My grandmom was a model for positive psychology and she taught me a valuable lesson: it’s easier catching bees with honey than with vinegar. I was given the name “Mary” because of her and her devotion to The Blessed Mother. My mother, father, brother, sister and I lived upstairs in her roomy old Victorian house until she died in 1957. She did not die alone - her ten living children surrounded her bedside praying the rosary. In my Catholic upbringing, Grandmom’s death was referred to as “a happy death” because she was in the state of grace when God took her back. But from the way everyone cried, it didn’t seem real happy to me.

Grandmom called her home “Grand Central Station” because so many of her children gave birth to so many children and they were always coming over to visit. My mother’s siblings visited often and frequently an impromptu party resulted. Three of her daughters - Sarah, Eleanor and Dorothy – sang Maguire sister tunes in perfect harmony. It made everyone happy, especially Grandmom. In our town, everyone called her, “Mom” because she was everyone’s mom. That impressed me as a kid; convinced me that “Mom” was not simply a name, but a title of enormous respect. Besides she always made me feel special: paid me a dime to dust under her dining room table and fed me M & M’s just for being cute.

Grandmom was unselfconscious and made me laugh hysterically sliding those false teeth of hers in and out whenever I asked her to. But her funniest trick was taking her teeth out all together and putting them in a glass. Now, when you’re nine years old, that’s a real conversation stopper. She loved playing fish and Old Maids and for some bizarre reason, I always picked the Old Maid card which made her laugh and slap her knee. It taught me that making someone else happy made me happy too. I especially loved seeing her happy. When we finished playing, I would roll down her thick cotton stockings and rub her legs with Witch Hazel. Poor Grandmom, her veins were so swollen and sore that it always made me want to cry. She would smile though; close her kind hazel colored eyes and sigh, “Thank you, Mary Jane.”

Mary Josephine also taught me humility. She wanted to go to confession every week; wanted to tell her sins, admit to her wrongdoings. Finally, the young Irish priest she confessed to said, “Mrs. McCart, please don’t be coming every week. Ya have no sins; ya don’t need to be coming.” She was insulted and began crying saying she had lots of sins. She didn’t. She was as good as gold.

Grandmom also taught me that every woman needed specific things to acknowledge her personal style. She herself owned a hand carved cedar chest. In it, wrapped in tissue paper, was a fur collar, glamorous, black, and silky smooth. She would let me wear it whenever I played “dress ups.” She said it was made of bear fur. Wow, I never heard of someone having anything made of real bear fur so I figured she was secretly rich and exotic. She stored lots of hats in that chest too; my family was big on hats. My mother herself had a great many: velvet hats with rhinestone-studded veils and feathers, woolen fedoras in five different colors. Mom, however, stored hers away in the attic, but I had strict orders not to venture up there. And while I listened to Mom’s orders, I disobeyed them every chance I could whenever she left the house and I was inclined. And what kid wouldn’t? That attic was another world where I sat for hours at her youngest sister Dot’s Hollywood style vanity with the three mirrors and put on her Dorothy Gray face powder and lip stick. My Aunt Dot’s marriage name was Gray so I thought that was another sign that we were a famous family. And here’s where some more role modeling from Grandmom seeped in: how to keep things to yourself. You see, she knew I was up there playing where I wasn’t supposed to be, but she never told on me because “it was our secret.”

Grandmom endorsed prudence - certainly where alcohol was concerned - because she thought drinking was the direct pathway to the devil and this was during the post WWII days of black seamed stockings, highballs and Lucky Strikes dangling from movie star lips. Back then, guys went to bars that they called ‘tappies’ and had separate entrances from the women. I thought that very weird. In our family, if anyone wanted a drink and wanted to stay in Grandmom’s favor, they had better have their beer or whiskey on the sly. And sometimes my father did just that at a tavern in walking distance from our home. This watering hole was called “Conways” but no one ever used the name, instead, everyone called it “That Place” so Grandmom wouldn’t find out. My dad would tell her and my mom that he was taking my brother Frank and me out for a few hours. The ‘where’ part was a surprise. All of a sudden, my brother and I found ourselves at “That Place,” sitting on a spinning stool, drinking root beer in a frosty mug and munching on salted nuts from little bags with Mr. Peanut’s picture on it. Mr. Peanut being the guy walking around on the Ocean City Boardwalk in front of a place called ‘The Nut House.'

It was great hanging out with our dad in ‘that place,’ ‘this place,’ or ‘any place.’ It was great that is until my mother heard about where we went. Then it was my father and my brother who would go. I was a feminist at five and my mother telling me, “That Place is no place for a girl” incited me first to demanding an explanation as to why, then to a full explosion of temper because her explanation simply made no sense! My mother said, “Mary Jane, you are too demanding!” Throughout the years I’ve come to appreciate the power of that word “demanding” because translated, what it really means is, “I know what I want and I won’t stop until I get it!” Even back then whenever I stood up for my rights, or stamped my foot repeatedly, Grandmom would simply smile and say, “Maybe we can talk about this later after we make some candy apples.” You see, she was a genius for using that honey I spoke about earlier. She worked with me like the early missionaries worked with people - they fed them first.

But Grandmom’s loving nature was her real honey. Heaven knows her sweet disposition captured everyone’s heart. She was an indelible blessing in my childhood and I was fortunate for all of the lessons I learned, literally, at her knee. Because of Mary Josephine Finnerty McCart I always hear the sound of bees buzzing all around me.

Mary Jane Hurley Brant, M.S., CGP
Author of When Every Day Matters:
A Mother's Memoir on Love, Loss and Life
Simple Abundance Press, Oct, 2008

Author's Bio: 

Grief and Hope Specialist 29 years. Cert.Group Psychotherapist
Author of When Every Day Matters: A Mother's Memoir on Love, Loss and Life (Simple Abundance Press) Memoir addresses finding hope after loss, whatever the loss: death, marriage, health, job, family. Inspiring story also shows how to manage family stress under trauma.

Sarah Ban Breathnach, Best Selling author of Simple Abundance and Mary Jane's publisher says of this book, "Mary Jane Hurley Brant's book is a gift of grace. For those who are hurting, a spiritual blessing awaits in between every line." Larry Kirshbaum, Publisher's Weekly Man of the Year said, "This is a book that will break your heart and put it back together again. This is the story of a daughter who wouldn't give up and a mother who never lost faith. The reader can't help but be inspired by the indomitable human spirit that resides within Mary Jane Brant." Jonathan L. Finlay, M.D., Oncologist Children’s Hospital LA, CA said, “When Every Day Matters is an absolutely beautiful book. It will be a source of great strength for so many people. It is a great source of strength for me.” Spiritual & inspiring.