The Careful Artilleryman

by Janet Curley


With some regularity I visit my great grandfather’s grave. In this plot is not only him, but his wife and three of his young children who all died before he did in 1917. I think about the line between his life and how he lived it and my own. I don’t have a picture of him, but I do have a beautiful and loving obituary written on April 30, 1917 in the Holyoke Transcript about my great grandfather which gives me some hints as to his character. “John J. Curley Dead. Holyoke’s Pioneer Tailor and a Man of Far More than Ordinary Interest.”. It is clearly written by a friend who loved him. Here are some excerpts…

John J Curley was an Irishman of the old school. He had a delicious humor and wit of his race, yet like the careful artilleryman he never let it go to waste when not in action. He conserved his energies.

(Other tailors) might make bigger bids for new business. But that didn’t disturb the quiet equilibrium of John Curley… So life went with him like Tennyson’s brook that “singeth a quiet tune”.

Mr. Curley was in a trolley accident some years ago that sadly upset the even tenor of his life… His friends, knowing his love of jokes, were inclined to rally him on his accident, but he never could quite see the fun in it. To him it was a funeral joke. This was particularly Curleyesque.

These descriptions could have been written about my father. I suspect my friends would see me in some of these as well. I know my partner would well recognize my inconsistent ability to take a joke about something personal or painful. To have this described as “Curleyesque” is rather amazing. I remember my father would warn me against using my humor too flippantly. It was clear that he had learned that it could injure as well as entertain. Perhaps his father had warned him and his father before him.Or perhaps it was learned from the “careful artilleryman”.

I am grateful to my great grandfather for his well lived life of “quiet equilibrium”. His descendants were all successful and took advantage of all the opportunities this country could offer. I am particularly grateful for the sense of humor that appears to be inherited. The ability to observe something, make it visible to others in such a way as to allow us to look together at it through the same lens and smile… is a wonderful gift. I truly enjoy joining with others in this way and it has saved me a great deal of loneliness and heartache in my own life.

John J Curley died 96 years ago today.


6 thoughts on “The Careful Artilleryman

  1. What a gift to have such a descriptive remembrance. It seems that for most of my obituary-reading life, they were fairly standard listings of family members, accomplishments, and where to attend services. Lately I’ve noticed a resurgence of the type that honored your great grandfather. I’m learning that genealogy is a curious mix of the past, present, and future. And yes, I see the Curleyesque in you!

  2. I enjoyed reading your post honoring your great-grandpa. Sometimes people just don’t realize how much teasing, or laughter inappropriate for the moment, can hurt. They use humor because they don’t know any other way to handle a sensitive situation. I’ve met many like this.

    I am glad that you’re able to visit his grave regularly. As someone over a thousand miles away from my roots, with no way to get back, that is something that I wish I could also do.

    I found you via Geneabloggers Best wishes to you in your genealogy adventure.

    • Thanks for commenting! I certainly have had my days of regretting a comment that I said in jest, but hopefully have not hurt too many unintentionally. It was so interesting to see this trait show up in the obit. I felt a new connection to him thanks to the writer who clearly knew him well. The description of the “careful Artilleryman” was brilliant….I wish I knew who the anonymous writer was.

      • You’re welcome.

        Do you think that maybe, even after all this time, the newspaper that printed the obit might have a record of who sent it?

        I hope that you’ll be able to track down the name of this person and their relationship to your great-grandpa. :)

  3. The newspaper is out of print now, so it would require more digging than I am willing to do. I just send up a silent thank you to whoever it was…

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