Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sixty years gone -- my parents' wedding

My parents were married on Feb. 18, 1950 --- 60 years ago this week.

The ceremony was at St. Vincent De Paul Catholic Church on South University Blvd. near Washington Park in southeast Denver. That's a pricey chi-chi neighborhood now. Yuppieville. Then it was full of Irish immigrants such as my grandfather, Martin Hett, and his wife, Agnes. Grandpa immigrated from the U.K. in 1917 after leaving home in County Roscommon, Republic of Ireland, when he was 12. Agnes McDermott grew up in rural southern Ohio, the Appalachian part of the state that butts up against Kentucky. She and her sister and two woman friends drove from Ohio to the Rockies during the summer of 1920. Agnes McDermott loved the mountains. She and her sister returned to Ohio, packed their bags, and returned to Denver for good.

Those were my mother's parents. Anna Marie Hett was a wonderful person, the second of three children. The Navy paid for her nurse's training, but she didn't have to serve due to the fact that by the time she graduated, the war was over. That war, anyway.

My father, Thomas Reed Shay, a World War II veteran, grew up in Park Hill. His father was Raymond Shay from Iowa City, oldest of nine children from a long line of Micks with big families. But he married a Protestant, Florence Green of Baltimore. A mixed marriage. Both families were ticked off at the young couple.

But when my Mom and Dad joined hands at the altar on that wintry February day, my father had gone Catholic in a big way. He had a choice -- Baltimore Presbyterian or Iowa Catholic? He chose Catholic because that was my mother's faith and he was so in love with her. He'd been studying ethics and religion with the Jesuits at Regis University, paid for by the G.I. Bill. He liked Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine and the rigor of the church. Most of his friends were Catholic, all of then World War II vets in various states of post-traumatic stress.

This matters to me because I was born 10 months to the day after my parents' wedding. Born at Denver's Mercy Hospital where my mother worked as a nurse. I am a product of the mid-century in the middle of the U.S.A. I have absorbed all of the religiosity and ethics and love and craziness from the people who came before me. That's why I write. That's why I blog. That's why I care about what happens to my country.

I miss my Mom and Dad. My mother died from a virulent case of ovarian cancer in 1986. That's almost a quarter-century ago. I miss her so. My father died in the spring of 2002. On his deathbed, we were still arguing politics. I wouldn't have had it any other way.

I am not a practicing Catholic any more. I figure I've had enough practice and now I'm a pro and can retire in peace. Who knows? I do know that I live on in the genetics and the intangibles that made up these two people who were my parents.


mpage225 said...


Nice post.I feel fortunate to have met your Mom and Dad, as well as the Shay brothers and sisters, at the chaotic Catholic home a block from the ocean in beautiful Daytona Beach. Your mom and dad were always very hospitable to me and I especially enjoyed your dad's spaghetti.


jhwygirl said...

Lovely post, I agree. A wonderful tribute.

I'm sure they are smiling down on you and your family.

Debi said...

Such memories Cuz. Some I remember fondly, some I had forgotten and some I never knew and then of course the ones I knew and forgot I ever knew them or thanks to you discovered them afresh. Can you say run on sentence ie. rambling thought pattern. I did not realize that we both were probably honeymoon babies. I was born 10 months to the date after my parents were married as well.Thanks for keeping the legacy alive by putting it in words.

Michael Shay said...

Debi: Honeymoon babies? Makes sense, doesn't it? I tell people that I was conceived in Albuquerque, probably after some enchiladas and margaritas at one of those Old Town cantinas. Born in Denver, though, after Mom and Dad moved back. I've always loved Mexican food.

Candace said...

Beautiful story Michael. I feel privileged to have known your Dad.