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The Pluck of the Irish

Words From the Wise -- a regular column from NAM's Ethnic Elders News Beat

New America Media, Commentary, Tony McMahon as told to Jalal Ghazi Posted: Feb 19, 2009

Editor's Note: Tony McMahon came to the United States at the age of 17 from Dublin at a time when immigrants were welcome and gas was 18 cents a gallon. After a lifetime of hard work, McMahon, a widower living in San Francisco, now has to rely on the kindness of strangers. He told NAM contributor Jalal Ghazi his story.

Irish man If you are lucky enough, you are born Irish.

It is Sunday morning and I just came back from the 9 a.m. church service. I put on some country western music, and I make sure that the music is blasting through the windows of my apartment. My kind neighbors must know that I finally have been able to come to terms with the loss of my beloved wife Mae who passed away two years ago. We were together for 46 years.

She always told me, that if I were to outlive her, I should do whatever makes me happy. Nothing makes me as happy as playing her favorite music, really loud.

But our little dog Suzy, who was so attached to my wife, could not keep on living without Mae. Suzy would get excited whenever she heard someone coming close to the door, thinking it was Mae. She would get close to the door and get ready to jump on Mae. She kept on doing that for six months after Mae passed away.

My wife loved her so much. She would play hide and seek with Suzy at Golden Gate Park. The last thing she told me on her deathbed at the hospital was not to forget to put out enough water for Suzy.

When Suzy died, I paid $300 to cremate her and mixed some of her ashes with the ashes of my wife, which I keep inside a necklace in the shape of a heart. I always wear it.

After my small family was gone, I thought that I would never make it. I barely had enough money to buy food. But then God sent me an angel in the shape of a six-foot gorgeous blond woman. Emily says she is a social worker, but I call her an angel. She comes at least once a week to check on me.

One of the things that I appreciate most about Emily is her ability to get through to the landlord. Mae and I tried so hard to have the landlord change the carpet, which was never changed since we moved in here 32 years ago. Emily wrote a letter to the landlord and told him that he should change the carpet, and believe it or not, he changed it right away.

Emily even got Meals on Wheels to deliver food to my apartment every day. However, I still eat only once a day to save money. Emily also had a cleaning lady come in three times a week to help me keep the apartment clean.

I really wonder how many old people out there do not know that these things exist. I really did not know that I could get all these things.

Since the death of my wife, I have been getting about $900 from Social Security and another $250 in pension from my wife's job. I drove a taxi for 20 years, but I get no pension.

Though I pay relatively low rent thanks to rent control, very little money is left after I pay the bills.

Emily, however, is not the only kind person in my life. One of the neighbors, Jon, who works with Homeland Security, always checks on me. It is funny, because he is probably the only African American person in the neighborhood, but he is probably the kindest.

On the day Mae died, Jon bought a nice postcard and had all the neighbors write kind words for me.
Recently, Jon bought me two big bags of groceries after realizing that my refrigerator was empty.

Jon has really changed my impression towards blacks. Many years ago when I was driving a taxi for a living, a black man held me up. He held a knife to my throat and told me: "Give me your money m*****f*****." I gave him what I had which was only $37. He then went out of the cab and looked me in the eyes and said, "I should have killed you, get out of here."

I have never picked up another black man after that, not even if he was wearing a suit. I really regret that now since I have met Jon.

I am thankful for these kind people like Emily and John, but I must say they are not my family. My family, or what is left of my family is back in Dublin, Ireland where I was born.

Tony McMahon After Mae died, I told myself this is it; I must go back to Ireland. But when I called my two brothers and sister, they told me that I should wait before making any decision at least for six months.

Though they told me that I would be welcomed if I ever decided to go back, I decided not to. I just did not want to impose on them.

I have a serious heart condition. When I was 49 years old, I had four bypasses. I have to take nitroglycerin and other medications every day. Sometimes when I go up the stairs, I have to sit down because my heart hurts me.

I must say that I love this country, but I have always felt like a foreigner. I sometimes wonder what it would be like if I would have stayed in Ireland. I probably would have a house and children; both my brothers have houses and big families.

Mae could not have children, because she got pregnant when she was 17 and the doctor tied her tubes. They never let her see or hug her daughter before she was put up for adoption. Mae would always cry on her daughter's birthday and pray that she was safe and happy.

I came to this country in 1956 when I was barley 17 years old. I took my mother's advice and left Dublin where I was born. Little did she know that she would never see her youngest son ever again.

McMahon's ShrineAt the time, this country was welcoming to immigrants, not like today. It was so easy to find jobs. Gas was 18 cents a gallon; now a cup of coffee costs more than $3 .

I lived in Connecticut for three weeks with my aunt who sponsored me and then I moved to a boarding house where I rented a room.

I was drafted in 1958. Thank God there was no war at the time. I received basic training like dismantling guns and rifles. After the training I was sent to Germany to patrol Czechoslovakian borders.

I got out in 1961 and worked for a privately-owned ambulance company. After that, I did many odd jobs including construction and driving taxis, which I liked the most.

It is really strange that after working all these years, I'm still poor and lonesome.

If I ever win the lottery, the first thing I would do is fly back to Ireland. I always carry my Irish passport, because if the plane ever gets hijacked, I think they would let me go because I would tell them I'm Irish. I saw terrorists on TV collecting American passports from hostages. I just want to play it safe.

*Photo credits: Jalal Ghazi

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Aging in a Foreign Land

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