With St. Patrick’s Day upon us, my thoughts naturally turn to my favorite South Side Irishmen. While the day, and in this case, the weekend, is filled with the usual nod to our Irish ancestry, celebrating with parades, rebel songs, beer and plenty of corned beef, a part of me always feels a bit wistful, as memories turn to my parents, no longer here to join in the festivities. And so, to them, I raise a parting glass in salute.
My dad, John Casey Toner, better known as Jack to his friends, passed away a couple of months shy of my twenty-fifth birthday. Though I was married with a toddler, I was still a daddy’s girl. It wasn’t really fair, I know. My sister, seven years older than me, had been surrounded by boys until my arrival and served as a second mother to us all in her never-ending efforts to help our mom cope with her brood. In fact, one of my sister’s favorite memories was when she and my brothers were sent off to stay with my cousins as they eagerly awaited the newest arrival in the family (me, coming in at number six). She asked my dad to please let her be the first to know if she had a new sister (for which she had been fervently praying) or another brother (to which she’d resigned herself). Upon my entrance into the world, my dad telephoned with the news. When my aunt excitedly answered the phone and asked the obvious question, he told her that he needed to speak with Mary Beth first. That was the kind of man he was. The simple, innocent promise made to a seven-year-old girl took precedence over all else. When you’re the baby girl in a family, it’s hard not to be spoiled. So, while my sister was relegated to the role of second mother to us all, including yet another little brother bringing up the rear, I happily assumed the role of the baby girl.