Cleveland Irish: Dear John Francis

Cleveland Irish: Dear John Francis
By Francis McGarry

Grandpa, I was processing the 1940 Census data for the city wards near St. Aloysius, really I was, and I saw you.  There you were at 25 years old just two weeks into your job at the grocery store, a lodger on East 95th Street. 

Back in your day, they counted everyone, so it is not a surprise.  I knew you were in Cleveland in 1940, but it is still exciting to find you in the census.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I will still be out to All Soul’s on the 16th to have a taste and talk to you and Grandma Grace.  But, there are a few things that I am wondering that Grace may not want to hear, so you get a letter with your flowers. 

It is not about your drinking, although Grace was not a fan.  Some of my nurse friends said cirrhosis is not a bad way to go, all things considered.  They don’t work for Cleveland Clinic, but I trust their medical opinions anyway. 

It gave me a sense of ease that you chose a good way to go.  What you gonna do?  It is a game we play when we belly up to the bar.  Some days you win and some days the whiskey does; but, hell, even the ’64 Browns had three losses and they were called Champions. 

Aunt Irene always said, “Whiskey never solved anything, but then again neither did milk.”  I am pretty sure that was not originally her saying, but you know how arguing with her goes.  Either way, JF, I don’t judge.

Grandpa, the story as it was told to me, was that you dropped out of high school after your first year to work at the oil refinery with your father, James.  You stayed at home and sounds like you saved some money. Ten years of that and you were off to Cleveland to live near Uncle Pat.  That much I knew. 

Your room on 95th was about two miles from Uncle Pat, Aunt Delia, Patrick Jr., Kathleen, Margaret and her husband Keith McCrone.  There is a Nemo’s Liquor Store across from what was their backyard in East Cleveland, just a few blocks from St. Philomena’s.  I don’t know if the store that sells mice traps and bibles was on the corner back then. Seems like a sustainable business plan. 

Kathleen’s daughter, Mimi, was at our Hibernian Raffle this past weekend. Mimi was telling me stories about the Bishop and the family. Mike Murphy was there as well; he went to St. Joe’s with Dennis. You might not remember him, but you had to have drinks with his father at the Bucket of Blood. 

I was able to have a nip with his son Chris and Hanratty when we finished calling the numbers, Hibernians, JF.  I trust you have had a chance to see Uncle Dennis, good old DeeJay Paints.  They tore down your apartment building across from St. Joe Collinwood, by the way. The first property of McGarry Real Estate.

It was a great day to be Irish, as some attempt to say. We announced an annual scholarship for your brother, the Bishop Urban McGarry Scholarship. It is through our Foundation, Bluestone Hibernian Charites. More families have now commited to funding a scholarship named for their people, RIP Chuck Arth. 

I know you were not too fond of the Irish west of the river, but they were at the raffle too. 

Good folks, grandpa, once you get to know them, Hibernians, JF.  I do find the air over there hard, to breathe at times; but, as you know, we live in altitude. 

Plus, you went to the fish fries at St. Malachi to meet Grace’s family and your uncle Michael, who lived on West 65th, so that is what it is.  The 43rd annual St. Malachi Run is on March 12th, after your time I know. You can rest easy that the race heads to the Eastside as fast as they can.

While I was looking at your records, Grandpa, I found your sister Jane’s cemetery record.  She is buried at Mount Saint Mary Cemetery in Queens.  It is about twenty-thirty minutes from TJ in Upper Manhattan. He went to visit, small world. Speaking of that, your grandma Jane McNally’s father Walter McNally has a name sake who is also a Hibernian. Most call him Mickey, but he has answered to McGurk. 

So, Grandpa, this might not make sense to you, but when you export the census data to Excel, the format allows you a new lens. In the original census forms, you are last on the page, number 80 on the form. Well, in Excel, it is clear to see that Fred and Pauline Marquardt had two lodgers, not just you.

Elizabeth Walters was also living there, a divorced secretary who had moved in about six months before you. This you know; I did not. After some investigation, I discovered Elizabeth was from Warren PA. as well. I am not casting aspersions JF, just interested in the narrative.

When I asked me Ma, she said, “Oh, Libby.” Maybe you were just friends or maybe Grace wasn’t your first love. You’re only allowed  three great ones in a lifetime. Me? I had my three when I was 16; that happens, what you gonna do, that’s the way it goes. 

Whatever the story is, it actually gives a vitality to the census and it apparently got Grandma Grace fired up. Sometimes the past gets trapped, as if it was never alive.  If the family tree is no longer alive, it was alive and should be appreciated as such. 

When I inquired more from me Ma, she transitioned to how you and Grace would take her and Dennis down to The Parade.  That soon digressed into stories of Notre Dame College girls at Pat Joyce’s.  To use her own saying, “At her age all she can remember is the past.”

Well, JF, looking forward to hearing the story. I will be heading down the hill on St. Patrick’s Day with my Hibernian Brothers and will be marching because of you. No yesterdays are ever wasted if they give forth todays. Thank you for my today, Grandpa.

*Francis McGarry holds undergraduate degrees from Indiana University in Anthropology, Education and History and a Masters in Social Science from the University of Chicago.  He is the founder of Bluestone Hibernian Charities.  Francis is a past president of the Irish American Club East Side.  He is the founder and past president of the Bluestone Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.   

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