My Mother Molly, née Shirley Ann Stewart

12/6/1916 - 10/17/1977 7:15PM    George Francis Stewart and Margaret McLaughlin

Smith College, 1941    Yale Nursing

[Courage is] "when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what."    Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Because I grew up in my father's neighborhood, I know less of my mother's background...though I did spend a few summers in her home of Bradford PA. Bradford was a fascinating town.  It had been a hub of America's first oil boom in the late 1800's and had then been flush with money. Hard to imagine, but think of Texas high, wide and handsome in northwest Pennsylvania. It had the Kendall Refinery (to this day, the smell of crude oil is perfume to my nose), Case knives, Zippo lighters and Piper aircraft.  The town was built, even had a 7 story hotel, the Emery....though now it is much reduced. 

The family had called her Molly (the name derives from the Latin word  mollis for soft or yielding), but when they brought her to the church for baptism, the crusty Scotch minister said :That's no fit Christian name", so they huddled at the back of the church and came up with Shriley Ann, which passed muster....but she was always called Molly.  As did I, never Mother or Mom or Momma....I wonder how that came to be and whether it hurt her.

Here she is at age 21 with her brother Jack, mother Margaret (Nana) and her father George who had a butcher shop.  Not present is the eldest of the family, sister Ruth, though she's maybe taking the picture.  Family friend Tom Leonard is alongside George.  It is July 6th, 1938, and they are at the back of 17 Sanford Street in Bradford, with it looking not that much different than it did when I spent childhood summers there...except that by that time, the little pine tree you see far behind Jack, had grown to be 25' high or more. WWII has not yet begun, but brother Jack had perhaps recently graduated from the Annapolis Naval Academy and Molly is at Smith College. Their world is about to change.

I recall the following family legend: Grandfather George belonged to a fraternal organization (the Odd Fellows?) and they were all at a banquet.  He turned to the fellow next to him, and passed him his pack of cigarettes, saying, "I won't be needing these"...and died.  Molly was still at Smith, soon to graduate.  She went on to Yale Nursing and there met and married Dad in 1942.  Jack married Ruth Reinhard, a Vassar grad whose father Andrew was an architect in the design of Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. Dad was drafted into the Army into a MASH. 

Here ard Molly, Dad, Jack and sister Ruth on Cape Cod in August of 1942 before the men went off to war.

On these pages, I write more on my father.  He could do things...while my mother, almost completely paralyzed, could not. 
She lived inside, in her mind, in her dauntless questing spirit...areas where words all but fail.