Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Hiding Place

It was a simple page, torn from an old composition notebook. At one time, it must have been used to record dictation from a French class, and contained passages like
Voulez vous donner le petit Thomas trois sous pour acheter du lait? Est-ce assez? Il est assez. On va-t-il l’acheter? Il peut l’acheter au marche. Tres bien.
The date at the top of one assignment read, “Mardi, Le dix neuf Decembre 1866.”

The page was folded in half, lengthwise. If it were not for the matter of what was contained inside, it would have been simply a page from the life of one Catherine Malloy, by now eighteen years of age and possibly still a school girl in the city of Chicago.

Whatever schooling this immigrant Irish child had received, as the daughter of a single parent, she had come far from any humble roots in County Limerick. Perhaps such refinements as these—facile handling of the language of culture, coupled with an appreciation of poetry and the arts—were the very aspects that one day, much later, would combine to encourage a daughter of her own to pursue the skills that mark a classical violinist.

But for now, the only daughter that was on Catherine’s mind—the only daughter she knew at the time—was a little cherub named Daisy. And within the folds of this borrowed sheet of composition paper, she had enshrined every trembling expression of her feelings about her loss.

Enclosed in the folded page were pasted bits of poetry—mostly published from local newspapers—that revealed a mosaic representing her own past. One poem mentions Daisy outright—a different Daisy, to be sure, but with a sentiment that resonated with this bereaved mother. Another hints of beauty sensed even through the isolation of loss. A third commemorates her own loss of homeland. And tucked within the packet, as we saw yesterday, her own hastily-jotted attempt to capture yet another poem that rang true to the feelings she was surely experiencing over her own daughter’s demise.

It is hard to piece together any timeline to represent when these bits of poetry became absorbed into Catherine’s being as sentiments of her own. Perhaps they were collected along the span of her daughter’s own brief life—simple remembrances of aspects of the child as she grew. More likely, given the somberness of hints within the poems, vibrations of ultimate loss rang true after the passing—or at least the onset of the final illness—became apparent.

Each of the three poems contains aspects that I’d like to review in turn, so for the next three days, I’ll take some time to reprint these poems, juxtaposed with discoveries and observations about Catherine Malloy Tully’s life. 


  1. "Would you like to give little Thomas three sous to buy milk? Is it enough? It is enough. Will you buy it? It can be purchased at the market. Very well."

    Hmmm... intriguing. Do you suppose the Canadian branch of the family was 'exposed' to French? Or is this just 'good schooling'?

    I find it remarkable that a 146 year old bit of pencil and paper has lasted - I love forward to the poems - if she authored them or not - she had a nice ear for prose.

    1. Thanks for posting the translation, Iggy. I had seen that from Google translate, with the "sous" remaining untranslated. Don't know if that was student error. Though the scan didn't turn out too clearly, it was pretty clear when I enlarged it on Adobe PhotoShop. Perhaps it was an old form of money in France? Nah, probably just a student error...

      I actually don't know how Catherine Malloy made it to Chicago. She married into the Tully line, but her own immigration is yet a mystery to me. I'm presuming this was from school--but brings up the question: how does the daughter of a single-parent immigrant household afford such an education?

      It is remarkable that the page has lasted intact for so long--though it does look quite ragged, and was destined for the trash, except that something held me back from tossing that unclaimed pile of papers. So glad I paid attention to that "something."

  2. I be following your Catherine's writigs.


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