them towards adulthood. Their closeness proves that their mother and father shared lessons of a family’s love.
In happier times.
Their first trip to DC when they moved here to Maryland in 1989. I can’t explain my outfit (me on the right) other than to say I was a nursing mother.
While raising two teenagers on her own, Susan worked for Johns Hopkins University, Institute for Policy Studies. Knowing that a business school degree would not earn her security for life, Susan persevered and earned her Bachelor of Science Degree from the Johns Hopkins University. Academic accolades were prominent as well as invitations to membership in prestigious academic clubs.
With her JHU Fellows in the 1990’s.
Her job provided her opportunity to travel the world. She went to Africa, The Netherlands, Estonia, Romania, and Rome. It seemed the world was calling.
One of her trips to Africa.
With elation came deflation; each occurrence does not require an itemized line for having lived through it with her or at times, without her because of her intense need for privacy; the road was rocky. Those mountains she moved to get out of the house so many years before became walls; disguised as frequent ups, downs, sideways and byways. She interpreted our lack of enthusiasm toward the latest and greatest proof that life had not handed her a bouquet of roses as we were somehow against her. As those who cared for her tip-toed around on egg shells in hopes of not wanting to send her away again, it was often problematic to keep one’s own strength. We truly did care and want her to be happy. We reasoned and offered a helping hand that at times was bitten as we reached out.
Susan returned to Boston for ten years and was present for the care of our parents as their lives came to an end. Eight years ago, Susan returned to Baltimore to rejoin her grown sons. The bites would heal even though they still hurt. We came back for more because Susan was our parents’ daughter, a sister, an aunt, a mother, an in-law, a grandmother, and a friend.
1994…the Milkman’s 75th birthday
Three grandchildren not born yet, 1986….eight great grandchildren as of today.
How I choose to remember her.
All the family we could wrangle before it was time to eat…at the FM and KK’s home. In the front is one of my great-nephews, he is three…we typically do not include face painting at our family memorial services, but he attended a birthday party earlier in the day. He was a stand out at the Mass. Susan would have loved it.
In loving memory of my sister, Susan…gone too soon.
*names changed …need a refresher on Who’s Who, read here.