Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Aunt Mae

San Francisco was a city of immigrants in the early part of last century, just as it is now. My great-grandmother Annie and her sister and brother were Irish. Annie married an Austrian and they had four children. Her sister Mae married an Irish man, James Byrne. He was killed in a car accident on the day of their child's baptism in 1914. Mae was left a single mother, but she had her sister to rely on. They shared a pair of flats on Bartlett Street in San Francisco's Mission District.

Then in July of 1918 Annie's husband, Fred, came down with the flu. He died five days later. Her daughter Louise was next, and then Annie herself in late December of the same year. My grandmother, Kathryn, was left alone with her younger sister and brother, with only Aunt Mae to care for them.

Aunt Mae worked in a milliner's shop, making hats. When she found herself with four children in her care, she did what any good Irish Catholic would do, she made an appointment to see the Archbishop.

Archbishop Hanna advised her to send the children to a convent boarding school outside of the City, so away they went to St. Gertrude's Academy in Rio Vista, where Mae would visit as often as she could. At first she kept her daughter, Helen, with her in San Francisco, but after a while she decided to send Helen to the school with her cousins.

This is how a single woman immigrated to a new country, survived the flu epidemic and the Great Depression, and raised four children: with hard work and faith.

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