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Monday, December 6, 2010
Matrilineal Monday: A mother lost: Mary Fitzpatrick Ball
They say that women learn how to be mothers from their own mothers, but for my mother the lessons never took place, because she was only five years old when her mother died. Mary Angela Fitzpatrick Ball died of blood poisoning, the result of an infection at the site of a cut, possibly made by the very tiny fingernails of her young baby John.
My mother's memories are the memories of a five year old child. She does not recall the neighbourhood women coming to the house to prepare the body and lay out her mother in the bed Mary Ball shared with her husband for almost sixteen years. All of the mirrors were covered over with black crepe fabric, the death announcements were rimmed in black paper, and each man wore a black arm band on his sleeve, but these details are not recalled by my mother. Intellectually she knows each one of these rituals were a part of that day, but her memories are the emotional memories of a child.
There was a very pretty dress donned for the occasion; Mom does not recall its colour, only the white lace collar that felt slightly itchy against her skin. My mother and her sisters wore pristine white knee socks and black hornpipe shoes. She remembers the stilled faces of the adults, and their hushed conversation. She remembers standing on tip-toes with her sisters Bernadette and Kathleen, looking out the window each time the funeral cortege passed their house, as it ritually circled the block once, twice, three times. She remembers the muscular black horses, the steam emitting from their noses, the tall black plumes which crowned each of their heads, the sound their hooves made as they struck the cobbled pavement. For my mother these moments are locked in time.
My maternal grandmother Mary Fitzpatrick Ball died 18 December 1936, seven days before Christmas. Penicillin, which could have saved her, was invented in 1928, a full eight years before her death, but it was not widely available, so she was not treated with it. When we talk about the loss of my grandmother I never mention how unfair it was, because somehow that detail seemed unimportant. Only the memories of this five year old girl matter.
Maria (pronounced Mariah) 'Mary' Angela Fitzpatrick was born 22 June 1894 in Swords, County Dublin, Ireland. She was the second born child, and the first born daughter, of Thomas Fitzpatrick and Maria Hynes Fitzpatrick. For almost sixteen years she was married to Patrick Ball, for whom she bore eight children. When she died Mary was 42 years old. Her youngest child John was less than a year old, and her youngest daughter Kathleen was two; neither one has any memory of her. Her eldest son Anthony had just turned thirteen.