My grandma and I were chatting one afternoon in the Fall of 2003, just like we always did when I came for a visit on Sundays. She pulled a postcard from the pile of mail on the window sill by her chair and handed it to me.
“Francis Byrne will be 90 on December 12th,” she said. “You know, when we were small, he used to try to tell me we were the same age because we were both born in 1913. I’d say, ‘No way, Francis. I am almost a whole year older than you – my birthday is on January 12th!’ You know how kids are. I suppose I tried to boss him around because I was older or something…”
I jotted the anecdote on the postcard and we sent it back to Peggy, Francis’ daughter, for a book of memories she was putting together for his 90th birthday. I was trying to sort through the family tree in my head and I had to ask Grandma, “So, exactly who is Francis Byrne?”
Grandma smiled and told me he was Nell Regan Byrnes’s youngest son, my grandpa’s first cousin. Nell Byrne,w as also best friends with Grandma’s mom, Mary Foley. We spent the rest of the afternoon doing what I liked best: talking about family connections and the “old days”. Grandma reminded me that the banana bread recipe we all used came from Nell Byrne. (That’s a cute story that I will share soon.)
It was six months before I thought about Francis Byrne again. My Grandma died on April 23, 2004. Her death was hard on me and like most grieving family members, I felt like I was just going through the motions on the day of the funeral. I remember little of that day until the luncheon which followed the service when Gene Regan (another of my grandpa’s cousins) introduced me to the man sitting next to him.
Francis Byrne. Francis flashed warm smile and said, “Your grandmother was a wonderful woman.” It took me a moment to realize this was Francis, son of Nell. We got to talking and for the first time in days, I forgot that I felt empty and sad and I missed my grandma. I asked Francis if he remembered his mother’s banana bread. His eyes lit up and he chuckled, “Why, yes, of course…she made delicious banana bread. I haven’t had it in years.”
I told him I made his mother’s banana bread on a regular basis – his mother had given my grandma the recipe years ago. I offered to bring him a loaf next time I made some.
“Ohhhh, that would be great. I look forward to it!”
Initially, my visits with Francis helped fill the void left by my grandma’s passing. I missed her so much. There was something that seemed so right about getting to know the son of my great-grandmother’s best friend. I liked the continuity of it. But as I got to know Francis, I thought less and less about the family connections and more about what a great man Francis was.
Francis was sharp and funny and a fantastic storyteller. He had one of those enviable, outgoing manners and could talk to anyone about anything. Francis was loyal, dedicated to his family and friends. He was concerned for the well-being of those around him. He was tough – not tough like he was mean or beat people up – tough like he dealt with the crap life threw at him, came out on the right side, and carried on.
Francis was a great friend. I miss him very much, but am thankful for the last ten years.
Francis Sylvanus Byrne
Byrne, Francis Sylvanus age 100, of Hopkins, formerly of St. Louis Park. Born 12/12/ 1913, passed away 1/1/2014. Francis was proud of being 100% Irish. lifetime member of the NARFE, and longtime worker for the Mpls Postal Service. He was a proud member of the American Legion, VFW, and Knights of Columbus in both Hopkins and St. Louis Park. Preceded in death by wife, Marie; and siblings, Edwin, John, Mary, Winifred and Shirley. Survived by daughter, Peggy (Peter) Julius; granddaughter, Breanna Julius; and friends and family. In lieu of flowers, memorials preferred to the family. Mass of Christian Burial Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, 10:30 AM with visitation 10 AM at Holy Family Catholic Church, 5900 W. Lake St., St. Louis Park. Visitation also Tuesday, Jan. 7, 5-8 PM with prayer service 7 PM at: www.Washburn-McReavy.com Strobeck Johnson Chapel 1400 Mainstreet, Hopkins 952 938-9020