In my Flanagan timeline, I stopped the clock at 1926, leaving my future-grandmother 36 y.o. CATHERINE bereft — her family all tragically gone, her husband Tom dead, a grocery business to run, and four young children to rear.
No doubt, this is Catherine’s dark night of the soul. She has lost her family. Her good life is gone.
In fairy tales and folk literature, the hero embarks on her scary night journey alone. Catherine is not a princess, locked in a tower, waiting for rescue by a knight in shining armor. Catherine is her own knight, faced with finding her way through the dark forest, with no path, no map.
But we also know that heroes with pure hearts and noble intentions are able to identify guides. These companions — a chatty bird, a whispering wind, a clever fox — help the lonely hero out of the darkness.
Enter EWALD CURRAN.
Age 22, Ewald is the tenth of 12 children and lives with his parents in a large house at 5858 Romaine Place, a couple blocks away. When Tom Barrett dies, Ewald is working as the manager of Barrett’s Market on Rowan, downstairs from the Barrett family apartment. He pitches in.
Ewald is a born trouble-shooter. My future mother KATHLEEN is only 18 months old when her father dies and childcare means parking her to play behind the cracker barrels in the store. Ewald has a better idea: his mother, who is in her late 50s, now with 13 grandchildren, is recruited to provide day care. Bridget Curran becomes a loving grandmother to Kathleen. A piece of Catherine’s broken life is mended. She is not alone.
Ewald becomes Catherine’s clever and energetic sidekick, through thick and thin, for more than fifty years — and the only father my mother knows.
Catherine is smart and resilient, nobody’s fool, and as capable of finding her way through the dark forest as any epic hero. But with Ewald, she can allow her joy to return. She can sing again.
Where Catherine and Tom Barrett provided essential grocery services to their community, Kitty Mom-and-Ewald (say it like one word) provide convivial gathering spots — turning the basement of her store into a party house, operating a tavern for a while, and for 50 years entertaining every weekend at their country clubhouse in Castlewood.
In the classic tales, the idea is that the hero returns from her epic journey with a teaching for those who haven’t had the “privilege” of overcoming challenge after challenge in a landscape with no roads. Kitty Mom’s gift to her world was Ewald and their message was “live every moment to its fullest.”