Cassidy: a neighbor who was a second mother
The Christmas card from Evelyn Cassidy came to our house this December, as it always did. The handwritten note in it said: “To Gabe, Gina and Fenway, Love Evelyn.”
I always keep Christmas cards, especially ones from Evelyn, who was like a second mother to me, my brothers and so many others who grew up in the Hammonton of the 1980s and 1990s—during the years right before and during the years when we were playing football in an empty lot that I wrote about two weeks ago in this space.
Evelyn—we always knew her simply as “Evelyn” not “Mrs. Cassidy”—had that rare ability to always make you feel welcomed and special. It didn’t matter if she was talking with you, baking you cookies, hanging out at the Hammonton Swim Club or down at Hammonton Lake Park for youth sports. When she was talking with you, she made you feel like it was the most important part of her day. And she did that with everybody she encountered in her day.
She was our neighbor for many years—she lived on the same street for four decades. In that time, the kids on the street grew in age from single-digits to more than 50 years old. The house where she lived with her late husband Ray Cassidy (who was also a great person) was filled with life and energy—and a bunch of kids. Sons Ed Slimm and Joe Cassidy were the closest in age to me and my brothers and growing up with them was like having two more brothers in our family that already boasted four.
My brothers and I and others from the neighborhood spent a lot of time at the Cassidys’ house. It seemed like there was always something going on, some video games to be played, backyard hide-and-seek and manhunt. Through it all Evelyn Cassidy would be present in her house, a kind of neighborhood “room mom” or “den mother” to all the boys and girls that lived on the street. There were bigger houses on that street, but most kids tended to congregate at Evelyn’s house. She always was happy to see all of us.
She had that laugh, that infectious laugh that everyone who knew her loved. She was firm in her opinions—back when we were kids, up until the last time I spoke with her.
Many people of a certain era remember her as a crossing guard. Her incredible ability to connect with children made her a natural near the schools, but she also appeared on the streets around the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It always made you feel good to see her there, waving to you with a “Hey Honey” and giving you a hug in the middle of the street.
She was a very giving, very loving person. When I heard she had died, it was a shock. We tend to think—even in these turbulent times—that the people, places and things that are in our lives will always be there, because they have always been there. I have often written that in Hammonton, the people are the real landmarks. Evelyn was one of those landmarks. She was part of the place for a long time and left it better than she found it.
Her longtime neighbors Vince and Marie Passalaqua, who lived across the street from her for 40 years, recalled her as an excellent neighbor. Vince Passalaqua expressed it this way:
“She was so outgoing and friendly. She was the type of person who would do anything for anybody. She was always so concerned about anybody in the neighborhood and would do anything for anybody in the neighborhood. I will always remember her for her sincerity and openness. She would always stop and talk to you and had that great laugh. She was a wonderful person. When you know someone for that long, a piece of your history goes with them. It really hit home to us,” Vince Passalaqua said.
Everyone who knew her has warm memories of Evelyn Cassidy, but the winter winds are blowing colder in Hammonton this week because she is no longer with us. I will miss her, but I’m glad she was a part of my life, and all the lives she touched so deeply.
Gabe Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.