Apr 01

Day 1 of Positive Impacts: My Mother


Anna Carroll was born in 1920, in a far away land called Newark, New Jersey. Towards the end of seven children in a strongly Irish Catholic family, she grew up in faith and doubt. A cousin of mine once described Aunt Anna as “the pretty one” in the family, always garnering attention from boys. My mother talked about her youth in terms of her St. Vitus’ Dance, now called chorea minor. She was a brilliant woman in a house of brilliant women (along with her brother Kevin), but she was always limited by the frequent temors that left her feeling incapable of the simplest of tasks. Her trust in God, the Virgin, and the Saints, never waivered.

There is too much to say about my mother in one post, but I will talk about how those two factors were positive influences on me as a child.

In her struggle with her illness, which finally faded as adulthood came on, she learned and taught me that our difficulties are difficult, but our responses must be perseverance and acceptance. Survival, quiet uncomplaining survival, is a worthy goal.  Life is hard? It’s harder for others. Move on. People are disappointing? It’s not our job to decide how others live, just ourselves. Move on. Can;t get what you want? Be grateful for what you have. You want to complain? Ask yourself what good it really does?  Bored? Do math problems. Really bored? Clean your room.  Have a little bit of free time and money? Do something that makes you happy. Something really getting you down? Pray and act. Move on.

My mother entered in marriage before my father deployed to Germany.  During that time she was living in a Newark neighborhood filled with German Jews, many of whom were her best friends. She was aware of the horrors in Germany before most Americans. She was optimistic that this handsome, older Irishman would come home safely. He came home, but he was not safe.  She nursed him and loved through his PTSD (called shell shock in the day).  Meanwhile together they mourned the miscarriage of her first two pregnancies. Her faith got her through this period, and was confirmed in my father’s quick recovery and the birth of her first daughter.

Anna was the daughter of a Irish railrooad worker and a English nanny of Irish descent. She was aware of the pain of being an oppressed people fighting for freedom.  She saw herself in all others who were oppressed.  Her faith would not ever allow to dismiss anyone as “other.” This came true in her love of the Jewish People, her support of Black America during the civil rights movement, and her defense of Indian immigrants into her home town in the 1980s and 1990s.  She would never willing offend anyone, and she was in ways the epitome of meek. But, she would not let racial, religious, or hateful epitaphs be spoken around her.

She and I differed in many ways. I am the gregarious extrovert, she the introvert. My views on ambition, even misguided ambition, came from my father.  She was never one for ambition and surely not for understanding all of my enthusiasms and odd, quirky passions.

But, in the end, the part that positively influences me is to move on in faith. Persevere.

Speaking of moving on, she was the person who taught me to enjoy going places and doing things. My father and I had few outings together, fewer actual trips together. My mother and I traveled from England to the West Coast of Ireland together. We barely escaped the NYC blackout together.  Mom showed me the city and taught me the subways, buses, and taxis of NY.  Mom and I would drive to the country, drive to the city.

All parents and children have relationships that are close, then distant, then close again.  I wish I had been a better son during much of my life.  She was too weird for me sometimes, with her crossword puzzle addiction and her extreme idealism. She loved Novenas and Rosary Club.  She only hated a few people in her life, chief among them Hitler and Lindbergh (same reason for both). She lived in a state of overwhelm for most of her life, but she never lost her sense of survival or her faith in her creator. She survived a rough youth in the depression, raising seven kids during the cultural overturn of the 1960s, three wars, a presidential resignation, and 9/11. She survived it all, passing away in 2002.

But, every day she isn’t around…you know, she kind of is.




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