“Did you ever see him again after he left?”
“One more time…
I was a young working girl–maybe I was working for the Silton Brothers at that time. I was riding the trolley and he came on and we saw-reachother.”
“What did you do? Did you say hi?”
“No! I turned and looked out the window. I could see him looking at me out of my peripheral vision for the en-TI-uh ride, until he got off.”
My heart sunk, but it was then that I knew the depth of my mother’s rejection of her father. A rejection based on her understanding that they went hungry because of his “loafing” and that she missed out on college because of the same.
My mother and her brother, sister, and mother lived in Somerville, Massachusetts in an apartment over a “bowling alley and a bah-room,” in Teele Square. Here it is today.
Her father, Robert Emmett Sughrue, also lived there when he was not working at seaside resorts up and down the New England coast.
“Bob” had been baking since he was in 6th grade–or since he left the 6th grade to help support his large family.
His mother Hannah (Murphy) and father Peter Sughrue had 12 children, with Bob being the 6th, and his father seems to have disappeared and left the family when Bob was 16 years old.
The Sughrues of 5 Wilbur Street (now called Harrington Road) were often in the newspapers.
I look forward to writing a larger post one day about what my cousin Terry calls, “The Wild Bunch of 5 Wilbur Street.”
They had numerous struggles and misadventures, but a couple hit the family hard:
They lost their oldest brother to a seizure while he was working as a janitor at Harvard.
The second oldest brother, Peter Joseph Bernard, was lost in World War I, just under a year after he joined the cause.
These losses hit the family hard, as these eldest sons helped provide for the large family.
Big brother James Sughrue brought Bob into baking. They are found in a 1920 census at the agricultural college at Amherst, with James as a baker, and Bob listed as a servant.
I do not know how Bob established himself at resorts, but once he did, that was his line of work by all accounts until he retired. My grandmother had a photo and a postcard of two places he worked.
This work took him north in the summers and south in the winters.
Sometimes his family was able to join him. As my mother recollected to my niece when Casey was at a summer camp:
Mum is clearly proud of his skill here.
Another charming item in our collection from my mother’s childhood is this menu. Bob had managed to get work for his kids and wife in the resort! (Helen F. is his wife, and Anna May my mother, with my Uncle Bobby and Aunt Helen rounding out the crew.)
I wish that they could have enjoyed much more time together, as her memories of these times are good. But the reality was that the kids needed to be at school, with a stable life outside of summers, so they either didn’t see him, or if they DID have him at home, during the great Depression of the 1930’s…
“He was loafing.”
It seems he didn’t work when he was in Somerville with the family. Her memories of him at home are not all bad. She would tell me about how he was keenly interested in the news of the world, very curious and engaged with the radio news. She told me that he didn’t know his birthday, but picked February 12 “because he liked Abraham Lincoln.” I did find that his late return of a birth in 1910 did give his birth date as February 12th, according to his Irish-born mother, so it appears he actually told his little daughter the truth about his sharing Lincoln’s birthday.
She did resent until the end of her days that he teased her with a nickname “Annie-old-rags!” There was a rag-man who went down the street with his cart, calling out “Any old rags!” and she said his accent made it sound like he was saying, “ANNIE OLD RAGS” — a fact my grandfather exploited to tease his little daughter. Perhaps if they hadn’t been so poor it might have sat better with Anna.
I understand that even when he was working, the money disappeared before it could get to the family back home in Somerville. They would go hungry, and sometimes went to bed really early just to save energy.
They ran out of coal sometimes and were cold. Mum recalls brother Bobby having them in stitches in the night, describing them all going down to the basement to huddle around one burning piece of coal.
Their mother was angry with their father, and little Anna May knew about this strife. She would tell me later that he lost his money gambling. My cousin, a daughter to Anna’s big brother Bobby, explained that in fact he was also drinking heavily.
I found a letter in my grandmother’s collection that she had written to Bob that opens angrily with, “So what is the story now…”
Still, Mum teared up a couple times during my childhood remembering that her father was sentimental, and that he must have been lonely for his little family…
No matter how angry my mother remained toward my grandfather, she was not able to make him a monster. I always felt almost desperate for him, and his permanent mistakes. My cousin Deb described it well, saying that he “…just got in his own way.”
There was the letter from a priest Reverend John Brown, putting a good word in with Bob’s fed up wife about what an “exemplary catholic” Bob was these days:
I learned from Deb that Bob’s oldest daughter Helen sent him out of the house because his drinking was unacceptable. This is something my mother never shared with us. To this day, I do not know if she was ignorant of the cause of his departure, or if she was ashamed of the reason.
That would have been the last time my mother saw him until that trolley ride.
Bob, Jr. would visit his father at least once, out of compassion, I believe.
Still, by the time I was born in 1965, Bob the Baker’s obituary makes no mention of his wife or 3 children.
I was not able to find this until I was helped by Bill McEvoy, a retired magistrate who contacted me to tell me where my grandfather was likely buried. I had hit a dead end since my family had no information on his whereabouts, but Bill did a study of Catholic Mount Auburn Cemetery and found Bob with “Mary Normile” and family, and contacted me. I am so grateful…
I plan to lay flowers at his grave the next time I am in Boston, hopefully with my cousins, so we can gently welcome him back into our clan and our memories.