Funeral Home with Ma Sheridan by Mary Ann Sheridan-Woods

This is a bit longer than a usual blog, but it is so funny and so well written, that I went the distance with this guest author.

“I MUST KNOW SOMEONE IN THERE.”

“Mary Ann, it’s time to pick up Ma Sheridan,” my mother would bellow out our third-floor tenement. I would stop playing with my friends, and leaped up the stairs with all the gusto my little six-year old body would allow. My mother had a fresh outfit laid out and would scrub my face, ears and hands so rigorously that removed everything but my freckles. Then she brushed my sandy brown hair and put in a ponytail way up on the crown of my head, tied with a plaid grosgrain ribbon.

 Ma Sheridan is in the center

As she handed me a dime, she reminded me to be careful and make sure to look both ways. I would bound down the stairs and start my journey up Regent Avenue. I knew the route well. There were a plethora of three-deckers lining both sides of the street with plenty of trees disbursed throughout. I thought every neighborhood in the world looked just like this. I would pass by the convent where the nuns that taught me lived. Our church had to be the biggest church in the world. Hoey Funeral Parlor was across the street. I knew that dead people went there, but not much else about it. There was a pretty florist next to it with beautiful samples displayed in the windows,

Soon the UTC bus arrived and made the sound of air brakes pumping to come to a stop, and the door would miraculously open. The driver with a funny looking cap on his head and a big fat belly would greet me. I was told to sit near the driver and I always obeyed. The bus would meander through the streets of Mt. Pleasant, making many stops along the way, with persons exiting and entering the bus. On some occasions they would ask for a transfer, whatever that was. The driver would take some change from the passenger and rip-off a yellow stub of paper and hand it to them.

Soon the bus would arrive at Exchange Place and I would always thank the driver and proceed on my merry way to see my beloved Ma Sheridan. Such a formal name for a grandma, but that’s what we all called her. I would cross the bus hub and walk through the brick alleyway on the side of the Ming Garden and look both ways on Washington Street and cross over to Child’s Restaurant. Such a fete for a six-year old traveling solo.

Child’s was a magnificent restaurant with booths on the left-hand side with swirling stools at a counter on the right, I always hopped on a stool and immediately started swirling, and the waitresses wore

Brown uniforms with pink aprons and funny looking pink caps pinned to their heads. One waitress winked at me as she was applying ruby red lipstick. After checking it out with her hand held compact rubbing her teeth, she would shout “Hey Sadie, your granddaughter, “Mary Ann, is here,” Ma Sheridan was a short-stout woman. With brown hair and matching hazel eyes, and a broad smile, she would welcome me with a juicy kiss. It seemed like seconds later I was always served a toasted English muffin with butter and jelly, and a cup of hot chocolate piled high with whipped cream. My grandmother would change into her street attire and we would make our way back to Exchange Terrace and take the outgoing Chalkstone Avenue Bus. It would head out to South Main Street and turn up Smith Street to ascend the climb up the hill. We would pass by the beautiful State House, and a hot wiener joint that is still here to this day and then turn left on Chalkstone. On the right was Roger Williams Hospital, where my mother gave birth to my brother and me. He was a presold War II baby and I was a post war baby four years later.

As we made our journey home, there was no better feeling than having my small fingers intertwined into her plump hard working fingers. Then when Skeffington’s Funeral Parlor was about to focus on our right, she would say, “Mary Ann, pull the cord.” That was just cooler than the bee’s knees and the cat’s pajamas. We would exit right in front of Skeffington’s. Like on queue she would declare, “I must know someone in there.”

Up the stairs we could climb with my grandmother holding my hand, we would be greeted by a very serious looking doorman and proceed into one of the viewing parlors. There was usually only one when we would stop in. We would proceed through the receiving line, “sorry for your loss, sorry for your loss, “until we arrived at the head mourner. My grandmother would say “I’m Sadie Sheridan and this is my granddaughter, Mary Ann. Has anyone said the Rosary yet?” Of course not. BAM, down on my knees I would go in front of a casket with a dead person in it that I didn’t even know. We would rally ‘round the five decades with precision-like accuracy.

But, WAIT. THERE’S MORE. She would add a sorrowful mystery with each decade. The Agony in the Garden, The Scourging at the Pillar, The Crowning of the Thorns, The Carrying of the Cross, and finally The Crucifixion” It was sort of like the super deluxe at a car wash. We would convey our condolences one last time and retreat from the parlor. Holding hands we would chatter during our trip our back to Regent Avenue. She lived next door and would kiss me goodbye, bid our adieus, and retreat to our homes.

Sort of a strange ritual for a six-year old child, but anytime alone with my grandmother was very special. I treasure these excursions together. I also never miss a wake, no matter how far removed the person is from me. I make sure I know them first at least.

© 2018

By | 2018-08-07T15:52:01+00:00 August 6th, 2018|Humor, Stories of the 1940's and 1950's|26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. Andree Wells August 6, 2018 at 1:43 pm - Reply

    Odd ritual but a delightful description of troubled WWII times, the obvious safety for a 6 year to travel solo on a public bus but the description of the neighborhood brought back many memories of the places I , too, knew growing up in the same Providence neighborhood. The writer has wonderful memories.

    • Ed August 6, 2018 at 2:21 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Andree. Such different times.
      Where did you grow up? I was on Wealth Avenue.

  2. Peter Voccio JR. August 6, 2018 at 1:55 pm - Reply

    Beautiful, a wonderful read with many chuckles along the way. I busted out with laughter when I read like the super deluxe car wash. You must be the life of the party! wherever.

    • Ed August 6, 2018 at 2:19 pm - Reply

      Agree, Peter. I too thought her story was ‘hoot’.

  3. Joseph Piccardi August 6, 2018 at 2:03 pm - Reply

    Great story. I think I was nine or ten before I was allowed to go downtown alone on the bus. I went to the Outlet and got a vacuum sweeper for my mom. I was so proud of myself.

    • Ed August 6, 2018 at 2:18 pm - Reply

      Yes, Joe. Just imagine how safe it was for is to travel.alone at so young an age.

  4. Joe Almeida August 6, 2018 at 2:34 pm - Reply

    Awesome story, that brings back Great Memories.

    • Ed August 7, 2018 at 12:13 am - Reply

      Agree, Joe

  5. Marlaine August 6, 2018 at 3:58 pm - Reply

    I grew up with Mary Ann; we are still friends to this day. She has the best memory of anyone I know. Her recollections are spot-on, and her stories are always full of detail and humor.

    • Ed August 7, 2018 at 12:13 am - Reply

      Lucky you to have such a good friend 😊

  6. Vin DiBiasio August 6, 2018 at 4:36 pm - Reply

    Beautiful story. As I read Mary Ann’s travel, I accompanied her in my mind of the old neighborhood and seeing what she saw – the convent, church, funeral home, and the florist. And her travel downtown and the trip back home up Chalkstone Ave. past Roger Williams hospital where I had my tonsils removed and to Skeffington’s Funeral Parlor. My bus stop would have been at Chalkstone and Academy.

    • Ed August 7, 2018 at 12:12 am - Reply

      Yes, her descriptions are so good, Vin

  7. Natalie L McKenna August 6, 2018 at 5:34 pm - Reply

    Andree:
    I marvel at he fact that you were allowed to go downtown at 6 years of age! My brother Jim and I were limited to the neighborhood, unless mom or pop was with us. I wish I had those wonderful memories of a grandmother. My mom’s mother died before I was born and my pop’s mother was like a stranger to me. She lived in the attic apartment, my Uncle Jim and Aunt Mary on the first floor and my Uncle Joe and Aunt Mary on the second. When we visited, it was to hit all three floors. My grandmother was a foreboding person and not very warm with us kids. I loved and laughed the story about you and your grandma and the time of the story. Can you imagine doing that now?
    PS: We used to go by bus to see them and used transfers to ride on a different bus to her house,)

  8. Natalie L McKenna August 6, 2018 at 5:35 pm - Reply

    pps, Mt great grandmother was a Sheridan from County Tyrone, Ireland. We may be distant relatives?

  9. Mary Ann Sheridan August 7, 2018 at 4:56 pm - Reply

    I forgot to import into my story that my grandmother would tell everyone never to order chicken croquettes in a restaurant. That’s when they clean out the frig.

  10. Peter Voccio JR. August 7, 2018 at 6:51 pm - Reply

    ED,

    Don’t let this Gal get away. She is your best or tied with the best authors!
    Excuse Gal, it’s meant as a super compliment.

    • Ed August 7, 2018 at 7:03 pm - Reply

      I met the ‘Gal’ when I gave a talk at Wingate on Blackstone Blvd. She told me the story and also said she was a published writer. You can see her experience thereof, Peter.

  11. Peter Voccio jr. August 7, 2018 at 8:25 pm - Reply

    ED,

    OH!

  12. Marvin Wasser August 8, 2018 at 1:16 am - Reply

    I was 8 or 9 years old, and traveled alone on the Broad St bus from Washington Park, with a final destination of Prairie Ave. I also sat up front, waiting til I reached my stop. However, I became so engrossed in the mystery of how the driver opened the door at each stop that I MISSED IT. Panic time, but I told the driver that my father worked in his photo studio on Dorrance St in downtown Providence. When we got to the stop at the OUTLET, I got out and walked the block to my father’s studio. How surprised do you think he was on a weekday afternoon to see me ?

    • Ed August 8, 2018 at 1:31 am - Reply

      Very surprised to see that 8 year old at the door.
      Thanks, Marvin

  13. Howie Weldon August 8, 2018 at 11:45 am - Reply

    An absolutely great story with excellent writing that took me back to my childhood immediately. I lived in a 3 Decker around the corner from McCarthy’s Drug Store and Skeffingtons.I knew the most of the Skeffingtons, George Hoey and the lady that owned the flower shop. My father was the Superintendent of UER, UTC and now RIPTA so I rode the buses free. I forgot the embalmers name at Skeffingtons, But we used to call him Digger O’Dell the friendly undertaker. Once in awhile we would peek through the basement windows and see him doing “his thing” with the deceased but most of the time we couldn’t see.

    Thank you for your journey to the past that put a smile on my face and remembering the things our little band of kids did.

    • Ed August 8, 2018 at 1:45 pm - Reply

      Great stuff, Howard
      Mary Ann will love it as do I.
      Wonderful and fun memories.

  14. Kate Waldron Conroy August 21, 2018 at 3:04 am - Reply

    I enjoy reading these stories as they bring me back to a time when life seemed a bit slower. I grew up in Providence around the lower end of Charles Street. It was normal to walk downtown or up Orms Street to the Smith Hill library. I am one of five children and my parents could not afford to take us to a restaurant. However, a family friend sometimes took me to Child’s Restaurant and I always felt so special. Taking the. Bus downtown when I was only 9 or 10 seemed so normal. Today things are different.

    • Ed August 21, 2018 at 10:47 am - Reply

      Thank you, Kate. Yes, things were different and … safer. We thought nothing of walking or taking the bus alone. Our parents were comfortable letting us do it. People in the neighborhood watched our for us. Good days indeed.

  15. Ed October 12, 2018 at 3:01 pm - Reply

    This is Mary Ann’s epilogue to her wonderful story.

    “My grandmother lived way into her eighties. When her sixth grandson, my cousin, Terry was born, she announced to the family, “Now I have my six pallbearers.” By the time she passed most of her friends were gone, so it was just family attending the wake. My mother and I had a huge argument about the arrangements, She wanted to jump ship to Russel Boyle’s. Over my dead body. She was laid out at Skeffington’s. I won that argument,

    As luck would have it, the Chief of Police’s mother was also being viewed there and the line to get in was around the corner and down the street. When there was a lull in my grandmother’s viewing, I would stand outside in the hallway. When I would spot a friendly appearing person or persons, I would ask them if they would mind coming in and saying a prayer for my grandmother. Not one turned me away, so I was very happy that Ma Sheridan had a crowd after all. I was taught by the very best.”

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