Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Mary with her older brothers, Gene and Henry "Chub"

Mary Connolly was a remarkable woman, she was born on May 23, 1941 to Henry Callan and Catherine Callan nee Zwack in Dubuque, Iowa.  She had 2 older brothers, Gene and Henry, a younger sister Molly and a baby brother, John.
Mary and her father Henry - first holy communion.

Mary with her mother, Catherine

Mary in high school.

Popular in school, she went on a double date one day with a friend of her older brother (she told me there was no way she was going to go out with an older man on her own-she was 17, he 20).  Fast forward to their marriage in August.  Baby number one came, and then two, both boys.  They were fast outgrowing the small place they rented.
Mary and Baby #1

Mary had her hands full wrangling two fiesty boys, while pregnant with her third-her husband worked at the packing plant - working all the extra hours he could get - and came home to rock babies.

Mary got her little girl and soon added another son.  As the child count hit four, so did sorrow, as the newest addition struggled with a heart defect that later claimed his young life.  Heart broken though she must have been, Mary had little time to give into grief, because during all the hospital visits and juggling four little ones, baby number five made her appearance.  The count was now 3 boys (one in angel status) and 2 girls.

A move was inevitable, there was literally no more room, so they weighed their options and that city girl followed her husband to the country to raise up the children and offer them a safe place to run and play and get dirty and grow.  St. Donatus, Iowa, population?  Less than 200.  She was 26 when the doctor told her her next pregnancy held a surprise-twins!

I'm on the left, Heidi on the right.

Growing up (that's me with the hammer) circa 1968.
My sister and I were born in October, 1966, after what certainly had to be a wretchedly hot summer. No air conditioning, only a fan and screen doors-constantly banging while kids ran in and out.  Think of it:  three babies in diapers (cloth diapers folks, hung on the line to dry) and the house they put a down payment on gutted, room by room, waiting for evenings and weekends when Dad could renovate.  Mom cheated death at age 29 when surgery removed uterine cancer-but the same life saving surgery also took away any more pregnancies.

Folks think country life is all daisies and lemonade, but that's only on television.  There were all kinds of obstacles-a party telephone line for one, and a long distance toll charge anytime she called her mother.  Living in the city, Mom had never learned to drive-she was stuck out in the country until Dad got home from work, or fishing, or hunting, or...

Dad ordered Mom's birthday cakes, she made ours.
Think of the housework!  She finally got an electric washing machine in 1966 when we twins made our appearance, before that it was the laundromat or a wringer washer.  Laundry for eight, three meals a day plus a hearty lunch packed for Dad, and six pairs of sticky hands, dirty faces, and constant refrains of "Mooooommmmmm!"  We kids were no saints either, we fought and played and got hurt, needed stitches, rough housed our pets, rode bikes on gravel roads, got in trouble at school, traded childhood illnesses and generally must have drove her nuts.  Money was always tight.  Mom didn't work outside the home until her children were nearly adults.

Mary and her wheels.
Every birthday Mom made us our favorite cake and let the birthday kid pick the dinner meal.  We always made a wish before blowing out the candles.

Holiday tables groaned with her cooking.  Mom learned to drive when my sister and I started kindergarten, she was 31.  With keys in hand, she started her next career as chauffeur, a vocation that was kicked into high gear as school extra-curricular activities piled up on top of the endless grocery trips.

Mary at the lake on a summer camping trip.

Speaking of school, we all knew how to read before kindergarten.  We played "school" with my oldest sister as the teacher if it wasn't nice enough to go outside.  We were allowed to play outside nearly year round "until the lights came on" (if by 'lights' you understand I mean the one street light on our side of town), so there were pick up games of catch and baseball, endless bike rides and lots of stomping in the nearby creek.

Mom and Dad took all of us camping, for weeks, every summer, in Wisconsin where it was cooler.  We could doggy paddle in the lake (so long as we didn't go deeper than our belly buttons) get dirty, roast marshmallows over a campfire, ride our bikes over endless trails and soak up the sun, wild as natives.  Without fanfare or complaint, Mom did all the work getting us ready to go and packing up for the trip back home.

Mom made every one of her children feel special, loved and wanted.  She crocheted afghans to keep us warm, sewed halloween costumes and easter dresses.  Mom taught me to sew, a hobby I still love.  She taught us all to cook, and by her example I learned how to run a household.  She always had a book in her hand, reading nearly every day.  Mom made sure we were all present and accounted for in church every Sunday morning-she could quell unacceptable behavior in church with just a glance of her "mean" look.  Our Christmas trees sparkled with tinsel and homemade ornaments, hundreds of holiday cookies were baked each year, with gifts piled up-and she gave Santa all the credit.

Mom eventually saw all those little ones grow up, move away, marry and start families of their own.  Engineer,  plant supervisor, computer programmer, nurse, manager, lawyer... we all grew up and gave her grandbaby after grandbaby.
Grandma Mary's first wave of grandbabies, 1989
Grandma Mary & Baby K

Now Grandma Mary, she took every phone call, never offered unsolicited advice, stocked her house with dolls for the girls and trucks for the boys.  She stitched doll clothes and colorful, coveted quilts.  She painted beautiful ceramics and gave each of her (now grown up) children a hand painted nativity scene.  She worked at the ceramic shop, took classes to become a certified nursing assistant, and began taking care of aging Catholic nuns at the facility in town.
Mom and Dad
Mom loved to travel, and went as often as she could, usually with her brother and his wife.  New York, Montreal, Mexico (where she smuggled out 2 small switchblades as souvenirs for her teenage boys) and more. She and Dad moved to northern Arkansas in the mid 90s, escaping the harsh Iowa winters.  Fishing and hunting for Dad, swimming, walking, quilting and time to read for Mom.  Her flower garden flourished, quilts were made in her studio, and her children came to visit year after year-for reunions, for love, for comfort & solace.
Family reunion, 1999.
Mom picked up smoking as a girl in high school, a way to lose weight she told me.  She quit smoking in 1986, kicking the addiction by sheer will power alone.  But, the cigarettes had taken their toll and in December of 2000, at age 59, she was diagnosed with aggressive lung cancer.  Mom held on until every one of her children, by now scattered all over the country, made it to her hospital bedside.  We all were able to hold her, hug her, tell her we loved her, and hear her tell us she loved us too.

 Mary Catherine Callan Connolly died on January 26, 2001.  She is survived by my Dad, her sister Molly, her brother John, six children, 14 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren.  My Mother was the most beautiful, the kindest, sweetest, most perfect lady I ever knew.  I've never met her match.  She, no doubt, is with the angels, with her baby Todd, her Mom and Dad, and her brothers, Gene and Chub.  I still miss her so much every single day.  I still can't believe she's gone.  My mother is why I believe there is a God and a heaven.  I have to believe I can be with her again.

I love you Mom,


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