Mother's Day Salute Series: Timothy Gaffney on Holley Gaffney
TORRINGTON: Back in 1974, the number of single mother’s in the United States was significantly lower than the 13.7 million listed in the 2011 census.
I grew up with one of those in the 70’s and continue to marvel at how my mother, Holley Elizabeth Gaffney, pulled off raising four children who at the time ranged from of 15 to 20-years old.
Three girls and the boy, me.
My mother was thrust into that position with the untimely, dramatic and tragic loss of her husband, my father, William Francis Gaffney.
I was born in 1958 and for those first 15 years, had a father who worked as a car salesman for a good deal of those years and a mother who stayed home with us for most of time.
It was a traditional American family who lived together in upstate New York, lastly in Washingtonville, the home of the Brotherhood Winery. Our big tourist attraction.
No exactly Disney, but it brought some folks around.
On April 1 (I kid you not, April Fool’s Day), 1974, we lost our dad, my mom lost her husband and the true hero work of this remarkably strong woman got underway.
The magnitude of the loss must have been staggering to my mother, but she kept us all together through sheer determination and grit.
That and a strong family unit that featured my Aunt Pat and her four kids, three girls and a boy (our family apparently only knew of this combo, much to the chagrin of my cousin Jack and I) and my grandparents on my mom’s side who rushed to help do whatever they could for us.
I can’t imagine how she must have felt starting that journey that would lead her to today where she is still a remarkably energetic and with it 82-year old.
I’m not going to lie and say I was the easiest teenager to deal with. I’ve yet to meet or raise one myself, but my mother found a way to keep me straight enough with a little help from a big local guy.
Dale Memmelaar, a former NFL lineman who played pro ball for nine years with four different teams, was helping out at Washingtonville High School in our gym department and my mom asked this mountain of a man (6’2”, 247 pounds) to keep an eye on me.
From his elbow, I would glance up and pray he never got angry with me.
I started working the day I turned 16 at the local McDonald’s in Vails Gate and got through high school, enjoying it most when I was either playing (not well) soccer or writing for the school newspaper. I sense a destiny…
My mother would certainly worry when I worked long hours, day and night at times but she supported my work ethic and put up with some crazy antics as well.
Like the time I drove her Chevy Nova home from work late at night and reached for an eight track tape (cue old-guy laughter) and turned my car into the cornfield to my right.
All I remember was the ‘thud, thud, thud, thud’ of me taking down cornstalk after cornstalk but fortunately for me, no telephone poles as I maneuvered the car back up on the road and home into our garage.
I must have though I truly was superman because I got home without a scratch on me or the Nova, or at least I thought so in the dark of night when I headed up to bed.
That next morning, there was a loud knock on my door that came from a clearly not happy Mrs. Gaffney who wanted to know what happened to the car the night before?
Too bad we didn’t have the camera out to document that scene in our garage. Would have gotten a million hits on a modern day You Tube channel.
Every single crack and orifice on that poor Chevy had corn and stalks of all sizes sticking out in every direction.
Somehow, she forgave me and I think I still drove something to work.
Take another time when I decided to take a short cut through and old back road and ended up stuck next to a tree, destroying the tires on whatever I was driving in the mud.
Turns out, it was very near a large house that I should have seen, but for some reason did not (cue, sure you weren’t drinking taunts).
My mother, in a correct effort to show me how to face up to what I had done, brought me back to the house where we met with a very irate man with a large shotgun who declined her offering of my services to mow his lawn for the rest of my natural life.
He simple never wanted to see me again. We never looked back and were real okay with that.
As I grew older and moved to Connecticut when I was 18, my mother always stayed in touch and while I made my share of poor decisions during those 18-26 years, she never gave up on me.
When I had my first daughter, Kymberly, this loving mother’s depth of devotion came to the forefront in a big way.
At the time, I was living in Plainville and running the Burger King in of all places, Torrington, a place I would later move to.
Shifts at fast food joints started at beyond ridiculous times, usually five in the morning.
I would need to bring Kym to her daycare in Plainville but not until they opened at eight or so.
My mother, Kym’s grandmother, would drive the two plus hours from Middletown, New York to Torrington to pick up Kym and bring her to daycare and repeat this several times a week for what seemed like an eternity.
There was no length my mom would not go in order to help out her family.
As the years went by, many things would stay constant between my mother and me.
We both loved family and sports and could talk about them for hours at a time.
My mother is no part-time, pay-a-little attention, sports viewer.
She knows her sports from baseball (she has more of an alliance with the Yankees than Met’s these days but who can blame her) to football to the Olympics and beyond.
Her wit is sharp, the bones may hurt a bit more than she would like but she is never one to complain about her ills, she wants to know how you are doing.
My mother’s devotion to her family is what continues to bring her the most happiness.
She lost one of her girls, my older sister Patricia in 2002 and her best friend, her sister Patricia in 2009 but pushed on.
Today she has my sisters Maureen (sorry, I mean Mo), my sister Kathy and myself.
Each of her daughters have grown to be successful in everything they have tried and are proud parents of remarkable children themselves.
Her son is blessed beyond believe with five daughters and a granddaughter, I obviously could not break the all-girls streak myself.
I recently watched Billy Crystal’s 700 Sunday’s show on HBO.
The show recalls the 700 or so Sunday’s he had with his dad before he passed far too young as well.
I must have had close to 800 Sunday’s by the time I was 15 and a half so I could relate to some of what he was saying.
When he first lost his father, Crystal was furious with God, he said, for the hand he had dealt him.
Back then his hand didn’t look so good without a father but as he grew, he started to look at what his life had yielded and I think the same thing applies to my mother and me.
While the second or third card may have been a lousy one, the death of his father, he looked around he saw a great career, a great family and a tremendous mother.
I think both my mom and I can look around and say the same thing.
Hey, life doesn’t deal you five aces. You have to make the best with what you have and in the case of the woman that became a single mother in 1974, this lady had done a remarkable job of picking up just the right cards when she needed to.
So for your never ending believe in this crazy Irishman and his sometime lunatic plans, I salute and thank you for setting the example for all us as we navigated the roads that have led us to where we are today.
Happy Mother’s Day and everyday mom, I love you.