Notes of a Footnote – 2 – Anne & Joe
Little Red in Spaldeen City
My mother and father were both born and raised in Chicago and were, respectively, second and first generation Irish-Americans. Their desire to move from the Gem of the Prairie to New York City – and to Greenwich Village particularly – was a commonplace among people with their interests, ideas and, in my father’s case, ambitions. Many provincial Americans of my parents’ generation regarded New York, culturally speaking, as Mecca. Not all their friends and contemporaries shared this yen for the Metropolis. One great friend, Joe Diggles – also my godfather – was fond of quoting Nelson Algren’s dictum to the effect that being from Chicago and not wanting to leave was like being in love with a woman with a broken nose: you know but you don’t want to hear about it from other people. Algren, incidentally, while editor of New Masses, once rejected an article of my father’s on the grounds that it showed “petty bourgeois decadent tendencies”. As my father observed at the time, he was earning $17.50 a week and so must have been as petty a bourgeois as ever decayed.
My mother was born on September 27th 1905, and was christened Ann Isobel Fardy. Her father, Patrick Fardy, for whom I am named, was born in Buffalo, New York in 1867. His father, Daniel, had been born in 1823 in Co. Wexford and came to America in flight from the Great Hunger of the 1840s. Anne’s mother was born and christened Matilda McHenry in 1870 in the heavily Irish section of Chicago known – both before and after the Fire – as “The Valley”. Her people were Dubliners, although they had lived for a time on the Isle of Man. My father, Joseph William Carroll, was born on August 7th 1911. His father, Martin, was born in Kiltimagh, Co. Mayo, also in 1870, and he emigrated to America when in his late teens. His wife, born Elizabeth Sheehan at Abbeyfeale, Co. Limerick, had come out to America in domestic service at the age of twelve.
My mother was the youngest of the seven children her mother bore and who survived. My father was the youngest of his mother’s nine who lived past infancy. Both women lost several babies. The similarities between my parents’ childhood homes ran to the fact that they were both Roman Catholic households with large extended families and strong Irish connections and influences but not much beyond that. Each house reflected in its family atmosphere the drastically differing temperaments of its respective head. Martin Carroll was an industrial timekeeper and seems, although he was never in the military, to have been one of nature’s NCOs. His salient characteristic, however, was his extreme religiosity. He had studied for the priesthood as a young man and, although finding ultimately that he did not have a vocation, he retained throughout his life what his youngest son regarded as a frightening, morbid and almost perversely self-indulgent sense of sinfulness; his own and that of others. The history of Chicago’s Holy Family Parish published in 1923 records that Martin Carroll served several terms as a librarian and as secretary of the Married Men’s Sodality. In his play, The Barroom Monks, my father describes a character based on his father as going to “…two Masses on Sunday. An early Mass for Communion, and High Mass because…because he liked it. I suppose. He used to pray in church with his arms outstretched because an extra Indulgence went with that position. He used to scare the hell out of me with his talk of purity. ‘Guard your purity!’ he used to say, and I never knew what he was talking about until certain disturbances happened in parts of the body that were never mentioned at home. I remember being sorry when he died but I couldn’t help picturing the Seraphim and the Cherubim and the Thrones and Denominations skulking guiltily around Heaven because they knew my father had his eye them in case they were impure in Word, Thought or Deed.”
Pat Fardy, on the other hand, while a devout Catholic and lifelong Communicant, was considerably more relaxed and easy going in his religion. It was once said of him that if he had happened to look up from his book to observe his daughters running naked out the front door his only comment would have been, “Don’t they run a terrible chance of catching cold?” And his warm and dry sense of humour found abundant material in the foibles and follies of Church and clergy. One of his stories concerned a young man from the parish who was contemplating the priesthood and went for advice to the local Monsignor. The Monsignor was aghast to hear the young man say he was thinking of joining the Society of Jesus. “The Jesuits is it?” said the older man. “You know what you’ll get with them? You’ll get a cot and a chair and a table and hook to hang your clothes on, and the one hook is all you’ll need.”
Pat worked as a cashier in one of Chicago’s city government offices and he had a universal reputation for unshakable probity that must have made him as rare as a five-legged unicorn in a town that has been a perennial all-star in the major leagues of municipal corruption. Pat’s employment by the city did have the effect of considerably softening the ravages of the Depression on his family.
The Carrolls also, while not affluent, were never indigent as Martin was a hard-working man of temperate habits. He was by no means an intellectual but he was intelligent and not without culture. He read widely if not deeply, and took an interest in current affairs, being a Regular Democrat in U.S. politics, and a Redmondite Nationalist in Irish affairs. He was a native Irish speaker and regularly conversed in that language with a sister of his who lived with the family. To my father’s lasting regret Martin Carroll actively discouraged his children from learning Irish, feeling, like many immigrants of the period, that it would be a distracting impediment to their assimilation into the life of their adopted country. In consequence my father always shared in the angsty disquiet common to many Irish people – both at home and in the diaspora – that is rooted in an awareness that they are heirs to a body of traditional culture that is of immense richness and great beauty but to which, lacking the language, they do not have the key. As one Scottish commentator observed of his non-Gaelic-speaking compatriots, they felt in one language while thinking and speaking in another.
However, whatever he missed through his ignorance of Irish, my father more than made up for in his eventual technical and critical mastery of the English language, and of a vast range of its literature, particularly that produced by his fellow Irish. I have been saved a good deal of the anguish generated by rebelliousness against one’s parents and their status as representatives of the established order by the fact that my father was very much the black sheep of his family and community. He fought many battles that I was spared because when I reached the age when one is most critical of one’s parents, I found that I was, on the whole, in both agreement and sympathy with their views and feelings on most salient points. Springing from a background of rigid, even bigoted, Irish Catholicism, where social and cultural conservatism and conventional politics were the norm, my father rejected the Roman Catholic Church with a traumatically violent and angry disillusion, embraced a radical left wing progressivism in politics and, moreover, did so in a sufficiently militant and public manner to imperil himself both physically and professionally. He also, while never being much of a bohemian, championed intellectual freedom and social liberalism. He sometimes said of himself, “I’m an intellectual. It’s there on my Social Security Card: Intellectual – Semi-skilled.”
Nothing could more cogently underline the differences in tenor between my parents’ respective childhood homes than the manner in which each left the Roman Catholic Church. My mother, having reached the conscious conclusion that its claims were intellectually untenable and its emotional power, in her case, uncompelling, just fell away. She had no particular fight with the Church, she simply came to find it irrelevant to her moral and spiritual life and shed it like a snake sheds its old skin. She was always a wonderful example of Original Virtue. One of the few times I ever saw her seriously annoyed was an occasion when she received a letter from some distant, tiresomely pious relatives that was full of gratuitous Pecksniffian clap-trap to the effect that “We’re all Sinners – Grievous Sinners in the eyes of God.” “Let them,” she said, “speak for themselves. I’m nothing of the sort!”
I have no idea what my equable, Mr. Bennett-like grandfather thought privately of his daughter’s defection from the bosom of Mother Church but I do know that it had no effect on their mutual affection for one another, or on my mother’s relations with the rest of her immediate family. I do recall an incident characteristic of her general attitude to religious matters. One Sunday morning I was playing in the living room while my mother was still asleep. (At weekends she rarely rose before the crack of noon.) The doorbell rang and I answered it, letting in a slightly built Hispanic young man. His English was rudimentary and I couldn’t make out what he wanted. I woke my mother and she came to the door in what for her was a fairly salty mood. After a minute she realized that the young man was a Jehovah’s Witness and was trying to sell her a copy of The Watchtower. She interrupted to say, “Listen, sonny, I gave up a good professional religion like Roman Catholicism. I’m not going to start with a bunch of amateurs like you at my time of life.”
By contrast, when my father left the Church he left in an almighty huff. One of Joe’s Army friends did a watercolour portrait of him during the War and another friend seeing it said, “Jesus Christ, he looks like a goddamn altar boy.” To which my mother replied, “Well, he was a goddamn altar boy.” A fact also verified in the History of Holy Family Parish by a 1922 group photograph of all the church’s altar boys. Joe, third from the right, second row, aged eleven, looks pretty fed-up already. By the end of his adolescence he had also absorbed enough rationalist philosophy to have formed serious reservations about the claims of monotheism in general and the Church in particular, but these doubts he could, I think, have lived with if it wasn’t that the example given by the purportedly pious – both lay and clergy – so profoundly offended his own essentially religious nature. He was schooled first by nuns and then, in both high school and college by Jesuits. In the main he found them insufferable. He was irked by their militant intellectual mediocrity – “Champions of the second-rate,” he called them. And he was disgusted by their disingenuous hypocrisy in both spiritual and temporal matters. He had, in short, much in common with James Joyce whom he read and re-read throughout his adult life and revered above all other writers.
My favourite of all my father’s short stories is one called Prefect of Discipline, in which a touchingly unworldly priest of scholarly and monastic inclinations recounts to a colleague the cases he has had to deal with that day in his undesired capacity as prefect of discipline in a parochial high school. The first three cases are humorous and treated lightly but the last involves two boys who have scrawled anti-Semitic graffiti on the window of a Jewish-owned shop across the street from the school. The priest’s distress at the incident is deepened by the fact that he cannot in conscience even write an official letter of apology. Such a letter, he tells his fellow-priest, would have to be signed by the director of the school whom, he says, he heard use the same ignorant and bigoted epithets only the previous week.
Joe’s verdict on the Jesuits he went to school to is also encapsulated in another speech from The Barroom Monks: “…They were nothing like the ones in the novels of Dumas Pere: the only conspiracy I could see was the one against my boyish curiosity. They were the enemies of wonder, and allowed the soul to have no adventures not approved of by Cassily’s Evidences of Religion. They used to say that they courted contempt for the humility it gave them, but I couldn’t see that my contempt made them humble: it made them furious.”
It is true that in later life he rather softened toward some members of the Order. He greatly admired the Berrigan brothers, with whom he marched in protest against the war in Vietnam, and he was much moved by the martyrdom of a Jesuit priest who was crushed to death during a Civil Rights demonstration in Cleveland in the mid-60s. “If they’d had more like him when I was young,” he said, “they might have kept me.”
Joe’s later formal education featured one break from the Jesuits when he spent his freshman college year at Notre Dame. He was there the year Knute Rockne died and although he was at the time six feet tall while weighing less than 130 pounds he always maintained that he was only kept off the football team by jealousy in high places. This, naturally, was humour. Despite the fact that he spent the last sixteen years of his 9-to-5 working life as an Associate Editor at Sports Illustrated magazine, sport, in the main, bored him rigid. “I can never,” he would say, “figure out how one baseball game differs from another baseball game.” Appreciating the difference is, of course, the essence of fandom, and I can only imagine that the genes that endowed me with my life-long sports mania and turned my elder son into a Rugby Union player and my younger son into a slick middle-infielder for the Great Britain national team and subsequently a professional baseball coach came from some other source.
Joe had two favourite anecdotes dating from his year at Notre Dame. One concerned an occasion when G.K. Chesterton visited the Notre Dame campus at South Bend and, as part of his entertainment, was taken to a football game. During the course of the game word was sent down to the captain of the Notre Dame cheerleaders that there was a celebrity guest among the crowd. Aware that Chesterton was a big pot of some sort – although unsure of the precise nature of his pothood – the youth called out to his subordinates, “Let’s have a ‘He’s a Man’ for G.K. Chesterton!” Whereupon, megaphone to mouth, he loudly led his team, lined up in train formation, through the robust chug-chug rhythm of, “He’s Man! He’s a Man! G.K. Chesterton! Rah! Rah! Rah!” What the 56 year-old English writer and very public Catholic thought of this tribute is unrecorded, but he may charitably be imagined as putting it down to typical American exuberance.
The other incident occurred on Joe’s first day at the Notre Dame campus. There had been a scandal the previous year when the University’s Dean of Studies – emulating another priest, Martin Luther – had eloped with a nun. My father was walking with a friend when they encountered the President of the University. The conversation turned to the new Dean of Studies who, the President assured them, was a man of eminent qualifications, academic and spiritual, and one who was bound to be a great success in his new post. My father and his friend took all this in, whereupon his friend asked with a perfectly deadpan and enquiring tone, “Single man?”
Joe spent the rest of his college career at Loyola University of Chicago. At the end of his senior year the University refused him a diploma, or to allow him to formally graduate. He was instead given a letter merely stating baldly that he had satisfactorily completed the required course of studies and gained sufficient credits to qualify him for graduation. I have never been able to discover precisely why the authorities at Loyola took this decision, but I suspect that three years of my father’s contempt had made them furious. I can well imagine him giving the collective Nestors a good deal of what in the current usage is called ‘attitude’. One of Joe’s English professors at Loyola was the noted critic and writer Morton Dawen Zabel. At one point, my father was fond of recalling, he received a letter from Zabel that began: “Dear Mr. Carroll: I am aware that you regard much of the reading and other work connected with this course to be tedious and irrelevant. I may say that I am not entirely out of sympathy with this view. However…”
Having finally taken leave of the Jesuits, Joe, in 1934, began his career as a journalist on the Chicago Daily News, where he was assistant to the literary editor, Sterling North. He said to me in later years that he never really had the makings of a very good reporter, mainly because he lacked the nervy nosiness needed to make a successful job out of asking perfect strangers personal – and often impertinent – questions. He did, however, develop in time into an editorial deskman of singular talent. His technical mastery of syntax, punctuation, construction and style was unmatched. Because he could recognize and enjoy it so much he never lost his pleasure in other people’s good writing, and – his own writing apart – nothing gave him more professional satisfaction than helping to make good writing better. His specific brief at Sports Illustrated was to deal with unsolicited manuscripts, and to take particular care of writers new to the magazine. Several writers, Roy Blount Jr., to name but one, developed their talents under his editorship, and (during his time at Collier’s) even as established, popular, indeed classic, an author as P.G. Wodehouse expressed his gratitude for Joe’s editorial suggestions.
Joe’s career as a daily newspaperman did not, however, last very long. Early on he became a founding member of the first Chicago chapter of the American Newspaper Guild. His reward for this was to be fired by the Daily News and blacklisted by every newspaper in Chicago and every Hearst newspaper in America. Faute de mieux, he spent the middle and late Depression years as a full-time union organizer, activist and publicist. He was employed at various times by the C.I.O., and by other groups and organizations dedicated to labour and progressive causes. He was involved in many struggles and strikes, including the violent 28-month long Gary steel strike, which the union finally lost. The only story I can remember him telling about it concerned an occasion when he got a lift to the picket line in a limousine belonging to Archbishop (later Cardinal) Stritch, then head of the Chicago archdiocese, and an uncle of Tom Stritch, a college chum of his. The automobile pulled up, the rear door opened, and my father backed out of the car, kissing the Archbishop’s ring as he did so. To the amazement of the cops and goons guarding the factory gates, Joe then crossed to the throng of Godless Red Scum, grabbed a picket and joined the strikers.
Although I was never told so explicitly, either by Joe or anyone else, I’ve always assumed that he was at some time or another a member of the American Communist Party. If so, he was certainly no longer a member by the time I was old enough to understand such things. He remained a left liberal and a staunch union man all his life. When the Guild struck at Sports Illustrated a year or two before his retirement, he joined the pickets, thus causing what he found a distressing coolness in his friendships with several colleagues who sided with management. That same management had been surprised when, after a number of years as a contract editor, Joe was taken on permanent staff and specified that the Guild should negotiate his new terms of employment. At the time of the strike Joe said: “I helped to found this union and I’m not going to start scabbing on it now.” He was involved in the negotiations that settled that strike, and one of his last acts before retiring was to write a plea published in the Guild’s house organ, “Especially Addressed to Writers & Editors”, in which he urged those ‘on the masthead’ not to forget that it was through the Guild’s earlier struggles that they had obtained pensions, sick pay, severance pay and the many other rights and benefits that they now took for granted. He quoted Heywood Broun’s reply to management’s statement – made during the Guild’s pioneering days – “…that unions will take the ‘romance’ out of journalism.” “For twice the money,” Broun said, “I can be twice as romantic.” After the strike, most fences mended, Joe would wryly observe that members of management who had fought tooth and nail against the idea of a subsidized staff canteen were now perfectly happy to take advantage of the facility whenever they didn’t have a lunch scheduled that could be put on their expense accounts.
Joe also remained what he called ‘a diagnostic Marxist’. He maintained that Marx’s exposition of bourgeois economic structure was irrefutable, but he did not accept ‘prescriptive’ Marxism. He thought Scientific Socialism to be neither scientific nor socialist and was fully conscious that none of Marx’s prognostications about Revolution had eventuated. And he was, of course, intensely aware of the barbaric enormities committed in the name of Marxist ideology. I assume also that he must have thought long and seriously about these questions, and I had many general political discussions with him myself as I got older, but, as is often the case with Joe, what I remember most are the jokes. Whatever about his solidarity with the Struggle, I can’t help but imagine that his humour and sense of the ridiculous must have kept him in pretty regular hot water with a lot of the comrades.
A favourite story of mine was of an occasion when William Z. Foster was due in New York to address a gathering of the Faithful. The meeting was to be held in a hall on University Place and my father and a few others were setting out folding chairs and generally getting the room ready for Big Bill. It was a day in late summer and the weather was as torrid as it can be in New York at that time of year. My father tentatively suggested that it might not be a bad idea to open a window or two, only to be turned on by one of the women present who, like Nelson Algren before her, thought she detected bourgeois decadent tendencies in my unfortunate old man. “How,” she demanded, “when there are comrades coming from all over the country to attend this vital assembly can you think of nothing but your own miserable physical comfort?” In the face of this tirade Joe shut up and retired back into his shell until the Great Man arrived. As soon as he walked into the room Foster said loudly; “Christ, can’t we get some air into this goddamn place?” The woman who had scalded Joe’s ear looked at Big Bill adoringly and whispered: “God, what a human touch!”
On another occasion Joe was walking through the Village with an AA friend when they encountered someone whom Joe had known in his active leftie period. After passing the time of day for a few moments Joe and his friend carried on walking. “Who was that?” the friend asked. “Oh, I used to know him years ago. He was a Trotskyite Wrecker when I was a Stalinist Dupe.”
Diggles, my godfather, used to refer to some of the women who moved in left-wing circles as “…the gals with the class-conscious keisters.” My mother would never have qualified for this description. Anne’s politics were always reducible to a benevolent wish to see people treat one another decently, justly and with kindness. Consequently she never voted Republican in her life, but she had also never been much engaged by intricate dialectical discussions as to how many comrades would fit on the head of a pin. After graduation from Mundlein College in 1926, my mother went to work in the Legler Branch of the Chicago Public Library. When her mother died, not long after this, the family house was sold and she moved into an apartment of her own on Monroe Street, a few minutes walk from the Library on Chicago’s West Side.
My future parents were introduced to one another by Joe Diggles, although my father had, apparently, admired her from afar. “I’ve seen her before,” he is reported to have said to Diggles. “Why, she sails around that library like a Goddess.”
I was more than somewhat taken aback when, during a visit to New York my mother, then nearly 90, casually informed me that it had been Diggles whom she had originally had her eye on but that her feelings were not reciprocated. I’d never had an inkling of such a thing – children, unless they are presented with the actual reality, rarely have any idea of their parents as being attracted to anyone but each other – but it did make sense of a remark my father had made to me once when I had returned from a trip to Chicago in 1963 during which I had visited with Diggles and his wife, Mary. As a child and youth I had always enjoyed Diggles’s company during his occasional visits to New York, but this was the first opportunity I’d had as an adult, and away from my parents, to see much of his wife. I was very much taken with her and said as much to my father. He agreed that Mary was charming but added that, despite being best man at Diggles’s wedding, he had never spent much time in Mary’s company as the friendship between the two women had always been rather cool. Despite what may have been their relations in the long ago, in September 1995 Mary – by then twice widowed – made the trip from her home in Maine to attend my mother’s 90th birthday celebrations.
I have several photos of Diggles, one of which is on the wall of my study. It was taken when he was about 60, features his full Irish face and salient eyebrows, and shows him wearing suspenders [braces] and a Stars & Stripes necktie. Although he remained a faithful Roman Catholic all his life and was never anything of a bohemian – he worked variously in the Chicago railway yards and at Hull House – he was a genuine eccentric. When he stopped drinking in the early ‘40s he joined AA and, upon quitting tobacco and finding no equivalent organization, he founded NN – Nicotinic Nobodies. Diggles had 50 or 60 pen friends around the world and his letters to them were usually written on NN stationary. This featured a frazzled looking gent smoking several cigarettes at once, his throat framed by a fractured version of the ‘T’ Zone once used as a motif in post-War Camel cigarette ads. There would also be slogans such as “The only person who should walk a mile for a Camel is a humanitarian vet.”
As well as the furor scribendi that fed his voluminous correspondence, Diggles was also addicted to marginalia. When my mother died I inherited Diggles’s old copy of the Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. It is completely filled with hand-written comments and pasted-in clippings adorned with further observations. Diggles took his responsibilities as godfather seriously and was as solicitous of my spiritual well being as he could be from such a distance. He always hoped, naturally, that I would come back to the church but he never made an issue of it. He was always delighted by the coincidence that he and I shared the birthday of June 13th (1907 in his case). He collected others who had been born on that day, including St. Anthony of Padua, W.B. Yeats and the great Finnish distance runner Pavo Nurmi. I keep up the habit and every year I look at Today’s Birthdays in the newspaper. I used to wonder what Diggles would have made of the late British professional bluenose Mary Whitehouse being added to his list.
While never as actively militant as Joe Carroll, Joe Diggles supported the Labor Movement and associated causes. While at Mass one Sunday during the Spanish Civil War, and in the middle of the priest’s sermon on the evils of the Atheistic Nun-Raping Red Demons of Republican Spain, and the Holiness of the Glorious Christian Warrior, Francisco Franco, Diggles rose, denounced the priest as a reactionary idiot and stormed out of the church. Despite his unwavering loyalty to the Roman Catholic Church, Diggles very nearly got himself excommunicated over the affair.
During the early and mid-’30s my mother’s apartment became the social focal point for a group that was to include my father, Diggles, one or two of my mother’s library colleagues and, among others, some college friends of my father’s. Two of these were Merlin Bowen – later a distinguished University of Chicago academic and Melville specialist – and Frank Walsh, also eventually a journalist who for many years wrote a regular column for his local paper in Oak Park. These and other friends would gather at Anne’s on Saturday nights, talk endlessly about literature, philosophy, politics and religion, and drink. When my father died in 1989 the letters of condolence that my mother and I received from the survivors of those singularly undepressing Depression nights without exception recalled them as the quintessence of their own ‘good old days’. The War, families, the insanity of the McCarthy period and, for some, the dark side of alcohol were yet to come, but they all remembered those gatherings fondly.
My mother, as I say, was (her unrequited gradh for Diggles apart) a fairly carefree, independent, un-beholden young woman with her own money and apartment and in consequence was in no hurry to get married. It took my father several years to sell her on the idea. “Stick with me, kid,” he would say, “and you’ll wear zircons.” They finally did marry on September 21st 1940. Diggles was best man – a service my father reciprocated when he and Mary married. The decision to move to New York was taken during the next year and a half and, as I’ve said, the family hit the city piecemeal during the summer of 1942, eight months after Pearl Harbour.
The U.S. Army was really scraping the barrel when they drafted my father. He was thinner than wire and as unpromising a soldier as could be imagined. He was also an unrepentant PAF – Premature Anti-Fascist. In the event he managed to get through basic training at Fort Riley, Kansas where he was assigned, of all absurdities, to the Cavalry. During his time at Fort Riley one of his friends was killed in a firing range accident, and he and some Army comrades got into fairly serious disciplinary trouble for protesting at the neighbouring town of Junction City – in deference to the sensibilities of the local bigots – being declared off-limits to black Army personnel; and about the U.S. military’s policy of racial segregation in general. One of his Army friends was Win O’Keefe, an actor and singer who had been a member of the American Theater Wing. Win, an officer, was courting his future wife, Ev, a WAC non-com. As romance between officers and enlisted personnel was strictly forbidden, my father would assist the young couple by acting as beard during their outings. After the War Win and Ev came to live in the Village and remained good friends of my parents. Their son, Chris – three years my junior – was the nearest thing I, as an only child, ever had to a little brother. Win was a tall, fair man with rugged cowboy hero good looks, and he endeared himself to me through his talent as a leather craftsman; making me holsters and scabbards for my toy pistols and swords. The O’Keefes eventually left their home on Bank Street and moved to California where Win became producer of the Dennis The Menace television sit-com, developing an “A” List Hollywood ulcer in the process.
During the course of his Army career Joe himself eventually reached the rank of Master Sergeant but was busted back to Tech following another run-in with the authorities. Despite these occasional contretemps, someone in the brass finally woke up to Joe’s talents and he was assigned to the Army newspaper Stars & Stripes. He spent the duration behind an editorial desk, the military figuring, correctly, that the quickest way to defeat the Axis was to keep Sgt. Carroll as far behind the front lines as possible.
My father must have done his parental bonding early because despite the fact that he was absent for most of my first three years I don’t have any conscious recollection of resenting that absence, or suffering unduly because of it. That said, I do have one memory of the kind that one is never sure about: whether it is a true recollection, or an impression formed after the fact through being told of it. The image is of me sitting in a highchair, looking out the front window as my father, in uniform, stood below in Bethune Street waving goodbye. Scorning for once my matutinal strained carrots, I was crying, “Doe, Doe! I want Doe!” In accordance with progressive ideas about child-rearing then current, I was brought up to call my parents by their first names. Also, neither of my parents ever addressed me in the third person: it was never do so-and-so for Anne or Joe but always ‘please do such-and-such for me.’
My mother didn’t hold a regular job during the War, concentrating on raising me. Apart from the usual baby and toddler nuisances – exacerbated by the aforementioned tendency to climb up on the sill of open windows – I didn’t give too much trouble. My mother always maintained that our long and, on the whole, affectionate mother-son relationship had its firm foundation laid by the fact that from earliest infancy I almost always slept straight through the night. Anne was a woman who, like Molly Bloom, was passionately addicted to her bed, and any baby of hers who didn’t disturb her beauty sleep was angelic enough.
After the War ended Anne returned to work, taking a job as librarian at the Paine-Whitney Clinic. When my father was discharged he took a job on the New York Daily News – a paper he always loathed as a meretricious reactionary rag: rather like the present New York Post only better edited. He soon moved on to Collier’s Magazine where he was fiction editor under Knox Burger. He then worked for the magazine Theater Arts as an editor and occasional critic. He was also employed briefly by Sports Illustrated before that magazine was actually published, being involved in editing several pre-launch dummies.
In addition to these various magazine jobs Joe was also producing a steady stream of short stories. Many of these appeared in magazines such as Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan, Esquire and McCall’s. The stories tend to be light, literate, funny and warm to the point almost of sentimentality. With some notable exceptions they were generally crafted to stretch without breaking the limits of what would be acceptable to the ‘slicks’ in which most of them appeared. Joe’s stories were never collected, although several were anthologised, notably Prefect of Discipline, which first appeared in Tomorrow and later in a collection of Catholic interest stories edited by a nun and called Many-Colored Fleece, and At Mrs. Farrelly’s, first published in The Atlantic Monthly and subsequently included in Martha Foley’s Best Short Stories of 1953 and later in a collection-cum-textbook intended for college students.
At this time as well Joe first began to write seriously for the theatre. In 1953 he was commissioned by the New York James Connolly Association to write a play about the siege of the Four Courts in Dublin during the Irish Civil War. Called The Invincibles it was produced at the Polish National Hall on St. Mark’s Place, and was the first play to be directed by a young man born Joseph Papirofski in Brooklyn, who had recently lost his job as a studio manager at CBS television for having refused to sign a loyalty oath. Subsequently he would become perhaps the most influential figure in the American theatre of the second half of the 20th century. Like many New York-born Jewish radicals Joe Papp was ‘cracked’ about everything Irish, particularly Irish literary theatre, of which Joe Carroll was an encyclopaedia, becoming Papp’s guru on the subject. The two Joes and their families remained good friends, although they were not as close after Joe Papp divorced his second wife, Peggy, and remarried. Despite what he considered the rather shabby treatment he had received from Papp’s Public Theater in connection with his Joyce dramatization, Mr. Bloom & The Cyclops – a prestigiously cast staged reading of which was eventually given at the Public on the occasion of Joyce’s centenary in 1982 – my father’s personal friendship with Joe himself remained cordial.
The play of my father’s that had the most success also had a Joyce connection. In 1962 The Barroom Monks was produced at Manhattan’s Martinique Theater as a companion piece to a dramatization of Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Stephen Hero. The production received reviews that were, in the main, enthusiastic and ran for 269 performances. The play, its considerable artistic merits aside, is important to me for the (admittedly partial) picture it provides of one of my grandfathers. By the time I was born three of my four grandparents were dead. The longest survivor, Pat Fardy, died when I was six, and I have no recollection of him, although he is the only one of my parents’ parents of whom I’ve even seen a photograph. I’ve come increasingly over the years to regret the extra-generational loss. I know my own sons have benefited from intimacy with their grandparents, and I feel a critical lacunae in my knowledge of, and feeling for, my own past through having been deprived of similar contacts.
In 1947, when I began full-time schooling, my mother left her part-time job at the Paine-Whitney and began work as indexing librarian at Newsweek magazine, where she remained until her retirement in 1967. Her job consisted of maintaining a card catalogue of every topic, place and proper name that appeared in the magazine, and which was constantly used for reference. She also fielded queries from Newsweek staffers and from the general public. She was the ideal person for the job as she had not only the magazine’s index at her finger-tips but was also able to draw on an enormous range of general knowledge; the fruit of having, since the age of six, read at least one book every day of her life, not to mention a vast amount of periodical literature. Anne took a quiet conceit in the fact that she and her assistant, Marianne Doyle, would produce the semi-annual catalogue up-date in three weeks, whereas at Time it took nine people six weeks. Her name was on the Newsweek masthead as an Editorial Assistant; a fact, combined with Joe’s Associate Editor position at Sports Illustrated, that enabled me to boast at one time that I had both parents on the masthead of a national magazine.
During all this apparently productive activity one deathwatch beetle was boring away at the fabric of my parents’ marriage, and that was Joe’s drinking. From the dizzy days of late Prohibition, through the hilarious Saturday nights on Monroe Street, during the War and after Joe had always been a heavy man on the booze. But by the turn of the ‘50s the drinking was getting totally out of control. In my memory Joe was never an obvious drunk. Not loud, aggressive nor abusive. From the time when I was quite young Joe would occasionally take me on Sunday afternoon pub crawls ranging from the Cookie Bar and the White Horse on Hudson Street, to Chumley’s, the San Remo and even as far afield as McSorley’s; but my salient recollections of him in the light of his alcoholism are of his lying on the couch in an unwakeable stupor, and smelling of something I didn’t at the time recognize: of his once ‘borrowing’ two dollars worth of dimes that I was keeping in a savings bank card; and of spending my thirteenth birthday sitting on a stool in the Ideal Bar & Grill – opposite the White Horse in those days and popularly known as the Ordeal – drinking the endless Cokes given me by the manageress, Sally O’Toole, and watching a Yankees-White Sox doubleheader on the television while Joe and some friends drank in a dark back booth.
Eventually, when he took to disappearing sometimes for three, four or more days at a time. Anne could stand no more. I must have been very well shielded from the fallout of what would have been, at the very least, highly emotional and painful scenes; or else I have effectively blocked it all out. In any case, the first memory I have of realizing that my parents had separated recalls the initial visit I made to Joe when he was staying in the Bank Street apartment where his friend Jack McCusker had given him refuge.
One of the clearest images of my early childhood comes from the time when I had measles at the age of about five. I see myself lying, blotchy and feverish, on the couch at a darkened side of our living room while Joe sits at the dining table, pecking away at the typewriter by the concentrated light of a small table lamp. In a classic piece of guilt transference I used that picture to blame myself for Joe’s leaving Bethune Street, reasoning that he couldn’t possibly work properly with a spotty lump of uselessness like me on the premises. My mother also suffered bouts of self-blame, agonizing over what she could possibly have done to drive her husband to drink. Joe, of course, suffered the greatest remorse of all, but he was helpless at the time.
The separation occurred in 1953, and for the next three years my contacts with Joe were mainly of the fleeting Bank Street apartment/Ideal Bar & Grill variety. The drinking got worse during this period, causing Joe to lose jobs, end up in the Tombs on at least one occasion, and to finally reach a condition not much short of being an outright Bowery derelict.
At this point Joe was introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous by John English, the brother of one his oldest and best friends, the poet and scholar Maurice English. Joe attained sobriety on October 14th 1956, and stayed sober for the rest of his life.
The following is a letter that I sent to be read at the AA Memorial for Joe that was at St. Luke’s, Hudson Street, a few months after his death.
* * * * * *
“It will come as no surprise to those present that I regard myself as having been remarkably fortunate in my choice of parents. To have one parent you love, admire and, perhaps most important of all, like, is a considerable gift. To have two such parents is priceless. I have, too, had a further gift for as long as I can remember in the knowledge that my feelings about my parents have been shared by so many other individuals.
Joe Carroll meant a great deal to a great many different people. Some knew him professionally as a writer and editor of enormous talent. In my own work as a writer he has always been in my mind as my primary audience, and however well or ill I’ve thought of my literary productions, I’ve always known who the real writer in the family was. Others have known Joe as someone who, despite a self-effacing and non-combative temperament, publicly and visibly struggled for peace and justice and the rights of what are sometimes ignorantly called the ‘common’ or ‘ordinary’ working people. Joe, as most of us know, would not for a moment have accepted that there is such a thing as a ‘common’ or ‘ordinary’ person. And we most of us work, one way or another.
In his play The Barroom Monks, one of Joe’s characters says to another: “…But you came along with talk of Mangan and Yeats and Tone and Davitt and O’Donovan Rossa, and it seemed real to be Irish again. …you’re so ridiculously Irish.” And the answer is: “There isn’t any other way to be Irish.” For many people Joe was a conduit of culture, and of Irish culture especially. He loved Joyce and Yeats and O’Casey and Synge and the anonymous ballad-makers with a clear-eyed and generous affection and he transmitted that love to others. Joe did not look back on his schooldays with much liking (a characteristic shared by his son) but there is a sense in which he was, above all things, a teacher. He couldn’t boil an egg or change a light-bulb – my mother once said of him that his manual dexterity about ran to turning a doorknob – but he could parse a sentence, scan a sonnet, dissect a book and construct a play, and he knew the difference between right and wrong. And he taught those things to others through his work, through his commitment to the causes that engaged him and through his life and the way he lived it.
We who celebrate that life are grateful for any- and everything that helped to prolong it. On more than one occasion Joe said to me that if it were not for the Fellowship – and he always used and treasured the appropriateness of that word – He would have been gone many, many years ago. The Fellowship saved his life and he knew it and was grateful for that, as have countless others.
Finally, I would like you all to know that my wife, his grandsons and the many friends he had on this Eastern side of the Atlantic are thinking of you all at this moment and remembering Joe Carroll.”
* * * * * *
In the years following Joe’s sobriety he wrote The Barroom Monks and saw it produced; worked at variety of literary and distinctly non-literary jobs; and finally, in 1960 joined the staff – firstly on a monthly contract basis – of the Time Inc. magazine Sports Illustrated. He stayed with the magazine until his retirement in 1976.
During this time not only did I see him with fair regularity – visiting his various apartments and often having lunch or dinner with him – but he and Anne also met and talked often, usually having dinner or going to the theatre once a week or so. We tended, as well, to get together at holiday times. In the autumn of 1964 I was 22 years old and had been living on my own or sharing with friends for several years and was scrambling around trying to earn enough money for the expedition I had decided to make to Ireland. One Friday in, I think, September, Joe and I had lunch together and afterwards I walked with him back to his office in the Time-Life Building. As we prepared to make our farewells he suddenly asked me in a tone even more shy and unassertive than usual: “Ah… Paddy,” he said, “would you have any… ah… objection if Anne and I were to set up house together again?” My immediate reply, in the argot of the period, was, “Hey, do your thing!”
On December 1st 1964 my mother and I moved into a three room, first floor apartment at 44 West Tenth Street. Joe followed and the family were reunited under one roof (or, at least, ceiling) in time for Christmas. 44 is an eight-storey apartment building of dark red brick dating from 1919. The block between Fifth and Sixth Avenues is thought by many to be one of the nicest in Greenwich Village. Another virtue of 44 for Anne and Joe was that since 1944 it had been home to two of their oldest New York friends, the great New Yorker writer, Joseph Mitchell and his wife, Therese, more of whom later. I lived in the apartment, sleeping on the couch, until February 17th 1965 when I flew to Dublin.
Joe Carroll died in March 1989, aged 77. His final years were not happy. Some time previously, during a visit to London, he had suffered an undiagnosed stroke while walking on Blackfriars Bridge. The root cause of his later unhappiness, lay in the deterioration of his mental faculties. Apart from one incident toward the end brought on by a notoriously horrific child murder that had taken place only a few doors away on West Tenth Street, he never suffered from dementia, but his short term memory became entirely unreliable, causing him often to repeat what he had said only moments before. This, for a man who had lived all his life in his mind, was agonizing, especially as he was fully aware of his failing mental capacity. He had been deeply affected by a final visit with Joe Diggles who, in his last months, was in the grip of a morbid, pathological religiosity, convinced that he was going to hell and imploring Joe Carroll to pray for him. My father, shaken by this memory, observed that existence could sometimes become so unbearable that the organism, consciously or unconsciously, seeks some release. Although the final cause of death was given as congestive heart failure, I believe there was an element of ‘seeking release’ in his end.
My mother rang my home in London to tell me of Joe’s death and after speaking with her all I could do was fall on my knees and weep into my wife’s lap at the thought that he had given me so much and I had never really given him very much in return.
I did fly to New York within a few days and spent six weeks with Anne who, as with many people in similar circumstances, ameliorated her shock and grief by throwing herself into the post-demise practicalities with even more than her usual degree of what Brendan Behan would have called capernosity and function.
Not very many months after Joe’s death Anne’s own health began to deteriorate. I returned again to New York for what would be my longest sojourn since first leaving in 1965. It had been decided by her doctors that her developing heart condition apart, and despite her age – rising 84 – my mother’s overall health was sufficiently robust that she should undergo a triple bypass operation. This took place and, although she was very ill for a time, Anne recovered comparatively quickly. I remember one occasion during her convalescence when we were taking a constitutional along Tenth Street and encountered one of the senior nurses who had tended to Anne at St. Vincent’s Hospital immediately after the operation. She marvelled that her former patient was so hale and ambulant so soon and told me quietly: “Of course, you know your mother’s case is being written up for the medical textbooks.”
After a stay of over two months I was able to return home. For the next seven years Anne carried on alone, although grateful for the solicitousness of her small support army of friends and neighbours. Among these had been Joe Mitchell, who had been a widower since 1980 and who had been one of the many old friends who attended Anne’s 90th birthday celebration in September 1995. Joseph Mitchell – The Great Reporter – died in May 1996, aged 87, and his death affected Anne profoundly. She had come to regard the two or three times a week when he would look in for a visit, or phone down to see if she needed anything from the stores, as among the most important punctuations of her elapsing time. Their chats represented for her a method of remaining in touch with both the present and the past. A few months after Joe Mitchell’s death I received a call at my then-home in Somerset from another of Anne’s neighbours informing me that Anne was ill in hospital and advising me that it did appear that, even if she recovered, she would no longer be able to look after herself. Her own short-term memory had deteriorated markedly and, although aware of this her reaction, unlike my father, who had agonized over the condition, was to simply say, “Oh, I forgot.” I again flew to New York and spent the autumn arranging to bring Anne across to live in England. We were fortunate to rent for her a small bungalow only a few hundred yards from our own house in Crewkerne, Somerset where I was able to attend her daily needs while still giving her the feeling of being independent. In time her doctor – a very able and sympathetic Irish woman – told me that my mother could no longer live safely on her own.
Anne Carroll died in a Yeovil nursing home in October 1998, aged 93. Over her last years and months she would often say, “No pain, just weak,” and finally the machinery simply gave out.