The Carmody Side Of The Family
With the exception of myself, my brothers and sister, and their families, the Carmodys, for a bunch of Irish folk, were and are relatively quiet. I say relatively quiet because, of course, there was Aunt Mamie.
My earliest memories are of Aunt Dolly and Uncle Charlie.
Dolly was the Carmody, Charlie was a Davis. For years they lived in an apartment on Varney Terrace in Lynn. Charley and Dolly were childless as were their best friends Aunt Edna and Uncle Jack who lived on the second floor of the twin apartment house directly across the terrace. Although not blood related, Jack and Edna were close enough to my family to earn the appellation Aunt and Uncle. Charlie and Jack would have made a good comedy team like Abbott and Costello or the comic strip characters Mutt and Jeff. Jack was tall, cadaverously thin, and deep voiced. Charlie, on the other hand, was short, squat, balding, mild-mannered, and always spoke in clipped sentences of no more than four or five words. Charlie worked at Forbes Lithograph (a name I found intriguing as a kid) in Chelsea. He was also an exceptional cook. Jack worked as a Navy inspector at General Electric in Lynn. He was also an exceptional con artist.
Of the three Carmody sisters, Dolly was the most reserved, most proper, and soft-spoken of the three. I always admired her inner strength. She had a dignity that we kids admired while growing up but without actually knowing why. She was thin, freckled-Irish, and not easily rattled.
At the beginning of the 1950s, Charlie and Dolly would suddenly appear out of nowhere to take myself, and, later brother Joe, to Boston to see the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus. We’d take the train from Market Square in Lynn to North Station in Boston to the Boston Garden right next door. I can still see hundreds of people working their way through the dingy yellow walled corridors into the Garden. The first thing you encountered was what Charley called the Side Show or Freak Show. It was in a smaller area outside the main arena. There was a deformed individual called Seal Man. In place of hands and feet, he had what looked like flippers. There was a bearded lady with hair all over her face, hands, and back as well as a bald strong man dressed in leopard skin and lifting a barbell of unimaginable weight. I recall being very sad in this room and was happy when we moved along. Sadness quickly turned to excitement and awe as we approached the area where the animals were kept. There was sawdust everywhere and the smell of dung was overpowering. I saw for the first time elephants lifting their trunks laden with hay, caged lions pacing back and forth, tigers roaring and exhibiting long stained teeth, and small monkeys being groomed by clowns. After the circus, we'd head home in time to go Trick or Treating.
Every Thanksgiving, we'd have dinner at Dolly & Charlie's. Charlie would usually take us to the Chelsea high football game while the ladies prepared dinner. Charlie told us every year that he would shoot the turkey that morning in his backyard with a shot gun and that we should watch out for pieces of buckshot when we ate. We believed it as long as we believed in Santa.
In the afternoon the rest of the Carmodys would come over for the evening.
Frank, Bertha, and their kids Maureen, Paul, and Lois were usually the first to arrive. Frank was my father’s closest brother and in his youth, was probably as big a Hellion as my dad. They were both Scotch runners for the Kennedys during Prohibition. I overheard stories not meant for my ears that Frank and Al were spotted often rowing out to sea from somewhere off Lynn Beach and a few hours later rowing back but drawing perhaps a foot more water than when they left. A small pickup truck awaited them on the return trip.
In later years, Frank could toss them back with the best. I only regret that I didn’t know him better. Frank was enamored with the acquisition of wealth though he never had a lot. Frank was not a snob. That trait, however, manifested itself in his firstborn, Maureen. She was my chronological peer and the first true bitch in my life. Her whining voice was annoying and her nose was always tilted up to the rarefied air at about 35,000 feet. Recently, I attended a family gathering and hadn’t seen her for about 20 years of so. I heard Maureen remark loud enough that I could hear.
"He’s still an asshole."
Dammit, she said it before I could. Maureen married a technician from Polaroid and lived miserably ever after in the tower of a castle on a mountain. Twas a gift from God that they didn’t breed. Enough said about Maureen. Her brother, my cousin Paul, suffered with epilepsy as did Uncle Bill.
In contrast to his sister, Paul was a great kid and my brothers and myself usually hung out with Paul at these family gatherings. We’d play cards. Paul had a suspicious nature and claimed for years that we cheated because he always lost. He lost all the time because his epilepsy interfered with his concentration. However, being kids, we didn’t have a clue.
In between card games at Thanksgiving, we’d watch college or professional football, usually Texas A&M and Texas Christian and the Detroit Lions versus whomever. The only real cheater in the house was Uncle Jack. He claimed he knew nothing about the games.
"Say, how about betting a quarter to make it interesting?" Said Jack.
"Make what interesting?" I responded.
"The football game."
You must understand that in the ’50s, a quarter could buy a school lunch or tonic and chips at Pinky’s, the local mom and-pop store. But, thinking we shared a level playing field, my two brothers and Paul would pony up our quarters.
Jack insisted that the bets would be individual, that is, he’d pick his team and we’d have to take the other teams so that if he lost, he’d give us each a quarter or if he won then vice versa. For six or seven years, he won all but one or two games. We thought he was the luckiest man alive.
Years later, we learned that he was a football fanatic and studied the game like a minister his Bible. What a weird dude. Another uncle once said "Jack squeezes a nickel so tight that the buffalo screams in pain."
Next came John and Mary. Uncle John was the Carmody elder, my Godfather, soft-spoken, and bald to a high degree of polish. He and Mary like Dolly and Charlie and Jack and Edna were childless. I thought it coincidental until I heard the story about a Jeckle-Hyde gynecologist named Dr. Hallsman. For years, he was like an Italian barber who only knew how to give one type of haircut. Dr. Hallsman’s prescription for any female complaint from the vagaries of menstruation to menopause was to give a complete hysterectomy. It was said later that he single-handedly controlled the population in the greater Lynn area. One night late in his life, he rented a room on the top floor of the hotel Edison and blew his brains out.
The doorbell rang preceded by noise. In came Mamie who had in tow her husband Big Marty and their son Young Marty. Mamie was the family exception. When she entered a room, the atmosphere was changed. The atmosphere was charged. Mamie was the most forward of all the Carmodys and she could keep up with street people in a swearing debate. As children, we used to visit her once a month. She was always cooking. She stood near the stove in her apron and was covered with flour. Big Marty in contrast was quiet and never seemed to be around. I liked him though. I can’t recall three times I ever heard him speak. Young Marty was several years older than I. I was the recipient of all his hand-me-down clothing. Marty became an engineer, married, had two kids, and became the Carmody family genealogist.
"Are we all having a helluva time?"
"Mamie, please watch your language in front of the kids."
My Mother exhorted to no avail.
Big Marty died relatively young but Mamie lived into her late ’70s and passed on from cancer. In their senior years, Mamie, Dolly, and Anna (all widows by then) would hang out together. I would often see the three of them as I ran along Lynn Beach or at Anna’s house on Sluice Pond when I swam by.
Back to Uncle John for a second, he worked at the General Electric Co. on Allerton Street in Lynn. I always got a dress shirt from him at Christmas time. Mary reminded me of Dolly in some ways. She always had a smile. Unlike Dolly, though, she was plump and effervescent. By mid afternoon Uncle Abe and Aunt Anna would show up. Anna was the oldest girl and lived into her 90s. Uncle Abe was always my favorite. He was a constant bustle of activity. He was also of French Canadian extraction and understood the language. When I was young, I remember once staying over his house and he was able to help me with my catechism questions.
"Qui nous a mis sur la terre?"
"C’est Dieu qui nous a mis sur la terre."
"Et qui est Dieu?"
"Dieu est l’etre supreme qui a cree toute chose." Etc, etc.
Abe was my sponsor at Confirmation and was also an active Knight of Columbus. They had two children Sonny (Albert Jr.) and Lorraine. Sonny married Marylin Appel whose father and mother coincidentally were customers of mine when I had a paper route. I didn’t know the relationship until years later. Sonny and Marilyn like Anna lived on Sluice Pond in Lynn and had three kids.
Compared with the Dupuis side of the family, the Carmodys tended to be a quiet bunch. All that changed, however, the year Charlie built a bar in his cellar. This was during the late ’60s, early ’70s. Up until then, I had never seen anyone in the family take a drink of any kind. They usually drank tea. They quickly made up for it though when Charlie put in a bar. They had a high school graduation party for me and Charlie started serving drinks. I learned more stories about my father after Demon Rum loosened tongues.
My father’s immediate family is all gone now except for Dolly. One of these days I’ve got to visit her for more stories.
EPILOGUE: Dolly passed away early 2007 and, no, I never did get to talk to her.