Remembering Mom at 70 Years Passed
Even across the span of 70 years, I clearly remember this night, May 28, 1951, when Dad came home to tell us Mom had died. Mom, Molly, Margaret Mary Plunkett Herrmann was everybody’s sweetheart, none more than our Dad’s. They were married just short of 16 years on that night when Mom went to work at Standard Pressed Steel in Jenkintown and never returned home. She was 41.
The story, as I recall it being told to us, was that Mom felt sick at work and told one of her co-workers she had to take a break in the rest room. When she didn’t return, her co-worker went to look for her and found her there, apparently already gone of an undetected heart issue.
Mom left behind a grieving young husband, Al, who at age 40, never fully recovered from her loss; 5 kids: Al (15), Mary (13), Jack (11), Margie (8) and Patty (4); a father Pete; 3 siblings: Jack, Elizabeth and Ed; numerous nieces and nephews and friends. The entire small town of McKinley and the close-knit parish of St. James were both rocked by the loss of such a vivacious young woman, beloved by so many.
My 8th birthday was one month prior to her death. As a gift, I had been given a watch with a brown leather band. Mom borrowed my watch to wear to work and the leather absorbed the oily smell of a manufacturing production line. I remember holding that watch band up to my face and closing my eyes, trying to breathe in the scent of her, because I knew she wore it when she died. I can still remember the pungent oily smell.
Mom was a gifted pianist and a hair stylist. Our hair, both boys and the girls, always looked neat and styled when we were kids. Even though there was always a pile of clean, unironed clothes on the ironing board, we were impeccably dressed going to church or school, even to her carefully polishing our shoes. She also generously styled the hair of her friends. Mom had a delightful personality and I remember her singing as she took care of us kids, our dad, our grandparents and various people who would sit with our parents drinking strong coffee at the kitchen table. She was predeceased by her mother Bridget and a foster son, Joe Eggleton and an unknown number of siblings. (Mom was in her teens during the flu epidemic of 1918.)
She was a devout Catholic and, before she died, ours was one of those families who would say the family rosary during the month of October. She encouraged her daughters to create a May altar in honor of Mary, Mother of Jesus.
One story from our family mythology came from a time when nuns would go door to door seeking donations. Back in those days (the forties), nobody in our parents’ economic situation had any money to spare. Mom was in the process of styling a friend’s hair when a nun came to the back door. Mom had exactly 5 dollars to her name for her and Dad, two living parents, and 5 kids. She gave the nun the $5 bill. When she returned to her friend, she was frantic about having to to tell our Dad that she literally gave away their last dollar. Almost simultaneiously, the mailman came to the front door with an envelope addressed to Molly Plunkett. She had played the organ for a wedding the prior year for a wealthy St. James family. The envelope contained $25. Mom jumped up and down, so excited and happy. I wonder if hearing that story has helped us, her kids, to all be spontaneously generous, a trait inherent in us all.
Mom loved to laugh, dance and sing. She met my dad at the dance pavilion at Willow Grove Park where they won dance contests. If there was a song that can identified with her, it’s the old cowboy song, Don’t Fence Me In which she sang around the house all the time and tells a lot about the free spirit legacy she left us kids. “Don’t Fence Me In” became the travel song my sister, Pat, and I sing in her honor when we go on our annual excursions. She was also a romantic. Her favorite song was the 1929 hit, Stardust by Hoagy Carmichel.
Now I think of Mom on the other side of that thin veil with Dad, her parents and siblings, her beloved children Mary and Jack and her dear grandchildren Leslie and Ron whom she never met in this life. There is an old Gospel hymn, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” that laments the loss of a mother and the family circle that was lost when she died. The song looks for the day the family will once again be complete and unbroken. When Mom left it seemed like that circle was broken, we just missed her so. I’ve since come to believe that the connection with our loved ones never ends. Mom is there on that other side with her love and light, with singing, laughing and dancing welcoming her loved ones home each in their own time.
So on this 70th Anniversary of the night you left, I thank you for choosing Dad for all five of us to come into the world. Even though I only remember you vaguely, I have snippet of memory of you with each of your five kids and am grateful for that. I love you dearly, Mom. I’ll see you on the other side where I will recognize your blue eyes once again smiling into mine.