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Anthony's Journey

I have had enough people inquire about my life and experiences that I decided to just go ahead and write my story from the begining, one post at a time.

A New Buddy

Anthony McCloskey

When Ashley was born, I didn't much notice. Today, I don't recall if she was born during the day or at night. I know I was not taken to the hospital, and as best I can recall I was likely left at my sister Claire's house. After Ashley came home, I am sure she got most of the attention, as a baby, but again it didn't make much difference to me. I still played, and when the school year started, I would go to school. I am sure I had a lot of curiosity about the baby, but I never felt jealous. I suspect that is because I continued to get my fair share of attention as well. Also because sometimes a kid doesn't want attention, so they can explore their world somewhat more "unfettered".

I do recall that Ashley's first birthday featured a Carvel Ice Cream cake, a wondrous confection I had never before experienced. As a boy, I never imagined you could make a whole cake from ice cream!

The wondrous Carvel Ice Cream cake that captivated me as a boy

The wondrous Carvel Ice Cream cake that captivated me as a boy

Later as she got older and began to walk, she became more interesting to me. We began to spend a lot of time playing together. She became my buddy and I became hers. Ashley didn't like to play in the dirt as much as I did and she was born with some kind of extreme sensitivity to sunlight, so she spent all most all of her time indoors. When she was brought outside, it was brief and she had to be completely covered. On one hand, this meant we did not have a lot of fun outside together. But on the other hand, it also meant the yard remained my domain. Possibly another reason we never experienced any of the animosity that siblings often seem to suffer.

It's true, we are not siblings, but given our closeness in age and the fact that we lived in the same house, and the fact that my mother did most of the parenting, caused us to develop a relationship much more akin to big brother/little sister than uncle/niece. 

Ashley with her Christmas Presents

Ashley with her Christmas Presents

Ashley was a few years old when we got two puppies from the same litter. My puppy was black and white and hers was brown and white. My puppy was a boy named Max, hers was a girl that was supposed to be named Maria. But Ashley could not say the word "Maria". When she tried all she would say is "Mia", and so our puppies were Max and Mia. We played with the puppies all the time. They were very friendly and playful, and so were we. I remember that I was so fond of hugging Max, that I noticed his whiskers would always poke me in the face. So one morning, when I had awoken before my mother, I cut off his whiskers. I then proceeded to hug and squeeze him with impunity. When my mother woke up, she noticed that Max was moping about and not acting normally. So she asked me if I had done something to him, and I laid out the whole story and reason for her. I remember that I was told I should not have cut his whiskers, but I was also not in trouble. Either I was too cute, or she understood my reasoning or both. Either way, I learned an important lesson about dog whiskers.

I remember I would ride my bike up and down the driveway and the puppies would chase me. It was a lot of fun and good exercise for all involved. We had only had the puppies for a few months when I guess I allowed Max to get too close to the street. He ran out into the street and got struck by a passing vehicle. I remember he did not die immediately. I ran back to my house as hard and fast as I could to get my mother. I knew she could fix him. If anyone could make it all okay, she could. I ran back and I told her what happened. She ran to the street with me and we found Max. I remember she scooped him up and we brought him back to the house. My mother gave him water and put a cool rag on his belly. I sat on the floor and my mother put Max on my lap. I sat there and petted him until he finally passed. I had lost pets before, but this was the first death I witnessed. I was probably seven or eight years old, and I was devastated. I will never forget, that as I sat there sobbing my heart out, Ashley walked over to me, Mia in tow, and she said: "It's okay Tony, you can have Mia for your dog."

The presence of mind and self-sacrifice that such an action required, especially for a toddler, is something that not only struck me then but still to this day. It would not be the last time we would have to stick together.

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Defiance

Anthony McCloskey

Anyone who knows the McCloskeys knows that we are a defiant lot. We are stubborn, and we tend to have a real problem with authority. I myself did not truly learn that I had a problem with authority until I joined the military. This would seem to be one of the worst places to have authority issues because it is.  However, after some personal adjustments and some valuable life lessons, which we will get into later, I was able to harness my issues with authority into great personal and professional success. You see, the crux of my issue with authority is when people tell me I cannot do something. All that does is set out to prove them. wrong, or to at least question the prohibition, sometimes to my own peril. This was expressed at a very early age when my mother had told me never to touch a hot iron. She made it clear I absolutely must not ever touch the iron. My defiant 4-year-old mind was determined to figure out why this prohibition existed. What if... just maybe... touching the iron was the most amazing thing ever? I could be missing out on something truly wondrous! It turns out, that's not why we don't touch hot irons. When I finally had my chance and had built up the gull to try it, I walked over to the iron and pressed my right thumb right on the hot surface of the iron. The reality of my mother's previous warnings had been made immediately clear. As I screamed in excruciating pain, my mother ran over and scooped me up. Of course, she asked why I would do such a thing, and of course, I said: "I don't know." 

I remember that after my mother cleaned the burn and cooled it, a huge blister formed. I remember I was scared that my thumb would be that way forever. Fortunately, I recovered just fine. I remained defiant, just as I am to this very day. So where does this inherent, defiant skepticism of authority come from? For me, it comes from my mother. I suspect it goes back many more generations.

I have so many memories of my mother telling authority figures what she thought they should do with their authority, it would be impossible to recount them all. But there are a few that stand out. 

One summer I remember I was playing outside and a police car had come driving down our long, dirt driveway. This was odd, I had never seen a police car on our property before. I may not have ever seen a police car in person before... Naturally, I stood-up to run inside to tell my mom. But by the time I got to the screen door on our porch, she was already on her way out. I walked along side her as she approached the police car as it was coming to a stop. I don't recall what the police were asking for precisely. They were investigating something to do with the people who lived next door, and they wanted to know if they could look around a bit. I remember my mother saying the words "not without a warrant", but then the police tried to press the issue. That's when my mom told them they had better leave. Then she turned around and went inside. I was just standing there in the middle of the yard as these two police officers began milling about. The very next thing I know, I heard the screen door swing open and my mother descended the steps with a bat in her hands like a cave man about to hunt a tiger with a club. She began shouting "I already warned you sons of bitches! If you don't get the hell off my land I'll bury your asses in it!"

My mother was not a woman to be trifled with

My mother was not a woman to be trifled with

This might seem like a situation that was about to end badly for my mother. But remarkably, it did not. Both cops began apologizing profusely, and they retreated to their car with a quickness. The speed at which they left our driveway kicked up a massive cloud of dust in the hot summer air. In that moment, I was in complete awe of my mother. This tiny five foot nothing woman who had just chased two armed cops off "her land" and won. My mom was invincible.

A year or more later my mother had gotten a phone call, presumably from a government representative of some kind, likely a social worker. It's clear the person was calling to let my mother know that she was eligible for an array of government benefits, like food stamps. Few things were as unacceptable and offensive to my mother as any form of government assistance. I can remember my mother saying to the woman on the phone "I don't need no god damned money from the government! I'd sooner put a bullet in each one of my kids heads and my own before I took any of your god damned money! Now leave me alone!" Then she slammed the phone down. This was on a Friday morning. 

On Monday afternoon, another police car came rolling down the driveway, this time with another car driving close behind. The policeman stayed in his car. A woman got out of the other car and came walking across our lawn toward our front door. I remember that she stopped and greeted me with a big smile, and I waved at her. Again, my mother busted out of the screen door with a baseball bat by her side. "Who are you?" my mother demanded. The lady explained that she had called on Friday, and she had come out to visit the home because she was concerned about the children after what my mother had said. My mother looked at this woman like she had lost her mind. My mom said "I told you on a Friday that I'm gonna shoot my kids and you show up on Monday saying you care? What are you here to do? Count the bodies!?" Again, she demanded the woman and the cop both get off her land. The woman insisted that she would like to see the inside of the house to which my mother said "Over my dead body!" I am not sure what happened next, because my mother sent me inside to play, but all I know is I watched that car and police car leave our driveway, and again my mother came back in and put away her bat. Once again, my mother had driven the government from our land. I didn't know what made my mother so gutsy, but I knew I wanted to be just like her, at least in that regard. No one messed with my mom. But somehow, despite her constant defiance of authority, she always managed to keep going, unfettered by those who would try to obstruct her. She succeeded through sheer force of will.

My mom and my niece Jenny, standing on the land of which my mother was so protective.

My mom and my niece Jenny, standing on the land of which my mother was so protective.

What's Preschool?

Anthony McCloskey

I never attended any kind of preschool for a variety of reasons. The first being that my mother simply couldn't afford it. Secondly, by the time I was old enough to walk, my sister was a teenager and could easily watch me when needed. But thirdly, and most importantly, my mother simply didn't believe in it. She understood that sometimes parents were in positions where preschool was a necessity, but she felt bad for those parents and those kids. She did not care at all for parents who sent their kids to preschool when it was not absolutely necessary. My mother believed these parents were letting other people raise their children. She believed they were lazy and disinterested in their children. Without a doubt, there are instances where she is correct. The world has far too many disinterested parents. However, I did not understand the benefits that pre-school provides for the child until I was an adult with kids of my own. I never understood the concept of child socialization. In my life without kids, I never had a reason to. But it certainly explains the rough time I had with my transition to school.

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You see, before I entered kindergarten at Sandalwood Elementary, I had spent nearly every moment of my life either in the presence of my mother, or one of my sisters. There was always a beloved family member nearby. The only other kid my age that I really knew was my friend Sammy from two houses down. He would run across the lawns to come play at my house, or vice versa. The only other kid close to my age that I knew was my niece Jenny, she was a few years older than me, but we played together a lot when she was around. No matter where I was, my mother was pretty much always available "on demand".

So when Kindergarten was about to become the reality of my life, my mother had started preparing me. She had taught me my alphabet, and I had already started to read, and I could write a few words and do very basic math. My mother had spent a lot of time preparing me academically for school. She had explained to me that it is very important that I do well in school. She had also explained to me that I would go to school and there would be a teacher and other kids and all that other good stuff...

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What was not made abundantly clear to me at that young and impressionable age, was that "I" went to school, not "WE". My mother took me to school and dropped me off in the classroom and she left. I remember being fine for a bit, but then the teacher had started to gather the kids together and calm things down, and as I looked around I realized my mother was nowhere to be found. This room and this building were completely foreign to me. I remember I went to the teacher and told her that I would like to have my mother. To this day I can remember what she said to me "You can't have your mother right now" then she told me to go find my name tag on the table. I insisted that I wanted my mother. She again reiterated that I could not have my mother. So I went to that table of name tags and I cleared all the tags off, when the teacher yelled at me, I grabbed a chair and began swinging it at anything or anyone that got near me. It wasn't long before I got my mother. And so my kindergarten career ended on the day it began. My mother was told that I may need more time to adjust and that she should consult a doctor.

Now I am a parent. I have two boys of my own and although we initially put them in day care and preschool out of necessity, there were times when either my wife or I was not working, and we still kept them in, at least part time, for the socialization benefits. Additionally, we have seen our boys flourish not only because of the fact that we chose a high-quality day care and preschool, but also because we have not used it as a substitute for our own parenting. We use it to compliment our own parenting. We spend a lot of time with our boys, we love them, we discipline them, we give them all that great attention my mother gave me. My boys get the benefits of both. 

I loved going to the playground with my mom.

I loved going to the playground with my mom.

Early Lessons in Bravery

Anthony McCloskey

When my mother told us the tale of how she learned to swim, she said that her father rowed her to the middle of the river tossed her out of the boat and told her to swim to shore or die. She would then say that he then rowed ashore and waited until she had managed to struggle her way to shore with contempt in her eyes, and he took her home. The story seems cruel and hard to believe but considering the kind of man he was and the number of mouths he had to feed, it also does not seem to be beyond the realm of possibility. One thing I know for certain, my mother was an excellent swimmer well into her 70's. Whatever the facts, the point is laid bare, my mother had to learn things the hard way. Sometimes, she made me learn things the hard way too.

My mother did not abide whining or feeling sorry for yourself. If you got hurt, it was fine to cry for a moment but then you had to rub it a little and go play. She cleaned our wounds with alcohol and hydrogen peroxide. I remember that as a child the only thing that distracted me from the intense pain of Hydrogen Peroxide poured on an open wound was the fascination with the bubbles that would form on the wound, but not on the areas unwounded. As an adult, I would learn that this was because the Hydrogen Peroxide was indiscriminately killing cells as it disinfected, and is no longer considered an ideal method of cleaning a wound. But it served its purpose at the time.

When I was a baby my mother used to take us out on the river or the bay to go swimming. She told me that she would dunk me to get me used to the water. Apparently, this surprised some parents that she would do such a thing because it would make me cry. When I was older and it was time for me to learn to swim, she would take around the pool a few laps on her back, but then I was on my own. Eventually I decided I was happy hanging-out in the shallow end of the pool, where the swimming was optional. When she noticed this she would scoop me up and toss me into the deep end. She would let me splash and squirm a bit, but she would always jump in and rescue me. Eventually, though I can't say when, I learned to keep my head above water. Later still, I too became a strong swimmer.

From left to right: My sister Joan, Me (small child in the tube), I don't know who is behind me, and a friend of my mother...

From left to right: My sister Joan, Me (small child in the tube), I don't know who is behind me, and a friend of my mother...

Every night at bed time, my mother would read me a story and sing me a song. But afterward, it was lights-out. Time to sleep. No night lights, no whining, just sleep. Admittedly, sometimes I would get away with sneaking out to lay on her lap while she watched T.V. or crawling into her bed to cuddle. But these were rare and special occasions. The presence of a monster in my room was certainly not a reason to not go to sleep. I can remember very well that one Halloween I had gotten a Skeletor costume with a glow-in-the-dark mask. Skeletor was the villain from He-Man, and I thought the costume was super cool.

I was one cool little Skeletor

I was one cool little Skeletor

Somehow, the mask had gotten hung in the closet in my room, and the door to that closet had been left ajar. So at night, after my mother read my story and sang my song. After she left my room and turned out my light. I was left alone in that room with a glowing Skeletor face staring at me. It was terrifying. I know when I first noticed it I cried out for my mom to come help, and I know she came in, flipped on the light, told me to calm down and asked what was happening. I am sure I barely communicated what was going on in my childish brain, but she closed the closet door and left, turning out the light and closing the bedroom door again. All would be fine. Until the closet door slowly slinked open again. As an adult, I know it was because the door wasn’t latched properly, but as a kid, this freaked me out. Again, more screaming… Mom comes in and tells me to “knock it the hell off and go to sleep!” She closes the closet door (soundly this time) and leaves me alone in my darkened room. Alone, with the knowledge of what lurks behind that door. I eventually managed to get to sleep that night, but I knew that the next night I would have to be prepared.

When the next night came I went to bed, and I insisted on having my baseball bat and a helmet by my bedside. I am sure my mother thought it was strange, but she allowed it, probably assuming it was simply a proverbial safety blanket of some kind. Little did she know, I was prepared for battle! As soon as she left the room and the light went off... I could see that evil skull glowing deep inside my closet. I didn't know what it was, but I knew it was evil and had to be stopped. So without taking my eyes off that terrible glow, I reached to the side of my bed and I grabbed my helmet and slipped it on. Then I grabbed my bat and I held it at my chest as I steeled myself for battle. I said a quick prayer to make sure God was on my side...

Quickly, I leapt to my feet and let out what I believed was a fearsome battle cry. Now as a parent I know that this was likely an ear piercing shriek. I took a flying leap off the foot of my bed and ran towards the closet door. I swung the door open as fast as I could, and with eyes closed tight in abject fear I proceeded to beat the holy hell out of the contents of that closet.

It didn't take long for the light to flash on as my mother burst into the room demanding to know "what in the hell was going on!" After a quick explanation of my bravery and tactical use of my large brown puppy-dog eyes, I could see that I had successfully melted her heart. She wasn't mad. She knew I was cute. She took the time to find the mask which was now somewhere on the floor and she showed me that it was the mask I had asked for and loved playing with. Once I was satisfied that it was, in fact, one of my own toys I was ready to go to sleep for real. No bat. No helmet. But I did have a glowing Skeletor mask hanging from my bed frame.

This picture was clearly taken before my story, at some point when I was still in a crib. 

This picture was clearly taken before my story, at some point when I was still in a crib. 

Childhood on Backriver

Anthony McCloskey

Our family wasn't wealthy. We probably weren't even middle class. But I would not have known, not that any of it would have made any sense to me back then. As a kid on Back River, I was genuinely happy. I had plenty of toys. We had a big floor model television, for which I served as the remote control. You see, back then televisions had two knobs (yes, mechanical knobs) which you had to turn to tune in a station. The upper knob was for your VHF channels (think ABC, NBC & CBS) and the lower knob was for the UHF channels (all the others on the higher double digit stations). So when my mother wanted to switch from channel 2 to channel 13, she would send be to turn the knob. I loved the job, it felt like I was operating an important machine of some kind.

This is an identical model T.V. to the one we had, and the set-up on top looks nearly identical too.

This is an identical model T.V. to the one we had, and the set-up on top looks nearly identical too.

I watched all the television shows that all boys watched at the time, the A-Team, Knight Rider, Air Wolf, The Dukes of Hazzard, He-Man, G.I. Joe, and so many others. At the time these shows had me enthralled. They were adventurous tales of whimsy.  I've tried watching several of these shows as an adult and I realize just how empty and shallow they were and I am amazed that I ever managed to become literate. My literacy, like so much else, is because of my mom. My mother loved to read. And she loved to read to me. Some of my favorite memories are sitting on my mother's lap while she read to me. Sometimes she read me children's stories, sometimes she read me the news paper sometimes she read me whatever she was reading herself at the time, like Lee Iacocca's autobiography, "Lee Iacocca: An Autobiography". Reading the autobiography of a world famous business executive to a 6 or 7-year-old might sound silly because it is. But I didn't care. I just loved the sound of her voice when she read. My mother was a shockingly good aloud reader. If you think about it, it can be difficult to read something aloud and sound natural unless you wrote it yourself or you have read it previously. My mother seemed to have a natural knack for it. The best was when she would read something that would strike her as funny and she would belt out with a loud belly laugh. My mother had a deep laugh that filled a room and warmed the soul. It was the sort of contagious laugh that made you laugh along even if you had no idea what was being laughed at. My mother instilled in me a lifelong love of literature.

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My mother also instilled in me a work ethic. In the summer when school was out, my mother would often take me to work with her. A lot of her work was at night, so if she was working nights I stayed home with my sister. But if she worked during the day, or on the weekend, I went along. My mother was working as a janitor at the time, for a janitorial company (she would later strike out on her own). She sometimes cleaned the offices of a law firm called RRS (Rattree, Robinson and ???). When we went there my job was to empty all the trash cans, sweep the atrium and clean around the base of the toilets. I can remember the atrium well because there was an enormous RRS on the floor there which was perfect for driving my matchbox cars around, and a long winding staircase that was great for rolling the cars down (the offices were empty when mom worked). She sometimes worked a local bank. When we went there my job was to empty all the trash cans, restock the deposit slips, change the dates on all the little calendars at the counters where customers filled out their deposit slips, and I would go behind the teller station and pick up all the bank slips and receipts they dropped (which was a lot). Sometimes they dropped money. My mother always taught me to collect the money and we would count it and leave it on the counter behind the teller station with a note saying how much we found and where. She said that sometimes tellers dropped money by accident. Sometimes it was dropped on purpose to test our honesty. But either way, it was not ours to take, and that if we did she could lose her job and maybe worse. So with the fear of risking my mother's job, I always took careful account of every penny found and looked especially hard to be sure I found all the dropped money, lest we be accused of taking some.

She also sometimes cleaned a local Gold's Gym. I don't remember going there as often, but when we did my work was pretty well limited to emptying the trash and picking up any trash that had been dropped on the floor. One universal constant was that whenever I worked, I got paid. My mother was very adamant that an honest day's work deserves honest wages. So it was that I learned both to relax and enjoy my free time, and to enjoy the benefits of hard work. I also learned never to give my labor away for free.

 

 

Ashley is better than Cricket

Anthony McCloskey

It's the summer of 1984, my teenage sister is pregnant and my mother works at night, meaning they spend the day watching Soap Operas, especially, "The Young and the Restless". This is the time my mother and my sister are now using to bond now that it has been accepted that my sister made a youthful mistake and that we will get through this, together, as a family. Sadly, my sister's boyfriend who got her pregnant has opted to deny any responsibility. From what I understand overhearing conversations he joined the Army. At the time my mother said things like "he ran off to the Army to avoid his responsibility" but in hind sight, he was likely looking to join the Army anyway, and the fact that it allowed him to avoid responsibility was likely just a convenient benefit.

Them being in front of the television during the day was also convenient for me because it left me plenty of free time to explore the wilds of our yard. Our house sat on a very large plot of land. There was a very long driveway (about a city block long) from the street to the house. There was an empty house next to ours and at the very start of the driveway by the street was an old white building, smaller than our house, that my mother called "the bar” despite the fact that it wasn’t a commercial establishment of any kind. I think she called it this because Lorraine (my godmother) used to drink Pabst Blue Ribbon beer there with some of her friends on the weekends, and there was a Pabst sign in the window. But there was no cash register, and it was not open to the public. The driveway was a long, bumpy dirt stretch with a curve in it. Perfect for riding a bike on. We had trees, a swing-set and my mom had built me a treehouse. We also had a dock on the river out back behind the house where we would feed ducks and drop crab traps. There was a lot of fun for a boy to have. I spent a lot of time with a machine gun stick patrolling that land, defending it from imaginary evil forces long since forgotten. I would burn ants with a magnifying glass, I caught bees & butterflies and would sneak strawberries from my mothers garden even though she told me not to because she needed them all to make jam. It was tremendous fun. We had a big old shaggy brown dog named snoopy. Snoopy lived in a dog house outside, except for when my mom would let him in the house. Sometimes I would crawl into his dog house with him and lay with him. It was a very different time.

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My friend Sam would come over from two houses over. We would play with matchbox cars and G.I. Joes and dig in the dirt. We played Cowboys and Indians and chased each other and went back inside when the sun was going down. I was a genuinely happy kid. I was just as happy when I realized that we were trying to pick out a new name for the baby. It seemed like weeks that names were discussed (it was likely just days). I know a lot of names were thought of. I even got to think of a few. But then someone had the idea they might want a unique name... a special name... There was a character in "The Young and the Restless" named "Cricket". That could be a cool name. Maybe... Me, at the age of almost 6, really liked the name Cricket. I was a big fan. I can remember jumping around yelling "Cricket!" "Cricket! Name her Cricket!"

But alas, the opinions of a five year old bear little weight. The name was decided. My youngest niece would be named Ashley. It's probably for the best.

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Hardy Stock

Anthony McCloskey

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To say my mother had a tough go of things would be an epic understatement. She was born in 1938 to an Irish Catholic family in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia. She had nine brothers and seven sisters all from the same mother, Clarabelle, who my mother all but deified. Her father was a former Sailor and an alcoholic longshoreman. He was a proud union man with sticky fingers that he used to provide a little extra for himself and his family. It seems that in the 1930's and 40's if you were unloading 10,000 televisions from a ship and a few dozen went missing, no one noticed. Anyone who did notice didn't want to accuse the members of the longshoremen's union of anything untoward. So it was the Thompson's were the first on the block to have an ice box, a television and other modern luxuries. But with 18 mouths to feed, her father developed quite a temper and a rigid set of rules.

His boys were sent to serve in the military as soon as they were of age. His girls were pulled out of school in the 8th or 9th grade and sent to work, their paychecks came to him until they either married or set out on their own. My mother was pulled out of school half way through the ninth grade and sent to work in a local diner. Grandpa may have been a little feely with the girls as well. Mom was never too clear as to the extent of it, but she made it clear that he was "a rotten old bastard who couldn't keep his hands to himself". He was the sort of man that likes to go out drinking with the boys after work, and when he came home, grandma had best have some food on the table or else there might be an ass whoopin' involved. A rotten bastard indeed. 

His sons all served in the U.S. Navy or the U.S. Marine Corps. One summer afternoon, one of my mother's brothers came home from Marine Corps boot camp and decided to give his mother a gift. He was going to have the girls clean the house from top to bottom, Marine Corps style, with toothbrushes. My mother was the only one of the girls to defy him. In retaliation, he kicked all her teeth out of her head. At the age of 16 my mother lost all of her teeth and got dentures. For her defiance of her brother, she also got kicked out of her house. She was on her own at 16 with no teeth and an eighth-grade education, and she never looked back. It was 1954. In 1962, my sister Claire was born in Philadelphia. My sister Joan was born in 1968 in Philadelphia. And I was born in 1978 in Baltimore. 

From the time my mother left her father's house, to the time I was born, she had been in two traditional marriages and a common law marriage (which was legal in Pennsylvania at the time but would later be the cause of many headaches). She had worked in a Perdue factory slaughtering chickens and quartering chickens, she had worked in a munitions factory coating rifles in cosmoline for the U.S. Army, she had been a waitress, a secretary, and a janitor. And as far as I can tell from anyone who ever met her, she was as stubborn as they came and never, never backed down from a challenge.

So yes, I believe it is safe to make two claims 1) I come from very hardy stock 2) I will never know strife or hardship as my mother did.

Teenage Pregnancy

Anthony McCloskey

My mother was a strict disciplinarian. Actions always had consequences, either positive or negative. Hard work, resulted in pay, crimes resulted in punishment. She believed in right and wrong, although sometimes, her measure of what was right and what was wrong may have been a little different than that of most people. My mother had a fairly strict sense of honor, though she would not have defined it in such lofty words. She believed in family. She believed that you do whatever is necessary to care for your family, even if that meant you had to "beg, borrow or steal". She was a religious woman who believed that Jesus was her savior and that there were a very definite heaven and hell. We said our prayers every night.

Sunday mornings smelled of Lemon Pledge and Murphy's Oil Soap. At this point in my mother's life, she cleaned banks, office buildings and at least one Gold's Gym for a living. These were the tools of her trade, and she definitely had favorites. The house would be filled with the sounds of Elvis Presley blaring from our floor model hi-fi stereo. For my mother, Sunday mornings started around 5 am and they included cleaning the house, listening to Elvis, making us breakfast and watching the news and smoking cigarettes while we ate and then got ready for church. All of these sounds and smells (except the cigarettes) still conjure fond memories of comfort and home for me. To my mother, the two worst things you could be were ungodly and unclean.

I don't recall what church we attended, but I know that we went regularly. Sometimes I would attend the sermon with my mother in the pews, but more often than not, I would go to Sunday school with the kids while my mother and sister went to the boring adult sermon in the pews. I sang songs, said prayers, colored pages and learned the story of Jesus Christ and his apostles. It was just what people did on Sundays, I assumed. It never occurred to me that anyone might do anything differently.

At some point along the way, we stopped going to church. I don't remember the details, but I do recall that my mother was having trouble "making ends meet" and so she asked the church for help. They offered prayers. Prayers don't pay bills or put food on the table. That's what my mom said. She also noted that they were still quick to pass the collection plate to her during the service that day. We didn't go to church anymore. My mother had declared that they were a bunch of con artists. But we still said our prayers every night. Jesus was still our savior. There was no changing that.

I don't recall precisely when I found out that my sister Joan was doing more than driving around when she was out with her friends. But it turns out that at some point, she had gotten pregnant with one of her friends. I didn't really know what this meant. But it seemed clear that it was something that was not supposed to have happened, at least not yet. My mother made it abundantly clear that Joan had been too young. Eventually, it seemed evident that a new child may be joining our house. This seemed exciting and interesting to me. I could use someone to play with. Up until then, I mostly only played alone, or with my best friend Sammy Cavanaugh from two houses down. But it seemed like this new kid might not come. My mother and sister had a lot of heated arguments where they used the word abortion. I didn't know what that was. But I knew that my mother kept saying the phrase "abortion is murder". I knew that murder meant killing someone. Was someone trying to hurt this kid? Surely my mom would never let that happen, she'd save the kid for sure!

During the heated arguments between my mother and sister, they also talked about adoption. I distinctly remember my mother telling my sister "if you give this child up for adoption you will think about it every year on its birthday and on Christmas and on Easter. You will wonder if it's okay and how it is being treated and what it is doing." I remember wondering what kid they were talking about. The answer would become evident soon enough. They eventually explained to me that my sister was pregnant. Eventually, she began to show. Joan was only fifteen. She was still in high school at Chesapeake High, at least for the time being. 

For reasons beyond my recollection, my sister dropped out of high school. I cannot recall if it was her decision, or how my mother felt about it, but I know it was a decision that likely made her life more difficult, and was likely the beginning of the rift that would later form between her and our mother.

The Beginning

Anthony McCloskey

My family hails from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My father died in 1978, while my mother was pregnant with me. He died from cirrhosis of the liver. My father had been an alcoholic since the time he returned home from Vietnam. With modern understanding, it is clear that he was likely suffering from undiagnosed PTSD. My father's mother never approved of his relationship with my mother. She was so disapproving that she had managed to convince my mother that if my father died she (my grandmother) intended to take custody of me because she thought that my mother was unfit, and would not raise me correctly. My mother was an uneducated woman and feared the possibility of losing me so much that after my father's death, she left the state.

As my mother told the tale, she got in her car and drove south until she ran out of gas. Apparently, she ran out of gas somewhere around Essex, Maryland, because that is where my family lived when I was born. My mother gave birth in a hospital in Baltimore. My earliest memories are of our house on Thompson Boulevard in Essex. We had a small, unimpressive house that sat right on Back River, which is a tributary to the Chesapeake Bay. My mother did not own the house. Apparently, she had entered into a self-styled rent-to-own agreement. The owner of the property was my godmother, Lorraine. My mother made payments to Lorraine, who continually promised that one day she would either leave the house to my mother (Lorraine was an older woman), or she would sell it to my mother at a discount. My mother believed so much in this arrangement, that she had even paid to have a new roof put on the house, and did a lot of repair/updates around the house.

My early childhood on Back River was generally very happy. I was given all of my mother's attention and affection because doctors had told her I would not live past the age of two. I was born with a hole in my heart (a congenital heart defect) and the prognosis was poor. This hit my mother particularly hard, because I was her third and final child, and her only boy. If you were to ask her she would tell you that all she ever wanted was a boy. Due to my fortunate gender, and my unfortunate diagnosis, my mother fawned over me and took very good care of me, especially in those early years.

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After I reached the age of two, my mother declared it a miracle. When I reached 3 it was amazing. When I lived to four it was a gift. By the time I made it to five, my mother just accepted I wasn't going anywhere. This wouldn't be the first time I would prove a doctor wrong, and it would begin a lifetime of skepticism about much of the medical profession that I share with my mother. 

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As I mentioned previously, I have two older sisters, Claire & Joan. Claire's full name is Clarabell, she was named after my maternal grandmother. We all have different fathers, and we are all born ten years a part. So by the time I was born, Claire (who was always just called "Peanut") was living on her own. By the time of my earliest living memories (probably about the age of 4), she was married, and had two kids. Both of her children, Michael & Jenny, were older than me. So I am an uncle to a niece and nephew that are both several years older than I. Our family is very peculiar, as you will continue to learn... 

Claire must have followed my mother to Maryland, because all I know is that she also lived in Essex, a very short drive from us in a nice town house with a pool. She was married to a man named Henry who worked for the sanitation department. My sister Joan was an angst filled teenager who spent a lot of time either in her room listening to heavy metal or out driving around with her friends. She didn't often want to spend time with me (a teen was too cool to hang out with a little kid), but when she did, we would sit in her room and listen to Queen records and she'd show me how to shake my hair to the music, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Little did I know that when she went out with her friends, she wasn't just driving around... and soon she would have a lot less time to listen to Queen records with her little bro.