‘Little shadow’ remembers Irish mom

My mother, Sarah B. Burley, passed away peacefully one year ago today. Fredonia may remember her as the seamstress on Main Street, the owner of Window Treatments by Sally, the lady who would walk up and down Main Street on her way to church or to the corner store, wife of Bill Burley, mother of seven, grandmother to 22 and great grandmother to three.

Our family lived on Main Street for more than 45 years and there was no other place my mother wanted to be. It was from there that she departed to eternity.

But my mother didn’t start here. She was born in Derry, Northern Ireland on Feb. 7, 1933 the ninth of 10 children to Rebecca and Joseph McGonagle. Mom was a bright student finishing her curriculum six months early at the age of 14. However, she was denied any further education because she was a Roman Catholic.

She remembered her father being denied a loan to start his own business for the same reason. But these early challenges shaped who she came to be. Her faith was the center of her life and she was a fierce defender of the church. At the age of 21 she left all that she knew and loved and immigrated to the states in search of more opportunity.

Mom met and married my dad in 1955. Together they built their own little domestic church, our family, and settled in the cozy village of Fredonia. Mom and Dad were such a wonderful witness of love and unity. I am so grateful for my siblings and the loyalty we learned from mom and dad. We are their eternal embraces and a part of them lives forever in us!

Mom brought her Irish traditions of singing, laughter and prayer into our home. My sister always says, “our whole life was a musical” and this is so true! Mom had a song to sing about everything! Laughter was also a huge part of our lives. You had to find humor in the craziness! Some of my fondest memories will be our many gatherings at the dining room table where you were guaranteed to hear roars of laughter all the way down the street.

We learned to “offer our sufferings up to Jesus” and to pray to St. Anthony when we lost that special something, big or small. Mom was pragmatic and humble, but had the strength and integrity like no one else I know. You didn’t want to “get her Irish up!” All of us have struggles in life, but Mom handled everything with such compassion and confidence in God’s will.

A few years ago I had the privilege of going to Ireland with my mother. The photo shows us standing in front of Owey Island where my mother spent her summers as a young child. I will never forget her excitement of “being home” again and her enthusiasm to show me her school, her church, and the fields where she made daisy chains. It was like the joy of a child on Christmas morning and this is the joy I imagine her having when she passed to eternity a year ago. Home at last!

Yes, I miss mom with a constant ache in my heart. She used to call me her “little shadow” as I was always by her side when I was little. Truly, she was the soul of my soul. I am not sure how I will go on with out her, but I know that I will because she would tell me that I “have to!” Even so, I would never wish her back here. She is no longer in exile! She is home and I am sure there is a little bit of Fredonia and Ireland there!

Sarah Curtis is a resident of Mount Pleasant, S.C.