Joshua Lawrence Breslin comment:
As a matter of historical record for much of the first half of the 20th century January was traditionally the month to honor fallen working class leaders like Lenin, Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. That tradition still goes on, however, more in the European working class movement than here in America. January, however, can and should also be a time to honor other working class people, those down at the base, as well. Here in its proper place is another about a fallen daughter of the working-class who died in January 2007.
In early 2006 Peter Paul Markin went searching for his roots in his old North Adamsville working class neighborhood where he grew up, grew up to manhood. One of the stories he had related to him after some inquiries to an old-time resident still struggling to get by there was about Kenny, Kenny Callahan, an old childhood friend who got caught up in a bad situation. The gist of that story has been told in a previous sketch. But there were more, more stories.
Maybe it was age, maybe it was memory, maybe it was the need at that late date to gain a sense of roots but that return back in time and place haunted Peter Paul for a long afterwards. (I know he would return to the subject, sometimes out of the blue, on many subsequent talking occasions.) He, moreover, had gone back gone back a couple of times after that to hear more of what had happened to those in the old neighborhood from a woman who continued to live there and had related the above-mentioned story to him. This one is about the fate of his childhood friend Kenny's mother Margaret. Read it and weep.
Peter Paul had, as mentioned, lost track of Kenny who as he reached maturity took the death of a friend, Jimmy Jackman, who died in Vietnam in 1968 very hard. Harder than one could have even imagined. The early details were rather sketchy but they may have involved drug use. The overt manifestations were acts of petty crime and then anti-social acts like pulling fire alarms and walking naked down the street. At some point Kenny was diagnosed as schizophrenic. The institutionalizations inevitably began. And subsequently, almost naturally, the halfway houses and all the other forms of control for those who cannot survive on the mean streets of the world on their own kicked in. Apparently, with drugs and therapy, there were periods of calm but for over three decades poor Kenny struggled with his inner demons. In the end the demons won and he died a few years ago while in a mental hospital.
Needless to say Kenny’s problems were well beyond his mother and father’s ability to comprehend or control. His father, like Peter Paul’s, had had a limited education and meager work prospects. In short, there were no private resources for Kenny so he, and they, were thus consigned to endure public institutionalization schemes. The shame of this inability to provide for one’s own, among other things, led to his father’s early death many, many years ago. His mother, strong Irish Catholic working- class woman that she was, thereafter shouldered the burden by herself until Kenny’s death. The private and public horrors and humiliations that such care entailed must have taken a toll on her most of us could not stand. Apparently in the end it got to her as well as she let her physical appearance go downhill, she became more reclusive, and she turned in on herself reverting in conversation to dwelling on happier times as a young married woman in the mid-1940s.
Kenny’s woes, however, as Peter Paul later found out were only part of this sad story. Kenny had two older brothers whom he did not really know well because they were not around. Part of that reason was they were in and out of trouble or one sort or another. Trouble with a big “T,” that spelled some prison time, or times. Peter Paul’s neighborhood historian related to him that at some point both sons had dropped out of sight and had not been seen by their mother for over thirty years. They were presumed to be dead or that is the story Margaret told my historian. In any case, since Kenny’s death Margaret’s health, or really her will to live, went downhill fairly rapidly. Unable, or unwilling, to care for herself she was finally placed in a nursing home where she died in January 2007. Only a very few attended her funeral (and no sons) and her memory is probably forgotten by all except Peter Paul and his historian friend.
Peter Paul Markin, after relating this story to me, tried to draw, as is his wont, some “lessons” from its telling. He is a proudly a working- class political person. That is the great legacy that his parents left him, intentionally or not. He asked -are there any great political lessons to be learned here? No, came his rather quick answer, but he swore that when we build the new society that this country and this world needs we will not let the Kennys of the world be shunted off to the side. And we will not let the Margarets of the world, our working- class mothers, die alone and forgotten. As for Kenny and Margaret may they rest in peace.