Monday, May 12, 2014

52 Ancestors: #19, Mother's Day Special: Kathleen Marie (Murphy) Kirk

Kathleen Murphy, ca 1942
What better time to profile my most recent ancestor – my mother – than Mother's Day?1

Kathleen Marie Murphy was born in December 1921, in Berlin, New Hampshire, to William George Murphy and Glenna Marie Rabideau, and was baptized five weeks later at St. Kieran's Roman Catholic Church in Berlin.2 She had no recollection of Berlin, because by May 1923 her parents had moved to Lewiston, Maine, where her sister Theresa was born.

Aside from a brief family sojourn in Texas circa 1926, Kathleen grew up in Lewiston, attending the oddly-named Jordan Platoon School,3 where at age 13 she was the highest-ranking student in her graduating class. She had an artistic bent, apparent in a series of pencil sketches she made as a teenager – mostly of assorted movie stars, but also one of her father and another that I believe is a self-portrait. She graduated in 1939 from Lewiston High School with a commercial track diploma and went to work, first as a clerk for the "NYA" (probably the National Youth Administration), then as a bookkeeper at the Bates Street Cigar & Confectionary Co.

Theresa (left) and Kathleen Murphy, Edinburgh, Texas, ca 1926
Kathleen's sketch of her father, Bill Murphy     Self-portrait by Kathleen Murphy
Meanwhile, a young man named Roger Kirk was also growing up in Lewiston. He also attended Jordan Grammar School (in 1931-32) and graduated from Lewiston High School, in 1936, three years before Kathleen. I don't know just when their paths first crossed4 – the earliest photos I have of them together are dated 1941 – but cross they did, and while their engagement was not officially announced until February 16, 1943, I feel certain that they must have had an "understanding" before Roger enlisted in the Army in August 1942.

First known photo of Roger Kirk
and Kathleen Murphy together, 1941
     Locket found in my mother's jewelry box.
The vignettes were cut from a photo dated 21 Sep 1942.
In July of 1943, Roger managed to get a pass to come home just long enough for them to get married on July 20. No time for a honeymoon: he immediately headed back to his base and found a furnished room so his new bride could join him. While her husband served Uncle Sam as a military policeman and later a mechanic – thankfully, he was never sent overseas – Kathleen got a job in the Ordnance Department at Fort Banks. Roger was discharged in February 1946, and the happy couple could finally go home to Lewiston and, in May, enjoy a well-overdue honeymoon on the Maine coast. Then Roger went back to his pre-Army job as an auto mechanic; they rented an apartment in Auburn; and the following April, Kathleen had her first child, a son.

Kathleen (Murphy) and Roger Kirk on their wedding day, 20 July 1943, Lewiston, Maine
Soon they were thinking about adding to their family, and a year and a half of raising their first son in an apartment no doubt was influential in their decision to buy a house with a VA loan. In September 1948, they found their home, on a quiet dead-end street in the nearby town of Mechanic Falls.

The Kirk family home, Mechanic Falls, Maine, September 1948
There, Kathleen and Roger would live out their lives and raise their family:
  1. [Living] Kirk, b. 1947
  2. Kathleen "Kathy" Kirk, b. 19515
  3. Marshall Kenneth Kirk, 1957-20056
  4. [Living] Kirk (twin), b. 1962
  5. William Kirk (twin), b. and d. 1962
Kathleen Kirk holding the future Down East
Genealogist, then six months old (Aug 1951)
My mother was a member of that once-common and now-rare breed: a stay-at-home mother and housewife. But although she never took on paid employment while I was growing up, she put her bookkeeping expertise to good use when Daddy opened his own Sunoco gas station and garage in 1957. While he pumped gas, repaired cars, and dealt with employees, she did all the bookkeeping, bill-paying, and banking for the business for the next ten years. When he closed Kirk's Sunoco and opened a new garage/gas station/tire dealership in 1968 with a partner, she continued as the unpaid bookkeeper for the new business, until it closed in 1979 shortly before my father's death.

Kathleen Kirk, ca 1986
When she wasn't wrangling us kids or keeping the books, Mama found time to sew most of her clothes and mine, volunteer in the Ground Observer Corps, do paint-by-number sets, ride with Daddy when he took up motorcycle-riding in the late 1970s (when they were both in their mid-50s), adopt a cat, and most of all, read voraciously. She always had a pile of at least a dozen books from the three libraries where she held cards, was a member of a couple of book-of-the-month clubs, bought paperback mysteries by the handful, subscribed to maybe two dozen magazines, and had both the morning and evening Lewiston newspapers delivered. In her later years, she worked occasionally at the local library, substituting for absent staff members. And she passed on to me her life-long love of reading.

One by one her children grew up, went to college, married, and scattered to Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York. When my father died in 1979, my youngest brother was still in high school, and he remained at home for a number of years before marrying and buying a house only a few blocks away. He came by every day or two to see his mother and do little chores around the house that she wasn't up to doing.

On a snowy March 6th in 1993, he dropped by after work with his pickup truck to plow the driveway, and on the back porch found that the newspaper had not been brought in. Our mother had had a stroke and passed away in the wee hours of the morning. Five days later, her children gathered and laid their mother to rest, next to their father, in Gracelawn Memorial Park in Auburn.

How I miss you, Mama.

Gracelawn Memorial Park, Auburn, Maine

(Note: This post is in response to Amy Johnson Crow's "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks" challenge at No Story Too Small.)

  1. OK, it's a day late. As usual, it took much longer than expected to pull together. Not to mention that when it was nearly complete, I tried to "undo" something and Blogger summarily erased the entire post, which I had to recreate from a draft. My mother would understand.
  2. For once, I'm going to dispense with formal source citations. Suffice it to say that my information comes from personal knowledge; family photos, memorabilia, and lore; and in a few cases, city directories for Lewiston and Auburn, Maine, found on
  3. I have no idea why the Jordan Grammar School was commonly known as Jordan Platoon School, but that's how it was referred to in newspaper articles, for example.
  4. It's entirely possible that they met through another connection that had nothing to do with growing up in Lewiston and attending the same schools. Roger had a half-uncle, Walter Rand, who lived in Milan, New Hampshire, from about 1906 until his death in 1946, and was the proprietor of Rand's Cabins, a "tourist camp" in Milan, from about the 1920s through 1946. Kathleen's mother, Glenna Rabideau, had grown up in Milan, and her parents were living in Dummer (only a stone's throw away from Milan) in the early 1930s (they moved to Norway, Maine in 1934). Glenna's parents, Peter and Eva (Woodward) Rabideau (b. 1870 and 1871), were close contemporaries of Walter and Ellen (Adley) Rand (b. 1875 and 1873), so it would be surprising if the families hadn't known each other (Milan is a very small town). And I can easily envision the Murphys visiting the Rabideaus at the same time the Kirks happened to be visiting the Rands.
  5. AKA The Down East Genealogist. Also still living, last time I checked.
  6. Marshall was the real genealogist in the family; he worked nearly ten years as a research librarian for the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston, and authored a number of articles for genealogical journals. I am deeply in his debt for his painstaking research on our family tree, which he bequeathed to me.

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