By Rick Cawley

For the Review

Let’s face it…it’s practically basic human nature to think that we all grew up in a Golden Age of childhood. Things that have profoundly affected as youth have tendency cause us to to adhere to cultural and social conventions that we were brought up in and influence our thinking when we wax nostalgic about the simpler times of our younger days.

For those who spent their developing years in the Great Depression Era, like homegrown Roxborough resident Mary McCarthy, and are still around to reflect about those character-building times, it becomes rather evident that every sequence of time will have lasting impression on the core of one’s being. It is probably no less true than for kid’s of today learning to deal with the recent pandemic conditions, environmental change, social awakening, or a splintered national divide.

Here’s one anecdotal tidbit about Mary McCarthy that might help sum up her true grit and adherence to time-honored traditions. When she noticed a group of hardy souls marching up Lyceum Ave. in front of her house after the 2020 Annual 4th of July Parade had been cancelled because of Covid concerns, she instinctively grabbed an American flag from her front lawn, and with her friend Suzanne Schuster, decided to join them along the route. Did I mention that she was 94 at the time? Various incarnations of the McCarthy clan have been marching in the parade since the 50’s and she wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity like this to continue her treasured family ritual.

Those who know McCarthy wouldn’t blink an eye over such an undertaking because that’s the cloth that she’s cut from. For those who commuted to and from St. John the Baptist twice a day, walking was ingrained in one’s core. In her teen years, McCarthy would take a family promenade led by her Uncle Mike out to Memorial Hall pretty much every summer Sunday. McCarthy says that walking was simply just a way of life in those days, “we walked everywhere, never gave it a second thought.”

Recently Mary McCarthy, who turned 95 on February 20, was treated to one of the all too familiar by now drive-by birthday salutes by family and friends. As she surveyed dozens of vehicles driving by tooting their horns, she was touched by the outpouring of generosity and affection. However, part of her was inwardly thinking, “Why all the fuss”? McCarthy is an inherent giver and being in the limelight is something that will generally elicit mixed emotions for her. Still, a lapful of flowers will bring a tear to anyone’s eye.

McCarthy grew up near the corner of Manayunk and Pensdale. During her early childhood, Kendrick Recreation Center was being built a few blocks up the street. Besides her affiliation with St John’s School and Church, Kendrick became the focal point of her early social life. It was a kid’s paradise. They had a pool, a playground and lots of open turf. Through family and friends, McCarthy was exposed to the major sports at a young age and can still tell you that you don’t run a dive play on third-and-15.

McCarthy’s mother, Anna McMenamin, preceded the family tradition to attend St. John the Baptist, where McCarthy and her 5 children (Charlie, Michael, Mary, Kathleen, and Brian) would follow in those footsteps. Ditto for Mary and her mom continuing on to St John’s High School for Girls. McCarthy’s daughters would commute to Hallahan after St. John’s High closed its doors. McCarthy’s sons were all Roman boys.

McCarthy has been involved with St. John’s, starting with her grade school days, for the better part of a staggering 89 years now. She is still quite active on a number of fronts there including the Senior and Reconstruction committees. She also serves as a Eucharistic Minister when she attends Mass.

{ McCarthy still lives in the house that she raised her family. Her beloved husband Charles passed away in 1984. McCarthy is still an avid sports fan and can yell at the TV with the best of them watching her favorite Philly sports teams. She is by and large self-sufficient and has a nice sedan sitting out front beckoning her to get behind the wheel to get in some shopping, run some errands or make it to a doctor’s appointment. }

She plays an active role in the lives of her 11 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren and has a ton of friends (mostly younger, of course) to reminisce with. When the topic of how many lives she’s touched in her 95 years upon God’s green earth, she simply says “I just love being around people…I always have.”

She firmly believes in the four F’s (Family, Friends, Faith, and Fitness) that have allowed her to live such a long, healthy life. It could be that she also inherited an enviable set of genes. Her mom lived to be 103 and McCarthy says she was never in the hospital for a day until the time of her passing. Although she feels blessed in the genetics department, McCarthy still is proactive as she watches her diet, gets plenty of sleep each night, and takes a stroll around the block each day when the weather allows.

Despite feeling totally blessed with good fortune about the way her life and those of her loved ones have evolved over the decades, she still manages to harbor a few prickly sentiments about life in her community. For starters, McCarthy laments the proliferation of condo building that seems to be cropping up in just about every open parcel of land in the 21st Ward. She feels that it’s ruining the “small-town feel for those with deep roots here.”

McCarthy has misgivings about the surge in technology and the transformation of life in the informational age, although she seems quite comfortable checking e-mail on her laptop and can capably navigate her I-Phone. Still, she worries that exposure to the internet is one of the factors that is robbing childhood innocence and kids today are growing up before than can fully enjoy the benefits of youth. She opines that, “they’re exposed way too early, they just know too much too soon.”

McCarthy is hopeful that when the pandemic finally ends that people will be more beholden to our social connections and strive to express appreciation to those in our lives. “It’ll be great when people can start seeing their friends and relatives again. As McCarthy awaits her 2nd Covid vaccine, she sums up the feelings of many, “I can’t wait for this thing to be over.” Don’t we all!


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