From Forty-fourth, I turn right on Fifth. Thirty-three blocks later, I turn right again. Halfway down the block, I am standing in front of the building where my mother met my father sixty-four years ago.
Her name was Mary Ann McGrath, but she was called “Mickey” by those who knew her well. To me, she was “Mom.”
She was born on July 13, 1934, grew up in Islip, and went to St. Mary’s Catholic School. Her mother worked as a nurse at the Central Islip State Hospital until 1936, when tuberculosis set in, and she moved to Saranac Lake to find a cure.
Mickey stayed in Islip with her grandparents, who did not like her father. Her last memory of seeing him was when she was seven, shortly before he left for Europe with the Army. He died in 1942 in the North Atlantic after a U-boat attack.
After the war, her mother got better with new antibiotics, and Mickey moved to Saranac Lake to stay with her. She went nursing school and moved to Manhattan where she shared a number of small apartments with friends. Her last apartment was located on the ground floor of 14 East 77th Street.
Late in September, the four roommates decided to throw a birthday party.
Mickey described what happened next in a letter recently discovered among old family papers:
We decided to have a party for Flo’s 27th birthday on September 26th, 1958. The apartment was jammed — wall to wall young people.
I was near the door around midnight when there was a knock. I opened it and thought the Mafia was invading.
About a half-hour later some guy came up to me and said, “this is boring,” and I agreed. (It really wasn’t). He said, “do you want to leave here and go someplace else?” I said, “Sure.” He said, “let me tell my friends,” and a few minutes later came back with his friends, the Mafia group.
I don’t know why I got into the car with them, but I kept thinking, my mother warned me about this.
I kept talking to Paul and found out he worked in the Attorney General’s office. When I told him I was from Saranac Lake, he asked me if I knew Andy Garrity. Whew. Safe I thought. Andy was a friend of my mom’s and his daughter, Jeanne, was a friend of mine.
That night was the beginning of the rest of my life.
Mickey and Paul married one hundred and twenty days later.
I wish I had known about this letter before my parents died, or had thought to ask them about how they first met and made plans to start a family in Albany.
Instead, I can only imagine what happened during the 120-day whirlwind romance that began very late on September 26, 1958, when Mickey opened the right door at the right time to let the right one in.