A wee touch of Irish irony after Pop Monaghan's death

JACQUES KELLY

December 26, 1991|By Jacques Kelly

The day after Christmas the young curate offered his sympathy to my grandmother. The priest had been called to that old house on Guilford Avenue to administer the last rites to my dying grandfather. I've never forgotten eavesdropping over the hall banister during that exchange of words.

That holiday season of 1963 had been subdued. The family's noble patriarch, Edward Jacques Monaghan Sr., had taken to his bed a few weeks before. He made it through until the afternoon of Dec. 26. Hours before he died, he told my mother he was pleased he hadn't spoiled Christmas Day.

In those days there were 12 of us living under the same roof. Pop Monaghan, as his children and grandchildren called him, loved Christmas and celebrated it with all the merriment in his Irish bones. My grandmother, who baked and cooked to make the day so ideal, was determined not to allow the death of her husband to get anyone down.

When he expired, the family swung into action. Aunt Cora immediately excavated a huge chest of drawers in hopes of finding the deed to the family plot at Bonnie Brae (New Cathedral) Cemetery. She finally found the document buried under 40 years of Simplicity and Vogue patterns.

There was no way that Pop was going to be buried with his family in a marble mausoleum back in Lock Haven, Pa. Despite his years of protesting the weaknesses and failings of Baltimore, the body of this transplanted Pennsylvanian was going to rest forever on a West Baltimore hillside.

Lily Rose, the new widow and my grandmother, picked out a black dress and hat. She also went on a major housecleaning xTC binge. By nightfall the next day, 79 years of my grandfather's accumulations were in the dust bin. His favorite iron ash receiver, the one that held his trademark cigars, was in the cellar, along with his chewing tobacco cuspidor. Lily lost no time.

Pop's wake was at the old Henry W. Mears funeral parlor at Calvert and Madison streets. It was a marvelous Mount Vernon institution, much patronized by the old Irish families. It had parquet floors and heavy moldings, mantels and sidelights with little silk lamp shades. The atmosphere was pure, pre-World War II Baltimore.

Pop was laid out in his gray suit and bow tie. The casket was mahogany. Josephine, my 4-year-old sister, wore a red Christmas dress and climbed on the casket to see how her Pop looked. That act set the tone of the next few days.

Lily made up her mind that her husband's death was not going to spoil anyone else's Christmas observance. She ordered no obituary in the papers, but did permit a small death notice. The day after it appeared, another notice appeared, this piece of type purchased by the fellows in the Greenmount Pleasure Club, a group of men who congregated at Mickey Griffin's tavern on Greenmount Avenue in the old St. Ann's Church parish.

Now Lily had to deal with this fact. She had not a drop of Irishblood in her veins and disapproved of all drink. During 47 years of marriage, she secretedly diluted Pop's favorite Maryland rye. The idea that a club that met in a neighborhood tavern was mourning the loss of one of its members bothered and delighted her. They all showed up and kissed the widow.

The Roman Catholic Church did a fine job of sending EJM off. The young curate, the Rev. Francis X. Maguire, had the requiem. He subsequently became a great family friend. My grandmother and her sister delighted in his visits. I still have a vivid recollection of the soprano, well past her prime, booming out the "Dies Irae," the medieval Latin hymn, from the gallery at SS. Philip and James Church.

We all returned home from the cemetery and had a sandwich. There was no major gathering. My grandmother, the family cook, said she didn't feel like making dinner that day.

So we walked to the closest neighborhood restaurant. It was a dining room alongside the old Gus Rauh's tavern. The place was known for its food. But there was a little Irish justice that night. Here was the Widow Monaghan, in fine form, in a Greenmount Avenue tavern.

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