My Mother Molly, née Shirley Ann Stewart
12/6/1916 - 10/17/1977 7:15PM George Francis Stewart and Margaret McLaughlin
"when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and
you see it through no matter what."
HARPER LEE, To Kill a Mockingbird
Because I grew up in my father's neighborhood, I know less of my
mother's background...though I did spend a few summers in her home of
Bradford PA. Bradford was a fascinating town. It had been a hub of America's first oil boom in the late 1800's
and had then been flush with money. Hard to imagine, but think of Texas
high, wide and handsome in northwest Pennsylvania. It had the Kendall
Refinery (to this day, the smell of crude oil is perfume to my nose),
Case knives, Zippo lighters and Piper aircraft. The town was built
, even had a 7 story hotel, the Emery....though now it is much reduced.
The family had called her Molly (the name derives from the Latin word mollis
for soft or yielding), but when they brought her to the church for
baptism, the crusty Scotch minister said :That's no fit Christian
name", so they huddled at the back of the church and came up with
Shriley Ann, which passed muster....but she was always called
Molly. As did I, never Mother or Mom or Momma....I wonder how
that came to be and whether it hurt her.
Here she is at age 21 with her brother Jack, mother Margaret
her father George who had a butcher shop. Not present is the
eldest of the family, sister Ruth, though she's maybe taking the
Family friend Tom Leonard is alongside
George. It is July 6th, 1938, and they are at the back of 17
Sanford Street in Bradford, with it looking not that much different
than it did when I spent childhood summers there...except that by that
time, the little pine tree you see far behind Jack, had grown to be 25'
high or more. WWII has not yet begun, but brother Jack had perhaps
recently graduated from the Annapolis Naval Academy and Molly is at
Smith College. Their world is about to change.
I recall the following family legend: Grandfather George belonged to a
fraternal organization (the Odd Fellows?) and they were all at a
banquet. He turned to the fellow next to him, and passed him his
pack of cigarettes, saying, "I won't be needing these"...and
died. Molly was still at Smith, soon to graduate. She went
on to Yale Nursing and there met and married Dad in 1942. Jack
married Ruth Reinhard, a Vassar grad whose father Andrew was an
architect in the design of Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. Dad was drafted into the
Army into a MASH.
Here ard Molly, Dad, Jack and sister Ruth on Cape Cod in
August of 1942 before the men went off to war.