James Godsil Family Photos
James Godsil Family history
10 March 2005
This is for my daughter Bridie’s class assignment at the New School on Family Origins.
I was born June 18, 1945, in St. Louis, Mo. My Mother was Mary Patricia Donnelly(1909–1978). My Father was Joseph Dennis Godsil(1909–1981). I had two sisters, Jo Ann, born in 1935, and Jean, 1939.
My family was big city Irish, upwardly mobile, working class. Both of my parents were from very large families that endured great hardship. My Mother’s parents were divorsed and poor. Her mother cleaned bathrooms for St. Louis County, including the County Courthouse, where the Dred Scott Case was held. Her father helped build the Eades Bridge in St. Louis and, in his older years, was a small landlord in East St. Louis, Ill., where race riots occured in about 1919. My Mom had 2 sisters and 4 brothers. Her childhood was so sad she did not want to tell me any stories about it. She got a job as a clerk typist right out of gradeschool, at Ralston Purina.
I know quite a lot about my father’s family, because I inspired him to write his “Autobiography” in his final years. His grandfather was a school master at Prescott Catholic School in Dublin during the 1850s and beyond. When he was bludgeoned to death by the Orangemen over Irish Freedom issues, his wife wound up in a mental institution and his children were shipped to a relative in San Francisco. The daughter, Mary,became a nun. The son, Richard, my grandfather, became a Molder and construction worker, eventually migrating to St. Louis. There he married Mary Duncan, from a large Scotish American family. When my Dad graduated from grade school he became a machinist apprentice through an Uncle and eventually climbed the ranks to a tool and die maker, and briefly the owner of Accurate Tool and Die. My Dad had 4 sisters and 2 brothers.
My parents were very hard working and ambitious for their children. They were ready to sacrifice immensely so their children could go to college. My Mom rented out rooms in whatever house we lived in, and eventually she ran a rooming house with 13 rooms in North St. Louis, a block away from Busch Stadium, where Stan Musial and Jackie Robinson hit home runs. Although neither of my parents went to high school, they both wrote very well, read lots of books, and enjoyed history, theatre, dance, and music. We had a piano in our house and were always given enough money to take lessons and buy nice clothes.
My first memories are yet vivid in my mind’s eye. At my 3rd birthday party I remember wanting “prizes” everytime one of my guests received a prize. When my Mom ran out of prizes I cried and she gave me a red toothbrush. Later on, in that same summer of 1948, I recall a bigger kid throwing sand in my face, some of which got into my mouth. I can still taste it. The next time I played with him I hit him on the head with a toy hammer, hard enough that he cried too. When my Dad sold his half of Accurate Tool and Die to his partner Harold Connors, I remember looking out the front window as he pulled up in a brand new candy apple red 1948 Dodge car, with whitewalls and a radio! My family bought a t.v. around 1949 or 1950, which found us watching Cookla Fran and Ollie, Dragnet, Milton Berle, Imogene Coca and Sid Ceaser, Kate Smith, and John Cameron Swazie. When the Brooklyn Dodgers came to Busch Stadium a block away from our house at 2942 Sullivan Ave., the neighborhood teemed with African Americans showing up to “see Jackie Robinson hit a home run.” I remember a kindly “colored man,” as we were taught to say in those days, named Bud, who worked a block from my house in a small tavern and walked by my backyard every day.
He was always kind and one day invited me to walk with him to his work. I did not quite have the courage for that, but I remember my Mom explaining to Bud that I was still a bit too young for such an adventure. Mary Donnelly Godsil was known for her generosity to “bums” who sometimes asked for food at our front door. It was a great thrill when the milkman would give us chunks of ice to break on the ground and gnaw on during scorching summer days. I played very well by myself my Mother often said, my favorite toys being plastic army men, trucks, weapons, which I set up in eleaborate formations. This was especially fun when my sister Jo Ann was dating Joe Pusateri from a military highschool, who sometimes showed up with his resplendant uniform.