Annie Tobin Kelley, was a second generation Irish lass, with a roguish smile, a ready wit, and a penchant for story telling, undoubtedly inherited from her Irish forebears. Grandma would happily regale any audience, including her young grandchildren, with tales of her girlish escapades, and of her later embarrassing experiences as a grown women. She always claimed that she was a regular tomboy in her childhood, participating in all her brother's sports of rough and tumble games.
She almost matched them in agility and speed until she reached the age where such unladylike activities were frowned upon.
In the long winter months, when the nearby mountains were covered with deep snow, Annie loved to sled ride down the steep slopes. Even more desirable to her was the great sport of bobsledding, where a bevy of youngsters would hang onto each other on a bouncing, swaying and rapidly accelerating vehicle.
In Annie's time bobsledding were homemade affairs. They were constructed by attaching two small sleds to a long board. The rear sled was rigidly fixed to the board, and the front was joined only by along bolt, which allowed the sled to pivot in the direction desired by the steerer in front.
Annie always covered the privilege of steering the contraption, and would do so at every opportunity. On one such occasion, she took off with a full load of young children, laughing and giggling while they clung tightly to the passenger in front of them. The sled quickly gained maximum speed, and Annie confidently controlled the rocking and swaying craft, avoiding all the trees and rocks in their way. Suddenly, to Annie's horrified eyes, a small flock of sheep appeared in their path directly below them. She desperately swerved the crafty erratically through the wildly scattering animals.
With great good luck, she managed to avoid all of the beast, except for one small woolly lamb, which was safely scooped up into her lap. The frightened little animal clung there until the sled with all its cargo of youngsters came to rest at the bottom of the hill. Also scared, but thankful, Annie suddenly realized that the uninvited guest had wet on her garments. With dampened spirits, Annie scampered home, with the howls and laughter of her erstwhile buddies in her ears. Grandma was born in Gallitzin, Cambria County, Pennsylvania in the year 1860. Gallitzin was then a farming and mining village, located high in the Allegheny Mountain range in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Her father, Patrick Tobin and his wife, Mary Coughlin Tobin emigrated from Ireland in the early eighteen hundreds. Patrick had found employment as a laborer on a mid-state construction project, helping to erect a cable car rail line over the mountains.
Patrick settled his family in a sparsely settled area near his employment. Much later, he was to participate in a race to the state capital to register " Gallitzin " as the name of the borough. By way of riding a night freight train to Harrisburg, and recording their designated eponymous, Gallitzin, early on the following morning, they outmaneuvered a rival group which had planned to offer "Pottsburg ' honoring a local dignitary, as their selection.
Gallitzin was named to honor a former Russian prince, who was an ordained Catholic Priest. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, he traveled through the western Pennsylvania Mountains by horseback, ministering to the early settlers of the region. Unfortunately for Patrick and his family, the combination canal and cable transportation system was abandoned. It seems that the rival group of railroad investors succeeded in completing a tunnel beneath the obstructing mountains, and built an unbroken rail line to the West, destroying the need for a slow moving barge line.
Patrick then turned to farming, which he continued until his death. His sons preferred more lucrative occupations, and promptly disposed of the hilly farm, unaware that the land beneath the surface contained valuable coal deposits. If they had retained the mineral rights, which became a common practice, the heirs might have become reasonably wealthy.
Grandma frequently described a hilarious incident which befell her as a young lady. Accompanied by her older sister Mary, she attended Sunday Mass at the local Catholic church. Preceded by Mary down the center aisle, Annie followed closely and smiling and nodding to her friends in the adjoining pews. Without warning, Mary paused and genuflected to the altar.
Completely oblivious of Mary's stop, Annie collided abruptly with the kneeling girl, and executed a partially graceful flying somersault. She landed with a loud thump, attracting the attention of the entire congregation. Completely mortified, Annie shamefacedly regained her feet, and entering her pew, spent a subdued and miserable hour long Mass. At the end of the services Annie hastily departed, leaving her unpitying sister behind. Without a backward glance at the grinning parishioners standing outside, Annie fled for the privacy of home.
Being a pretty and vivacious young maiden, grandma was frequently invited to parties, and to the carefully supervised local dances. On one ill-fated evening she was present at a church dance sponsored affair in the company of many of her young friends. The attending musicians were proficient in playing the current repertoire of dance music, and dancers waltzed sedately to the
music. However, as the night wore on, the band swung into livelier numbers, and the youthful dancers soon lost their earlier reserve. At this fatal moment, the band began to play the "Schottische"' described as a round number in one quarter time. This stimulating composition inspired the male dancers to swing their partners with greater enthusiasm, causing the
girl's skirts and petticoats to flare outward and upward, and at time exposing their shapely legs. This unprecedented behavior must have shocked some of the attending elders.
On the following day, the parents of the participants were promptly notified of the scandalous conduct. Grandma's parents were quite upset by the exaggerated reports, and delivered a stern lecture to their daughter. Annie eventually became convinced she had committed a serious sin, which was definitely a matter of confession. When she disclosed her participation in the improper dancing to her strict old fashioned confessor, she not only was admonished, but was refused absolution. Additionally, she was dispensed a heavy penance, and required to return to be absolved of her sin.
Grandma frequently related this story in her later years with wry amusement at her youthful mortification. However, she never complained about her treatment, realizing that it was the result of the rigid moral code of her era.
In 1874, grandma married Martin Joseph Kelley, a well educated young business man, who had formally taught her in 6th grade class. The couple produced a total of thirteen offspring, of only five survived infancy, that was Thomas, Francis, John, Joseph and my mother, Catherine Regina. Mary, James, and Martin Leo died as infants. Martin, [our grandfather] died suddenly of a viral disease, for which there was no cure at the time. Grandma was left with limited savings and the proceeds of two thousand dollar life insurance policy.
With part of the available funds, Grandma built a six room house, and the balance served to support her five young children until the four boys reached fourteen years of age, and obtained employment. Of course, she received unstinting assistance from her friends and neighbors in Gallitzin. She was supplied with meat and produce from their farms and gardens, and other necessities, without any expectation of repayment. When the children were young, the boys discovered a baby groundhog, which had strayed away form it's nest. Of course they brought it home, and after much pleading, grandma allowed them to keep it as a pet. It soon was house broken and allowed to roam the premises at will. It also quickly learned to understand words and directions.
On cold winter mornings, when the uninsulated house, without central heat, was unbearably cold, the kids were loath to leave their warm beds to prepare for school. After a few get up calls from grandma were ignored, she would summon the groundhog and direct it to rouse the sleepy heads from their cozy beds. It would hop up the steps to the bedrooms, worm its way under the heavy covers, and in spite of their loud cries and protest, would them out onto the icy floor.
As the boys reached manhood, each departed from home to seek their fortune in the near by cities of Johnstown and Pittsburgh, where large industries were flourishing, and jobs were plentiful. Eventually, grandma and her daughter Regina, my mother] followed them to Johnstown. It was Johnstown that my parents met, and after long courtship, were married. Unwilling to leave my grandma alone, she was invited to reside with the couple, where grandma remained with them for the balance of her long life.
One of grandma's favorite stories concerned the time that she arranged to meet an out of town friend at the Johnstown railroad station, which the towns people always referred to as the "depot". At that time, the station was a modern brick building, With massive square interior columns, faced with tall glass mirrors, supporting the high ceiling. Being early, grandma seated herself on one of the waiting room benches. Casually glancing around, she suddenly spied her sister Mary in the distance. Jumping to her feet and rushing over to meet her, she exclaimed, "Why" Mary, I didn't know you were coming to Johnstown", and immediately collided with the massive mirrored column.
After regaining her composure, and read adjusting her crumpled bonnet, she thought to herself, " I should have known better, Mary was never that good looking".
Although she never admitted it, I believe that grandma was slightly nearsighted, because of her frequent awkward encounters with perfect strangers. For example, one afternoon while shopping in the Penn Traffic department store , which was the town's largest, and best emporium, grandma again mistook a stranger for a former neighbor. Inadvertently backing into another customer, she turned to apologize, and immediately assumed the lady was her former neighbor, throwing her arms around the startled women, and kissing her affectionately, she exclaimed, "Well, I declare, where have you been keeping yourself?
You look younger then ever!" The confused women, completely overwhelmed by the affectionate greeting, was induced to respond in kind, although she was uncertain that she recognized the other party. Both ladies then entered into an animated and prolonged conversation on general topics. Eventually grandma inquired, and how is Will? With a puzzled expression, the lady replied, Will? Who is Will? Grandma replied, Why, I am speaking of your husband, he is still living, isn't he? Grandma beginning to become slightly anxious.
The relieved stranger smiled, No my husbands name is Herman, and I am Mrs. Joyce. Pity poor grandma, she put her foot in her mouth once again. She then, apologize profusely, and the two ladies then parted to resume their shopping.
In favorable weather, it was grandma's daily custom, after cleaning away the luncheon dishes, to retire to her room to freshen up, don a clean dress, and proceed to the front porch, which bordered on the sidewalk, and to observe the passing citizens. She would uniformly greet friends and strangers alike, and if a person even paused momentarily, he or she would be urged to join her on the porch.
Her range of interest was endless, and her outlook optimistic, but eventually turned to a litany on friends who were ill or who had passed away. After all the expressions of solicitude had been exhausted, grandma would remark with a straight face, "yes, isn't a shame, there are people dying today that never died before" This contradictory statement always brought a puzzled look on the faces of the listeners, but they would always nod gravely in agreement. Grandma would laugh mirthfully as she described the inevitable concurrence with her oxymora declaration.
A funny thing happened to a friend of grandma's, when they both went shopping one Halloween season. The friend Wine Ware, was an exceptionally tall, slender women. On this occasion, she wore a large bonnet atop of her abundant hair, further increasing her height. As they strolled through the aisles of the local five and ten store, they enticingly passed under a line of Halloween jack-o'-lanterns.
As they did so, one lantern was deftly detached from the wire by Minnie's headpiece, and clung precariously thereto, unnoticed by either lady. The others shoppers soon became aware of the comical spectacle passing by, and cast highly amused glances in their direction, but feared to call attention to the problem. Being slightly miffed at the uncalled for stares, the unsuspecting couple headed for the exit, but were intercepted by the store manager. He smiled apologetically, and silently pointed at the lantern bearing hat. Humiliated at first, but recalling the humor of the situation, they soon laughed uproariously at their exhibition!
When my brother Paul and I were four and five years of age, respectively, my grandma took us to visit her cousin Fannie Howell, in Gallitzin. Fannie retained a ladies millinery shop in the front of her residence on the main street. After greeting were exchanged, we were taken to the living room at the rear of the house. The cousins settled into many reminiscences of their early days, and after sometime of trying to amuse ourselves, Paul wondered off without notice. He returned shortly without saying anything to anyone.
When the time for our visit was expiring, Fannie decided to display some of her latest fashions to grandma. Going to her display window, to her horror, she discovered a large odorous load deposited there in her window, by my brother Paul. The house possessed no indoor plumbing, Paul assumed that the display window was an acceptable place to relieve himself. The mess was soon removed, and with numerous apologies from grandma , we hastily departed from the premises. Strangely enough, I do not recall grandma ever returning to Fannie Howell's again, at least, not in the company of Paul and me.
Grandma lost her usual aplomb during one perilous winter evening in Johnstown. We resided in the three story frame structure with gas illumination, and coal fired heater in the basement. Mother and grandma were in the living room, admiring the needlework being displayed by our door neighbor, Mrs. Bradley. Suddenly, a hoarse shout from my father, from the rear of the house, surprised the ladies. Looking towards the center hall they were greeted by a wall of fire shooting from the basement door to the third floor of the house in the stairwell.
Mrs. Bradley, completely forgetting her precious sewing, took to her heels through the front door. Mother screamed to father that Paul, my sister and I were isolated alone on the second floor. Grandma fled to the front porch screaming " HELP, MURDER, POLICE," when she intended to call "fire" My father, completely ignoring the danger to himself dashed upstairs through the roaring fire to reach us. Scooping up he three of us into his arms, he dove head long down the burning stairway, taking three steps at a time, and brought us safely through the danger.
The evidence of our escape from peril was our singed hair and eyebrows. While all this activity was taking place, grandma was still crying "MURDER, POLICE," and Mrs. Bradley, after arriving safely home, recalled that she had left her work in the burning house, reappeared, snatched up the piece from the table, and without a word to anyone, fled again to her house.
When the fireman arrived, they quickly extinguished the blaze, which was confined mostly to the center stairwell. The police had appeared simultaneously with the firemen.
We were always certain, forever afterwards, that grandma's voice had penetrated to the ears of the police, stationed four blocks away. Grandma claimed that while she did not remember the exact words she had used to summon help, but emphatically declared that her far reaching voice had saved the entire household.
An extremely embarrassing, for grandma, but hilarious incident also took place in the same house some months later. The second and third floor of our house each contained three bedrooms, with a single bathroom situated on the second floor. Our family. including grandma, occupied the first two floors, while the third floor were leased to single men, whom we called "Roomers." Late one night, grandma rose and entered the room, without either turning on the hall light or the bathroom light or locking the bathroom door.
At the same moment, one of the roomers had a similar urge to use the facilities. In the pitch dark, he silently stole down the stairs, opened the unlocked door, and blindly sat upon grandma's lap. You cannot imagine the commotion that this unexpected achieved. Grandma let out a piercing shriek, which elevated the body of the roomer up into the air. He shot up the dark chambers, and fled hastily up the stairs to his room, where he remained until daylight. I believe that the poor man soon vacated his lodgings, much to grandma's relief.
Grandma always took great pleasure in repeating this story and many other tales. She retained her inbred sense of humor until the time of her death at the age of 79, in 1938. When we believed that was breathing her last, the entire family was kneeling about her bed praying for her soul, and the last sacraments had been administered, she suddenly raised up from a coma, gazed around at the solemn faces, and complained, " What is wrong with you people? I am not going to die yet.
She then settled back and dropped off to sleep. Grandma had to demonstrate, in spite of her condition, that only she would decide when she was ready to leave this world.