The memories and the quips both come at a rapid pace when the Kelly kids get together.
The six adult children of Nancy and the late Jerry Kelly, all of whom still live in the Quad-Cities, fondly and humorously remember growing up in the Davenport household.
“There’s only maybe a half-dozen times when someone was left in the park (on family trips),” oldest son Leo, 45, deadpanned during a gathering of the siblings at Kelly’s Irish Pub & Eatery in Davenport, which is co-owned by second-oldest child Dan, 41.
There’s also the realization that as children they were used as couriers at the former Holy Family School in Davenport, where they’d take cryptic notes from one teacher to another, setting a time to meet at Kelly’s Circle Tap, the family bar across the street.
“I tell you what, they were always a joy to raise,” Nancy Kelly said of her children. “They were a fun group to be with, and it was a joy to be their mother.”
That joy will be shared with the rest of the community this weekend as Kelly, who turns 74 next month, is celebrated as the Irish Mother of the Year by the St. Patrick Society, Quad-Cities, U.S.A. She will be among the guests of honor at the Gathering of the Clan Luncheon on Friday and the Grand Parade on Saturday.
While her husband ran the bar — coming home at 6 every night for supper with the family, something that kept them strong as a unit, she says — Nancy stayed home with her children.
“She just took up any slack there was,” said Kate Kelly Felts, 39, the third in line and the only daughter. “She just did what had to be done at home.”
Jerry Kelly, who died in 1999, “wasn’t home a lot, but when he was home, he was a very loving father,” his widow said. “He would be good to the kids, and so anytime there was discipline, I did it.
“At times it was tough,” she said. “They never thought they needed to be disciplined.”
Dad was there for every game and school activity, the Kelly children said, but then he rushed back to the bar.
As her children got older, they realized their household was unique. None of their friends had a rack of barbecued ribs, a dozen cheeseburgers and fries, or a huge bowl of mashed potatoes waiting for them at home after school. Those from smaller families didn’t have to elbow each other to get their fair share of supper.
“Our mom was in charge of making this huge amount of food to feed everybody,” said Bob Kelly, 38, the fourth in line.
“As a kid, it didn’t really stand out. It was ‘This is what life is,’ ” said David, 36, the fifth of the siblings. “But when you get older, you find out that’s not what it’s like for everybody. You’d go places and people knew you.”
That includes a trip to the Wisconsin Dells, when the family was yelled at by name from the top of a hill and no one ever figured out who it was.
“We had it in our minds that everywhere we went we would be running into somebody (we knew),” Dave added.
They got privileges others might not have received — seats in the front row for a World Wrestling Federation match, for instance — but they also had to perform tasks their friends did not.
“When we were little, our dad had the Circle Tap and our mom used to dress us up like leprechauns and we would go and paint the shamrock in the street,” Bob said. “I think that was my introduction into the Irish society.”
The traditions continue as a shamrock is painted yearly in front of Kelly’s on East 53rd Street in Davenport, where Dan’s bar hosts what it boasts as the largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Iowa.
Nancy, born and raised in Grinnell, Iowa, came to Davenport to attend the former Marycrest College. She met Jerry while she was sitting on a barstool at a wedding reception.
With one annual exception, she said, she stayed clear of the bar.
“The only time I ever helped was around St. Patrick’s Day because he always cooked corned beef,” she recalled. “Not as many as Dan cooks, but he cooked a lot of corned beef. I cooked at home and he cooked there.”
After quitting teaching and raising her children from the oldest through the youngest, 33-year-old Jerry, she worked for Pleasant Valley schools, teaching family and consumer science.
Now that they are adults, with the three oldest having children of their own (meaning eight grandkids for Nancy), they are even more in awe of their mother.
“I had no idea when Dad worked and Mom had all the kids how you could get that many kids to that many events ...,” Leo said.
“... and still have dinner on the table,” Kate added.
With both of them “cradle Catholics,” Nancy said, she and her husband raised the children to have a strong foothold in their faith.
“They are a gift from God, and that got us through a lot of things,” she said. “I don’t think either of us were down on our knees all the time, but in our mind we were in prayer.”
ST. PAT’S WEEKEND
Here’s the schedule for the big St. Patrick Society, Quad-Cities, U.S.A., weekend:
* Gathering of the Clan Luncheon — Doors open at 11 a.m. Friday, Col Ballroom, 1012 W. 4th St., Davenport. Irish Mother of the Year Nancy Kelly and John Mullen, retired associate judge of Iowa’s 7th Judicial District, will speak. There also will be musical entertainment.
* Pre-parade Mass — 10 a.m. Saturday, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 2208 4th Ave., Rock Island
* Grand Parade XXVII — 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday. The Grand Parade begins at 23rd Street and 4th Avenue in Rock Island, crosses the Centennial Bridge and ends at 2nd and Harrison streets, Davenport.
* Post Parade Bash, 1-4 p.m. Saturday, Col Ballroom. The St. Patrick Society hosts gathering of food, drink, music and dancing. Admission is $15 at the door, which includes membership in the society.
More information is available online at www.StPatsQC.com.