Thinking Back

by Thomas John Mulvey, PhD

shamrock Childhood reflections of rural, 1870s Ireland and Celtic history. shamrock
Edited by Eric C. Biemiller and William L. Mulvey
Grandsons of Thomas John Mulvey, PhD

Copyright© William L. Mulvey, all rights reserved

Old Stories


Chapter Ten

The passing of the winter of 1879-80 found my mother immersed in clothes making. That involved the employment of a seamstress to cut and make clothes for us children and herself, my mother helping for she was a good needle-woman. A tailor from town took my measure for the suit I was to wear for best when I landed. My mother, not knowing very well the things suitable for a little boy in New York those days, bought me, of all things, a Scotch cap with two streamers of black ribbon hanging from the back. The cap was made in the shape of our doughboy's head-piece, tight-fitting over the skull and rising fore and aft in a sharp point—very jaunty in a parade of Scotchmen, but very ridiculous on me or on any American boy of nine or ten, in association with lads of his own age on Varick Street, New York, as I was to learn to my sorrow when I had to join them.

Besides that dark suit, I had for everyday wear a suit of corduroy with an extra pair of trousers of the same material. My brother Frank, the only other boy in the family of six children, was outfitted in jacket and kilts, although he was only six years of age. Ellie, or Ellen, who was eight and a half years, had suitable dresses and pinafores which my mother made for her. The other children, three little girls—and I mean little—did not cause my mother much concern so far as dresses were concerned. The youngest, Katie, born in November 1878, was little more than a child in arms, just able to toddle around at one year and a few months.

There we were, six children, of whom I should be loath to say anything that would smack of the egotistical, or employ of myself the fitting descriptive adjective, did I not find it done for me by Padraic Colum in his "The Road Round Ireland." There he speaks of "those beautiful Connacht children," who, he says, "had nobler promise than the growing corn of the beautiful day."

Each of the six was well formed, strong, considering the age of each, and healthy; and each had the square strong back that was my father's. All had black hair and pure white skin without a blemish on it all through the body. Ellie, or Ellen, and Elsie, or Elizabeth, promised to be the tallest of the family, a promise that was kept as they grew into young womanhood. Taller than the average for women in later years, they are both best described by the colloquial word "stunning" taken in its best sense. Or perhaps I should say that they were striking both for beauty and carriage of form. Katie, the youngest of the six, and at the time of our leaving Ireland, barely able to make her way around from chair to chair, was a pretty child that developed into a petite and lovely girl. Frank and Marianne, later called Mame, the third and fourth of the six in point of age, were good-looking children.

As for myself, if I may be permitted to lay modesty aside and to report things as they were and as they were told to me by my mother, I was a dainty morsel of humanity, small and, from all accounts, pretty as a picture. I don't have to go very far for confirmation of this report, for I have a small grandson, Carl L. Biemiller, who they say is "the spit and image" of me - an expression which you will find in learned books dealing with idiomatic expressions and their meanings. He is the second son, one of three, of my second oldest daughter, Fanonda Mulvey Biemiller. Little Carl has a small, piquant, somewhat round face in front of a well-formed head topped by abundant black hair and set on a small, petite body. When he looks at you, it is with an engagingly provocative glance and a fey expression that comes from carrying his head aslant on his shoulders rather slyly but, withal, very knowingly and elfin-like. Friends of the family have exclaimed at the resemblance of little Carl to me in every detail of his makeup.

There is but one thing lacking to make him the duplicate of his grandfather when that grandfather was a small boy of less than Carl's years. I mean the ringlets of hair in which I am told my mother kept me until I was three or four years of age. She had in mind from her stay in America pictures of what a little boy should look like and how he should be groomed; accordingly, when I was old enough to walk by myself, she let my hair grow long, then twisted it into curls, falling gracefully over my shoulders. My hair was then and has always remained of a fine silken texture that has been a source of annoyance to me after a shampoo.

As child, boy and man, I had and still retain a cowlick starting just right off center and rising sharply off my forehead in a wave-like curve that dips down from the crest of the billow's peak. It makes it next to impossible to part my hair on the left as most men do. My mother discovered at once that I had two crowns on the top of my head, a fact of which she made much in her Celtic way, always prone as it is to attach some mystic significance to anything deviating, however slightly, from the normal.

She often drew attention to my "button of a mouth," as she called it, as well as to the cleft in my chin which, when I was a child, had two corresponding cheek dimples.

Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five
Chapter Six Chapter Seven My Father Leaves
For America
Chapter Nine Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
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