Will the Circle Be Unbroken …

Remembering Mom at 70 Years Passed

June, 1936, on the steps of St. James Church, Elkins Park.

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.

Molly, 5th from the left, at 20 years old, with her friends from St. James.

Author: Marguerite Sexton

I was born in 1943, the 4th of 5 kids. My parents died when I was 8 and 18 respectively. I am fortunate to have been born to really nice people. My siblings and I sort of raised each other. I am married to Tom Sexton, the sweetest man on earth. My two sons, Ron and Joe, were from my first marriage. Tom brought three kids into our marriage, Tom Jr., Sean and Nicolle. I have lost many loved ones, most notably my mom and dad, my sister, Mary, at age 38, my brother Jack in January of 2015 and my beloved Ron on Christmas morning of 2015. I am grateful for all these beloved people who wait on just the other side of the thin veil.

12 thoughts on “Will the Circle Be Unbroken …”

  1. Oh Marge, such beautiful writing….once again. I feel as if I knew your mom and I thank you for that.
    I cannot comprehend how your world must have shattered that night 70 years ago. I do know that all the tragedy and the joy of the last 70 years has shaped you into one of the most compassionate and loving people I know. I am so grateful for you.💞

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    1. Thank you for that wonderful empathy, Eleanor. Everything ultimately shapes who we are. Our dad used to say to me (and I wish I had added this to the blog) “Everything good that is inside you kids, is because of the mother you had.” That’s a good thing to take through life.

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  2. Dear Marge,

    You are such a gifted writer! Thank you for inviting us into this part of your personal life story with touching remembrances of your mother and family. Reading this story, I know I would have liked your mother very much. I believe you have carried her spirit of generosity and devotion throughout your own life.
    Mary Anne

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  3. Marge, Once again a beautiful remembrance of your loved ones. I can imagining your mom Molly happily raising her family and caring for friends as well. My mom Cassie died suddenly at 54 and I’m sorry for all the time we didn’t have together. She too was fun loving and generous to all. I still have friends who talk about how she would have them to Sea Isle for weekends and treat them like her own. Lucky us to have had these great role models. Thanks for sharing, Cassie

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    1. Thank you so much, Casssie. Had we more access to one another through the years, I think we’d have been amazed at how much we would have had in common. That said, I really appreciate you reading every posting and caring to comment. Sending you love.

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  4. I’m just catching up in here. You’re such an inspiration, Marge. My mom was a hair stylist too, and although much older than yours, she left quite suddenly and in a very tragic and violent way. As her 94th birthday has just passed and I once again found myself lost in flashbacks of horror, I am gently soothed by the beauty of your words and of your soul. There is no greater gift than to love and to be loved. Thank you for lifting me and so many others with your messages and blessed heart.

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