Mom Gains Some Relatives

My mom has a somewhat enigmatic grandmother–Marie Corcoran, mother of my Grandpa Bob. The stories I heard about her were all along the lines of “We didn’t really know her.” “She was weird.” “She divorced her husband and abandoned her sons.” etc.

Yesterday, I heard from the granddaughter of Marie’s brother. I told her what little I knew, and then I called my mom to tell her I’d heard from a woman who is the daughter of my grandpa’s cousin. My mom is quite close to her cousins, but that next layer out? I don’t think she knew those people at all. My dad claims the Phillipses aren’t close, but I knew his aunt Vi and Veda and I know quite a few of his cousins and, at the end of the day, he hasn’t been surprised or weirded out to learn of these far-flung distantly related Phillipses (or, in some cases, closely flung, distantly related).

My mom was… well, I was not prepared. It was as if I gave her some delicate, fragile thing she couldn’t quite make sense of–Now who is this again? It’s her grandfather who is my grandmother’s brother? Is she sure? She’s been living in Aurora all this time? That’s so close. Have they been so close this whole time?

And then she began to tell me about Marie, who apparently was not someone they “barely knew” but a woman who lived into her 80s and who lived with my mom’s uncle and sometimes came to Thanksgiving.

Marie was Irish Catholic. The Riches were WASPs, old-school been here since the early to mid 1600s, related to Salem Witch Trial accusers WASPs. My mom isn’t even sure how they met or fell in love, except that it was Chicago. People met.

They married, in spite of her family’s concerns, and the Riches all moved out to Colorado to seek their fortunes–my great-grandfather, his brothers, their father, cousins, aunts and uncles, the whole lot of them. And they were enormous assholes to Marie, making fun of her because she was Catholic, making fun of her because she was Irish, making fun of her because of her bright red hair. Apparently, she ran away a couple of times and my great-grandfather had to chase her down and bring her home.

I’m not sure if they moved back to Chicago together, but by the time the census taker found my great-grandfather in 1930, he was living with his parents and his sons and she was gone.

But not as gone as I had been lead to believe. She worked for the Illinois Central Railroad, first in Chicago and then down in Florida and then maybe back in Chicago again. She made lingerie and helped my grandma perfect her sewing skills. My mom thinks my grandma’s Singer was first Marie’s.

I have gotten the impression over the years that Marie may have suffered from depression, but honestly, learning about her early married life–moving away from her family, being tormented by her inlaws in between bouts of son-having, feeling so desperate that she runs away, and then not really getting to be a part of her sons’ lives–it’s just no fucking wonder, you know?

Grandma Marie, I wish you had had it easier.