FOR Ray Quinn, March 17 always meant a brisk trek to Mass at St. Patrick's on Broadway. Neither the chill of a March morning nor his advancing age hampered his steps, as he walked several miles from his East Baltimore Street home to church.
He loved a "good stretch of the legs" and was well into his ninth decade before he put away his shillelagh and stopped marching with the Hibernians in the city's St. Patrick's Day parade. He never owned a "machine" and graciously declined all offers of rides.
At the church, he would hear Mass with his friends and later join in the merriment, sipping tea, sharing soda bread and listening to lilting Irish music.
All the old Irish would reminisce and retell stories passed down through the generations. Those stories were a testament to our "Irishness," as our grandfather often reminded us.
From his early childhood, Ray learned self-reliance. As a little boy, he spent his days trailing his father around turn-of-the-century Baltimore streets as his "old man" gathered stock for the family junk iron business.
As a corporal during World War I, he fought in the trenches of France. Just before the war's end, he was wounded and confined to a French hospital, unable to return to the United States with his unit. Not wanting to worry his mother, he wrote her that he had decided to visit in Paris. With every postcard mailed from his hospital bed, during months of pain and isolation, he assured her he would be home soon.
They patched him up and sent him back to Baltimore, full of shrapnel. (Doctors performing emergency surgery on his 91-year-old body still found pieces of it.) At his discharge, the Army awarded him several combat medals. Back home, he found a job, married and raised a family.
During the Depression, even decorated veterans and tireless workers found themselves among the jobless, with no hope of supporting their families. Determined not to let the harsh economy cripple him, he doggedly searched for work and finally landed in the Civilian Conservation Corps. He walked across Western Maryland planting trees. The experience led to a lifetime of gardening tips for his offspring.
The life he cherished often conspired against him. He buried an infant daughter and his only son. His faith and his heritage made a survivor of him.
His birthdays became huge family celebrations -- with an occasional guest. When the late Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr. dropped in on his 90th birthday party, he received just as warm a reception as the daughter who had traveled 800 miles.
Ray walked through the lives of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren for 91 years. A few years shy of his century mark, he "got away from us," as the Irish say. He missed a wonderful wake.
Many would say he was a poor man. We knew his life was full of riches -- the riches of family. He lived to touch the lives of four daughters, 27 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren. He made sure that each of us walked with him. And he walks softly in my memory.
Mary Gail Hare writes for the Carroll County Sun.