(b) Joseph McCorkell emerges
Up to this point my grandfather, Pat McCorkell, has been in the foreground. His migration, the names of his sons and daughters and of his first wife have been listed, and touched on rather briefly. Only one of them, John, the youngest son is given a fuller treatment. The reason is that he has been more closely connected with my immediate family than any other who is not a member of it.
My own father, Joseph McCorkell, merely mentioned before, now emerges as the leading character, and becomes like Abraham of old the father of sons and daughters who will greatly enlarge the family tree in their turn. This section (b) will be much longer than section (a) and perhaps more exciting.
Now to proceed, Patrick McCorkell, the founder of the family in Canada, died in June 1904. The wife whom he brought from Ireland, Sarah Doherty, had died some years before, and he had then married Mrs. John Mayock, a widow in the settlement, installing her in a second small house on the farm a short distance from the log mansion which was the original home of the family. I remember very well this second Mrs. Patrick McCorkell, whom I called Grandma, though I knew nothing of the complicated relationships in our family. Evidently she loved Joseph and John, her step-sons. I often heard her speak in praise of the way Joe and Jack got along together as they grew from boyhood to early manhood, working with their father, until they set up homes of their own. “Never a harsh word between them” she would assure me. She was, of course, typically Irish of that period, believing in ghosts and other supernatural signs. The tragic accidental death of a farmer a mile away from our home provided Grandma with the opportunity to descend upon me with me her certain ties about ghosts in the form of lights flitting across the fields for a whole week previous to the accident. Obviously they were fireflies, but how was I to know. I began to fear the dark. But there was plenty of time in daylight for me to visit grandma and sample her cakes and other goodies, even at the risk of another ghost story.
I can also say confidently that she had the traditional Irish piety, conspicuously devoted to the beads (as Granddad also was) and to other vocal prayers, vocalized to the level of an Irish whisper. She wanted to be anointed every time she felt ill, which came to be annoyingly often. One Sunday on the return from Mass, the family vehicle, which was described as the double buggy, was met on the road by Dr. Gilpin, driving back from a sick call. Pausing to exchange greetings, the doctor said to Grandad “How’s the old woman?” To which Grandad returned, “some times she is asking for the priest, and sometimes for the doctor, and between the two of you I do not know what to make of her.”
Finally, there is another memorable circumstance of her life. She had a niece, Mary Kirby, and a nephew, John Kirby, recent Irish immigrants. For a time they made their home with their aunt, especially John, who in fact never quite separated himself from the McCorkell family to which he was bound by ties of affinity. He was truly quite a character in his own right. He worked with several farmers, and especially with my uncle John McCorkell for several farmers, and for a longer stretch with my father. Eventually he was seized by the wanderlust and went to Alberta. What money he had saved up, he loaned and lost, and finally he returned to Brechin where his friends set him up in a small tobacco store. He died in 1948.
As indicated above, Patrick McCorkell, the founder of the family in Canada died in 1904. His retirement to a new house fifteen years earlier had cleared the way for my father to marry, and assume the direction of the farm. But the expenses he soon had to face were considerable. The drainage of the farm was obsolete, the livestock had to be improved and increased, a substantial rent had to be paid to his father for the farm, and to all this there was added the expenses of a growing family. (There were six children born in eleven years.) So the old log house had to serve for another twenty years.
As the turn of the century approached my father nevertheless decided to go modern. He planned and built a new house, brick of course, and large too, with gothics and other gimmicks like some of the more affluent neighbours had. Sarah, Rosella, and May, the three eldest were growing up, and longing for more contact with life. Even Peter and Vincent were no longer mere kids. They had ideas and along with older sisters were keen about the new house. Discussions in the family circle about the about the design were spirited, if not always profitable. The intriguing idea of a spare room (unthinkable until now) especially caught the fancy of the girls. Certainly there were a divergence of opinion. Once there was a heated controversy where the spare room ought to be located, the discussion took place in grandad’s house nearby, where a wider freedom of speech was tolerated. But at last the old grandfather’s patience was exhausted. “Spare rooms” said he, “yes spare rooms and rare rooms, and rooms you will never spare”. That was the end of the planning for that day.
The new house was completed in 1897. With the idea of getting a preview I stole into the house when the painters were at lunch, and finding open cans of paint and brushes lying about I made colourful use of them, and night even have finished the job, had not the banging of a storm door (it was November) sounded the alarm. Every McCorkell within earshot, including my irate father converged upon me, and I was soundly spanked. Little consideration was given to the fact that I was only 6 years old. I was made painfully aware of the generation gap.
The house was opened just before Christmas 1897. I remember being worried about Santa Claus being misled, and so passing us up for the year. Christmas had a special glow about it and it did not cease with Xmas. The spaciousness of the new house introduced an era of gaiety and camaraderie. Several house warming dances were arranged. This was a field day for the three girls, who were becoming of marriageable age. Mother had taught them the arts of housekeeping and baking, and as time went on their reputation spread. As I remember the specialty of Rosella and May was pie-making; apple, raison and raspberry. Pete and Vince used to steal pies at intervals formt he pantry, and purchase m silence by allowing me a piece, ridiculously small. Once Vince pilfered a raison pie, hot from the oven, and put it in the woodpile to cool whilst he went for a neighbour, Pat McCann, to give him a treat. In the meantime the pie was missed and a search was made. It was discovered, and so when the two lads got there the woodpile was bare, and as in the Mother Hubbard story, the poor lads got none. I was innocent enough to be the catspaw of Vince who master-minded a variety of escapades. Once I was silly enough to go to my grandma’s house (quite near) to get a cup of sugar for Vince, (he even brought me the cup) Rosella wanted the sugar to bake pies, he said. I was however so poor an actor that Grandad got suspicious, and following me out, drove me back to our own house at the point of his walking stick, whilst Vince looked on from a safe distance.
The thrill of the new house wore off all too soon, and farm life resumed its drabness, at least for my older brothers. For me however there were interesting things to learn about the farm. There was also the novelty of going to Mass on Sunday in the new double-buggy. No lesser vehicle could carry all of us, or rather all but one, who would stay at home to keep an eye on things. I some times did that, but preferred to get to Brechin, and to Mass, out of sheer curiosity, I am sure, or a hunger for experience. Sometimes the organ would play and that was something. But the biggest thrill I got up to my tenth birthday was the first Masses of the two Roach brothers ( Tom and William) who were ordained together in St. Basil’s, Toronto, ( they were of course, Basilians); this thrilling experience was sprung (on me at least) without warning. It was a quick glimpse into a world, entirely different, one I had never dreamed of, and it started me thinking and dreaming.
My mother used to tell me about a former Brechin boy, Quigley by name, who went to Chicago and became a priest. Since the boy’s family were far from wealthy, there must have been divine intervention. The finger of God was there. I am sure that Mother used to pray that something like that would happen to me. Years afterwards at Chicago, when I was in graduate studies there, I went to see Father Quigley. He was able to identify me when I gave him my mother’s name. He was a family connection of some sort. Anyhow he was the first vocation to the priesthood from Brechin parish. There were to be others in due course.