Shades of green

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The Gallagher girls with Nanny.

A few years ago, Viv and Eli  gave me a small planting of clover.  For a minute they perched on either side of the plant looking for a four leaf — a token of their Irish heritage?   It’s March again and Irish eyes are shining.  Diane sometimes places the Bryers Choice Irish dancer on the bow window.  I purchased it as a reminder the year my mother was killed in a hit and run on Radcliffe Street.  I like to remember that she was proud of her Irish heritage.  More so probably than Father’s interest with anything Italian.

Growing up in Bristol Borough in the 1950-60s, my sisters and I were presented with a  mix of Italian-Irish heritage.  Since Catholics attend the maternal church, we were baptized and attended Irish Saint Mark’s.  Saint Ann’s was the Italian parish.  I’m not sure why but I favored the Italian culture. Food was certainly better and we had some exposure to good Italian cooks — Aunt Mary Profy in Harriman, Mrs. Mignoni across the street, Mari’s pizza on the corner; Mom even made a decent spaghetti and meatballs.

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But in the mid 1970s, I  read “Trinity” by Leon Uris.  In his sweeping, epic style, Uris traces the history of Ireland from the Great Famine of the 1840s to the Easter Rising in 1916. It touched a nerve.   Some of Mom’s family were probably Catholic farmers from a small town in County Donegal.  Unfortunately none of the Gallaghers knew their exact origin. “Trinity” however was powerful, I wrote Mother and told her the Bristol divide aside,  I would forever embraced my Irish heritage.

It was in the early 1980s, Diane, Jenny and I traveled for five weeks in Ireland.  We landed in Dublin, rented a car and headed south, then up the western coast, to Northern Ireland and back down for a week in Dublin.  The Dingle peninsula, the rocky western coast with its narrow roads, the cliffs of Moher, and the Giant’s Causeway.  The countryside was beautiful — how many, so many, shades of green.  Some nights we camped — along the coast, our tent floor covered with rocks, insurance against the winds.  Other nights we we found a small  B. and B.  Ireland was enchanting; and the food wasn’t bad.

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Since I didn’t have any names or addresses of Irish relatives; not even a town, I borrowed “Gallagher” heritage from a close friend Bill Gallagher. In Ireland, we went to a small country house in Donegal asking for I think William (same as my maternal grandfather).  His wife said he was out but we could catch him in the pub come evening.  We did.  And we spent a delightful evening drinking Guinness and getting to know a William Gallagher.

 

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I have one photograph of my grandfather William.  That image came to life on the docks of Donegal.  Some of the fisherman had to be relatives.  I knew I was in the right county.  Grandfather Gallagher was a habadasher — that’s a dealer in men’s clothes.  His business was in a large building on the corner of Mill and Cedar streets in Bristol.  The background of his wife, Hannah, for us, was also sketchy.  She was Irish; had two sisters, Lucy and Allie.  Lucy was a domestic living in the homes of her employers;  Allie lived with her daughter, Mary, on Jefferson Avenue.   William Gallagher and Hannah Deviney (?)  were married and had three daughters — Ellen (the oldest), Cecelia (my mother) and Marie.  They lived on Buckley street in Bristol’s 4th Ward, the Irish district.

Growing up we were told that grandfather William died young.  When I coughed from smoking, my mother would remind me that her father died of TB.  Hannah, Nanny as we grandkids called her, lived in an apartment over the former habadashery.  I have no idea how she supported herself and the three Gallagher girls.  Unfortunately I never asked the questions or if I did my mother never had answers.

 

 

Marie and Cis.                     Cis and Ellen

My images of the Gallagher girls from the 1920s to the 1940s come from books and movies not from real stories.   I know they went to Saint Mark’s school and attended Bristol High School.  I suspect they had jobs during the war. For a while Ellen worked in a Bristol distillery.   Ellen and Cis married Italians from the other side of the tracks,  (Frank Mignoni and my father Vince Profy).  Both boys came from business families who lived on Mill street.  The youngest sister, Marie married Irish.  I suspect Hannah didn’t like any of their choices. She had strong opinions.

I’m not sure how my parents met.  But Bristol is the classic small town.  They both lived on the same 200 block of Mill street.  Vince in an apartment behind his father’s GE appliance store; Cis above the habadashery.  Although they both went to Bristol high school; they attended different Catholic churches — Italian or Irish.  Similarly Frank, Ellen’s beau lived a block away in an apartment owned by his family.

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Mother, my sister Cissi and me.

After the war, my father worked briefly in Rohm & Haas but left to work for his father’s store.  He and Cis were married at St. Mark’s in 1946.  Frank Mignoni was a realtor.  He and Ellen married.  Both couples lived on Mill street in family properties.  Small town.  They began families; worked and lived on Mill street and attended Saint Marks.  Vacations were a week in a shared Long Beach Island rental.

Growing up, St. Mark’s parish  was one sign of our Irish background.  It wasn’t really a strong ethnic parish.  Saint Ann’s several blocks away, for instance, had Italian speaking priests and celebrated Italian feast days.  Saint Marks was more subtle.  But as an alter boy I went with the priest to the Hibernian hall in the fourth Ward (remember, Bristol’s Irish neighborhood) after some evening service.  I sat at the bar with Father and picked numbered balls from a glass container — the weekly lottery.

We were also aware of “Irish” relatives that lived in the 4th Ward neighborhood.  Grandfather William had quite a few siblings and other relatives.   There are different numbers depending on who does the ancestry.  But we associated with a few.  I recall at least one house wake (prior to a church funeral I guess).  It was at Uncle Lawrence’s. There was a casket; a lot of eating and drinking.  Somehow I was aware of what was thought to be an Irish custom.  As the afternoon proceeded, I waited for them to take the deceased from the coffin and stand him in a corner with a glass of whiskey. Came close I think.

We weren’t real close to most of our Irish family.  An ocassional 4th Ward visit, a wedding or funeral.  I was aware of a bit of Irish brogue, aunts and cousins who had red hair and freckles.  Pretty stereotyped.  There were two elderly sisters, Nin and Hester.  Not sure if they were blood relatives or friends. Aunt Annie was a hair dresser who operated out of her house.  I visited her quite a bit. She got me collecting postcards, giving me many from the early 1900s. Another Aunt Alice lived nearby.

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Ocassionally with my mother we visited Aunt Allie on Jefferson.  When Aunt Lucy retired in the 1960s she moved into my grandmother’s apartment.  Hannah soon moved in with Aunt Ellen. Lucy was always interesting.  She was quite independent.  Would take the train on shopping trips to Wanamaker’s.  Always brought me a small gift.  She collected stamps and would share them with me.  Of all my Irish relatives, it was a bit of a shock, to learn about Nitter Ferry,  a homeless alcoholic, who lived along the river behind our house.

Aunt Ellen and Mom were extremely close.  Our families were in daily contact, shopped together, celebrated holidays and birthdays.  I frequently had lunch and Sunday breakfast at the Mignoni house on Radcliffe. Cis never learned to drive so depended on Ellen who had a car.  Neither Ellen or Cis were as close with sister Marie.

The Gallagher girls didn’t wear their Irish heritage on their arms.  There weren’t constant reminders.  But they were proud.    Food is often part of ethnic heritage.  Although Mom learned to make a decent spaghetti and meatballs for Father, we were served Irish stew — some beef, lots of potatoes, carrots, onions and spices.  I think we had colcannon — potatoes and cabbage.  Lots of meat and potatoes — baked, boiled, mashed.  My grandmother wasn’t much of a cook.  Don’t ever remember her ever cooking; even morning tea was more hot water and lemon than a real cup of breakfast tea.

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If Mom enjoyed Irish culture — music, art and literature it may have been because of our influence.  For several years in March we went to McCarter Theatre in Princeton to see The Chieftains.  I know we took Mom and Dad one or more times.  I recall giving her a copy of Joyce’s “The Dubliners” for Christmas.  At a family dinner at the Old City pub, The Plough and the Stars, we discovered Barrie Maguire’s painting “I Will Give You Ireland.” It’s shades of green.  An old women is sewing a quilt, it’s Ireland.  My sisters and I made arrangements to buy it for Mom.

Interestingly the Profy’s eventually rented the old Habadashery for an enlarged appliance store.  For several years my parents, myself and first sister, Cissi lived in an apartment on the 2nd floor.  Nanny lived on the third floor.  At some point my father and Uncle Frank Mignoni bought out grandfather Gallagher partner’s interest in the building.  I always thought it curious how my father rented from his own partnership.

Ellen and Cis may have married Italians with strong traditional views of marriage and a woman’s place in a relationship but  both could be strong; some might say they allowed Vince and Frank to think they were in control.  From my perspective, Mother was in charge of our house.  As kids we had to listen (and sometimes fear) her.  I only remember father getting upset once.  He caught me; shook me; “don’t annoy your mother” was the message.

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In the 1960s, Cis opened a dress shop.  It provided her four girls, my sisters, with fashionable clothes.  It asserted her independence.  Father’s interest in travel was limited.  To our amazement, Mom took off to Alaska with a local  group.  Later she would travel to Ireland.  Father stayed home.

Mom life was cut short on December 10, 2008.  She returned some books to the Grundy Library, a block from the apartment where she and my father lived.  She was crossing the street to visit her sister Ellen and was the victim of a hit and run driver. She was 86 years old.  Bagpipes were played at her burial, a sad reminder of her Celtic heritage.  Aunt Ellen has since passed; Marie is the last living Gallagher girl. A trace of our Irish heritage.

When I think of mom I think of how she influenced my own curiosity and independence.  Like the old woman in the painting, I see her sewing a piece of Ireland.

“May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face. And rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Delaware Canal Memories

 

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For Christmas, Diane gave me “The Delaware Canal: from stone coal highway to historic landmark,” by Marie Murphy Duess.  It’s a typical History Press (2008) imprint.  There wasn’t  much new for me but refreshed many Canal memories.

I grew up near the Delaware canal and have lived near it most of my life.  Currently the canal is across a back street beyond our yard.  Since retirement,  I walk on it several days a week.  Growing up we lived in a Bristol Mill Street apartment over several store fronts owned by my grandfather.  The area behind us was part of the canal basin, the end of the line for many coal filled canal boats.  I have a foggy recollection of the basin being filled in during the early 1950s when the river was dredged to make way for iron ore ships headed for Fairless Steel, just south of Morrisville.  The area became the Mill Street parking lot.

There was a small section of the canal with water at the head of Mill street.  We played and fished it.  I also remember falling in one day.  Rather than being caught by my mother, I dried the wet clothes in a dryer in a wharehouse under our apartment.  My family owned a General Electric appliance store on Mill.  The wharehouse was filled with appliances.  I’m not sure if I used a new dryer or one that was hooked up for my mother in a small laundry room.  Whichever my fall in the canal was kept a secret.

 

Sometimes we walked the canal bed and towpath through town.  A large section was filled in the 1950s to create land for the new Warren Snyder Elementary School.  There were still coal bins along the right of way, for the canal or railroad spar that ran adjacent.  Years later  students in a Canal Camp that I organized interviewed Bristol residents about their canal memories.  Carl Nelson, who was about 90 at the time, sheepishly admitted to one 5th grader that he was the contractor responsible for filling it the canal in Bristol.  He no longer thought that it was a good idea.  Beyond the school was a section of watered canal that flowed past the Grundy Mill into the Lagoon — a small town park today.

I have several clear memories of a Boy Scout canoe trip I took on the canal.  Not sure where we started but the first night we camped right on the towpath near Woodside road.  The Scudder’s Falls bridge on I-95 had just been completed (1959) but was not yet opened for traffic.  In the dark we climbed up on the bridge and walked out to the middle of the Delaware River.  There must have been some lights but I remember it was extremely erie.

The last night on the way back we camped on the towpath in Washington Crossing State Park.  It started to rain and I don’t think we had tents, so we climbed under the canoes.  The rain pinged on the the canoes but we were dry and them someone called out, “Hey guys, these canoes are aluminum, lightening you know!”  I think we stayed under them.

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At New Hope we crossed into the river.  I’m not sure how far up river we traveled or where we slept the second night.  I will nerver forget the cross back into the canal on our way home.  We were dragging the canoes across a stretch of land at Chez Odette’s — the same place we had crossed the day before.  Only this time we heard a woman’s shrill voice. “Get off my property, get off, you aren’t allowed there.”  Our leaders informed us it was the French, singer-actress, Odette, who was opening a restaurant there. Even today when I drive past I can hear her scream.

The canal in the Bowman’s Tower section of Washington Crossing State Park was a favorite Sunday family picnic spot.  We would walk along the canal, climb Bowman’s hill and tower.   There was no elevator then.  Father grilled hamburgers and hot dogs.  I think picnics to this area ended after my mother was attacked by yellow jackets.  Years later I saw aa amazingly large woodpecker there.  A park employee told me, “Oh, that’s our Pileated Woodpecker.”  The first and only time I ever saw one.

In 1970 Diane and I rented a house on Canal Street in Yardley.  It was a small colonial    next to the original Borough Hall and lock-up.  We had been attending Quaker Meeting and met Sid Cadwallader who introduced us to the house and Helen Leedom who collected our rent from her desk in the lumber company at the head of the street along the canal.

Although we only lived in the house for just over a year, we have many pleasant memories.  There was one of the earliest Harvest festivals on the street. A Bucks County Guild of Craftsmen woodcarver, Maurice Ganter, set up in front of our house.  At the end of the day he gave us a small carved fish.  It still hangs in our bedroom window.  The house was charming with a workshop area ground level.  I actually ran a small summer camp for about 6 students in the room (I was teaching elementary school at Saint Michael’s in Levittown).

We had a fireplace and narrow curved steps that led to two rooms on the second floor.  We hosted at least one large party.  Diane bred and sold Labrador pups; the old library on Lake Afton was a favorite walk especially on cold snowy nights; we had a small flower garden.  Our neighbors had a canoe that we were free to use.  On our first canal trip we were attacked by young teens swimming near the Afton Avenue bridge.  I seriously thought they were going to tip the canoe.  We moved after deciding to rent a house in New Hope with John and Barbara Paglione.

Our Old York rental was outside of town but we frequently walked on the canal towpath.  There were several shops and a canalside restaurant that we enjoyed.  We could walk south to Washington Crossing or north to Center Bridge.  We also discovered the Black Bass in Lumberville and the Golden Pheasant in Erwinna.  For our budget these were expensive but we ate in them several times.  We also took  Many bike trips; sometimes riding for hours.

In 1977 Jenny was born, Paglione’s moved to Ann Arbor, MI and we bought 121 N. Delaware Avenue in Yardley.  Our property was river front and the canal was across the street (Morgan Avenue) from the back yard.  Our access was through an empty lot or walking a block south to the Mary Yardley foot bridge. Built to access the trolley on Main Street and critical Today during floods.  We pushed Jen in a baby carriage into town, walked and rode bikes on the towpath. Sometimes all the way to Bristol or north to New Hope.  Jen had a kids’ seat on the rear of Diane’s bike.  On one trip there was another attack near the College Avenue bridge.  This time it was several Canada Geese.

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Around 1980 I answered a local Yardley News ad —  volunteers needed for Canal clean up.  I remember Rick, the Council President, in a truck as we picked up trash along the canal.  Near Lock 5 and the Railroad Bridge I pulled out an old tire, throwing it on top a pile of trash, it made a Courier Times photo op.  Meeting a number of community leaders led me to apply to council for a position.  I was initially appointed to an opening on the Cable TV Commission.  Within a year I agreed to run for Borough Council.

I served eight years on Borough Council.  My running mate was Susan Taylor who would get a position as Director of  the Friends of the Delaware Canal.  A position Susan still holds decades later.  For about 10 plus years I became active in several community organizations — the Yardley Historical Association, Community Center, Friends of Lake Afton and I served on the board of the Friends of the Delaware Canal.  There were many activities and issues.  Sometimes I helped lead the annual Canal walks; clean up days; membership programs and annual auctions. I shot a lot of canal photographs.

In the 1990s I was hired by the Friends (with a State grant) to develop educational materials about the canal.  The state educational interpreter was basically an environmental educator and the hope was that she could also be encouraged to do some historical interpretation.  For two summers myself and an elementary science teacher, Trish Rienes, piloted a week long summer camp for 4th and 5th grade students.  Trish and I spent a summer developing a variety of lessons and activities exploring the canal from Bristol to Easton.

Working on this project immersed me totally in the history and culture of the canal.  It was a lot of fun and I think the kids involved in the camps had a great experience.  We discovered a delightful age appropriate book, “Tune for the Towpath,” and developed a variety of reading and language arts activities.  We learned and then taught about material culture and archaeology related to the canal.  We hired an art teacher to have kids make a paper mural while riding on a canal boat in New Hope.  I interviewed a former lock tender and students interviewed senior Bristol residents related to growing up in that canal town.  We developed and took kids on canal centric walking tours of Bristol,, Yardley and New Hope.  We did environmental surveys of the canal and learned about local flora and fauna.  We visited the Canal Museum in Easton and rode on the canal boat on the Lehigh Canal.

Trish took our canal curriculum back to Pen Ryn where she taught and Bonnie Tobin, the state educator, and a few others used some of the material.  Our materials were given to the Friends but time passed and we never published the curriculum.  Some years later a formal canal curriculum was published by another educator. I used many of the ideas, activities and lessons in a college class, Teaching Social Studies in Elementary School, that I taught for many years at Holy Family University.  Hundreds of elementary school teachers learned about the Delaware Canal.

In recent years my canal related activity for the most part has settled into an easy pattern.  I’ve enjoyed introducing my grandson, Eli to fishing in the canal.  On his first time out several years ago he hooked a small sunny within ten minutes.  His sister Viv provided the worm dug from our garden.  Several years ago we turned our canoe into a fairy boat.  Eli and Viv with their father competed in the canal festival boat decorating competition. We’ve also had flooding from the canal in early 2000s.  The worse was in 2006 when canal and river met — our house was in the middle.

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Since retirement in 2014, I try to walk most days and it is frequently along the canal.  I’m slower but can walk to town (Eli and Viv like trips to Cramer’s bakery) or I can head to lock 6, or Woodside road, sometimes to lock 7.  Some days I’ll take pictures to post on Facebook — changing seasons, birds and animals, water abstractions.  Since my surgery I’ve been slower but try for an hour walk.  Diane gets tired of the same route and frequently takes the dog for a drive-walk.  The canal at Washington Crossing is a favorite. For the past few years we’ve enjoyed walking the canal in Yardley during Canal O Ween when locals compete and display hundreds of carved pumpkins.  It’s pretty amazing.

A drive along the canal and river is still an outing. We celebrated our 50 anniversary last year with a family brunch at the Black Bass. We’ve bought several original Bucks County oil paintings — several are canal scenes.  And several times a year we go to the Mitchener, always enjoying Bucks County art, including canal paintings.  As much as I enjoy to explore new things, I take total enjoyment in the familiar.  Each step I take walking the canal evokes a memory.

This reminds me, I  have a box of books and memorabilia about the canal in the basement that I need to sort and hundreds of slides.  More memories.

 

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