Let us resume the drift of the family exodus when Sarah, May and Peter left home in 1900. The situation remained unchanged for years, except that Vince took over the burden (at 15 years of age) of being my father’s principal helper. Of course, Dad got what was call a hired man. He would not let Vince do the heavy jobs he wanted to do. Vince shrunk only from milking cows. This latter was Rosella’s job. She was the reliable housekeeper, but Mother was able to get her nieces from Toronto and Buffalo, one succeeding the other, at giving a helping hand at the household duties. Sometimes we had a hired girl as well.
The year 1904 is in some respects a historic year for the family, chiefly because the old patriarch, and founder of the family in America, Patrick McCorkell, was gathered to his fathers. He died on June 12, 1904, in his eighties, though none of us knew his exact age. I used to play tricks on him (helped by Vince who devised most of them) and he would retaliate only by pretending to chase me with his walking stick.
With the death of my grandfather McCorkell, my own father came into full possession of the patrimony, which was little more than the buildings, with the machinery and livestock. My Aunt Kate McCorkell, my father’s sister, a dressmaker in the city and unmarried, came to the funeral. It was her first and last appearance. She went away in high dudgeon when the will was read. Doubtless she did not get much from the will–only what her father specified, and he hadn’t seen her at all in recent years. Wills are a prolific source of family friction. I often wondered if she were really maltreated. When I went to live in Toronto a few years later (1907). I began to pay her the occasional visit and was kindly received. She even relaxed to the point of allowing me to do her banking business (her principal bank failed at this time) but I could never get her to make peace with the family, and pay a visit to the old home at Brechin, even at the time of my ordination. Ironically enough at her death in 1926 at a rest home in Whitby, she left the bulk of her estate to her surviving brothers. I was in the West at the time she died, but came home hurriedly to celebrate her funeral Mass. I seldom fail to remember her at the Altar.
Now to resume the family history, I went to Orillia in 1904 to attend high school. I had to live there because there was no bus service nor any feasible train service at the time. So I really left home—as I look back now I am sure that I did not realize that this was a break with my previous life. I was often back at home in holiday time, and gave some help ( I was always counted on to milk cows) but I was never back on the same old terms. I had burnt my bridges. Farming at least was not to be my vocation. This was doubtless my father’s decision even before it was mine.
It seems clear enough to me now that my brother Pete’s leaving home in 1900 was quite a shock to Dad. I believe it was the right thing for Pete to do. There really was a generation gap, and Dad began to see it only then. He needed that shock, and (as I think) he was ready to count on Vince, the next in age, and to try for better personal relations with him. Vince was clearly less quick-tempered than Pete, who was in fact merely like his father, a chip off the old block, so to speak. I have always tried to excuse Dad for his brusque and some times sharp behaviour. One has to bear in mind that he did not even own the farm until his father died in 1904, and that was thirty years after Dad was married. He did have the farm on a rental basis, but he was not really independent. Then too Mother’s chronic illness from about the time I was born in 1891 left Dad somewhat isolated and lonely at times. Anyhow I feel certain that he planned to make it easier for Vince than he had for Pete and my going to high school was part of the deal. I was too impractical to be a farmer anyhow. I was kind of a dreamer. It was well known and laughed about that I had been sent on one occasion to “mind a gap”. All I had to do was to be on the job to prevent the cattle from going through a temporary break in the fence between two fields. But there was lush clover in the other field, and the cows rushed me. I believe they call it “red dog” in football language. And so it came about that to say of man or boy on the farm that he couldn’t mind a gap was to rate him utterly useless.
So Dad had ideas about Vince. But Vince had ideas of his own. He had been chafing under the dullness of farm life at the time, and had in common with boys of his own age such as Pat and Jim McCorkell, (his own cousins) the Gaughans and Mangans of the Connaught settlement, in common with these, I say, he sought to relieve the dullness of farm life by soccer games on Sunday afternoons. The games were played on a field owned by my uncle Martin O’Donnell on the 9th Concession line. They were lively gatherings and truly valuable for the morale of the boys, who could get agreeable exercise in this way and show off before the girls. They were in fact excellent community projects. Pat McCorkell and Tom Gaughan were outstanding players, and Vince was the star goal keeper. That was a “gap that he could mind” to perfection. He never let anything through.
Vince was interested in hobbies of different kinds. He was fascinated for instance by small fire-arms which he used to hunt local game, and for target practice. He sold and bought and traded them just “for the kicks” as they say today. He did the same with watches. One gun episode is typical. He got a dozen or more of his pals to help him make maple syrup in Flynn’s bush when the sap was running. They dragged a sugar kettle (heavy indeed) a mile or two to a section of the woods remote from the owner’s house. They lit a fire and kept it going for hours on end. All this in the dead of night, and during the whole time there was the paralyzing fear that Flynn would appear with a police officer perhaps. Every pressure on the trees by the wind was a possible sign of Flynn’s approach. However they made the syrup and drank their fill. At this point Vince took the shotgun which he had with him, and going out behind the trees fired it into the air. Everyone thought it was Flynn and fled in every direction.
It is clear enough that Vince hoped to get away from farm life, as Pete had done. But he would not even think of going until his brother next in line would be able to take care of the horses and otherwise be, as it were, the crown prince. This could not be John however. Though actually the next in line (he was 16 in 1904) he had not developed normally, and would always be a dependent. I followed next, three years younger than John, and accordingly I was (in the mind of Vince) elected. When therefore it was decided that I should go to high school, it was an upset. Could Vince wait? He was only 18 at the time, but if he were to wait till Ignatius was old enough, it would be a long wait indeed. He was only 9 at the time. And indeed was there any reason to suppose that Ignatius would choose to be a farmer. Hence Vince figured that he had no choice but to cut the Gordion Knot. He spoke honestly and manfully to Dad, and though my father was disappointed in agreed that Vince should go. There was no question of my dropping out of school to fill the vacancy. Dad said he would hire a man for a few years at least, and this is what was done. As time went on Dad saw clearly the drift of things, and so four years later when I had got off Dad’s payroll, that is when I began to support myself as a teacher, Dad did not even ask Ignatius what he wanted to do, but sent him to high school as he had sent me. Had Dad at an earlier date chosen to make farm life more attractive by getting an automobile, and by giving the boys more independence, that is more cash, he might have kept one of them willingly on the farm. But then he could not have sent any of us to high school. It was not then possible to go by bus to Orillia. The more expensive method of living in Orillia was unavoidable. And there were no jobs for students then. It was a dilemma for Dad. It was a dilemma which most farmers faced and failed to solve.
So Vince left home to go to the lumber camp, and in the following spring went to the Twin cities to begin a new career. Before giving any details about it, let me pause to say that none of us has been more attached to his boyhood home, more or even as much as Vince. Of this he gave proof some years later. It happened that in the summer of 1926 or 1927, Dad’s hired man suddenly left. It was hard to find a substitute and it was urgent to do so. To make matters worse my Mother had to undergo abdominal surgery, and dad was discouraged. Vince promptly got leave of absence from his job in st. Paul and came home to take charge. Vince was one who really cared.
And now to go on with Vince in the twin cities. He took up the moulding trade at first but threatened with inflammatory rheumatism which first touched him in the lumber camp, he entered into his real life work with the Prudential Insurance Co. in which he became one of their most reliable men. He married Stella Fahey, who like him had come to the city from a farm to work as a telephone operator, as the Dominic O’Donnell daughters did in Brechin. Life on a farm has to be subsidized from jobs in the city everywhere.
The Vince McCorkells made their home at 627 Simpson Street, St. Paul. (I should like to introduce a parenthesis at this point. The full name of my brother Vince was Patrick Vincent. It will be recognized that Patrick is a family name, originating at least with our grandfather.) Vince’s home was a hospitable home indeed. I recall vividly one gathering of McCorkell’s there from far and near, and it is unforgettable. Pat McCorkell, my cousin, with his wife Anne, and his sister Madeline motored through the U.S.A. to Western Canada in Aug. 1923. They picked me up at Chicago where I was taking graduate work at the university to take me to St. Paul where the plan was for Pat’s party to spend the weekend with Vince. When we arrived Pete and Tillie and the kids had already arrived from Superior, 200 miles away. What a gathering that was. We had all grown up together in Brechin, but now separated from one another twenty years. It was a great reunion, and Vince and Stella were in their glory.
Somewhat earlier (1916) Vince and Stella had come to my ordination in Toronto, taking with them their first-born, Estelle, who does not remember a thing about it, for she was less than a year old. In later years I was to call at St. Paul again and again on my way to visit Basilian houses in the West or in Texas. I contrived to pass through the Twin cities going or returning. Vince and Stella were ideal hosts, generous with their time and generous in every way. My first visit to Rome was Stella’s gift. It was proposed several times but took place in 1931.
Estelle, the eldest, has been a sort of guardian angel to her mother, whose health has been uncertain from time to time. No one could be more unselfish and devoted. The youngest Rita, died young, but Vince’s two sons are very much alive. Edmund (called Ed) is a college graduate who after serving with the Air Force in the Second World War, took a post with the Braniff Airlines. He is a big powerful man like his father but taller. He built a beautiful house at Shakopee in the lake district outside St. Paul, designed for all seasons, and he married Alice McDermott of Chicago, who has helped him to make it an ideal home. They have two children–Kevin and Anne Marie.
John McCorkell is like his brother in stature and like him a war veteran. He lives in California, where after experimenting with the trucking business has taken up what might be called his family’s profession, serving the public by covering them with Prudential Insurance. His father would be proud of that and also his uncle Pat Fahey, who during his life made an enviable record as an insurance salesman and director with the Prudential Company. John Mccorkell married June Herman and returning the family tradition has a fairly large family of seven. They are–Thomas, Karen, Patricia, Steven, David, Julie and James. John packed them all in a station wagon and drove them over the mountains to his brother Ed’s marriage in Chicago where I saw their smiling faces at the end of June 1964. Once, if not twice before that date, he made a similar safari to St. Paul to show his growing family where their father had cavorted about as a boy. St. Paul indeed in a kind of Mecca, not only for the McCorkells born there, but for their relatives many of them especially the younger generation, who have been lucky enough to test the hospitality of the old home on Simpson Street. Vince McCorkell died on January 18, 1957. He was always a fervent Catholic. At the funeral the pastor, Father Casey, told me that Vince was the best parishioner he had.
Leaving the role of Patrick Vincent McCorkell to history let us resume the story of the Joseph McCorkell family with those members who came after Vince in the family roster. The next one is actually John Augustine McCorkell (note the second name is a family one). It will be simpler to leave him to be taken with Rosella at the end. I ask your indulgence also to let me, Edmund Joseph McCorkell, pass, as is done in the roll call of States in an American convention to nominate a president. The next one therefore is Ignatius.