My sister Mary showed "sturdy stuff" during her younger years.
She would need this strength and determination through all her
In 1941, Mary married what I would call a Hill Billy coal miner
named Willie Martin. They made their first home in a
run down old Mine Patch house in (believe-it-or-not)
Knothole, Pennsylvania, where they raised most of their eight children.
This was ideal "Willie Country". Besides making babies, the
favorite sports in Knothole were drinkin', huntin',
and carousin', in random order.
Their first child Mitzi, was born on Christmas day in 1941.
How she survived is still a mystery. The snow was deep,
with the wind piling it up just inside the the numerous cracks in
the clapboard walls. Born with the cord wrapped tightly around her
head and neck and a long battle with pneumonia, it
was a rough start for this pretty little girl. Her grandma Lil and her aunts
worked on her day and night for two weeks, in Knothole and at
the house on Mullooly Street. And this was just the
beginning, as Mary struggled mightily for many years to raise
her large family. Her mental fortitude was inborn, but her physical
strength developed from handling sheets and rolls of steel in a
Pittsburgh steel mill during World War 2.
As I remember him, Willie was a very likeable fellow. Lean and handsome
with a ready smile, he strummed a fair
guitar and sang a decent song. He was good to his children, and
was always pleasant and respectful around the Theobald gang.
The frequent gatherings at the old homestead revolved around kegs
of beer, great food and pretty good entertainment. Willie fit right in,
with his guitar joining that of Cliff Spratt and my brother Harry's violin. Barbershop
Harmony filled the night air, while Cookie delivered a mean "whiskey tenor".
And no complaints from our neighbors, as they were invited to most events.
Bill and Mary's First-Born
Mitzi with her Dad Bill, Billy, and Uncle Larry
On The Violin and Guitar
Mary quietly endured many trying times over the years, but others in our
family eventually learned of Willie's darker side. Willie was a serious drinker
and became most irresponsible when "on the sauce". He was never mean
or destructive, but It was often his
habit to take off with the bi-weekly paycheck to bender a few days
into oblivion. His returning apologies were always tearful and sincere.
On one such occasion very near Christmas, the last straw was dropped.
With little food and no presents for the six kids still at home, Willie
was gone with his pay. In a frantic phone call from Willie's mom, she
told Lil that Mary was sitting inside her front door with a loaded shotgun.
Cookie and Chuck quickly drove to Mary's house and secured the gun.
After two days at the house "spitting nails", Cookie went home with
the shotgun leaving Mary apparently under control. It took Willie
several weeks to recover from Mary's wrath, after which he was firmly
and finally sent on his way.
Although their life had been far from normal
by most standards, it was always interesting and his children still loved this rascal for his
many good qualities. They all stayed in close touch with him, until he
died in 1993.
Mary With Six Of Eight
At Willie's Funeral
L to R Karen, Gaye, Nancy, Mary
Mitzi, Billy and Cindy
Paul Unavailable, Donny Deceased
The following poem was written by Willie's daughter shortly after his death.
''In Daddy's Name"
On January 30th 1993
our daddy died, leaving everything to me.
The fortune he left was not in dollars,
but the value of it will be shown in the words that follow.
He and Mum were married in 1941,
and on that Christmas I was born, even though he wanted a son.
In the years that followed they added seven more,
not caring or knowing the many hardships that they would have to endure.
He loved us kids in his own special way.
His only fault was that he didn't live for tomorrow, only that day.
Our house consisted of three rooms without a bath,
and when we needed to go, we went to the outhouse down the path.
Sure, we didn't have all the fancy things other kids had,
but I remember more happy times than I do sad.
All the riches in the world could never compare
to what he left behind for us all to share.
Glowing like a perpetual flame,
love is what was left for us "in daddy's name"
Written with love
February 4th 1993
Return To Cookie Thumbs