Jack and Maggie had several things in common: They were both born in 1910 to large Catholic families. Neither family situation was ideal or easy if anyone’s is, and although it was not unusual for the times, they were both out of school and working at the end of 8th grade and were young working adults by the time of the Stock Market Crash in 1929.
Jack and his siblings were all first-generation Americans. His mother was from Lisbon, Portugal, which she lovingly referred to as “The Old Country” and his dad was Cape Verdean, from Porto Brava. His parents met in Fall River, Massachusetts and were married in 1903. His mother gave birth to 12 children in 21 years. His name wasn’t really Jack. It was a nickname his father gave him because he was bouncy like a jack rabbit when he was little, and it stuck. When Jack was 13 years old, in 1923, his father took him to Boston and got him a job as a cabin boy on a merchant ship. It may have been a schooner sailing from Boston to the Cape Verde Islands, he never said. In fact, Jack never told stories at all, not about his childhood or family and there was no discussion of Portuguese culture. There was one whaling story he told over and over when he had had too much to drink, but nothing about home or family.
To this day I wonder what my grandfather was thinking doing such a thing, putting a 13- year-old boy to work like that. But as one of my cousins has pointed out, their lives were very hard, there was a lot or suffering and struggling to make ends meet. It is a story I never would have heard from my father and he never would have told, except in a letter to my mother; and yes, that is how I found out. I found my father’s letters to my mother when I was a snoopy 16-year old. I didn’t ask any questions, whether to hide the fact that I had read something that wasn’t my business or some other reason. But I have never gotten over my shock and sadness at the story.
Maggie’s life was equally hard but in ways that were vastly different from Jack’s. She was one of nine children, but only six of them survived into childhood. In her brief autobiography she noted that her first memory is of her baby sister Bernadine’s casket on the dining room table. Her dad was a handsome man who loved classical music, and running around. He left his wife and six children to fend for themselves. Unlike Jack, she did tell stories of growing up in the early days of the depression. She said they would hide from bill collectors and the gas man or electric man who came to turn off the utilities. As soon as he had left, they found a way to turn it back on or do without.
She and her younger sisters went to Catholic school, but she was embarrassed, mortified I think, at their inability to pay tuition and her pride would not let her accept the charity so she quit school after 9th grade and started working. She also felt her income was needed to help support her mother and the younger ones who were still at home. By 1929 she was self-supporting and supporting her mother.
Neither mom or dad was a stranger to hard work or hard times and they both had a strong work ethic. Culturally they were very different from each other, but that was more environment and taste than ethnicity. At one point, dad was a rabble rouser for a union, and became an active member of the Brotherhood of Merchant Marine Officers. A visit to the Union office was a staple of activity whenever he was in port. He also boxed under the name of “Jack Marcy” in his single days. I once saw a picture of him at an outdoor boxing match.
Maggie on the other hand, belonged to a “sorority” a non-college group of friends that met and had meetings and planned events, like dances and card parties. She and her friends would dress up in their best clothes and pose in front of wealthy homes in Baltimore, and pretend, I imagine, that they lived there. She wrote plays that they performed and probably doubled over laughing reading them, even writing them. She made her own clothes, including jackets and coats and scrimped and saved for standing room tickets at the opera.
After they were married, she encouraged him to focus more on his career and take whatever classes or tests he needed to advance. He moved up from Junior Third Mate to Chief Mate between the time they met in 1941 to sometime after I was born. As Chief Mate, he was the officer next in line to the Captain, but I am not sure exactly when that happened.
I saw a sign in a gift shop many years ago that read, “The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” It made me cry because I was going through a divorce and my own hard time, but it certainly described my dad. That he and my mother loved each other was never in doubt. They were in love. He really did not know much about family life, and truth be told, I don’t think he knew what to do with us kids; but he was all about her. I never heard them argue or criticize each other or say a mean thing about the other. He was at sea much of the time, that was how he earned a living and it was a good living. The trips whether to the Mediterranean seaports or the Indian Ocean meant frequent, long and painful separations, so much that when he was home it was a celebration, a party and romance. And that is the beginning of most of my stories.
Not holding back the tide,