Last October my mother-in-law, Rosemary Cassidy Danaher, turned 89 – a testimony to the commandment to “honor your father and mother that it may go well with you on this earth and that you may have a long life.” Rosemary’s mother Bridget (Della) Higgins Cassidy and her father Harold Patrick Cassidy lived well into their 90s and from all accounts were also a testimony to the fifth commandment. Then I wonder, is it just genetics, or is it generational blessings, or both? Or are the genetics the result of the generational blessings? Bridget could sometimes be a little “nervous” (Harry’s adjective), or “cross” (Tom and John’s adjective), but Harry was a joy all the time. We all called him Happy Harry.
When the Danaher children were young, Harry would tell story after story to the grandchildren. John and his brother Tom would visit overnight with Harry and Della. Harry would lie on the bed between them telling his tales and would begin to doze off mid story. Tom, the eldest of the boys, would shake him, getting Harry to resume the story just where he left off. Della on the other hand had no patience for storytelling. By the time I met her she had developed the habit of shushing Harry everytime he launched into one of his real-life tomes. Of course she had heard these stories repeatedly over the decades and she assumed that even though I had never heard them before, that I was sick of them too.
Della will be remembered for serving the boys ham sandwiches on bakery bread for lunch while they watched TV. She also let them drink tea while visiting - a secret they kept from their dad who did not approve. Harry and Della were good parents and grandparents in spite of the fact they had very little to model themselves after. Harry‘s father was a boilermaker who was seldom home. His mother died when he was a toddler and he was farmed out to his elder siblings for rearing. Della’s home life in Ardgulen, Ireland, as far as we know was without strife, but the Higgins’ were literally dirt poor. In those days in the hamlets of the Emerald Isle, the kids would carry their shoes wherever they went to avoid wearing out the soles. They only put them on when they reached town or church or school. Della left Ireland when she was 16 to join a relative in Chicago. She never saw her parents again. Despite the difficulties of their formative years, I can’t imagine that either one of them had a dishonest bone in their body.
My mother-in-law was the product of these two salt-of-the-earth people. Both were faithful Catholics committed to obeying God and government, but it is Harry from whom she gets her patience and humor. She also inherited enough faith to trust God to fill the quiver of John Danaher of Wenona, Illinois. Rosemary was raised on the north side of Chicago with her younger brother Harold Patrick Cassidy, Jr. Before I go on, I should mention that Uncle Bud is one of the funniest guys I have ever met. I think a “chip off the old block” but with a saucier sense of humor that probably benefited from being in the Navy during WWII. His quiver was almost as crowded as his sister Rosemary’s and from him there are quite a few Cassidys running around Chicago’s south suburbs.
Harry was a streetcar driver for the Chicago Transit Authority and made enough money to support his family and provide for a Catholic Education for Rosemary and Bud. Rosemary attended St. Angela Catholic grammar school, Providence (St. Mel) high school, and finally St. Elizabeth Nursing school. Now one of Della’s aunts, Bridget, had preceded her to the green fields of America from Ireland and here she met and married a man named Patrick Melody. It just so happened that they lived on a farm near Wenona, Illinois where Rosemary would travel from Chicago to visit with her cousins. In 1941, while hanging out with the cousins, Rosemary Cassidy was introduced to local farmer boy, John Danaher. The courtship began and continued on after his swearing in for the Navy on August 28, 1941 and his subsequent training in St. Louis and Louisiana. They were married on October 31, 1942.
After an interlude of 2 weeks, they left for Norfolk, Virginia, which began an odyssey of moving from training base to base over the next two years. Rosemary joined John on all of these adventures until January 1945 when John was assigned to Hawaii and then finally Saipan in March 1945. At this point Rosemary returned to Chicago to stay with her parents and pray fervently for her husband’s safe return. John spent the duration of the war piloting sea planes used to rescue stranded airman who had ditched their own disabled planes in the ocean during bombing attacks on Japan. He returned to Chicago in late September to rejoin his beloved Rosemary and meet their first child, Maureen Therese Danaher, born on September 8, 1945. Nine more children would follow over the years.
Before WWII John had been attending college with the goal of becoming a teacher and more importantly, a coach. But when he returned from the war, to a wife and baby, he needed to get right down to the business of business. He worked for a time at IBM, but not wanting to leave Illinois he refused a transfer to the east and began working for Mars Candy. An opportunity arose to return to farming - a friend’s farm - but after 5 or 6 years John decided that he was not meant to be a farmer. The same friend who owned the farm recommended that John Danaher, with his ability to converse with everybody and anybody, take a job working for Country Companies which meant moving the ever expanding family first to Ottawa and finally to Rockford.
In 1976 I first met my future mother-in-law. The youngest Danaher, Mary, was still in high school. I can remember a discussion between Mary and her mom about whether or not Mary should be allowed to watch Happy Days. As far as Rosemary was concerned no Danaher child would be watching a sitcom in which the children were smarter, wiser and cooler than their bumbling parents. The Fonz was Public Enemy #1. At the time it may have seemed unreasonable to me, but eventually I applied the same standards to my own children. The most vivid memory of Rosemary’s household was the small abode in Rockford, filled with running, yelling, laughing grandchildren at every family gathering. If you had listed the logistics of these visits, they would have never made sense on paper – one small house with a tiny kitchen and at least seven out of 10 adult children with their spouses and numerous children. Card games were held at the kitchen table while little boys ran back and forth through the house with hats, masks, capes and plastic weapons. Many times the entire tribe would descend into the unfinished basement to play Hide and Seek amongst the treasures. Nobody’s socks survived the hours of running on an old cement floor. Every once in awhile my father-in-law would jokingly say, "If I knew we were going to have 10 kids, I would have run out of the church."
These chaotic family gatherings were important to my development as a mother. I came from a home with a well-organized mother who provided many valuable lessons for me, but she did not tolerate disorder of any kind. Marilyn was a high maintenance Italian. Rosemary reflected an easy-going Irish attitude that never sees children as a bother. She never let the winds of change blow through her windows. While the rest of the western world began to see children as a burden to be unloaded, Rosemary steadfastly believed that children truly are a gift of the Lord. While society adopted the worldview that children get in the way of life, she never let life get in the way of children. This example helped me learn not to sweat the small stuff and let kids be kids. It is the reason that I do my best to facilitate family gatherings regardless of the effort.
The Danaher Clan is scattered far and wide these days. In Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota, Colorado, Arizona, Washington, California, and Hawaii the combined characteristics of Danaher amiability and Cassidy optimism, live on in the 28 grandchildren. The annual family reunion in Rockford is a blessed event and is an opportunity for all of us to honor Rosemary for the legacy of steadfast faith she and John have given their children and grandchildren. As 2010 approaches we will prepare to celebrate Rosemary’s 90th birthday. I can’t imagine life without her.