It was not rented and I was allowed the opportunity to live with them for years. My brother came out and resided with them too. A lot of other young Irish lived in their home, but what happened in that house is what made special the Bronx Irish American experience and is an example why the rooming house owners are heroes who cannot be forgotten.
Phil and Kathleen made sure that we knew what was expected in our new American lives. They taught us so much. If Phil or Kathleen heard of a job they gave us information so that we could take a second job, or pass a job to one of our friends. They fed us. Yes, dinner was included, but if we were around on the weekend there was the cup of tea and Irish breakfast.
We were invited to watch TV with the family, listen to the games from Ireland on Sunday mornings over breakfast, go to them for advice. They became our older brother and sister. They assisted us if we ran in to difficulties, and yes, if we broke an arm and were out of work with no money they were there for us. They made sure we knew about Gaelic Park, the Jaeger House, Durty Nelly’s, Good Time Charlie’s, where to go and meet others.
We spent all holidays with them. Those of us who did not return home, nor settle down, became part of their immediate family. So many of us are still in touch with them and their grown families for Christmas and Thanksgiving.
Kathleen taught us to be involved in the Bronx and to give to the community. She was always an active member of the 52nd Precinct Community Council, the PTA at her daughters’ schools and the Bedford Park Community Organization. Phil and Kathleen were active in Our Lady of Refuge Parish. Phil was involved in NORAID and Friends of Irish Freedom as well as community organizations. They were watchdogs of the community, Ireland, their family and us – the roomers!
Phil died in 1999, but Kathleen goes on making a difference in the lives of others. She is a breast cancer survivor of over 30 years. Kathleen was told by Sloan Kettering after her diagnosis about the experiment they were doing at the time with chemotherapy. In those days it was two years of chemo and sometimes as many as 16 pills in one day. The hospital was looking for people to sign up for chemo, but so many said no. Kathleen said yes because, as she said , she needed to help women who would get the disease after her. Luckily, she was “cured” and others benefited because of her and others like her.
I want to be sure that the story of life in the Bronx rooming houses does not go away and that the story of the people, the everyday heroes who ran those houses, and the difference they made in the lives of so many Irish immigrants, lives on.