When my grandfather, William Fay Jr. married Margaret Keenan in 1915 it closed a circle that had been a hundred years in the making. Matthew Keenan and Mary McDermott had both left Longford County Ireland in the 1820’s. It is questionable whether Margaret Keenan was even aware of where in Ireland her great-grandparents had come from. Being one generation closer, William Fay Jr. certainly knew that his family was from Westmeath. But it is highly doubtful that either of the young Brooklynites realized that four generations previous their families had lived within ten miles of each other. Whether by chance or by fate these two bloodlines intersected. What followed turned tragic, however, and it would take another hundred years to try to unravel the consequences that ensued.
William Joseph Fay Jr. (1893 – 1945)
William Fay Jr. married Margaret Keenan just before Christmas in 1915. Their first child, Margaret Anne, was born on November 12, a year later. Margaret was the name not only of her mother, but of William’s mother Margaret Delaney. However the Fays were given to nicknames and she would be known as “Jimmy” her whole life. The following April the United States declared war on Germany, and William Jr. was required to register for the military draft. At that time they were living on Dekalb Ave. in the Clinton Hill area, and “Bill” was working as a salesman for Scott Paper Company in Manhattan. Then on August 29 of the following year they had their second daughter, Barbara, although again, she would be known as “Bobbie” for the rest of her life.
In 1919 Bill moved his family back to the Park Slope neighborhood – to a building at 390 2nd St. where his father and sister were living. The elder Fay had the ground floor apartment, and Bill and Margaret and their kids moved into one of the apartments on the top floor. Bill had now started working as a bond salesman in a brokerage firm, a position he would keep for the next ten years. In November, 1919 they had their first son, christened William III, but ever after known as “Bunty”.
It was not too long, however, before Margaret was pregnant again, with James (“Jay”), who was born on November 1, 1923. With a expanding family in a fourth floor walk-up something had to be done. In June of 1924 the young couple managed to buy a small newly constructed house in a development on East 38th St. in Flatbush. Apparently Bill qualified for a mortgage of $4250, but in order to buy the house they had to turn to Margaret’s sister Loretto and her husband Jim Mulvaney for another loan. In December they signed a second mortgage with them for $5350, structured to be paid back in four years at 6% interest. The Mulvaneys, however, didn’t even record the mortgage until 1937.
Mary Loretto Keenan was Margaret’s older sister by nearly ten years. In 1912, three years before Margaret married William Fay, Mary – who was known as “Retta” – married James “Jim” Mulvaney. Jim (b. 1878) was the eldest male of ten siblings in a large Irish family in Brooklyn. His father, Edward, became a career police officer for his whole life. Jim however carved out his own career working in the maritime industry. Starting off as a shipping clerk he quickly worked himself up to a superintendent position in the Wright and Cobb Lighterage Company. Lightering is the process of transferring cargo between vessels of different sizes, usually between a bulk freighter or oil tanker and a barge. Its purpose is to reduce a vessel’s draft in order to enter port facilities that can not accept very large ocean-going vessels.
By all accounts Jim was a warm and likeable fellow. He published a reminiscence of his childhood memories in The Brooklyn Eagle newspaper on March 31, 1946. Here is a partial excerpt.
Jim had done well enough financially that soon after he married Retta Keenan they were able to secure an apartment in a building in Columbia Heights, overlooking the busy East River traffic and the towering buildings of lower Manhattan beyond. By 1918 Jim had become the general manager of Enderlin Electric Welding Co., specializing in marine repair. Then around 1922 Jim and Retta purchased a summer house on the Long Island sound in the small North Fork town of Southold. This was to become the fair weather home of the Mulvaneys as well as a respite for Margaret Fay and her children. George McFadden described this time in a letter to his nephew Kevin Johnston.
“I interpret Fay family dynamics ( it was the opposite of dysfunctional, it functioned like a well- oiled machine!) as being typically Irish-American second generation. Margaret Keenan Fay ruled the roost, none the less when it was from a sick bed. Her devoted spouse worked hard selling penny stocks in a rural Long Island territory, and then as a broker in a small Wall Street firm. Margaret Fay, my wife, was called “Jimmy” after Jim Mulvaney, the “rich uncle” married to Margaret Keenan Fay’s elder sister, Mary Loretto Keenan Mulvaney.
Mr. and Mrs. Fay were a devoted couple. He was good looking but silent and a bit dour; she was the life and soul of the whole family group, always full of life enhancing ideas for activities that she knew how to involve them all in, especially at the shore in Southold, where by her doing they spent half of every year, from May to November. The working men, Uncle Jim Mulvaney and Bill Fay, lived alone in Brooklyn all these months , from 1923 to 1943, and came out to Southold on weekends.”
Indeed my father, James Alan Fay, was delivered in Greenport Hospital (adjacent to Southold) on November 1, 1923 and baptized ten days later at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Southold. This was to be the case with his younger sister Mary Loretto, who was also born in Greenport on the same date two years later.
Margaret Keenan Fay had been certified and employed as a grade school teacher before her marriage, and she continued in that role with her own children after she married. Each child would be separately tutored by their mother so that they would not fall behind in the months that they were absent from the public school year. Meanwhile, weather permitting, their days were filled with the activities of rural seaside life – swimming, fishing, boating and exploring the countryside.
The Mulvaney’s house became a gathering place in the summer for the extended family, who welcomed the chance to escape the heat and clamor of Brooklyn. Margaret and Retta’s parents – John F. Keenan and Bridget (Hanlon) Keenan – apparently visited from time to time. There were also occasional visits from Retta’s brothers. Jim Keenan had graduated from Cornell University in 1909 and married Jennie Crouse from Broadalbin N.Y. in 1910. He was living and working in Manhattan, first as a sales agent in construction, then later as a Civil engineer for steel construction. Bill, the younger brother, had married Irene Bedell in 1927 and was living in New Jersey, also working as salesman in the construction industry.
1927 – John and Bridget Keenan with
Retta (Keenan) Mulvaney and the
Fay children on the back porch in
Mary, Bobbie, Jay, Jimmy, Bunty
And a neighbor, Tom Barry
The Fay children considered themselves exceptionally lucky. Jim and Retta Mulvaney had no children of their own, and so their nieces and nephews received all the attention and affection normally reserved for one’s own progeny. They also generously shared the benefits of the Mulvaney’s higher economic status. Not only did the Fay children have a wonderful rural getaway in the good weather, but a small, but nice, single-family home in Flatbush for the winter months. Their classmates were typically living in crowded apartments or tenements. This happy existence, largely fostered by their “wealthy benefactors” was, however, soon to change abruptly and permanently.
The Great Depression
The Great Depression was the worst economic downturn in the history of the industrialized world, lasting from 1929 to 1939. It began after the stock market crash of October 1929, which sent Wall Street into a panic and wiped out millions of investors. Over the next several years, consumer spending and investment dropped, causing steep declines in industrial output and employment as failing companies laid off workers. By 1933, when the Great Depression had reached its lowest point, some 15 million Americans were unemployed and nearly half the country’s banks had failed.
Jim Mulvaney had retired in 1928, but with the new financial climate he was forced to return to work, eventually finding employment as a marine surveyor. In the 1930 Census, taken six months after The Crash, William Fay was still employed – but it was only a matter of time before he lost his job. In December of 1930 the Fays took out another mortgage on the house through the New York Title and Mortgage Co. And on top of having no income William also had to deal with the declining health of his wife.
Margaret had at some point contracted rheumatic fever, which starts out as a simple strep throat infection, but when undiagnosed and untreated, can become a long, slow death sentence. Strep throat can lead to rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease, in which the immune system slowly attacks the heart valves. As the valves deteriorate, the heart struggles and then gradually wears out. Patients become weak, short of breath and unable to attend school or work. Many die before they reach 30. Women with the illness who become pregnant often suffer severe and sometimes fatal complications. Yet despite this knowledge the Fays had continued to have children. After Mary’s birth in 1925 Margaret’s health seriously declined and she eventually became bed-ridden. However, as George McFadden noted, she continued to ably manage the lives of her family even from her sickbed.
Inevitably though the disease took its toll, and as she approached her death Margaret passed on instructions to her eldest daughter, Jimmy, for the care and management of the family she was leaving behind. That letter has been preserved and passed down to us and stands as a testament to the wisdom and love that this woman held in her heart.
Nov. 13th , 1931
I feel I must leave some written message to each one of you. I cannot drag you thru the anguish of telling you, but neither can I leave you without some inkling of my desires for your conduct when I am not here to discuss such things with you. I am either such a foolish woman or so well loved by my children that I believe these words will carry weight.
First, I have one such an ardent wish that it transcends all others; it is that you five children cling to each other, help each other and if it is humanly possible to arrange matters so that you can be kept together at least until you are all grown up, make every sacrifice necessary to accomplish that end. It may turn out to be impossible to do this but do not feel your obligation to me discharged as long as one stone remains unturned to accomplish it.
Second: This is really a corollary of the first: if you would thus stick together, only a distinct effort to understand and forgive each other will accomplish it. Remember that every time one of you subordinates his or her own wishes or anger for the purpose of unity among you, he or she can truthfully say to himself “here is a gift for Mommy –more real, more lasting, more trully what she wants than if she were here now and I could kiss her and say, “It’s Mother’s day. Here is a neckless from us all, Mommy.”
My third desire concerns your father. I know you love him, but it is so often that I have to interpret him to you. Try as you grow older to learn to “manage” him. It is a silly word in itself but it covers all the little strategies that usually mean the difference between oiled wheels and squeaky ones. Your father is very different from me and from all of you children with the possible exception of Mary. You will not have to do the explaining and interpretting that I have tried to do. You have a splendid father, but alas he is only a man – and only an all encompassing love will ever lead you safely thru the mazes of the masculine mind. Cherish that love, feed it, think of it and your love for the other children as a legacy as tangible as if I had left you a material thing – a sort of plant that you must tend – an altar lamp that must never be allowed to go out.
On the other hand learn to stand up to him and say so if you think your rights or the other children’s welfare is in danger. Your father is a kind and just man, but he has never been keen about seeing our viewpoint. You will find however, that if you will take the trouble to and face the unpleasantness of putting him right when it seems as if he is unkind or unfair, I am sure he will be open to conviction, especially if you mention my name as I hereby authorize you to do.
Try, if he marries again, to understand the motives that prompt such an action. Do not resent it as a removal of me from my rightful place – remember that I take that place with me when I go and shall lie for always, enveloped in the atmosphere of devotion and service in which he and my children have kept me surrounded.
As for your Aunt Retta and Uncle Jimmy, I need never to tell you what you children owe them; but I want you to appoint yourself to remind the younger ones of their deep debt, if circumstances ever seem to indicate that they have forgotten. Retta and Jimmy have given all you children such love, such understanding as children are seldom fortunate enough to experience. The day must come inevitably when the giving must be on your side. Remember me when you are serving them and put into service the heartiness that is to be my memorial, more truly than any headstone might.
While Auntie and your two Grandfathers remain, remember that they love you dearly and count any labor or kindness to them as my dearest wish.
In re-reading what I have written, I can see that it all boils down to “Love the members of your family. Serve them in memory of me.”
As for yourself, if I could help your future, I would make you a little more careful, observant, particular. For your lovely character and sweet personality and the ability to see life as it is and face it fearlessly, I have the greatest admiration. No woman was ever more blessed in a daughter and it has pleased me so that we are friends.
Two months later Margaret Keenan passed away at the age of 39 years.
William Fay Jr. now had five children to care for, and had little prospect for finding a job in the depths of the Great Depression. He had lost his mother when he was seven years old, and now he had lost the other woman whom he had depended on for love and support. With a “melancholic” disposition to begin with, his loss and his responsibilities soon overwhelmed him and he turned to alcohol to numb the pain. It was a pit that he sank into from which he could never extricate himself.
The Fay children received sympathy and support from the Mulvaneys and from their Aunt Marguerite when possible. They would have dinner most Sundays at the Mulvaneys’ Brooklyn Heights apartment. Although they did spend summers out in Southold, the halcyon days of May through November were gone. The situation was described by George McFadden :
What had happened, I know, was that her mother had prepared Jimmie to take over from her when she died, as she knew she would…I feel sure she impressed on Jimmie the great need their father would have of support after she was gone. My impression was that this was a rather lonely responsibility that she bore, pretty heavy to be fastened on a girl in her mid-teens. The younger Fays had strong inner bonds, Bobbie with Bunty, Bunty and Jay with one another. The youngest, Mary, fell outside, except as Jimmie could keep an eye on her – or Jay, who was only a few years older, but very mature.
Jimmy was not totally alone in shouldering responsibilities for the younger children. As early as 1925, her father had hired a live-in servant to help his wife with their growing family. In that case it was a young Ukrainian immigrant, Esther Lamanga, age 21. Later on he hired another woman to come in during the days to help. Martha Johnston described her mother Barbara’s recollections of that time.
They had a black woman, Ella, who came in to help, for some years. My mother said she was a kind of nurse. I don’t know the time frame, but it was years. I think Ella came in while Margaret Fay was ill, maybe starting after Mary was born until several years after Margaret died. My mother described to me what Ella did. I think the older kids had breakfast and left for school and Ella came in mid morning to help Margaret and take care of the little kids. My mother speaks of Ella with profound endearment and grateful affection. I think Ella was a stabilizing influence. My mother thought she was very intelligent and great at household management. I have the impression that after Margaret died, Ella at some point seemed to have to work hard to keep the household running smoothly against Bill Fay senior’s dark energy….
Finally, there was no money and Ella was let go. In Jimmie’s essay she mentions that at some point during the depression families let their ‘help’ go. That’s what happened to Ella. Ella didn’t have kids of her own, I believe. (Years later in March 1948 my mother hired Ella to help her for the first month after I was born. I have photos of Ella holding me).
My father also never forgot Ella. Although he never mentioned her, once when I was in high school I found a check written out to her laying out on my father’s desk. When I asked my mother who she was, she told me Ella had raised my Dad. Apparently he later helped her out on a regular basis when she was in need.
In 1934 the Fay children suffered yet another loss with the death of their grandfather. John F. Keenan, as you might recall, was in the construction industry in Brooklyn, but had retired sometime after 1925. His wife Bridget (Hanlon) had passed away in 1929, after which John gave up their apartment on Hancock St. in Brooklyn, and rented a room in a nearby building. In July of 1934 he wrote to his youngest son Bill.
July 25, 1934
Dear Bill and Irene,
Well I finally heard from the Insurance Co. today with a check for $44.73 in full settlement for policy No. so & so & hoping that I would deliberate a bit before accepting or exing the offer, but necessity compelled me to put my name on the dotted line and postponing my expressions of the moment until later consideration would bid me what to do. So that trip to Europe is off , as they frequently say in the fashion or Society columns. We shall open up our Chateau somewhere in the Alps or the (illeg.) as we prefer the mountains for the summer, and besides American resorts of the leaders in society is soiled somewhat by the times, when dividends and large salaries are not so easy to get.
Well anyway I feel that they gyped me pretty well, but what can you or I do about it. Pray for them that do you wrong says Christ & I hope I can.
That last letter of yours in speaking things in common strikes me very favorably that you are getting wise and thoughtful of things outside of the daily struggle for things of bodily sustenance & the possession of wealth. I got thinking of G. O McIntyre’s little storey of the Simple Rich –
“He lived in one of those palaces where the (illeg.) lowered the drawbridge and lifted the portcullis to reach for the morning supply of milk. My world was young and on the eve of my vacation I told him with enthusiasm of a visit I was to make to my home town. I wanted to see Butch Moreland, Jim Elay, Jay Price, and Horace Riley and I wanted to climb on the high stool at Cannon’s short order restaurant and devour a hamburger sandwich, when suddenly I saw a suspicious mist in the rich man’s eyes – “Young man”, he said, “ If you want genuine friendship never achieve great wealth.” Perhaps the most incongruous touch to it all was that this man handed to me an imported Perfecto wrapped in silver foil, while he himself puffed at a corn cob pipe.”
I get great comfort out of such things, and I see a great deal in my ramblings, of people who are much worse off than I and it makes me sad for them, but it also makes me thank God for all the good things he gave me in spite of my many transgressions. Well enuff of this – I go over to Jim’s (Mulvaney’s – Ed.) once a week and we have got pretty well acquainted. We stroll on the River, and then the park there and view the beautiful landscape of the Hudson, have an occasional game of penocle and I enjoy it very much. I hear from Retta and the children once or twice a week. To Coney Island every Sunday and once or twice on weekdays, it’s a great season there for the poor of the cities and their families, and they appear as happy and far from care, for the time being anyway, and I enjoy seeing them.
Well dear children I cant go beyond this sheet, so will say God Bless You Both – Love, Pop.
A month later John Keenan was laid to rest in Holy Cross Cemetery, beside his daughter Margaret Keenan Fay.
As part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation, Congress had passed the Homeowners Loan Act of 1933, which in turn created the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) . This federal agency’s main task was to refinance home mortgages that were in default or at risk of foreclosure due to the 1929 crash and the collapse of the housing industry. The loans applied to homes that were residential properties and were not worth more than $20,000. In order to sell affordable cash advance loans to homeowners, the HOLC would buy old mortgages from banks with government bonds that were financed by the Treasury and capital markets.
In April of 1934 Bill Fay remortgaged the house once again through the HOLC, receiving a $6000 cash advance. He used some of that to retire the 1930 Mortgage from the New York Title and Mortgage Co. The rest no doubt went towards living expenses.
Jimmy Fay wrote an essay chronicling the Fay Family’s life over next decade till the beginning of World War II.
Work was what everyone was looking for and nobody could get. At least most fathers, uncles and grandfathers couldn’t – although occasionally one of us youngsters would land something….There was no use in looking for work some years so most of us went to college, either to the municipal schools where everything was free or to small nuns’ or brothers’ institutions where the tuition was so low that it could be squeezed out of his income by some relative that was earning a salary, or even to the Ivy leagues where scholarships were available if you were willing to study hard. We were and we did. This made our summers of idleness all the more blissful…
With money so scarce, we developed the ability to enjoy the sort of life which required very little of it. Nobody ever thought of studying anything practical, like business administration or home economics, for instance, because there didn’t seem to be any business and the economy of home was pretty much a hand to mouth affair. After four years of struggling with Latin, French, History, Math and sometimes Greek, novels and poetry seemed to be pretty frothy stuff and they gave a good deal of sparkle to the next years in liberal arts. You could always run into a friend at the local public library which we frequented as faithfully as those old fellows who came to read the magazines and newspapers they couldn’t afford to buy.
Jimmy entered St. Joseph’s College for Women on Clinton Ave. in Brooklyn around 1935, eventually graduating in 1940.
As the Depression dragged on, and as the unemployed Bill Fay sank deeper into alcoholism the Fay family had to go on Public Assistance, which they considered a shame. Jimmy continued :
In December the Department stores would hire me and my college friends to sell ashtrays and sofa cushions at night to the employed segment of the New York population. Because my brother could swim a hundred yards in less than a minute he made it into the life guards a couple of summers and one of my sisters had learned Irish step dancing and how to pitch a softball so she went to work for the park department, playground division. In this way there was usually one employed member of the family each summer, and so we were dropped from the public relief roles.
These jobs were real civil service, not just political appointments,and a person had to be pretty clever to outsmart the thousands of other applicants and come out near the top of the list. In our family we took every examination that came along…
One year an examination for sanitation man was announced. Garbage collectors made fifty dollars a week so thousands of families in the city with a strong young fellow had a candidate to rouse its hope. Our brother had grown up to be six foot two and had developed big muscles carrying cases of canned goods up from the basement in the A&P store where he worked on Saturdays, so he took the subway out to the sports field where the examination was held. He managed to climb the eight foot wall and lift the hundred pound can of ashes but he was eliminated on the three hundred yard run round the track. The three sets of tennis he had played the day before the test ruined him he said.
In spite of the hard times the Fay children still had summers in Southold when the opportunity permitted. Here is a letter from my father to his sister Bobbie, penned in 1938, when he was fourteen years old .
Southold, L. I.
July 23, 1938
You have to forgive me for not writing to you for a long time. I never get a chance to write during the day and when the evening comes around I forget or we have company and I don’t write.
Bunty and I are going to sail around Shelter Island tomorrow. We’re going by way of Long Beach, Plum and Gardiner’s Islands. It’ll take us Sunday, Monday and Teusday [sic]. We’ll leave Sunday at noon. The weather looks pretty bad but we’ll go, rain or shine. The tent will go too. We’ve planned the whole thing, so if it rains we can hide under the extra canvas we’ll bring along.
Most of the food we’ll bring along is in cans. Uncle Jim says to bring limes or we’ll get scurvy. I hope we don’t lose the can opener.
Bunty is coming down tomorrow on the train at 10:00 so I think we’ll leave early.
I drove Aunt Retta into Greenport to-day. So far the grand total of the distance I’ve driven is about 15 miles.
We’ve had rain all week long. The sun hasn’t been out more than a half hour since Monday morning.
Daddy and Bunty went out fishing Monday. They just got out when it poured rain. It doesn’t rain for long but comes down in sheets every once in a while.
Well, that’s about all there is to tell. I hope you’re having a good time and good weather.
Despite this idyllic escape from their life in Brooklyn, the fate of the Fay family was about to take another turn for the worse. The following year a notice was published in The Brooklyn Eagle.
The home that the Fays had lived in for nearly twenty years was being repossessed by the bank. Jimmy recalled that time in her essay.
I remember the day the man from the bank came to measure all the rooms in our house for the foreclosure. We were eating supper in what was then called the breakfast nook and is now referred to as a dining area. He apologized as he extended his ruler over the center of the table, for the interruption. Any job was a good job in those days and we knew it; so we tried by our smiles to help him over the embarrassment which went with his kind of work.
There was nothing to do but find another place to live. Jimmy described their life after that.
We went to live in cheap flats with dingy walls where our furniture grew more dilapidated as the years passed and where the bedbugs crawled out of the woodwork every night in spite of the eternal odor of pesticide which apparently did not repel the insects as much as it did us. All the details of our economic ups and downs came under the scrutiny of investigators for the department of City Relief. Where were the bills for our mother’s funeral? Could we borrow any more on our life insurance? Were there no hidden assetts behind our father’s business failure? We could no more hide the shabbiness of our home from friends than the unpaid bills from ourselves. Nor did we try. As I have said we tried to develop the kind of life which we hoped could be very little affected by financial shipwrecks….
For all that our struggles to pay the rent, keep going to school, and even prevent the family from disintegrating, human being by human being, were not altogether successful, we never lost faith in the future or in our ability to stick it out until things improved…After all, as in all the young, we had confidence and each other. Our cultivation of a limited sector of enjoyments and a reluctance to envision a serious future was necessary if we were not to succumb to frustration and anxiety. At best our attitudes developed in us a sort of asceticism, forced, it is true, but one which stands the few in our midst who chose to follow intellectual pursuits in good stead.
The Fay family relocated to 2511 Clarendon Rd. near Flatbush Ave. in Flatbush.
By that time Bobbie was enrolled in Hunter College whose Brooklyn campus in Flatbush had merged in 1930 with City College of New York, and which charged no tuition. After she graduated she won a scholarship to Pratt Institute to pursue her studies in Art. However she had to stop after a year because she could no longer afford to pay for her books and transportation.
It was during that time that Jimmy also contracted rheumatic fever and became bedridden. Martha Johnston related what her mother Bobbie told her about those times.
I don’t know when Jimmy got ill. I know she was bedridden when mom was in her late teens… Mom says Jimmy was incredibly bored being confined to bed. She harangued Mom to bring friends home so Jimmy could talk to them. Jimmy was relentless about asking Mom to bring friends over. Jimmy was pretty and wildly intelligent and would totally focus on her visitors. She monopolized Mom’s friends who loved talking to Jimmie for hours. Mom seemed to think this was both charming and irritating. I don’t know when this started but one of the people Jimmie talked to was my father so Jimmie then would have been 23 or 24. [ around 1938-Ed.]
Jimmy also reminisced about going to the Worlds Fair in the spring of 1939.
When the Worlds Fair opened up out in the filled-in marshes of Flushing Bay, we knew that the World of Tomorrow was here. We found each other happily wandering around the tree lined concourses, in the spring air, gaping at the plaster statuary and symphonic fountains, even jingling a little money in our pockets. The World of Tomorrow with its elaborate pavilions, French restaurants, General Motors highways of the future, and Westinghouse bolts of artificial lightning needed us. We could give directions to the thousands who lost their way looking for the antique railroad trains. We could conduct tours for Spanish speaking visitors. We could be secretaries to the important officials who were trying to bring the whole fantasy into a state of actual being…
That world of tomorrow really began on a beautiful day the following September when the Germans dropped the first bombs on Poland. It was warm and clear, as is the habit of the fall on the east coast, and we were all on the beach when someone brought the news to us. The afternoon continued, no less beautiful than it had begun , the sky blue and empty, as we sat on the sand talking of the chances of the Poles beneath the planes of the Luftwaffe, knowing that the old world of idleness, of leisure and of dreaming was now in the past. Our youth ended that day.
There is a story told by Aunt Bobbie of another sad day of the dawning of reality in her own life. She was on a bus enroute to Hunter College to attend her classes, taking in the bustle of Brooklyn street life all about her. Stopped at a red light, she noticed the prostrate form of a derelict passed out in the shelter of a door stoop. As the bus pulled away she recoiled in shock as she recognized the man was her father – Bill Fay.
Bobbie had met William David Johnston, son of John and Martha Johnston, who had grown up in Brooklyn and was, in 1940, living about five or six blocks from where the Fays were. Bill Johnston it turned out had a serendipitous connection with the Fay family, although they didn’t realize it at the time. Bill’s great–grandfather, William Johnston, had emigrated from Ireland with his wife Sarah and their four children in 1850. He was a carpenter , and took up residence in Brooklyn. His third child David (born in 1845), also a carpenter, enlisted in the Union Army as a drummer boy when he was eighteen years old and served in that capacity for nearly four years. David enrolled in the 48th Regiment New York Volunteers, Co. B – the same regiment as James Nicholas Keenan. Although James N. originally was in Co I, he was later transferred to Co. B. So in fact Bobbie’s great –grandfather and Bill’s grandfather knew each other.
After several years of courtship Bobbie and Bill decided to get married in July of 1943. In 1941 the United States had declared war on the Axis powers and the war effort was turning around the depressed economy of the previous decade. But things were still very much “hand to mouth” in the Fay household. Bobbie’s wedding dinner was produced after months of hoarding ration coupons by all the relatives. And Uncle Jim Mulvaney, once again employed on the Brooklyn docks, made sure that a case or two of champagne being offloaded was “lost at sea”. William Fay’s alcoholism had reached such a point, however, that Bobbie decided to not invite him to her wedding.
A few months later Bunty Fay enlisted in the Navy and would not be discharged till March of 1946, six months after the war ended. Meanwhile Jay had entered Webb Institute of Naval Architecture on a full scholarship under an accelerated war program that would graduate him with a B.S. in the second half of 1944. He would then serve out the rest of the War in San Diego making repairs on the damaged Pacific fleet.
Jimmy had meanwhile also met her future husband , George McFadden. George grew up in Brooklyn as well, in the Flatbush section, the only child of Joseph McFadden, a locksmith. In 1940, before the war began, he was teaching high school. He recounted those days in a letter to his nephew.
Mr Fay was alive in the forties when I was courting “Jimmie” (I realize I have a horde of quaint expressions that some young persons find interesting), but she shielded him from me and I got the impression that he wasn’t respectable. This didn’t bother me considering my own father… Just once after we were engaged, we three had Sunday dinner together in a restaurant on Flatbush Avenue, and I paid. He seemed OK to me, only very silent. I was in the Army at the time, stationed in New Jersey. One other time I drove Jimmie to the bar where he worked as a cook, and Jimmie wouldn’t let me come in with her – she needed to speak to him, about what she didn’t say. She did mention that he had a woman friend, and it seemed to me that Jimmie could not cope with this development, even to the point of being able to reject or accept it. It was a source of trouble, that’s all, along with Mary, with whom she was living in a small apartment she hated. [Note : The bar referred to was James McDade’s Bar and Grill on Glenwood Rd., about a 3 block walk from where Bill Fay was living at the time, at 768 East 39th St. in Flatbush.]
In February of 1944 Jimmie and George were married. This time Bill Fay was invited to the wedding, in spite of his condition. George continued:
Then after the war, when I was living in the small apartment , and Mary had moved in with a friend…we were waiting for Bunty to get out of the Navy and Jay to finish his service in a California Navy Yard. A telegram came – for Jimmie I suppose –announcing that Mr. Fay had been found dead on a Manhattan sidewalk. Jimmie took it very hard, much harder than anyone else. I don’t think she ever got over it, but I know she eventually stopped crying. One of the great things that happened when we moved away from Brooklyn to the Henry G. Shirley Homes in the Arna Valley (I was transferred to the message center in the Pentagon), was that Jimmie began to live a new life, and so did I.
On September 8, 1945 William Fay Jr. was buried on the southern edge of Holy Cross Cemetery, just a few blocks from where he had been living, and in the same grave as his wife Margaret and her father John F. Keenan.