Maureen Mahoney and Tracey Merritt

Recorded January 31, 2009 Archived January 31, 2009 00:00 minutes
Audio not available

Interview ID: LMN001160


Maureen Mahoney, 70, was interviewed by her daughter, Tracey Merritt, 44, about growing up in New York City.

Subject Log / Time Code

The neighborhood
St. Paul the Apostle School
Aunt Tini
Life after father’s death
Oatmeal breakfasts
free Saturday movies
Central Park
The “borrowed” rowboat incident
Older sister, Anna
Brother, Chuck
Words of wisdom to Tracey, Patrick and Courtney


  • Maureen Mahoney
  • Tracey Merritt

Recording Location

StoryCorps Lower Manhattan Booth


StoryCorps uses Google Cloud Speech-to-Text and Natural Language API to provide machine-generated transcripts. Transcripts have not been checked for accuracy and may contain errors. Learn more about our FAQs through our Help Center or do not hesitate to get in touch with us if you have any questions.

00:04 My name is Maureen Garrett Mahoney.

00:08 I'm 70.

00:10 Today is January 31st 2009 at Foley Square in lower, Manhattan, New York City.

00:22 And I am the mother of the interviewer my daughter Tracy.

00:28 My name is Tracy Merritt, and I'm 44. Today is January 31st 2009 and we're at Foley Square across from the federal court building and I am interviewing my mother morning.

00:46 Can you tell me where we owe you know, where we are at Foley Square? Where were you born in Manhattan? Where in Manhattan? Were you born 63rd Street in an apartment? It was 183.

01:01 What's there now?

01:03 I believe Lincoln Center and Fordham University there in that area are tenement buildings and who live there with you my mom.

01:21 My father

01:24 My sisters and brothers. I was the youngest of six and what were your sisters and brothers names. The oldest was Anna then we are real Francis Freeman and Timothy and what was your mother and father's name Anna and Thomas and did you always live in that apartment from the time you met one?

01:49 We went from 183 and we moved up the street to

01:55 128 how old West 63rd?

01:59 I don't remember I I must have been very very young because I don't remember the move.

02:06 What was it like they're growing up there at that time.

02:10 It it was very

02:13 Very communal. It was a community.

02:17 You knew everyone in the neighborhood everyone knew you.

02:24 They the older, you know that the parents would would watch out for you or it didn't even discipline you.

02:34 It was nice. It was nice growing up there. I had lots of friends.

02:41 And we had a fire house down the street.

02:46 And they would let us go in and and go around and and learn the bells, you know and things like that. It was nice and I enjoyed it. And where did you go to school st. Paul the Apostle which was on 60th Street between 9th and 10th.

03:08 And I went through grade school there. When did you start there? Just starting kindergarten or for now, they didn't they didn't have kindergarten when I went to school. They said they only had first grade and first grade through eighth and I graduated 8th grade there when you were growing up in that apartment in your apartment house. Was there anyone else that lived in that apartment house that you were related to?

03:32 No, not in that house now, but I had relatives that lived on that street same day straight. Yeah and what other relatives live there my my auntie Nemo. They are she was she was living on 63rd and it was my cousin Mary Ronnie. We called him Jim a boy, which he really doesn't like and and Margaret and Ronnie.

04:04 Peter Walter is a whole crew. And would you see them on its on a daily basis? I love mantini. She was wonderful. She as a matter of fact was an orphan.

04:20 There was an orphanage in New York. I can't I can't remember the name right now, but

04:27 She was brought up in an orphanage. She her sister and my mother's first husband.

04:33 I'm so she was your mother's first husband's relatives. That's how well he married the oldest sister my uncle Patrick Mary the oldest sister, who was Anna and she died.

04:48 And he married her sister my Aunt eenie Christina. And so that's why our families are first cousins because she was a nobleman Auntie was a nobleman and my mother Mary Ted Overman. So that part of the family we would up. We always said doubly blessed because we were first cousins my sisters who were from my mother's first marriage from Ted Oberman. They were there openings my two sisters with openings and my brothers and I were the Garretts so when my mother Mary Tom Garrett,

05:31 We then became first cousins because of the Garrett relationship and who were the Gareth. Well, she married Patrick Garrett.

05:44 So how much older was Anna from you my sister in years, so she was she was the oldest she was the oldest Muriel.

05:54 And then Frank then Raymond, then my brother Timothy who we always call Chuck and myself what happened to your mother's first husband. I he had

06:10 Oh my goodness his appendix ruptured and

06:17 They died from that.

06:19 So your first two sisters your your oldest two sisters were openings of him. Yes, and then your brother is in you again, that's from the carrots. And how old were you when your dad died? I was 10 and what did he die of you know?

06:41 I can only think that maybe it was some kind of kidney disease or something like that because you know, you weren't told anything when you were young like that.

06:52 Do you remember when he died like oh, yeah, I remember when he died. I mean, I don't know it could have been could have been anything while he went to the hospital and

07:05 My mother came home and she told me that my father had passed away was he so it was a long time not that I know of. You see my mother wasn't one really to talk about anything, you know talk about things like that. Especially I guess maybe she thought I was too young or whatever but you didn't notice that he was sick. I didn't notice that he was sick for a long time now, so I guess he was you know, I I I never knew I never realized it didn't occur to me to even think that he was sick. So to you was pretty sudden. Yeah. Yeah. He went to the hospital and next thing.

07:46 He died. And what was your life like after he died?

07:50 We were

07:54 Extremely poor

07:59 But my mother was Sam, she's very proud. She wouldn't go on home relief Orwell food. They called it home relief at that time, and now they call it welfare I guess but she wouldn't do that. She she was very proud. And so she

08:18 She went to work if she went to work for National Biscuit Company.

08:23 And we lived on 63rd National Biscuit was on 14th Street. I believe and she would walk to work. She would walk to work walk back home.

08:40 And so she started working after your dad died. She didn't work before he died. I think you know, it's it's really I I don't remember whether she started to work.

08:55 Just before he died or immediately after he died and I really don't remember the time lapse. How did your life change after that after he died and your mom went to work and what was different about your life then?

09:11 I have to unless we say I don't think there was much different. I mean, we we weren't we weren't wealthy to begin with so

09:21 There wasn't much of a change. I do remember, you know was that we were extremely poor though.

09:30 And

09:32 Then it was it was rough, but she was she was very neat very clean very, you know everything, you know, I went to Catholic school and we were all uniform so my uniform at Bay just sparkling because that, you know, she was not going to be

09:55 Looked upon as bad as being a having a ragged family or anything like that. So she was

10:02 She was she was very proud in that respect.

10:09 Never complained never not once

10:13 Through my whole life. What do you think is the most important thing that she told you my faith?

10:22 And how did she do that? How did she teach that example?

10:27 Did she go to mass with you on Sundays? But when you didn't you tell me that I'm when you were going to school.

10:36 You had to go to mass with your class you had to sit with your class 9 Mass every Sunday morning and you had to bring in a little envelope and it was a nickel, you know, my mother would put a nickel in the envelopes.

10:54 Now did you have to do you walk to church by yourself? Because she went to know we had to sit with the class. We would walk down the aisle and you were assigned certain area where you would set.

11:11 And the nunwood click the the you know, she had a little frog or something and she would click it and you would kneel down and she click it and you'd stand up and walk into the PO and and that's what you did every Sunday you went.

11:31 But he's your teacher. Yes. So you are you an n and you would look for your teacher? And yes. Yeah. I got into the Habit very young of going to mass every morning.

11:49 And I enjoyed it. I liked it. I like starting off my day like that.

11:55 And

11:57 But my mother was always, you know, she would always say the rosary.

12:03 So those are good memories for you. Just what happened. What kind of effect do you think?

12:11 Your dad's dying had on your brothers.

12:18 I really honestly can't say but I know they were they were just so respectful of my mother.

12:30 She never yelled. She never raised her voice. Never.

12:36 The only time she did raise her voice was when she would call me out the window that it was time for me to come home, you know.

12:46 At the end of the day

12:48 And you said that she used to go to work before you will go to school? Yes, she started work before and she would put a pot of my God. She was the worst in the world. She put a pot of oatmeal on the stove and she would she would cook it and then she would let it simmer on the stove and when you woke up in the morning and had this cross the cross the top it was God awful, but you know what I love oatmeal to this day and and I ate oatmeal every single morning.

13:28 But when she lived with us, what did she feed I owe you had tea and toast every morning. Well, you had me and toast as well, but it was oatmeal, you know, she would believe that pot of oatmeal on the stove every morning and and then you would make your own tea and toast but she wouldn't she was the great as well. That's all we had. You know, we didn't have much I think. Oh, I think a box of oatmeal was $0.05.

13:57 And and that was a big box and bread was it was pretty cheap and and we would get cushman's had day old so we can stale stuff and Auntie was but hot water in a couple of tea leaves, you know.

14:18 So that's what we had. That's what we grow and then I got free lunch at school. And that's that's one of the things that I have to say about free lunch. I think every child no matter where they live. They should get free lunch.

14:36 Because that is sometimes one of the only meals they get

14:41 And that's so important and I was never made to feel like I have to say that about Saint Paul the Apostle. I was never made to feel that I was you know poor or anything most of us up or anyway, but when you went up you got your lunch and that was it, you know, you you never had to show chat or anything, you know to make you to make you stand out, you know, it was just you just went up and got you a lunch and then you know, most of the people that worked at the school they came from the neighborhood so they knew you anyway.

15:22 So then you know and then you know to go to a movie was was kind of expensive but one of our great friends worked at the movie, so she used to let us in for nothing sheets make us in and we'd see all the movies on Saturday. They would have all these movies and they let you know the continuation of this and that and oh my God, I thought I would go to the movies all the time and Margie Berkeley lettuce, and she was terrific and and I used to see all of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies and Esther Williams and Ivey swimming down the street. I get out of moving it and then in the summertime.

16:04 We had a pool. I was City Pool and it was it was between 10th and 11th and it was on 68th Street 59th and 60th Street. So in the summer you swim in the outdoor pool. And in the winter, you could swim in the indoor pool. Yeah. It was really neat to think of it now, you know and so every single day during the summer I would swim

16:38 And and we played roller derby in the street.

16:43 We played stickball we played Johnny ride the pony weave, but you know Red Light Green Light all of those things, but that was just filled with kids. So you always had someone to play with

16:57 So and you had it sounds like you had a lot more freedom than we have now, right? Yeah, I think so Central Park was Swizzle playground cuz you know

17:09 We only lived a couple of streets away. What was it like to be able to go to Central Park whenever you wanted to and play and yeah, yeah.

17:21 You went with your friends you whenever we play softball over there one time.

17:29 One of my friends said

17:35 Let's go let of the group of us. Okay, let's go over Central Park friend of mine told me that we can take the rowboats. And as long as we don't do any damage that we can roll around the lake.

17:50 So we went over to Central Park. I must have been very gullible cuz we went over to Central Park and we got in the rowboats and we're rolling around and then next thing, you know, we have the police chasing after us and we're trying to scramble out of the rowboat and I was I was scared to death because I honestly believe that this was true that we we were able to ride the rowboats because his friends said we could maybe 11 or 12

18:27 And we were brought to the police station. Oh my God. I I thought I was going to die. And that's the only only time my mother ever hit me the only time on my life only she walked into the police station and I think I think the I guess they were did hear they were detectives. I think they were waiting for my mother to say. Oh my poor baby with no. No, she walked right up to me and whacked me across the face. How dare you steal and I thought I didn't see you. I didn't steal and the detective said okay you can go.

19:18 You got that. Yeah, I did. Wow. What a shock that was and that was that was one of my first experience as a learning experience. That's for sure. You know, be careful who you trust.

19:33 Cell

19:36 Other than that, I think it was it was pretty nice and I remember the Subways and they used to have

19:42 The Straub seats in the back room.

19:47 That was so neat. And then as the years went on they were being destroyed and that was a shame because they were really nice. It was nice.

19:56 What else. New York City just you could go anywhere go anywhere.

20:03 And and I always I always felt safe in New York City. I know you know.

20:10 I'm glad that I I wasn't there when people had to worry about walking down the street, right because I never had to worry about that was just was nice. It was a nice time to grow up. I think in New York City now when you were 10 and your dad died and it was must have been about 25.

20:32 And what was she well, well, she got married when she was 20 God she will I loved her she was so great when she was going to work and she was going out with the with Busta.

20:49 I would she was just so good to me. They both was so good to me. They were wonderful and I would I would go down and I would meet her after work and we walk up the Avenue together and she Interstate you want an apple.

21:07 Do you want a soda?

21:09 You want an ice cream. I just she was just so good. She was just so generous always always very inclusive.

21:22 Miss her.

21:23 Did she when did she move out that you move out when she got married to Uncle Buster or did she move out before well during the second World War. I mean she was she was up in Rome New York working at an airplane plant. They were building plan airplanes, you know and she was single and she was oh God. She was single. That's the one you should have interviewed. She was she was a hot potato that one and then that was all cousins a couple of friends. But basically you all cousins and they would go off together and they would work here and they work there and and I swore to this day. I do believe that Lucy. I Love Lucy, you know that show where they have the the chocolate and it's coming down and she stuffing it all over. I think they got that from from my sister Anna and from Margie Margie Eagan.

22:23 You know any vegan sister cuz my sister Anna and Margery Eagan work together and they were in the Chocolate Factory and that's what she never ate chocolate after that because she said it was coming down the conveyor belt and they was stuffing it in the drawer in the NIT pocket sand and they was stuffing it in their mouth and she said was coming down because it was coming down too fast. And and she said they worked there for like maybe about a half a day, and she she said she could she never ate chocolate after that. She couldn't she couldn't eat chocolate after that, but I swear someone told that story to to the people that wrote the I Love Lucy special because they did exactly the same thing.

23:16 That happened and that happened in during the second World War.

23:20 So well, but they were funny they were they were funny group. They were a great group. They're very very close group. So I grew up with a lot of cousins around not that I was close close friends with them cuz I was the youngest one of all the first cousins and

23:42 But I knew every one of them and they were very good to me all of them. They were all very wonderful people to me. So I was very blessed in that that area if you are happiest memory of when you were little when I was little

24:01 When I graduated Grandma School

24:05 I won the perfect attendance medal every day. That was my big thing to do was graduation 8th grade and I had the I had the toughest nun.

24:20 But the fairest she she she was on before you walked in that classroom. And oh my God you did when she said you kneel down you nail down, but she was extremely fair and that that was a great lesson for me to that you could be

24:40 Very firm, but very fair and I and that was a that was a really good lesson for me to learn when I was young like that.

24:49 And my mother was like that as well. My mother is very she was very firm in her beliefs very firm in what she wanted and what she wanted for us.

25:03 And but very fair about being at Saint Paul the Apostle School that really sticks with you that you will never look back on. The one thing my brother chuck. Oh my God.

25:19 He

25:22 He was such a horror in school.

25:26 And he would he was he was very bright, but I guess he was challenged or something. I don't know but he was a little bit on as disciplined as he was at home with my mother.

25:43 He was just the opposite at school.

25:47 And

25:49 I was always being cold down by the nun.

25:53 To his classroom you are to go home and tell your mother that your brother Timothy misbehaved in school today. And I think they were really nice with my mother because both my cousins went on so and in the same order so that when it came time for him to be disciplined, they always would go to my mother first and let her know so I would be cool down at least once a week at least once a week because he was being disruptive in class.

26:29 And the one time I will never ever forget was we had the parish Pastor father Cobble and he come to the classrooms once a week and he would go to all the classrooms and the nun was chastising my brother and said call but will be here and you will be very sorry when he comes to this classroom and his response was well, you better tell him to come through the window cuz he won't fit through the door with those ears never ever.

27:07 And when she told me I said, oh God am I going to go home and tell my mother that he will get murdered and then I thought well, you know, he's got to tell my mother that my brother was so naughty. This is what he said well,

27:26 He was he was he was given though the business he got it. He got it from Mom. If you graduate and stuff that he was smart. He was very busy with braids. There was something you know, it's just that he was

27:45 That show a rogue in the in terms of I mean everybody that went through they want my brothers Frank and Raymond. They were Altar Boys in the quote Raymond had a beautiful voice. So he also sang in the choir and here Along Comes Chuck and all he wanted to do was play baseball. That's all he wanted to do and he should have he should that he really was extremely good in in baseball. So he should have been a baseball player. That's what he should have done. But

28:20 He was or he was always a bit of a problem in school, but he says he's turned out to be.

28:30 Pretty good. He sees a really terrific brother. What happened after your graduated from Saint Paul with what happened with your schooling then okay. I wanted to go to Julia Richman.

28:43 Because when they were seniors, they were white hats what what turns you on, you know, well at the time that that was the distinction, you know who the senior was because they would wear the white hat and I wanted to wear that white hat over on the east side and we would get the bus pass to go and but you know what to tell you the truth. I didn't like I I was one of those kids that didn't like public high school, even though it wasn't a bad. It wasn't bad. You know, it's just that I didn't like it that when when the teacher walk the first day I went to school there the when the teacher walked in the door the the I think they were for Catholic girls in the in the class with me and we all stood up and everybody was looking at us like

29:42 Out there from Catholic school and they'll do that now and the teacher and she said, oh you don't have to do that here. It's quite alright, you know

30:01 So and I thought that was kind of a disappointment, you know, cuz that that's to me was the the respect that you showed me and

30:15 And I thought oh and then you could cut class.

30:20 I then I started cutting class I was so wow, and this was great was a lot of freedom after coming from such a structured environment and

30:35 And then

30:38 I think they asked me to leave. I'll say that nicely.

30:45 And I went to Commerce which was on the west side and that was on 65th Street and I went there until I was sixteen and I said no school's not for me. I'm going to go out and work.

31:02 Then I don't honestly know what happened. But my mother decided to move out with my sister Muriel. I don't know whether my system URL was having problems at the time financial problems and my mother and she had moved to Hicksville and bought a new home Hicksville just the name.

31:27 Coming from Manhattan

31:30 Well, they hadn't put the streets in yet.

31:35 It was there was nothing it was farmland.

31:42 It was a Hora with a hora.

31:48 I hate it. I cried myself to sleep for two weeks.

31:53 My brothers wouldn't they didn't move out there. They didn't want any part of Long Island.

32:00 They were city boys. So they stayed in the city and that what the jobs were in the city. So, you know, that's that was to be expected.

32:10 But the end of my mother the National Biscuit transferred to Fair Lawn, New Jersey.

32:19 So then she had to she couldn't travel that distance. So she had to move into New York City and I was left to stay at my sisters.

32:33 So

32:36 I was babysitting. That was my big by big job. I was going to rule the world when I left school. Yeah, I rolled.

32:46 Yeah, she said you went back to school, right? Yes. I did now I'm back to school and I graduated and I'm very happy that I did that that was a really great experience. The best thing that you ever did the best thing I ever did I would have to say.

33:07 I tried to be a good mother.

33:12 And what's one thing that you wish that you had if you could change anything, what would you change if you could go back and change anything? What would it be?

33:23 Probably

33:25 If I would to change anything, I definitely would have gone through college and graduated.

33:35 Definitely

33:39 I have a good one. This is a good question. How would you like to be remembered?

33:47 Good mother good grandmother good friend.

33:53 And are there any words of wisdom you would like to pass along to me Patrick and Courtney?

34:07 It's something I keep at work that I can look at everyday.

34:15 When you graduated from eighth grade, you got this little album this little autograph album and people would write roses are red my love that kind of thing or gray going a lots of luck seeing the future that type of thing well,

34:37 My mother wrote this in my autograph book and I was at the time I was kind of disappointed because I thought you would say I'm so proud of you. You know, this is a wonderful you're wonderful and all this stuff, but she wrote do all the good you can

34:58 For all the people you can

35:02 Every way you can

35:04 Long as ever you can do. The only thing I remember from those books from the only thing and I was looking at it when she when she handed it back to me. I thought oh so disappointed. Why did she say, do you know how great I was and truly that would be what I would pass on.

35:33 Dr. Turned out to be the most important thing.

35:38 It's the most fulfilling for you.

35:42 You know, it really is when when you think about it do all the good you can.

35:48 Cuz it all it it just all comes back to you.

35:53 All all the good teacher

35:59 And is there anything that I haven't asked you mom that you'd want Courtney and Patrick to know or just that I love my children?

36:08 They always came first.

36:14 Always always will and what about your grandchildren? Absolutely that I love them. I think they are wonderful. What lesson do you think you'd like them to learn and to

36:27 Where to live by now

36:31 Listen to the music.

36:33 That that music brings you Joy brings. Your piece makes you happy.

36:41 And you know you grew up with music. So there you go. Okay. Thank you.