She Touched Others' Lives

Jacques Kelly's Baltimore

March 24, 1996|By Jacques Kelly

A few weeks ago I arrived home from a snowy weekend in Sussex County, Del. My whole family had gathered there to celebrate the christening of the newest member, Paul Joseph Stewart Whaley. We drove back to Baltimore to accumulated mail, some newspapers and a red light flashing on the telephone answering machine. The message brought the news that an old family friend had died.

At nearly 91, Therese L. Gonzalez had led a long life and always seemed blessedly free of major illnesses. Nevertheless, a death always comes as a shock.

Mrs. Gonzalez was the mother of Danny Gonzalez, one of my best friends from the third grade through college. And it was to her home that I went so many times right after school and on the weekends.

For virtually all the 38 years I knew her, she was a widow with five children who were well spread out in age. Danny was her youngest, and by the time we were getting out of college, there were frequently grandchildren playing on the front porch of her house.

The undisputed matriarch of her clan, Mrs. Gonzalez was in a league with the best when it came to being the firm head of a household.

I think any child who doesn't have the benefit of growing up alongside a family other than his own misses something. Certainly 3740 Tudor Arms Ave. was a home away from home for me. And Mrs. Gonzalez was a big part of the reason.

A Catholic, she had an unshakable faith in her religion. She was firm and poised, and always spoke her mind. She was also cheerful, outgoing and spontaneous.

Mrs. Gonzalez had the gift of being able to touch other people's lives. An event at her funeral showed me this. One of the priests on the altar for her funeral was Father Joe Cosgrove, who had only learned of her death that morning by way of a newspaper obituary. He got up from the breakfast table at his Severna Park rectory and immediately drove to Baltimore to be present at the funeral.

He had known Therese Gonzalez for only a couple of months -- one summer when he was a young seminarian stationed at her church, St. Thomas Aquinas in Hampden. Her lively personality had touched him, especially when she handed him a treasured gold rosary that had belonged to her own brother. This brother had also been a priest but had died quite young.

Mrs. Gonzalez also had a style that wasn't really too much about Baltimore. She was Canadian, from Quebec. (She came by the name Gonzalez through her marriage to a Venezuelan.) She spoke proudly of her Canadian ancestry and often questioned our peculiar ways in Baltimore. But she nonetheless appreciated and enjoyed this city's riches.

I liked her way of doing things. She wasn't at all restricted by any preconceived notions. At the time of her husband's death, she did not drive. At age 54, she took lessons and bought a dark orange VW Beetle. Off she went into traffic. I'll never forget how one night after we'd attended a play at the Mechanic Theatre she'd worked and struggled with the VW's gears on a very steep ramp in an underground parking garage.

Mrs. Gonzalez taught French at local private and parochial schools. One of her students recalled to me how well she had dressed, always with a good scarf (often a nice paisley) angled around her neck and then touched off with a stylish brooch. This same student also remembered Mrs. Gonzalez's grand, encouraging smile.

Perhaps my favorite memory of this fine lady was her walk. She loved to walk. Her gait was nothing like the obsessive stride of a runner. Nor was it a purposeless meander. It was a spirited, joyful, optimistic bounce. She took such pleasure in her Wyman Park neighborhood and neighbors. I can see the delight on her face when the cherry trees bloomed along Tudor Arms Avenue.

I remember one warm summer day waiting in a line outside the Walters Art Gallery with her. She (along with what seemed to be half the city's parents) was leading a family expedition to see the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some impatient people in the queue gave up. Not her; the enthusiasm and determination never stopped.

Walking down the steps of St. Thomas that gray and windy Saturday of her funeral, I thought sadly this was the closing of an era. My father drove me to her son's home for the lunch and gathering that followed the funeral. I walked in the front door to a house mostly empty because the immediate family was still at the cemetery.

But on a table was a footed plate of the delicious little nut-filled cupcakes Mrs. Gonzalez always made when she knew I or other friends would be coming to visit. She called them Marguerites.

Then, as the family arrived -- her sons and daughters and all their children -- I realized this wasn't really the end of anything. I saw Therese Gonzalez on the faces of most everybody in that room.

Pub Date: 3/28/96

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