Francis Kelly Dougherty, Sr.
2-1-1925 to 4-12-2014
Before I went to sleep last night, while waiting up for Z to return from prom, I learned that my Uncle Kelly had died. He was my mothers second to the oldest brother. I knew he had been ill but I seem to drift in and out of the loop, so I was not aware that he was that ill! Maybe he wasn't. Maybe it was just his time. The news gave me a familiar empty feeling in my stomach. It was the same empty feeling that I had felt seven other times as seven other siblings of my mother had been there and then were gone. Now there are only three left. Three out of eleven.
As I went to sleep last night, my mind drifted off to heaven. What must it be like right now with Uncle Kelly now joining what has become the majority of his siblings as well as his parents up there? Yes, I am confident that each and everyone of them are in heaven as my Grandma Grace wouldn't have had it any other way. It is really hard to feel sad at the thought and yet the emptiness remained.
I began thinking back about Uncle Kelly and trying to remember what I knew about him, what I remembered and when was the last time I saw him. As I stated before, this family of 11 siblings, although close in their own way, spent the better part of three decades immersed in their own immediate families. The occasional letters and phone calls were shared but for the most part, I didn't meet a lot of my mom's siblings until I was older. However, when I did meet them, I already knew their history, their likes and dislikes and who they had grown up to be, thanks to the hours of stories my mother would tell.
What I knew about Uncle Kelly was that he was the second of the boys and I believe the sixth child born to Ray and Grace Dougherty in Hinton, OK. He was named Francis Kelly Dougherty after the Catholic Bishop of Oklahoma City, Francis Kelly. While I don't know a great deal about his childhood as he was a decade or better older than my mother I did know he was a severe asthmatic, on hot nights in the summer time he was one of the boys that had to sleep on a cot out in the yard due to space constraints and overheating and he was what the family considered one of the big kids. Even with the age difference though, Mom did have some memories of him. Mostly she said he was ornery. The family had a horse and Mom by all history available and being the youngest.....was a princess. Pretty much she got what she wanted and Mom wanted to ride the horse. Uncle Kelly for whatever reason was assigned to Mom duty and instructed to let her ride. I am sure there were a thousand other things that he could have been doing and probably should have been doing, but instead he was stuck with a demanding little sister. Being the dutiful son, he put her on the horse and being the ornery brother, he would slap the horse on the back side and make him buck. Naturally mom would fall off. Stubborn Mom would dust herself off and demand back on and ornery Kelly would have her bucked off again. Perhaps he was training her for rodeo bronc riding or perhaps he was trying to deter her from the horse. If the latter was his goal, it back fired as he only made her more stubborn. In fact, knowing the Dougherty stubbornness first hand, I would almost guess this game of ride and buck ended in a stalemate with both parties calling it a draw.
When Uncle Kelly graduated high school in Hinton, he eventually went on to Southwestern Oklahoma State and became a pharmacist. At some point he met and married Mary O'Dell. Together they had six sons. For a time when the boys were young they lived in Lubbock, TX but eventually moved back to Oklahoma and lived in the City where Uncle Kelly worked as Director of Pharmacy at St. Anthony Hospital. It was at this point in life when I think I got to know this part of the Dougherty clan.
Kelly and Mary's boys were: Kelly Jr., Kevin, Brian, Shawn, Tim and Brett. Whenever we went to visit Grandpa on the farm, Uncle Kelly and his crew usually came out to see us. I think I have stated before that my mother was a bit on the overprotective side when it came to my brother and I. Before we even pulled into the driveway, my brother and I were given a laundry list of things we could NOT do and the top five of that list was always....."Keep your hands at your sides and don't touch the dog!" Grandpa was notorious for having mean dogs, after all they were farm watch dogs and he didn't want some happy hound escorting an intruder into the house. So his dogs would bite. Most of them apparently weren't fond of kids either (or so Mom said). We always had to get out of the car and walk with our hands by our sides into the house, otherwise the dog might think we were being aggressive and we could NEVER walk outside without Grandpa with us. So early on, the Dougherty boys became my first hero's. The first dog I remember fearing and I actually think he was one of the meanest, was Bruno. Bruno was a shepherd mix and had a reputation for both biting and chasing cars. Bruno would
The Dougherty boys though seemed to have no fear of Bruno. Why I even watched a couple of them run and play with him. Perhaps Bruno was not near the menace that Mom said he was or maybe those boys were really that brave. I think Mom was just scared of him and projected that on to us. I often remember Uncle Kelly telling Mom to relax and let Andy and I have some fun. She never listened.
One of the greatest and most empowering times in my life happened when I was about 8 or 10 years old. We went to Uncle Kelly's house in the City for an afternoon/evening barbecue. I had never been there before and I was amazed at the house and the boys. Aunt Mary ran that house like a well oiled machine and each boy had his job whether it was mopping floors or cleaning bathrooms. I was so impressed. I didn't know boys knew how to clean. I remember laughing at my cousin Brian because he had just mopped the kitchen floor and one of his brothers walked on it. He chased him out with the mop saying, "Don't track dirt on my clean floor." Because of that moment......all my boys learned to clean a house!
What was especially great about Uncle Kelly's house was that they had an above ground pool in their back yard. It was summer and hot and that pool looked like heaven to me. HOWEVER, Mom was afraid I would drown, get sick, swallow water.......pick one! So as my cousins all jumped in and swam I had to sit back and watch. Well, I am not much of a watcher and with just a little nudging by the boys, it wasn't long before I was in the pool fully dressed and playing Marco Polo. When Mom finally came to look for me and saw me in the pool, her first reaction was to yank me out by my hair for disobeying her. Luckily, Uncle Kelly was right there to reassure her that my cousins, all but one older than myself would keep an eye on me and make sure I was fine. For once she backed down and my victory was glorious. I can still remember that day and how much fun I had. The best part was that Mom actually realized that I would not die if I was out of her sight for five minutes. I will forever be grateful to Uncle Kelly for giving me that moment of freedom and independence. I don't think he ever knew how much it meant to me.
In later years, after the boys were grown, Uncle Kelly and Aunt Mary moved out to a farm just down the road from Grandpas. They had a house moved from the City put on a foundation and they went to work on remodeling it. It was a glorious house with a porch that wrapped around it. They had beautiful blue healer dogs, land unobstructed as far as they eye could see and donkeys. Mom road one of those donkey's once and it seemed to be the horse incident all over again, except instead of bucking, the donkey took off with Mom holding on for dear life. It was the type of story that family legend is made of. Mostly though, the thing I loved about their house was the ability to see the stars at night. I remember looking up and feeling so small standing on that bit of Oklahoma clay. I didn't ever want to leave.
While my memories of Uncle Kelly aren't abundant, they are clear. He always wore a straw cowboy hat. His laugh was hardy and full and of all the boys, I think he looked most like my grandfather. He could also be stern and if he needed to he would call you out even if you were a niece or nephew. Thankfully I dodged that bullet but I remember a couple not quite so lucky. Funny thing was, they were wrong, he was right and they respected him all the more for it. I remember the brothers and sisters sitting around the round oak kitchen table and telling stories. Uncle Kelly's were always the best because he had an amazingly dry sense of humor and this added to every story he told. I loved hearing those tales, sometimes slightly embellished, as they always gave me a different view of my mother, the farm and the family.
Since Mom died in 2002, I have been to one family reunion. I saw Uncle Kelly and Aunt Mary and I remember thinking that while others seem to age, they seemed to remain the same....almost timeless. It is sad to know that was the last time I would see Uncle Kelly.
In recent years, Uncle Kelly and Aunt Mary moved back into the City. The boys they raised all grew up well, married wonderful women and had beautiful children and now they are having grandchildren. They have all remained close to each other and thanks to facebook, some of their cousins too. I talked to Kelly Jr. probably more than the rest but we are all there.....reading each others posts and keeping up with each others lives.
It was through facebook that I learned Uncle Kelly had not been doing well and again how I learned of his death. Cousins connecting with cousins in a way the original 11 could never have imagined.
So if I could say one last thing to Uncle Kelly.....it would likely be "thank you." The reasons are many and most having to do with Mom. I am so blessed to have known you, to have called you Uncle and to be a part of this family that we call Dougherty!
RIP Uncle Kelly!