Kathy's Corner

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A great joy of gathering together as a family is sharing stories and memories. Every Thanksgiving brings an opportunity to learn more about your own history and fill in more leaves on your family tree.

Social media enables families to connect in all kinds of ways. That’s how I connected with my cousin Maureen.  I was able to share memories of her parents and grandparents when she was a tiny baby. We formed a bond over memories of our Aunt Millie, who both of us remember as “The Party Aunt.”

Through genealogical digging, I connected with distant cousins researching our shared ancestors. I learned that my great grandfather worked on building the locks on the guns on the ironclad ship The Monitor during the Civil War. I learned that my mother’s name is mangled in census records going back to when she was a baby. I even learned that my father changed his middle name! Why he did this remains a mystery.

The more facts we learn about our family histories, the more well-known family legends may change. My mother’s cousin was always told that her grandfather (my great-grandfather and Grangree’s father) was “lost at sea.” I found a letter from the mayor of Seattle to Grangree’s mother (my mother’s Grandma Wakely) saying he had tracked him down and he would not return to their home in New York. We joke that he was “lost at See-attle.”

Sometimes sharing family stories confirms that some ancestors were not exactly nice people. My mother’s cousin confirmed for me that her Grandma Wakely was unpleasant. One story says that Grandma Wakely sat in a rocking chair and waved her arm back and forth. When she was a little girl, my mother asked her “Grandma, why do you wave your hand like that?” And Grandma Wakely answered “so I can reach out and smack you whenever I want.” And then Grandma Wakely smacked her. She was not nice.

My mother’s Grandma Camp was a very nice lady, and I loved hearing stories about her teaching my mother how to cook. Even though I have said my mother wasn’t a very good cook, her stories of learning from Grandma Camp fed me in ways her cooking could not.

Please take the opportunity to learn your family stories when your family gather together. It’s great to ask questions, but it’s also a good idea to be quiet sometimes and listen. You might learn a whole lot about your own history!

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Food And Family

My mother was not a good cook. That is why I am very skilled at going out to eat. My family loved going to the diner, especially on Friday nights when my mother and grandmother got their hair done. Since they didn’t get done at the beauty parlor until after 8pm, we loved going to a place that had a lot of food to feed several hungry O’Connells with very good looking hair on two of them! I didn’t know my mother wasn’t a good cook until I had dinner at my friend Nancy’s house and discovered how food is supposed to taste.

My family had some food traditions around Thanksgiving dinner. Thanksgiving morning always smelled like onions and bacon sizzling together while Grangree put together her stuffing. Before dinner, my mother served frozen shrimp cocktails that came in packages of three, sold in glass jars. That was how we got our supply of juice glasses for the year. Mom didn’t always defrost the shrimp cocktails before she served them, so it was like eating a shrimp popsicle.

My mother’s most controversial Thanksgiving tradition was creamed onions. Her cooking them was controversial because every year we complained and didn’t eat them, and every year she made them anyway. She explained “my grandmother made them and my mother made them, so I make them.” Long after Grangree and my mother had passed away, I continued to make creamed onions at Thanksgiving, until my friend Dennis asked one year “why do you make them if nobody ever eats them?” That was the last Thanksgiving I made creamed onions.

Thanksgiving is at my house again this year, as most holidays are with the mix of friends I call my “framily.” We’ll have our traditions of turkey and cranberry orange relish. I have made sure someone is bringing corn pudding: a food tradition I never heard of until two Thanksgivings ago, but now I must have. We will have pumpkin and pecan pies from MANNA. This year we’ll have a vegan fruit pie as well, since some of the framily follow plant-based diets. Most of all, we will share food and laughter and gratitude for being together on this very special day.

(And later we’ll watch The National Dog Show on TV!)

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My original family was my mother, my father, my grandmother and my brother Tommy. They all died many years ago. Since then, I have been lucky enough to build a framily: a combination of friends and family who fill my life with love and care.

If you think about the faces you see when you think of the word “family,” I bet there is a great mix of people among those faces. They have different ages, sizes, colors, genders…but all are part of that mind picture of “family.” One of my favorite quotes about family comes from a TV show (of course). On “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” the character Mary Richards describes her co-workers as her family. She says: “What is family anyway? It’s the people who make you feel less alone and really loved.” Think of the people who make you feel really loved and safe and secure. That is what family feels like.

My mother’s family came together because a ferry sailed across the Hudson River in upstate New York. My grandfather’s family lived in Newburgh. My grandmother’s family lived across the river in Beacon. Without that ferry running between the two cities, I might not be here today! They met working together in a hat factory. My own parents came together because my mother worked as a secretary with my father’s sister, and while he was in North Africa and Italy during World War II, they started writing to each other. A few years ago my cousin Maureen found a letter my father wrote to his sister (Maureen’s grandmother) during the war. He mentions my mother, calling her “Millie’s friend.” Seeing that letter connected me with my own past in a very special way.

This time of year when families get together to celebrate holidays is a wonderful time to make memories. Ask questions of your relatives about their lives. You’ll be surprised what you might learn! My cousin Rosemary says her first set of skis came from my mother. She became a ski instructor when she grew up. I do not remember my mother ever skiing or showing any interest in skiing, but Rosemary’s memory of her is tied to that sport.

This time leading to the winter holidays is when families gather. This month on Kids Corner we are celebrating family in all the ways it comes together.

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