Thursday, December 9, 2010


My father, and his irrepressible grinning.
Trying not to grin.  A rare photo.
(Showing he has made it through his first year in the Navy and has no tattoo.)

Evidently his own father had been quite the card.  My Dad's father had disappeared long before we would ever know him, but in gazing at the only photo of him that survived, one has to imagine that this man, dressed like a mobster, and taking his three adult children out for this picture, simply had to be a scream to live with.

It's also quite evident that the girls (my father's two sisters) were not quite as amused with the situation.  They obviously were under the influence of their mother  (That's not a smile on the oldest to the right, she has a horrendous case of bucked teeth.).

Mary Celia (Carter) Kelley
Serious As A Heart Attack

My father's family would never quite get over his marrying a WASP, but they took my mother into the kitchen - uncharted territory for her - and taught her to cook the things my father 'liked.'   It all involved throwing  meat, vegetables, and lots of potatoes into a huge pot of boiling water sometime around noon, and forgetting about it until everyone decided they were hungry.   Which is what my mother taught me, and I still cook that way. It's really easy and I like a path of least resistance.

My Dad's father had come here from Ireland  in search of the American Dream.  He succeeded.  He began his trucking business in Manchester N.H. with this truck, moving pianos.

He graduated to dairy product delivery when his in-laws , who owned a dairy farm, proposed a deal. His truck morphed into a fleet that included this truck.

At a time when the city was full of Irish immigrants looking for work in the mills, while children were laboring in the factories for pennies a week, my father and his siblings were wearing leather shoes and attending private Catholic schools. 

 But in the afternoons when school was over, my father would play with the other kids in the little neighborhood by the river.  He would tell my sister and I stories of how most of the kids he played with weren't around until seven or eight o'clock at night as they did not go to school, they worked in the mills.   One Christmas he went through all the closets in his families' home, dug out everything he deemed 'extra,' left everyone in the house with one pair of shoes and one winter coat, so that he could distribute the things to the families of his friends who had shoes with holes in them, or no coats to wear during harsh New Hampshire winters.   The next winter his mother started knitting early in the fall.  And one snowy Christmas Eve, in 1928, my Dad's father drove to Canterbury, loaded the truck with dairy products, and delivered all of it, along with warm hats and socks to the families my father had named. 

Before he entered the Navy, Dad was still borrowing trucks to help out neighborhood residents. They never forgot him.

With a 'baby' brother of one of his childhood friends. My father's family was odd in that there were only three children.

 My Dad never forgot the suffering he had seen  his  friends endure.  No matter what country he was in, he was always helping the kids he ran into, whether it was a little girl trying to sell paper flowers for the sailors to send home to their 'sweethearts', or a little boy shining shoes.

  Dairy products provided by this man...

Uncle Joe

My mother not only loved conspiracies, she loved a juicy scandal. She used to sigh and say that since Uncle Joe left this earth, nothing really interesting ever happened.  Uncle Joe had come from Ireland as well, and instead of following his family to Vermont, stayed in New Hampshire where he would build a large dairy farm and become extremely successful.   So successful in fact, he hired a Swedish maid to work for his wife.  You know where this is going.  One fine day Uncle Joe's wife would arrive home from her visit to relatives in the city to find Uncle Joe in the sack with the maid.  The wife stomped out, went back to the city, and was hit by a truck there, where she died.  Uncle Joe married the maid.   My mother simply adored the maid, who would entertain for hours with stories of the mountains in which she grew up.  Years later Uncle Joe died, the maid sold everything, packed up and returned to Sweden.  Broke my mother's heart to see her go, but she visited when she was in Sweden, and they wrote to each other until the maid died.

My Dad's father, straight off the boat Irish, had an alcohol problem.  Shortly after one of the national magazines of the day (LIFE or LOOK, one of the photo mags) showed up to do a story on him, he went over the edge.  They featured him as an American Success Story, put his photo on the cover, and as the sterilized version story goes, he promptly fell off his truck, hit his head, and was 'never the same.'  He allegedly went back to Ireland to drink himself to death.   My father joined the Navy and started sending money home to his mother.

He met my mother while on leave one year, at the ski jump my father would drive over 50 miles to use, and my mother lived one town line away from .

Um, yuh, this is one sport neither parent was able to rope my sister nor me into trying, but they both loved it.



Somewhere in Italy

Dad sent pictures home, some taken at professional photo shops from ports all over the world,  and eventually he and my mother were married during a three day leave.

The Wedding Party

It only made sense that all my mother's friends loved my Dad.  He had been around three women who, quite simply put, never - according to my mother who was a witness - stopped talking.  Hence my father would just hang out and smile. Or outright guffaw at something one of us had done. 

When he retired from the service, coming ashore for good, my mother would discover my dad had more one-liners than Henny Youngman.  They had never been around each other enough for this to become apparent until his becoming a land-Lubber (as opposed to Land-Lover, which he never was).  This was an added bonus my mother cherished.  The sailor had a sense of humor, and when he could get a word in edgewise, he was quite funny.  He was also extremely handsome.  In a picture that has not surfaced yet, my dad is dancing with an unknown female, on the back, written in my mother's hand, is this, "THIS IS NOT YOUR MOTHER!"

He was like Sean Connery, the older he got, the better looking he was.  My sister and I met at my parents house one night ( they were the halfway point) to attend a Bingo event my father was calling the numbers for, at the local VFW.   A little old lady approached us and said slyly,   " I understand Jim Kelley is your father?"   My sister and I looked down at her and replied "Yes," to which she continued, "And is there a Mrs. Kelley?''   We advised her indeed there was, and she wandered off mumbling the lipstick was for nothing......  Then my sister and I raced back to tell my mother. She laughed for years over it. 

My Dad was lost after my sister left us , my mother three months later, then  I was diagnosed. 

I knew when I recieved this after my first operation he was just not all there anymore, but needed me to know he was thinking of me.  His normally neat address placed in the middle of the envelope was way off kilter, he couldn't remember the street address of the hospital,  and he no longer trusted the US Postal Service, so he put the date in the corner to let me know he had sent it the day before my operation. He could bear to think of no other option than I would make it through to recieve it immediately after my surgery.

  He gave up when he was diagnosed with cancer after my second surgery and died January 5, 1998.  What he left behind was a legacy of love and care for others;  no matter who they were, where they came from, or their situation in life.


  1. This is an incredible story. I am glad to know it, and glad to share it with you. Thank you for writing it, pictures and all.

  2. Joni...I really enjoyed reading about your wonderful family! I was just riveted! Your dad was indeed very handsome and his heart was just as beautiful. I loved all the pictures you posted too! My eyes welled up at the end though. I know you miss him so much..and your beautiful mom and sister as well. It's so sad that they are all gone now. Thank you for sharing a bit of them with us...That lady in the bingo hall just cracked me up!!! Have a fun weekend, Sweetie! xo Paulette

  3. What a beautiful story and the pictures add so much to it.

    I am a sucker for tales like this. You started my morning with a smile and a few tears too.

  4. Thank you for sharing your very personal and interesting family story. And the photos are remarkable as well. I should get off my duff and scan some of our photos as well.

  5. I think that is the most heart warming story and so well written
    maybe you do write ?
    anyway you gave me a lovely warm feeling deep inside thank you Linda

  6. Wonderful reading because I can totally relate and feel right at home with the story. You are a wonderful writer.

  7. Thank You all for your gracious comments. It's hard for me to remember most of my Dad's gut-cramping remarks, as by the time he was home for good I was already out on my own, but I attribute most of my sister's snarky remarks as having morphed from my Dad's humor.

    Linda : I have a WIP, that will turn into a major miracle if I finish it.... :}

  8. Clara : You are far too kind with your generous compliment, but I Thank You dearly.

  9. Dear Vossy : Extra Strength please, I need to finish Christams gifts.... :O

  10. Sorry That's BOSSY, just washed my hands and can't do a thing with them !!!!!!

  11. If I had a post of the week award to give out, I'd this one would win! What a fantastic story! Add the photos to the mix and wow!

    really really good!

  12. Pat : I'm just going to pretend your post of the week is a fireplace with three cords of wood included.... have I failed to mention it is too far below zero with the wind chill to keep track... :{ and Thank You dearly.