I have debated what to write today but I finally decided I did want to tell the story of my mother. She always seemed to be so simple to me but as I grew I discovered so much about her that fascinated me.
Norah was the oldest of the 8 O’Connor siblings. She was born in 1908 in Gananoque Ontario. Her father built the family a house at the corner of Garden and Charles Streets. Her mother having been a teacher taught her to write both right and left handed since Norah was left handed and her mother knew she would be punished if she wrote with her left hand in school. At four my mother entered into first grade and was able to easily do the school work.
Living in a small town like Gananoque on the St. Lawrence River was fun for the children and they had cousins who lived right up the street who babysat for them and played with them. My mother always talked about her cousin Loretta who was her favorite. They had ponies at home and a basket cart they could ride around town in. At around age 9 when her father was the Mayor, Norah took her younger siblings and rode up to the town hall and decided to go up and visit their father. Ride up the stairs she led the ponies and right into the front door of the Town Hall. Creating quite the stir and being told not to do that again. Norah always had a good laugh when she told that story.
At age 10 her parents made the decision to move to Kingston Ontario. They wanted their children to have better educational opportunities so they sold the house and moved to Kingston into a three story Victorian home at 193 Earl Street. It had lots of bedrooms for the rapidly growing family and more opportunities for everyone in the family. Her dad opened his medical office in the house as there was a perfect room for it off the dining room with a separate entrance. At some point they extended the kitchen to make more room. Their mother was able to be involved in more social activities and since she had grown up in Kingston she was back among friends again, although she had good friends in Gan as well.
The older girls were enrolled in the Notre Dame Convent School as day students and the boys went to Regiopolis which was a Jesuit School for boys. They all excelled in their studies as well as in the arts. Norah studied piano and violin and the others played various instruments. At times they would play together at social gatherings for their mother. Several also studied painting and my mother was very good at it. All of us have her paintings in our homes.
She use to tell me what a terrible temper she had. We never saw it and she talked about learning to control her temper over the years as a teen. Cannot imagine what that temper was like.
She also told me the story of the first time she drank. Her cousin Jerry Stevens took her out for a ride in his car and when they were out he stopped and pulled out a bottle of whiskey or some such and asked her if she would like to learn how to drink. She agreed and learned about not drinking too much and about getting sick if you drink too much and about hangovers, all in one evening. At the end of which Jerry told her that now she knew how not to drink and to take it easy when she was out especially with fellows since they would use drinking as an excuse to take advantage. Wonder if life really is any different these days/?
At 16 Norah entered Queens University and studied HIstory and Economics over her time there. She graduated in 1929 just at the start of the depression. Jobs were hard to come by but she was able to work in a lab for one of the professors at the University and at a bank as a teller.
During this time she met this young pharmacist working in a local drug store and started dating. They went together until 1935 when they married. Because Milt wanted to work in Pharmaceutical sales he was having a hard time getting a job because he looked so young. He finally found a job with Burroughs Wellcome & Co. in Tuchahoe NY. He would have to start out working in the plant until he found a way to look older. So they married and went off to the US.
A year after they married their first child was born and Norah became a full time mom for the next upteen decades as their five children grew. But she did get a piano and continued to play and she taught some of her children to play and got them lessons so that all but the youngest had formal music training and were in school orchestra’s and choirs etc. She did not continue to paint but did continue to find ways of stretching her mind. She joined great books groups where they would read books and discuss them, like the book clubs of today although the books she read were all about the world and politics and history. She would give me some of the books to read if she thought I would understand them.
She also took those of us who were interested to the symphony or plays and she and I would get to a ballet when she could. I remember seeing Maria Tallchief with her. It was magical. I loved those times with my mom doing “girls” days out.
She was cheap or thrifty or what ever one wants to call it. After we had moved east in 1959 my mom as usual made me a nice dress for Easter and my aunt Jean found out that she had not bothered to get me a hat. Well, Aunt Jean took me out and got me a hat. She could not believe my mom would not spend money on one. It was pretty funny and yet that was my mom. She made all of our clothes. Boys PJ’s, shirts, cowboy suits for little guys, etc. When we were grown and had kids of our own she made smocked dresses for them just like the ones I had worn and applicaid little outfits and quilts etc. She was wonderful with sewing and knitting. My kids love it when they put outfits on and sweaters on their kids that they had worn and now their kids are wearing.
My mom was a PTA president, ran the library at our school in Seattle, was a scout leader for both boys and girls and she and dad were the first co-husband and wife presidents of the PTA at Eggertsville School 13. She was always involved in some community thing through us or other interests of hers or Dad’s. We all learned about giving back from our parents.
After my dad died at age 65 my mom decided to move up near me so that when she got older I would be able to take care of her and she knew that each of my brothers had a mother in law that their wives would need to be available for and that that would not be an issue with us. So up she came. She got involved in the Senior Club at Church and kept on making items for them to sell at fund raising events. She took her turn as president and every other office in that club with her buddies. She also was in Catholic Daughters of America and was their leader for a while. For such a quiet person she was always busy.
When she started going down hill and having little strokes which gave her dementia and things would not be getting better I decided on a project for myself. I got her address book and sent messages to her various old friends from different stages of her life. And I asked her current friends and family to write something about her. Just a few lines that I could put in a remembrance book about her. It was a wonderful project for me since I was losing my mom and taking care of a woman who did not always remember who I was although at other times she would stroke my hand and say “my daughter, my daughter” and smile at me.
Those comments collected I put into a little booklet called “the Quiet One”. I just want to put in one of the statements from one of my sister in laws that was so wonderful because it really spoke to how people perceived this very private quiet woman.
“The person I admired most is you. Your gentleness, your patience, your understanding, your resilience, love and dedication. You never push, you never prod but you do encourage. You show interest, give advise when asked, but never condemn. You are thoughtful and considerate without being gushy and sentimental and a fake. You are a most loved Grandmother by your grandchildren. You give without expecting to receive or gaining anything for yourself. Your inspiration and moral support have been invaluable to me”
There are lots more statements about this sweet woman of courage but I think I will stop right here.
The group picture NOrah is the one with the big bow in her hair standing up. I think it was her fifth birthday party out at Long Point. The second is of Mom and Dad while they were dating. And her wedding picture