The Broad is Back!

September 25, 2012

Times have changed

Filed under: Uncategorized — by maggiec @ 10:43 am
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Read of the uproar in the UK news as a 15 year old girl ran off with her 30 year old maths teacher. I shook my head but then realized, wow, my 15 year old great grandmother married my 30 year old great grandfather in 1877 and no one cared about the age difference.

The big problem was he was RC she was AC. Not condoning the teacher’s actions, but just a realization of how the idea of “childhood” has changed and the roles of women have changed. G-Grandma went on to have 23 children (7 survived to adulthood), sing on the stage, emigrate, widowed at 40, became a midwife, reared a passel of grandchildren thanks to flu epidemic then died an old woman at the age of 60.

Out lives have changed so much. What would she have thought about her great grandchild? A doctor, not medical, but of philosophy. Teaches at a university. Lived in four countries to her two. Had one child and had him when she was nearly 30!  By that age, my grandmother had had 19 children!

There’s a book in this.  Someday I’ll write it.  But musings for the day.  I really need to get on here and write more.

I have written a poem about great grandma, so I’ll share it here



My great-grandmother McCormick

used to move with alarming regularity.

Back then, first month’s rent was free.

No lease, I guess.

With strong-backed sons and few possessions

it was cheaper to move than to stay.


As I sit in my apartment today

I wish I had great-grandmother’s option.

Like her, I find paying monthly a strain.

What would she think of my rent?

Per month I pay about nine times

the average annual salary of back then.


Over a hundred times what great-grandma paid.

Per month, for the same two rooms.

Except I have hot and cold running water, heating,

and an inside toilet that flushes.

I imagine sometimes that she even knew this building

that was built before she  was gone,

though she lived on the East side.

This rough Irish westside neighborhood

might have beckoned sometimes.


What would she think of this great-grandchild?

I often think of her as I stride the streets she must have known.

But there is little left of her New York.

It was May 1883 when she arrived–

Her first act was crossing the newly-opened 

Brooklyn Bridge–a wonder of the modern world.

She died in summer 1921, still only 61.

Ten years older than I am now, yet an old woman,

worn by care, by chlldbirth, by poverty.


What would she think of this descendant?

I’d like to think the iron strength in my DNA comes from her.

Like her, I left my native land.

Lived with strangers, yet I returned.

She always hoped to return to Ireland.

I never thought I would return to America.


I thought of her–her hoping to return–

the first time my plane landed in Dublin.

She would be so thrilled that a McCormick had come back,

Even though I was never a McCormick, I was still hers.

I thought about settling there, but Granny, 

you would not know the place.  In 1922 it was freed–

But would you care, once-protestant daughter of Anglo-Irish?


But in our shared city,

I look for buildings she would have known.

So much of this city is new–

So new that it was not even here

when I gave birth to her great great grandson

in the city she had come to for a better life.

I was gone for fourteen years, and somedays

I look around, amazed, at the city that sprang up while I was gone.


Where you used to live there is a public college now. Sometimes

I would go hear speakers or poets there, and I always thought of you

and nana, your daughter, living in those streets, all changed now.

What was it like then, I wonder. I imagine you trudging the streets alone,

at night, returning home after long hours spent helping the labor of other women.  

Your own 23 babies gave you the knack for helping other women through.


Widowed alone in a foreign place, young ones still, more on the way

(twins who died at birth, perhaps a blessing, poor fatherless ones).

You turned to a profession you could do. The creative life,

the life on stage, singing, no longer an option for a woman like you.

You stayed in New York, your eldest grown and moving on. 

Building family here, family that has spread from coast to coast,

from north to south.  Your descendants cover America.


But one remains. Of all the countless McCormick spawn, 

one remains true to your city. Of all the cousins, just one

raises her son on the smaller island you came to all those years ago.


New York City is in my bones, buried there

by three generations of women

who walked these streets, loved this town.

My ties to it as strong as my ties to them–

Love carried on a cellular level, in the blood.


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