An Irish StoryMar 17, 2022 03:43PM ● By Joe Nicastro
An Irish Story
By Richard Mabey Jr.
What force of nature could possibly bring a proud Protestant Dutchman and a shy Irish Catholic girl together, especially being that the lass from the Emerald Isle was 18 years younger than the gentleman from the land of windmills and wooden shoes? That magical and mystical force, of course, is love.
In 1883, Catherine Cavanaugh, my great grandmother, came to America with her parents when she was only five years old. They first took up residence in Clifton. A few months later, the Cavanaugh family moved to Paterson. At the age of 16, Catherine worked in a silk mill in Paterson. Both of her parents also worked in the same silk mill. It was tough labor, requiring hard work for long hours.
Somehow and someway, Catherine Cavanaugh met a Dutchman named Wesley Storms, who lived in a small farming town known as Beavertown. Wesley was a very shy, lonely widower, who lived alone in a very small home at the foothills of Hook Mountain. Wesley, my great grandfather, was 18 years older than Catherine, my great grandmother.
Now at 68, I deeply regret that I did not ask my grandmother, Bertha Storms Mabey, more about her mom and dad. However, I am ever so appreciative for the information that Grandma did share with me about her parents.
Wesley Storms never did know his father. Wesley was born in 1860. Shortly after he was born, his father, William Storms, signed up with the Union Army. My great-great grandfather served in the 15th New Jersey Regiment. Sadly, he was killed in the Battle of Salem Church in May of 1863. It was a scar that was left upon Wesley’s heart, never to be healed for his entire lifetime.
For Catherine Cavanaugh, working in a silk mill was very hard work. The men and women who worked in the silk mills in Paterson worked long hours for little pay. It was a tough life. Most of the people who worked in Paterson’s silk mills were immigrants
The Irish immigrants did not have it easy in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The prejudice against the Irish was very real in America. It’s painful to admit, but none-the-less, there was very real prejudice against the Irish. In factories, stores, and other places of business, during the nineteenth century, it was not uncommon to see signs reading, “Irish need not apply.”
Wesley Storms had a little farm in Beavertown. The greatest mystery is how it came to be that my great grandmother met my great grandfather. I remember my grandmother, Bertha Storms, told me that her father had close friends, who were also friends with her mother’s parents. In light of their age difference, and the fact that Wesley Storms was Protestant and Catherine Cavanaugh was a devoted Catholic, it is truly a miracle that they fell in love and married.
As a boy, growing up in Lincoln Park (formerly known as Beavertown) one of my best friends lived in the very home that my great grandmother and great grandfather once lived in. The very home that my paternal grandmother grew up in. I was only in the home one time. It was a hot summer day and my friend, Robert, invited me in to have a glass of lemonade. I was about 10 years old at the time.
I had only been in the kitchen of that dear old home, for about 20 minutes. But in that short time, I could feel the presence of my great grandparents. I was a very sensitive child, with a vivid imagination. As I sat at Robert’s kitchen table, as his mom poured cold lemonade in glasses for us, I could imagine my grandmother sitting in that very same kitchen as a little girl, eating supper with her mom and dad.
I live in Central Florida now. I don’t travel up to New Jersey that often any more. But when I do visit Lincoln Park, I always take time to take a walk by the home that my grandmother, Bertha Storms Mabey, grew up in. From the sidewalk, I look up to that modest home, atop a hill, and feel the presence of the ghosts of my great grandparents.
All in all, I deeply regret that I didn’t ask my grandmother more about her childhood days. I regret that I didn’t ask her more questions about her parents, specifically the details of how they met and fell in love. Sadly, those questions will never be answered.
If you are blessed to have even one of your grandparents, alive on this side of Heaven’s Gate, please do consider talking to them about their childhood, their history, their legacy, their heritage. Truly, it will be time well spent.
Richard Mabey Jr. is a freelance writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. Please put on the subject line: An Irish Story.
SUGGESTED CAPTIONS TO ATTACHED PHOTOGRAPHS:
1. My only photograph of my great grandmother, Catherine Cavanaugh Storms.
2. My only photograph of my great grandfather, Wesley Storms.
3. The silk mills of Paterson hired a lot of Irish immigrants. It was hard labor, requiring long hours in a working day.
4. The signs, “Irish need not apply,” were not uncommon to be seen in factories and stores during the nineteenth century.