Letter to My Great-Great Grandparents

 

 

Charles Jacque François Perrotin.        1884, New York
Catherine (O’Grady) Perrotin.         1884, New York

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Dear Great-great Grandparents, François and Catherine,

A reminder popped up on my calendar today that you, Francois, died of meningitis 127 years ago, on May 25, 1891. It prompted me to reflect on your lives and the values you imparted to your descendants, now seven generations strong. As one of those descendants, I write to let you know of the special place we have for you in our hearts even now.

So much of who we are, we owe to you

So much of who we are and why, we owe to you. I can think of three of my father’s brothers, three of my cousins, two of my nephews, and one of my sons whose faces mirror yours, François. Catherine, your name has been passed down to so many women in our family – it is the name I chose for my Confirmation. And your fair features have endured, from my great-aunt Blanca on down, through my paternal aunts, cousins, and even in my immediate family, exquisite reminders of your grace and beauty.

There is more. François, your sense of curiosity, mechanical expertise, and innovative spirit has resulted in a host of adventurers, creative thinkers, technology leaders, entrepreneurs, and visionaries. Catherine, your serenity and courage in times of adversity, spirituality, resourcefulness, creativity, and gentleness, continues in the men and women who came after you and drew on these strengths so ingrained in them, becoming loving, faith-filled, and resilient.

Reunion of the heart

Ah, and The Reunion! We, the progenies of two of your five children, Maria Dolores and Francisco, found each other in the summer of 2006. It happened thanks to those legendary stories about you that endured from parent to child, over generations and across oceans and continents.

It was a dream come true that started on the Internet, a technology that didn’t exist in your time but that you might have embraced in your far-sightedness. One late-night e-mail led to another and expanded to introductions via telephone, e-mail, social media, and visits between cousins near and far. What a thrill it has been to connect!

As we continue to come together, our commonalities in experience, tradition, and values diminish our differences. We are hard workers and risk-takers, business men and women, survivors, storytellers, and travelers. Some of us are mechanically and technologically inclined or are renowned bakers like you, François. Others, Catherine, are gifted with your talents in the needle arts, or like you, are beacons of love and hope for family, friends, and strangers. Like you, we are deeply passionate about family; we show it in our celebrations and traditions.

The more we learn about you and each other, the more we shed light on ourselves. With every discovery and introduction, we are broadening our understanding of what it means to be family. We are forming new bonds, celebrating with each other in times of joy and consoling each other in times of sorrow.

A love that endures

Dear François, in your last breaths all those years ago, you might have wondered whether Catherine and the children would be all right after you were gone. Of course you know now that everything turned out just fine. The love you and Catherine shared gave birth to a large and wonderful family that is still going strong.

As I pass your portraits on my way to bed each night, I am reminded of how grateful I am to you. Little did you know how you would affect our lives all these years later. There will be more cousins to meet and stories to share. As we renew the bonds of our shared heritage, I hope we will do your memories justice by resolving to pass on to our descendants that love of family that came from you and your own ancestors. Thank you for your love, François and Catherine, and be sure of all of mine.

Linda

 

Copyright ©  2018  Linda Huesca Tully

That Pioneer Spirit

Eduard Baron (1825 – 1921)

In the first half of 1848, as 22-year-old Eduard Baron pressed through the crowd onto the ship that would take him from his native France to America, he must have had been overwhelmed by a rush of emotions.  Whether he felt elation, anticipation, wanderlust, trepidation, or sadness at leaving loved ones behind, one thing was certain: there was no turning back.
California National Historic Trail, Nevada, by Bob Wick, 2006. Courtesy of  Bureau of Land Management. Creative Commons License, in the public domain. Eduard Baron and dozens of other 49ers from all over the world would have crossed this expanse of land on a wagon train expedition to California, hoping to find gold.
For some time, a sense of unrest had swept the country.  France had been in the throes of an economic depression, and the monarchy of Louis Philippe had restricted basic liberties such as the right to work and the right to assemble peacefully.
 
Barely a month after the French diplomat and political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville warned the French Chamber of Deputies that the nation was “sleeping on a volcano,” tensions exploded. Parisian workers marched in the streets protesting high food prices and rising poverty, and violence ensued between protestors and soldiers.  The king abdicated and was replaced by a provisional government, marking the birth of what became known as the Second Republic.
 
When the news of the discovery of gold in California reached France in the midst of all this turmoil, it offered relief from uncertainty and the promise of much-needed prosperity, albeit elsewhere.  In the years that followed, over 30,000 French citizens, including Eduard, would leave their country in the hope of striking it rich.
 
Eduard was my husband’s great-great grandfather.  His early life is a mystery, though we know he was born on October 13, 1825.   If we read between the lines of various documents such as his petition for naturalization as an American citizen, censuses and vital records, and a brief mention in his daughter’s obituary, we can deduce that he possessed the idealism, ambition, and energy of youth that could make any dream possible for a young man who was determined to succeed.
 
There was more than one way to reach California from Europe.  One could sail around Cape Horn to San Francisco, or sail first to New York, Boston, or New Orleans, and then join an overland expedition to San Francisco.  The first option took about six months, while crossing the country by wagon took about the same amount of time or less, depending on the weather and the time of year.
 
Most gold-seekers went around the Horn.  It seemed a smoother and more leisurely route, but it was far from carefree and meant enduring months of rough weather, lack of fresh food and water, seasickness, and cramped quarters.
 
Eduard’s 1852 naturalization application tells us that he chose the overland route, arriving in San Francisco on about February 7, 1849.  This meant he arrived in the United States early enough in 1848 to find an expedition company that could reach California before the onset of the harsh Sierra winters.
 
Overland travel was filled with uncertainty, hazards, and midsummer cyclones and storms on the plains and in the desert. Routes stretched as long as 2,000 miles, but companies typically covered only about 10 – 15 miles a day, making progress slow and tedious. Travelers walked a great deal of the way because their wagons were filled with cargo, food, household goods, and other supplies.  Accidents and disease were commonplace; about one in ten pioneers died along the way.
 
Once in California, he made his way to the gold fields to seek his fortune. He might have he found a gold nugget or two, but few people ever struck it rich.  He figured out early on that there were other paths to success and went to San Francisco to try his luck there.
 
By then, San Francisco’s population was teeming with settlers needing houses, stores, churches, and schools. Eduard, by trade a carpenter who learned the trade from his father in France, did not want for work.
 

By early 1852, he had moved to San Jose, located in the lush, Mediterranean-like Santa Clara Valley, about 50 miles south of San Francisco.  There, he shared a house with another French carpenter, Jules Audrain.  

It was a momentous year for him.  He married María de Concepción Celaya, a native of the Mexican state of Sonora and applied to become an American citizen.  He was sworn in 14 years later in San Jose on November 5, 1866, four days after the birth of his son, Jose Manuel. 

Photo believed to be of Concepción (Celaya) Baron,
date and location unknown. 
Courtesy of Martie Moreno.

 

 
Concepción had arrived in California the same year as Eduard but most likely came with her parents.  We do not know whether her family ever returned to Sonora, but Eduard took her back there for a short time.  Maybe she wanted to be near family during her pregnancy, or maybe there was uncertainty as to her safety or stability in San Jose.
 
The couple’s first son, Eduardo, was born in 1853, in Guaymas, Sonora, and they returned to California, where a second son, Adolfo, made his entrance three years later.
 
On August 4, 1860, a census taker visited the family in Washington Township, in the area now known as Niles, California, where Eduard had become a farmer.  Later that same year, he and Concepción welcomed their daughter, Adela, in San Francisco.
 
Eduard and Concepción returned at least twice to Guaymas for the births of two more children, José Manuel and Teresa, in 1866 and 1870, respectively.  Concepción’s desire to be closer to her family seems to have prompted them to settle permanently in Tucson, Arizona, near her hometown of Altar, Sonora, just over the U.S. – Mexico border.
 
Eduard continued working in carpentry, passing on the trade to his sons.  As the years passed, he and Concepción moved in with their daughter Adela and son-in-law, Charles Hoppin Tully.  Concepción died in 1915, and  Adela died two years later.  

The days were especially dark after Adela’s death.  Suddenly there were two widowers in the Tully household.  Eduard’s health had also begun to decline due to his advancing years and ailing heart. As much as each was a comfort to the other, he dreaded the thought of becoming a burden on Charles.  

His youngest daughter, now Teresa Gómez, had invited him to live with her, her husband, and their daughter in Clifton, Arizona, a small copper mining town about 160 miles northeast of Tucson, near the New Mexico border.  They lived simply on Eduardo Gómez’ modest earnings as a store barker, but the thought of being surrounded by family again was all it took for Eduard to leave Tucson.

He accustomed himself to his new surroundings with the same determination and discipline he had exercised since the early days.  Life with a preteen is anything but dull, and a highlight of his day would have been when his 12-year-old granddaughter, Rena, came home from school, breathless with stories of her days in class and on the playground.  It is easy to imagine the spellbinding stories he told her about his adventures crossing the ocean to America and his travels across the plains and through California and Mexico. Those tales would open her innocent eyes to the romantic places beyond her dusty little town, while rekindling the light of sweet memory in his own eyes as he relived his days as a young man out to conquer the world.

The light in Eduard’s eyes went out on July 11, 1921, just three months short of his 96th birthday. He was buried alongside his beloved Concepción at Holy Hope Cemetery in Tucson.
 
In daughter Adela Baron Tully’s own obituary, the Arizona Daily Star noted Eduard had distinguished himself as one of the California 49ers and a “pioneer Tucsonan.”  He certainly embodied the pioneer spirit of a trailblazer, charting the unknown,  enduring hardship, and embracing change; always moving forward and never looking back.

 

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Copyright ©  2018 Linda Huesca Tully




Mystery Monday: The Distance between Two Pictures

Selma (Kangas) Tully (1894 – 1949)

 

Selma (Kangas) Tully, about 24
years old.  Anaheim, California,
November 24, 1919.

 

 

 

In this day and age, it is common to see hundreds, sometimes thousands, of photographs marking the great and small events of a person’s life. In the case of Selma Tully, however, we have a single photograph that leaves us to wonder about her life before and after it was taken.

Born April 22, 1894, in Yliharma, Finland, Selma Justina Kangas lost both her parents, Juho and Susanna (Ruuspakka) Kangas,  by the time she was three years old.  We have no inkling as to what happened to her between that time and the time she came to America. Chances are she probably moved between relatives as she was growing up.  
 
Her older brother, Matti, had left Finland for America when Selma was only two. In the years since, he became a jeweler in Diamondville, Wyoming, married and started a family, and even ran for public office.  He had paid Selma’s passage and was ready to help her settle in the United States, as others had helped him.

The passenger list for the R.M.S. Mauretania notes that Selma was a servant, hinting that even as a teenager she had to work in exchange for room and board.  It describes her as not quite 5’2″, with fair skin, and brown hair and eyes.  When my father-in-law, Welner “Bing” Tully, described her, it was not in a physical way but rather a personal, if not wistful recollection of his mother as a sweet and gentle woman who loved him and his sister tenderly.

The Mauretania arrived in New York Harbor on February 26, 1910. Nearly a week later, the 16-year-old stepped off a Union Pacific train in snowy, desolate, Kemmerer, Wyoming, minutes from the mining town that would be her home for the next six years, unsure about what awaited her but ready to dive into her new life anyway. She helped her brother and sister-in-law with the children and learned to speak, read, and write English.  

 

 
Sometime after 1917, Matti and his wife, Anna Liisa, sold their home and took the family, including Selma, on a trip to the Pacific Northwest, before moving to their new home in Itasca, Minnesota, site of a large Finnish community. They might have gone there to visit relatives. Many Finns had settled in Portland, Oregon, whose cool, lush climate and forested landscape resembled that of their Nordic homeland.  Among those who lived in the Portland area were several families with the Kangas surname.   

As much as she loved her brother and his family, Selma knew she could not stay with them forever. She needed to make a life of her own, and Portland, bustling and full of opportunity, seemed to be the place to do it. If the Oregon Kangases were indeed relatives, it would be plausible to imagine that she felt comfortable in deciding that now was the time. She found a job as a hotel chambermaid and kissed her family goodbye, promising to write often. As far as we know, they did correspond after that, but the great distance kept them from seeing each other again.
 
During this time, Selma had a whirlwind romance with Arthur Tully, a newspaper printer from Tucson, Arizona, and they married on January 15, 1919, in Vancouver, Washington, just across the river from Portland.  She was 24; he was 22.
 
They left Portland for San Bernardino, California, and their daughter, Vivian, was born there later that year. A few months later, Arthur brought his family back to Tucson to live with his father, Charles Tully, for a short time.  Eventually, they returned to Southern California, this time settling in Anaheim, where Bing was born in early 1922.
The Tully family:  clockwise:  Selma,
Arthur, Welner “Bing,” and Vivian.
 Anaheim, California.  November 24, 1919.

 

 

The family, decked out in their best clothes, posed for a portrait on the day after Thanksgiving of that year. Here we see Selma in a plain dark dress and sweater, resting her hand on three-year-old Vivian, who clutches a doll and looks slightly bored. Arthur, dressed in a three piece suit, sits jovially in a wooden armchair, balancing his bouncy, wide-eyed 10-month old son Bing on his lap.

Sadly, their happiness was short-lived. With the stock market crash of 1929, the Great Depression began, plunging people’s lives into uncertainty and turmoil.  
 

The struggle to survive hit the Tully family as hard as it did many others. Something happened to Arthur, and the 1930 United States Census shows Selma and her two children living without him on Bonsallo Avenue in Los Angeles.  

Times were desperate. Selma did the best she could to support herself and the children; Bing recalled helping her iron flour sacks to make money. Sadly, she was fighting a losing battle, and there was no one there to help her.

It is hard to imagine the unbearable pain and helplessness Selma endured during that period of her life, especially with her brother Matti living thousands of miles away.  She must have been terrified by the reality that her money had run out and she had no way to care for her children. As if that were not enough, the thought of their having to suffer without her parents, as she had done all those year ago in Finland, was more than she could take. 

Thankfully, Vivian and Bing had what we today would call a safety net. In 1934, their maternal aunt and uncle, Amelia (Tully) and Thomas Binning, who already had a combined total of eight children, took them in and raised Vivian and Bing as their own.  

What happened to Selma after that is hard to say.  There is no documentation on her life until February 15, 1949, when the California Office of Vital Records notes her death of pulmonary tuberculosis in Ventura on February 15, 1949.  She was 54 years old.

Selma (Kangas) Tully is buried at
Ivy Lawn Memorial Park,
Ventura, California. May
she rest in peace.

I think she would have been happy to know that Vivian and Bing made successful lives for themselves, married and had children and grandchildren, and never forgot their humble yet loving origins. Bing treasured the family photograph all his life and hung it in a prominent place in his living room. It was a tangible reminder of a mother who had made the ultimate sacrifice for her children. 

In 1971, he received a letter from his cousin John Kangas, one of Matti’s sons. In it, John wrote of having traveled to Finland, “a long postponed trip that every good Finn should make, at least once.” 

Bing’s own chance to go to his mother’s homeland came in 1991, when he made a personal pilgrimage to Helsinki and took a bus from there to Yliharma, in what was then called Vaasa province.  Unable to speak Finnish, he had no luck in finding his mother’s home, but it gave him some comfort to think he was walking down the same streets she had so very long ago.

There is another photo, but it is not of Selma herself. Rather, it is a picture of her gravestone at Ivy Lawn Memorial Park, in Ventura, California. Its simplicity belies a life that began and ended with tragedy, punctuated by dreams of a better future, days of playfulness and deep motherly love, and untold moments we can only hope were filled with joy.

 

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Copyright ©  2017  Linda Huesca Tully

Motivation Monday: Look Up, Look Forward, and Lend a Hand

Matt Oskar Kangas (1876 – 1971)


Look up and not down; look forward and not back;

look out and not in; and lend a hand.

                      – E. E. Hale

Matt Oskar Kangas was born to overcome obstacles.

“That’s Life for You,” by Madjag.
Creative Commons; in the public domain
.

Matti, as he was known to all, was my father-in-law, Welner Tully’s maternal uncle. In a short memoir he wrote in his later years, Matt recalled growing up in western Finland during an era of poverty, pestilence, and famine.

By 1876, when he was born, Finland had recovered from the 1866-68 crop failure and famine that claimed some 270,000 lives, or 15% of the population.  However, it seems some areas of the country were still struggling. Matt’s home province of Vaasa was among those wanton areas.

Dire conditions forced many men in the area, including Juho Kangas, Matti father, to migrate to America in hopes of making enough money to send home to their families.  Most of the men eventually returned or sent for their loved ones.  Some were never heard from again.

With the men of Kauhava gone, the wives, including Matti’s mother, Susanna (Ruuspakka) Kangas, became the new heads of their households. The children of the town did their part to help their mothers, and their days became a mix of school, play, and hard work; Matti, like many boys his age, tried to fill in for his father as best he could. Juho’s absence weighed heavily on him, but watching his mother suffer without him was even harder to bear.  He dreamed of helping his father in America.

Susanna Kangas did her best to look out for her family, but daily life had become a struggle for survival. Epidemics swept mercilessly through the town. Death became a daily occurrence, and it hit the Kangas family hard. Matti wrote matter-of-factly about watching helplessly as neighbors, relatives, and even his own brothers and sisters succumbed to disease almost as swiftly as it overtook them.

Lacking access to proper medical care and education on sanitary measures, some of the women turned to old folk remedies to save their families. One of these unorthodox ideas held that drinking one’s urine would boost the immune system and keep disease at bay.  Susanna tried getting her surviving children to do this, desperate to keep them alive, but Matti recoiled in disgust.

The first time I read this in Matti’s memoir, I, too, felt revulsed.  But as I re-read it, I could not help reflecting on how I would feel  as a mother if I watched my own children die one by one, with little to no medical treatment available.  It would be agonizing. So yes, I can only imagine that the horror, fear, and helplessness Susanna probably felt in that circumstance left her no choice but to try anything that might help, no matter how extreme the measure might have seemed.

It was a happy day when Juho Kangas finally returned home, and his stories of life and opportunity in America were all Matti needed to begin planning his own trip to see it for himself.

Juho died in 1895, a year before Matti’s chance finally came.  Barely a man at 20, he must have had mixed feelings the day he bade goodbye to his widowed mother and his sole surviving sister, Selma, who was by then two years old.

It was the last time he saw his mother, as Susanna died the following year.  He would reunite with Selma, but not for another 14 years.

 

Handbook issued to passengers
traveling on the Cunard Steamship
R.M.S. Lucania, 1894. 
Matti loved all things modern.  He must have felt exuberant the day he boarded the R.M.S. Lucania, a three year old Cunard ship that at the time held the record for being the fastest passenger liner in the world.
 
Despite the luxury the Lucania afforded passengers in first and second class, its steerage class was little more than a cattle car for up to 1,000 people, Matti being one of them. He probably took it in stride, having seen much worse in his young life.
 
He arrived at Ellis Island in New York City on July 25, 1896 and went from there to either Michigan or Minnesota to live with relatives while he got settled.  
 
Eight years later, he was working as a coal miner in Diamondville, Wyoming, a wild, hardscrabble community of mostly immigrant Scotsmen, Finns, Slovenians, Italians, and Austrians, among others.
 
Diamondville was a true frontier town. Housing consisted mostly of shacks and dugouts built into the hill near the mine, aptly giving it the name “Shack Town.”  With two churches, one school, a jail, a hotel, and a handful of stores, opportunities abounded for new business. Matti was among those who took advantage of this and eventually left the mining life to become a jeweler.
 
He turned 30 in 1906.  Still an idealist who wanted to change his world, he entered politics, running for State Treasurer on the Socialist ticket.  It was common for Finnish-Americans to belong to the Socialist party with its “old country” origins and friendliness toward them and the language and culture they had left behind. The party advocated for safe labor conditions and fair rights. It also helped various ethnic groups establish meeting and cultural centers where they could gather with others who came from the same places and spoke the same language. 
 
For these reasons, Socialist advocacy resonated with the Finnish and other mine workers in places such as Diamondville, where 53 miners were killed in two horrific accidents between 1901 and 1905. It did not fare as well, however, with other Americans, who viewed Socialism as a threat.  This was especially true in Wyoming, even then a heavily Republican state. 
 
During the election campaign, several newspapers set aside the objectivity that was the hallmark of American journalism, instead instructing readers to vote for the Republican candidate alongside the long slate of candidates for state office from the Republican, Democratic, and Socialist parties. 
 
One of these newspapers, the Crook County Monitor of Sundance, Wyoming, printed a sample ballot on the front page of the November 2, 1906, edition, an “X” featured prominently in the box over the Republican slate.  On top of the box read the headline, “Ballot to be used in the Election next Tuesday.  Vote it Republican by a Cross as Indicated.” Below the graphic, a breezy wrap-up of local and state news wove in at least seven references to the achievements of Republicans and the merits of voting the party.

 

Front page of The Crook County Monitor, Sundance,
Wyoming, November 2, 1906.
Though it should be no surprise that Matti lost the election, he seemed to be no worse for the wear, and he moved on with his life.
 
In 1908, Matti married a fellow Finnish-American, Anna Liisa Heiska, and nine months later they had a son, Pellervo.  Two other children would follow: a son, John, in 1911, and a daughter, Aune, in 1922.
 
He never forgot the sister he had left behind in Finland, and he paid her passage to America so she, too, could start her life anew.  16-year-old Selma Kangas arrived in New York from Yliharma, Finland, on February 26, 1910, and promptly made her way to Wyoming.
 
In the fall of 1914, Matti threw his hat in the political ring again, this time running for the state congressional seat.  It is admirable that he chose to do this a second time, given the odds against him. 
 
Two years later, an area newspaper, the Kemmerer Republican, reported that he sold his house for $300 and planned to visit the Eastern states before relocating again to either Oregon or Washington State.
 
There is no evidence that the Kangases reolcated to Oregon or Washington.  There was a sizable Finnish community and several Kangas families living in the Pacific Northwest at the time, so it is possible the Kangases went there to visit relatives, or maybe they went just to see the sights.  Either way, when they left, it was without Selma.  Records show she found a job as a hotel maid in Portland, Oregon. She would go on marry a young Arizona pressman, Arthur Tully, and have two children, Welner and Vivian.
 
As for Matti and Liisa, they moved their young family east, first to Itasca, Minnesota, and then to Owen, Wisconsin, both sites of large Finnish communities.
 
It was a happy time.  Aune was born in Owen.  Pellervo, known as “Pell,” and John were members of the school band, playing the saxophone and trumpet, respectively.  During 1927, 18-year-old Pell went on tour in Finland with a Finnish-American band, called the Humina, or “Murmur” band, to Finland.  The band played for such notable listeners as the President of Finland and Finnish composer Jean Sibelius and his wife.
 
1940 found the family once again on the move, this time to Arlington, Virginia, where Matti set up shop as a watch repairman.  The Pell, John, and Aune married and had children of their own.  They stayed in touch with their cousins, Vivian and Welner Tully, exchanging letters and Christmas cards over the years.
 
Matti Kangas was 95 years old when he died of a stroke in 1971.  Anna Liisa outlived him by eight years. Her death certificate notes that in late January, 1979, she was being helped from her bed in an Arlington nursing home one day when there was an accident and she suffered a broken right femur. Two weeks later, she died of cardiac arrest.
 
Life is not without its obstacles.  Matti had more than his share at an early age, but maybe that prepared him to face the challenges of looking up and making a new life, looking forward and running for public office not once but twice, looking out and raising a family, and lending a hand by bringing his sister to America and helping her adjust. His story is our story, and his dream lives on in the face of every person seeking a better life.
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Copyright ©  2017  Linda Huesca Tully

Thankful Thursday: Legacy of an Ordinary Life

Arthur Raymond Tully (1897 – 1984)


Arthur, we hardly knew you.

Arthur Tully

When your name came up in conversation, as it did from time to time, it was in disjointed bits and pieces, with little to connect them except for the few vital facts about you that most family trees contain.  

Those facts tell us you were born the last day of March, 1897, the eleventh of a baker’s dozen to Charles Hoppin Tully and his wife, Adela Baron, in Tucson, Arizona.  They go on to say that a mere six months after registering for the World War I draft, you found yourself in Portland, Oregon, where you had a whirlwind romance with a young Finnish hotel maid, Selma Kangas. You married her on January 15, 1919, before a Justice of the Peace in Vancouver, Washington, just across the state line.  

And then there is the 1920 letter from your father, Charles, who had just lost his beloved wife – your mother – Adela, only two years earlier, when you were only 19.  Still grieving her absence, he shared his advice with you for a happy marriage:

TUCSON, ARIZONA, May 20th, 1919

Arthur Tully
     Portland, Oregon.

My dear son:-

 Received your letter yesterday and glad to hear from you. Received the Sunday paper you sent and must say that it is a good proof of the size and importance of that city.

 . . . Let me impress upon your mind that in order to have the true love of your wife, you must treat her right always.  Be true, and lovable to her.  Love is the one great factor in winning the love of a woman. Never humiliate her in the least but rather let her feel that she can rely on you completely.

  . . . Give my love to your wife and if she feels like writing tell her to drop a few lines. I want her to like me.  All my sons in law and daughters in law seem to look upon me as their truest and most sincere friend and I want her to feel the same way.

 I wish you both unlimited happiness and best luck.    

                                                  Yours lovingly,

                                                 (signed) Charles H. Tully


Between census reports, city directories, and family letters, we learn that you held a number of jobs as a rail car repairman, newspaper printer, and restaurant cook.  And we know you fell on hard times in the Great Depression, a few years after the birth of your children, Vivian and Welner, in 1919 and 1922.  

That is when the void appears.  And you disappear first, then Selma, into two black holes of uncertainty, until her death in 1949 and your own death on May 3, 1984, in Norwalk, California, at age 87.

Clockwise, from left: Selma, Arthur, Welner,
and Vivian Tully.  Anaheim, California,
circa 1922 – 1923.

It’s hard to fill in the blanks of your life, Arthur.  What were your values, what did you wish for your family, who did you dream you would become, and how did you feel when your dreams met with disappointment?

I’m not sure we’ll ever have the answers to those questions, but I can say this, Arthur:  your children, Vivian and Welner, were your greatest legacy.

Without you and Selma, Vivian would not have married John Moyer and had three lovely daughters.  

Without you and Selma, we would not have had Welner, known to the world as “Bing.”  I think you would be proud to know he was a loving family man – the guy everyone wished they had for a husband and father, and for a grandfather and a friend.  

I wish I could have met you, Arthur.  You may have been an ordinary man with an ordinary share of challenges, and you more or less lived an ordinary life. But for the children who were the fruit of that life, who overcame the challenges it brought and left their own legacies of family and love and goodness, I would tell you that in the end, your life left us more for which to be grateful than to wonder about.  

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Copyright ©  2017  Linda Huesca Tully

 

Thankful Thursday: A Stranger’s Kindness

John Terrence Cherry (1907 – 1956)

 …A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.

– Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities

 

John Cherry’s sketch and signature on one of the pages
of his high school textbook of Charles Dickens’ classic
A Tale of Two Cities
The small red, white, and blue media mail bundle sat on my desk, looking slightly worn from its two thousand mile trip across the country. Though I had excitedly awaited its arrival like a kid waiting for presents on Christmas morning, I paused to savor the moment and reflected on the kindness of the stranger who had gone to the trouble of sending it.

In early May of this year, the sender (who has requested anonymity) contacted me after reading a blog post I had written in 2013 about my cousin, Ohio artist John Terrence Cherry.  In a brief e-mail, she made a generous offer:

Hello, Ms. Tully – While going through my grandparents’ book collection recently, I came across a Charles Dickens book that had at one point belonged to John Cherry.  I believe it was a high school book that had been used by my grandfather (b. 1918, Ashtabula), in Ohio.  It has numerous cartoon doodles and signatures by John Cherry, so I did some internet searching and found your site.  Could I mail you the book?  The book itself has no value, but the drawings are interesting, so I thought you might want it.

John Cherry’s high school
copy of A Tale of Two Cities
A sample of John Cherry’s experiments
with various signatures, on the
first pages of his high school textbook. 

I opened the package slowly and pulled out a faded blue hardcover textbook. Inscribed with the initials “CHS” – or Conneaut High School, near John’s boyhood home in Conneaut, Ohio. it was Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two CitiesIt had been one of my favorites from my high school English Literature class.

But unlike the pristine high school textbooks I had used – and not dared mark up, this volume had been well-inscribed by various owners through the years, with one young man’s signature and sketches on more than a few pages:  John Cherry.

Flipping through the book, it seems John was not exactly enamored of Dickens during this time of his life. The occasional margin notes here and there likely belonged to other students, as the handwriting does not resemble that of the hand that penciled John’s name throughout the book.  Instead, the young student seems to have used his English class time as a opportunity to draw caricatures and develop a distinctive signature.

Nearly one hundred years have passed since John made these sketches, and some are more distinguishable than others.  The caricature-like men throughout the book are jaunty characters, suggesting their creator probably was a keen observer, witty, and good-humored. His various signatures also point to the confidence and ambition of someone expecting to succeed in life.

Sketch of an unidentified man by John Cherry, lightly drawn
opposite the table of contents of A Tale of Two Cities

Based on stories I have heard from my mother, great-aunt, and a cousin, all of whom knew him well, John fit this description.  He inherited his naturally charismatic personality from his doting and boisterous Irish Gaffney-McGinnis clan, a bold and fun-loving lot whose frequent gatherings, stories, and pranks were legendary for generations. He stayed close to his family, even living with his maternal aunts in Cleveland in his late 30s and early 40s to look out for them in their old age.

Caricature and signature by John Cherry, sometime between
1920 – 1924, Conneaut High School, Conneaut, Ohio.

The third of four children of James and Frances (Gaffney) Cherry, John had watched his little brother, Tommy, battle tuberculosis since infancy, eventually succumbing to the disease in 1922 at age nine. John would have been about 16 at the time.

Being a teenager is challenging enough under typical circumstances, but to deal with the emotions that surge from the sadness of and chaos of that tragic period must have been overwhelming.  Maybe art gave John an escape during that rough time. While the class compared characterizations of Lucy Manette, Charles Darnay, and Sydney Carton, it is easy to imagine John sprinkling the pages of his Lit book with lighthearted sketches and his evolving autograph as he dreamed of becoming a famous artist.

My kind benefactor enclosed two other things she found on the internet while researching John Cherry. The first was a sketch he drew with another artist that is reminiscent of his early teenage sketches. The second was a newspaper article from the Cleveland Scene, dated March 14, 2002, about a portrait exhibition in Cleveland.  The article featured a 1929 portrait of John by one of his contemporaries, Cleveland artist Elmer Novotny.  You can see the portrait here.  The writer described John as “a young man looking distinguished and handsome, on the brink of being old enough to have an interesting face; the light falls on him as if to promise a bright future.”

Sure enough, John became a commercial artist and art professor, and, according to my mother and aunt, a charmer with the ladies, though he never married. He adored the mother and aunts who had spoiled him as a child and stayed close to home, looking after them in Conneaut and Cleveland and Conneaut long after his older brother and sister moved away to start families of their own.   Though he did not achieve great fame, he was locally known and respected in Conneaut and Cleveland, Ohio, for his commercial work and impressionistic landscapes and portraits.

As far as I know, two of those paintings survive, both representations from Conneaut.  I have one – “The Walk Home,” a watercolor of Nickel Plate railroad workers trudging home from work on a winter’s evening.  My cousin, Suzanne, has the other, a 1929 watercolor of the view from the family home in Conneaut, as seen below.  His 23-year-old signature in this picture is considerably different from the earlier ones.

 

View from the Cherry family home on Mill Street, Conneaut, Ohio,
by John Terrence Cherry.  Watercolor, 1929.

Aside from the scant records that mention him such as 1930 and 1940 census reports and his death record from 1956, John Terrence Cherry remains something of a “creature of mystery” to me.  But thanks to the youthful doodles in his schoolbook, another student’s keeping the book in his collection all these years, and the kindness of a stranger who took the time to return the book to John’s family nearly a century later, I am thankful that we know a little more about him today than we did before.

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Copyright ©  2016  Linda Huesca Tully

Sentimental Sunday: Sailing New Worlds Together

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick (1889 – 1984)
Phillip Columbus McCormick  (1892 – 1981)

 

Not until the early 1980s did time finally begin to catch up with the couple who had deftly evaded its reach their whole lives.
 

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick gazes lovingly at an oil portrait by  artist Mary Rowley of her husband, Philip McCormick, on their 50th wedding anniversary, at their San Mateo home, 1971.  (Photo courtesy of Suzanne Olson Wieland)

My Great-Uncle Phillip McCormick slowed down considerably after suffered a pair of strokes in 1980, as he was turning 88. Aunt Detty, three years his senior, walked a bit slower by then, but she was still sharp of mind and memory and did her best to help Phil regain his speech and his own memory. For some time, he was laid up in a hospital bed in the McCormick’s study, where a physical therapist visited him regularly.

Aunt Detty was devoted to Uncle Phil in those final months. She would sit next to him, often bringing visitors into the room so they, too, could stimulate him with fresh faces and voices. Remembering tales of days gone by, she often stopped in mid-sentence to ask him a name or a detail, as if she could not remember it herself.

When he could not recall a word or a name or a date, she would gently give him a hint or a wink, never prodding but encouraging him to surface the memory from the recesses of his mind. She was not about to give up on him. As with any long-time married couple, their life had not been without its ups and downs. Now, in the midst of their greatest challenge, they would weather the storm together.

A sailor’s daughter and herself a life-long adventurer, she knew what it was like to navigate rough waters. Some years before, she had, in fact, done an oil painting of two men in a small fishing boat, holding steady through rocky seas. Now she steered the course for both Phil and herself with unwavering determination and resolve.

“Through the Storm,” by Benita McCormick.
Date unknown, probably 1960s or 70s.

After some difficult weeks, Uncle Phil slowly began learning to talk again, but it was too slow for his liking, and not longer after that he suffered a couple of setbacks. Noticing his frustration, Aunt Detty would squeeze his hand or pat him reassuringly on the shoulder, leaning over to kiss him tenderly. The adoring way he gazed back at her through his blue eyes when the words would not come spoke volumes more than anything he could have said.

It was hard for the family to say our final goodbyes to him.  I remember my Aunt Jane, Phil and Benita’s daughter, calling on March 24, 1980, to give me the sad news that he had died.

Everyone worried about Aunt Detty.  When you have spent 60 years of your life with someone, losing them must be like losing a part of your body. She tried to be philosophical about it and used to talk about their being together again someday when she got to Heaven.  She was 92 by then and still living on her own.  She did her best to keep active, receiving visitors and reading and responding to condolences from friends and family far and wide.  But the nights were the hardest, after everyone had gone home.

In a letter to me in the summer of 1981, a few months after Uncle Phil’s death, she wrote,

 

I am very slow in answering all the wonderful folks who told us they loved us with their many kindnesses and prayers.  But they were a prodigious group and only now am I working my way through the pile of mail before me.

More mail comes daily from those who have just heard about Phil.  Thank you for your great comfort and love during my ordeal.

I feel more like myself now, though the arthritis is still very tough – no new medicine seems to reach it.

But…I shall carry on, eh?

                                                      Aunt Detty

Carry on she did, busying herself with her projects, old and new.  One of them was selling bee pollen by mail order. She was convinced of its health benefits and saw herself as a pioneer in the nutritional supplement field, predicting (with great accuracy, it turned out) that its popularity would grow. Even after moving in with Jane and her family in San Carlos, she sent samples of bee pollen to grocery and drug stores, sports groups, even to major league sports team training camps:  the San Francisco Giants in Scottsdale, Arizona, and the San Francisco Forty-Niners in Redwood City.
 
Unfortunately, bee pollen could do only so much to stave off the ravages of old age, and Aunt Detty grew increasingly frail. She could hardly walk anymore, and Aunt Jane, Uncle Ole, and their daughter Suzanne took turns pushing her wheelchair and helping her with her daily routine.  
 
She was a guest of honor at our wedding in the summer of 1984.  As delicate as she looked by that then, her triumphant face showed her pride at witnessing the day as we walked down the aisle past her.  You would have thought she had orchestrated the whole thing.  She loved my husband – “I’m just mad about him, Linda.  What a dreamboat!” she had written to me after meeting him a year earlier.  
 
Five months after our wedding, Aunt Detty fell at Jane’s home.  The fall precipitated her decline rather quickly, though today I can’t remember the particulars; maybe because it was too painful to think about at the time.  When we heard the news, my husband and I had just returned home from a trip to Mexico City, and I was only too grateful to have the chance to go to the hospital to say one last goodbye. She drifted in and out of consciousness and died peacefully a few days after Thanksgiving, on November 26, 1984.  
 
She was 95 years young.
 
Of course, being Aunt Detty, it was only fitting that she would have the final word. And so it was that her funeral, after all the eulogies and laughter and tears, we listened to the reading of a poem she had written around the time she and her beloved Phil had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.  
 
I would like to think of it not as her farewell, but rather as a love letter to Phil and an au revoir to all of us

 

Voyage for Two
 
When I have finished all my earthly tasks
And said my last goodbye to those I love, 
And settled my cold bones in that warm earth
My venturous spirit then will want to rove
And bidding me to follow she will race
To that dark harbor where the strange ships wait
And we shall steal abroad like ghostly mice
And hide in shrouds until she clears the gate
And I shall know the ecstasy I’ve sought
In waves of beauty promised by fair isles
With color far surpassing all my dreams
Enough to meet the distance of their miles.
All exotic places hall be mine;
Those I have known, and those I fan would woo
But Darling, that is when I’ll know the truth.
I just won’t want to seek them without you.
So we shall wait unseen, my sprite and I,
In some sweet spot, bright as a wild bird’s feather
Until you hear the call and find us there
And you and I shall sail new worlds together.

– Benita McCormick, 1971
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Copyright ©  2016  Linda Huesca Tully

 

Friday’s Faces from the Past: Pictures of a Golden Day

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick (1889 – 1984)
Phillip Columbus McCormick  (1892 – 1981)

 

One balmy Sunday afternoon in October of 1971 on the San Francisco Peninsula, some 2,149 miles and 18,262 sunrises from where they first pledged their love for each other as husband and wife, Phil and Benita McCormick strode confidently into church, arms linked and faces beaming, ready to begin their second half century together.

 

 Re-enacting a photograph taken as newlyweds, Phillip and Benita McCormick pose on the balcony of their San Mateo apartment on their 50th wedding anniversary, October 7, 1971. 
Some 30 relatives and friends gathered at Saint Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Burlingame, California, to witness the McCormicks renew their wedding vows.  

 

The McCormick Family, left to right (first row): Phillip E. “Bud” McCormick; Jane (McCormick) and Suzanne Olson, their daughter; and Benita (McGinnis) and Phillip C. McCormick.  Golden Jubilee Mass for Phil and Benita, October 7, 1971,
Saint Catherine of Siena Catholic Church, Burlingame, California.
Among those in attendance were Phil and Benita’s daughter Jane with her husband Eldon “Ole” Olson and their daughter Suzanne; their son Phillip “Bud,” who flew out from Chicago with childhood buddy and family friend Jack O’Brien; Phil’s cousin Maurice McCormick, his wife, Dorothy (Sillers) McCormick and their sons, Maurice “Mickey” and Kieran; and my parents, sisters, and me.  Kieran and Mickey McCormick, both Catholic priests of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, concelebrated the Golden Jubilee Mass. 

 

 
Phil and Benita (McGinnis) McCormick, flanked by cousins, Fathers Kieran (left) and Maurice “Mickey” McCormick, exit Saint Catherine of Siena Church. Burlingame, California, October 7, 1971.

 

An early dinner reception followed at The Castaways, a Polynesian themed restaurant on Coyote Point at the edge of the San Francisco Bay. 
 

The evening was filled with story-telling, song, good-humored jokes, plenty of Irish blarney, and “more laughter than you could shake a stick at,” to quote a saying of the day.

The restaurant has since closed, but fond memories remain of a close-knit family and the beloved couple who enriched not only their lives but the lives of so many others through their charismatic and vibrant ways.  

 

 

 
Author’s Note:  All the photographs on this page courtesy of my cousin, Suzanne (Olson) Wieland.  They are reprinted here with loving gratitude.  LHT

 

Jane (McCormick) Olson and her cousin,
Father Kieran McCormick, at the reception for
her parents.  October 7, 1971, The Castaways
Restaurant, Coyote Point, San Mateo, California.

 

Phil and Benita McCormick pose outside the Castaways
Restaurant on Coyote Point, San Mateo, California.
One of my sisters with my father, Gilbert Huesca. October 7, 1971, The Castaways Restaurant on Coyote Point, San Mateo, California.
My mother, Joan (Schiavon) Huesca with my youngest sister and me at the reception for Aunt Detty and Uncle Phil, October 7, 1971.

 


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Copyright ©  2016  Linda Huesca Tully

Sentimental Sunday: Letters, Light, and Love

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick (1889 – 1984)

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick.  Oil portrait
by artist Mary Rowley.  As seen hanging on the
living room wall in daughter Jane McCormick
Olson’s living room, 2011.

 

When I was a freshman in college in 1974, my Great-Aunt Detty heard I was looking for a summer job and thought she could help.  She wrote to me to share a lead and some encouragement.

Dearest Slimmest Niece Linda,

I told Janie tonight that you’re having difficulty finding a job. She wants you to know that Sears is really looking for salespeople who will work during summer and take a part time job during school year.  The pay to start is $2.30 per hour. She says you must say you’ll work P.T. while in college. Of course if you can’t really fulfill your promise you still have had a summer job and the work experience you need. She also said the catalogue dept. (that’s where she works) is very pleasant, too. Same pay to start. . .

In the same letter, she fondly remembered my first cousin, Paul Schiavon, who had recently visited her while stationed in California with the United States Navy:

O yes, tell Paul I wrote a very praiseworthy note about him to his Mom and Dad last night.  Thought they’d like to know how much we all love him.    Love to the Huescas –

                                    Aunt Detty and Unk Pill*

 

As luck had it, I found a part time job shortly after that, though not at Sears. What I really wanted, though, was to work for the airlines, where I could practice the foreign languages I spoke and have the opportunity to see the world like my aunt and uncle had.  Nearly a year later, my dream came true when American Airlines hired me as a temporary reservations agent in downtown San Francisco.

Aunt Detty, now in her eighties, was ecstatic that I was working for a major airline, but she worried that my temporary status and zero seniority made me more likely to be laid off.  In her proactive  and creative way, she made up her mind to help my chances of staying on by writing a couple of glowing letters of commendation to the company on my behalf.  Working for a company that valued customer service, I cannot help but think her letters might have helped save my job during that uncertain time.

One morning as I arrived at work, my supervisor handed me an inter-office envelope.  Inside were two letters, the first from the department chief.

 

Congratulations, Linda!  I think you should be very proud of this letter.  Mrs. Cormick (sic) wrote to express her appreciation and to commend you for the excellent service you have given her brother-in-law.

I also wish to add my thanks for a job obviously well done.

                                                                  Carolyn David

                                                                            Manager, Reservations
 
 
Behind the manager’s commendation was a photocopied letter in familiar handwriting.  It was impressive, though a bit over the top. 
 
This commendation letter from my aunt to
American Airlines,  probably helped me from
being laid off in 1976, when the airline had to
cut some of its recent hires. 

January 29, 1976

Miss Carolyn David, Res. Mgr:

Dear Miss David,

It is a pleasure to be able to write you this letter about one of your employees.


The other day I learned of the great comfort and consideration given a relative of mine (who speaks little English) by Miss Linda Huesca.  Not only did she speak Spanish fluently, but apparently she went out of her way to make my brother-in-law feel safely headed on his way home.  I believe she even met him at the airport and put him on the plane.  We all appreciate this so much, as the family were not able to be with him that day, and he is elderly.

Will you please thank Miss Huesca for us?  She must be a great asset to your organization.

                                                         Sincerely,                          
                                                        (Mrs. Phillip C.) Benita McCormick

P.S.  Our brother tells us that in addition to being so helpful the young lady is very attractive. 


It was all I could do to keep a straight face in front of my supervisor. Deep down I was grateful my aunt loved me enough to write such a nice, though exaggerated, letter. When the layoffs eventually came, I was spared, and I worked for American for several years afterward.  “Well, maybe you didn’t need them,” she said one night when the letters came up in conversation, “but they didn’t hurt, did they?”


On Wednesday nights I would drive up to San Mateo to visit my aunt and uncle, and before I got there I would stop at a drugstore next to the apartment complex to pick up some flowers and the usual treats – a bottle of Mateus Rosé and a pink tin of peanut brittle. They were all I could afford on my part time salary, but you would have thought I was bringing champagne and caviar. Uncle Phil loved the peanut brittle, and Aunt Detty would have three wine glasses ready, and we would spend the evening talking and laughing until it was time to go home.
 
One winter evening as I was paying for my gifts, a powerful storm knocked out the power in the neighborhood.  I had to wait for someone to let me into the apartment building because the doorbell and electronic buzzer did not work.
 
Uncle Phil had gone to bed early, but Aunt Detty was reclining in her chair as she waited for me, her eyes bright and face aglow in the candlelit living room.  She looked like a young girl ready for adventure.  As we could not cook dinner that night, we ate peanut butter and celery for dinner and washed it down with my cheap red wine.  As the hours passed and our stories grew more outlandish, that wine tasted better with every sip.
 
She loaned me one of her nightgowns, and we curled up on the couch under a warm blanket.  Our candlelit shadows danced on the ceiling as the rain pounded the windows and the lightning crackled in the distance. Aunt Detty’s daughter Jane called from nearby San Carlos to make sure we were all right.  She sounded relieved, if not a bit wistful, when we reassured her gaily that all was well.
 
Eventually the electricity was restored.  We watched out the window as the apartments in the surrounding buildings came alive with white light.  Giggling like children, we turned the lamps off around us and kept the candles going.  We did not want the magic to end.  
 
 
* Our nickname for Uncle Phil McCormick.
 
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Copyright ©  2016  Linda Huesca Tully

Sentimental Sunday: The Golden Years of Life and Love

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick (1889 – 1984)
Phillip Columbus McCormick (1892 – 1981)

 

With an unabashed love of life, Phil and Benita McCormick could have written the book on aging gracefully. Open to new generations and ideas, even well into their 70s and 80s, they blazed boldly forward into the changing world and never looked back.

 

Venice Canal, by Benita McCormick.
Probably painted between mid-1960s-1970s.
From the collection of Suzanne (Olson) Wieland.
In the late 1960s, they moved into the resort-like Woodlake complex, at 820 Delaware Avenue in San Mateo, California. (You can see a map of the large complex here.) The complex offered a wide variety of facilities and social activities for its residents of all ages.  Uncle Phil was an avid reader and continued to study conversational Spanish and do crossword puzzles. He loved spending time outdoors and thrived in the California sunshine, taking long daily walks, playing golf, and cheering on the San Francisco Giants baseball team.  
 
Aunt Detty busied herself painting and teaching art classes, writing, and taking on various entrepreneurial projects. A devout Catholic, she had helped some people convert to the faith and wrote about the experiences in a couple of articles published in Catholic Digest.  
 
A woman ahead of her time, in her late 80s she studied Eastern philosophy of the human body; this led her to promote the benefits of acupuncture and bee pollen. She believed the brain could be exercised to keep it sharp and fit, much the same way one exercises the body, and she even named her brain “Corty,” short for cerebral cortex.
 
It was always a treat to visit my great aunt and uncle.  My sisters and I would pile eagerly into our family’s blue 1969 Chevy Brookwood station wagon for the 40 minute drive up Interstate 280 from San Jose to San Mateo.  Knowing a good story or some surprise was in store, we’d race to ring the doorbell and jump up and down impatiently for the sound of the buzzer to unlock the building door.  The elevator ride to the third floor was another novelty. 
 

I can still hear my mother reminding us to walk, not run, as we dashed past our parents down the corridor and around the corner to apartment 307.  Aunt Detty was always ready to greet us at the door, her eyes sparkling and arms outstretched to greet us with those loving Irish hugs and kisses.  Uncle Phil would be waiting inside, his beret already on his head and a putter by his side, ready to swoop off the antsiest of us downstairs to the putting green or poolside. With a wink at my father, he’d hold his hand out to the wiggle-worms, and off they’d go.

While Aunt Detty and my mother went into the kitchen to prepare coffee and treats, there was time to scan the walls and table tops to spy what was new or rearranged since our last visit:  a Spanish Talavera plate, a family memento, or one of my aunt’s many oil paintings.  A must-see was the bathroom wall, where visitors scrawled messages and left silly jokes and sketches.  There was a story behind everything, and our aunt was only too happy to recount them, occasionally embellishing a bit for her receptive audience.

 

Souvenir crystal pitchers from the 1893 Chicago World’s
Fair, engraved with the names of Benita and her younger
brother, Eugene McGinnis.  Eugene’s lost its base, so it appears
shorter. They erred with “Benetia.” From the collection of
Suzanne (Olson) Wieland.
She continued to be a prolific artist, and the walls of Apartment 307 were graced by a rotating exhibit of her latest or favorite works.  There were sketches and oil paintings of the McCormicks’ travels around the world – New Mexico, Italy, Spain, Mexico.  There were still lifes – one of a bowl of bright yellow lemons juxtaposed against a black background, another evoking a Dutch kitchen, with a covered copper pot resting on a crowded table draped with cloths, and a variety of landscapes (such as the one above of a Venetian canal) inspired by her travels.
 
In the 1960s or 70s, Aunt Detty took up a new study of the human form.  She produced a series of South Pacific style nudes, their graceful figures concealed tastefully by tropical flowers and trees as they silently gazed into the distance.
 
I think that of all Aunt Detty’s paintings, the sentimental favorite was a tender portrait of her only granddaughter, Suzanne Olson, then about three or four years old.  You can see a partial version of that painting below.

 

Suzanne Olson, about three or four years old, sitting
on the hearth in front of her parents’ fireplace. Oil on
canvas. Painted by Benita McCormick, circa 1965.
From the collection of Suzanne (Olson) Wieland.
The lovely oil on canvas won first place in numerous art exhibits across the Peninsula.  Today it hangs in a place of honor in Suzanne’s home, a treasured reminiscence of innocent days gone by.  
 
In the picture, Suzanne, dressed in a pale blue nightgown, is leaning back slightly in front of the family hearth, hands clasped and eyes fixed contentedly on something outside our view.  Her rosy complexion and shoulder length golden hair glow in the light of the evening fire, as if to reflect the warmth and purity of her family’s love that surrounded her.
 
 
Once we settled back in the living room, a regal-looking Aunt Detty held court from an overstuffed arm chair as she surveyed her subjects. She and my mother brought long-gone Gaffney and McGinnis relatives and ancestors back to life with their hilarious stories, breaking out albums filled with old black-and-white family pictures and occasionally pausing to sketch out jaunty family trees on napkins and scrap paper.  The “scrap trees” sometimes made their way to me, and I would stuff them into my own makeshift scrapbook when we got home.
 
On summer afternoons, we’d go down to the swimming pools with my parents and Uncle Phil. There were two pools at Woodlake: the “grownup pool” and the “kiddie pool,” where we usually played.  From there we could watch our uncle stroll to the putting green, a daily ritual of his, where he would meet with his golfing buddies in the “putters’  club” and practice his strokes.  At 6″4″, he was easy to spot in a crowd, with his snow-white hair peeking out of his one of his many tweed caps.
 
Then it would be back to the apartment, where you could see the big jetliners taking off from nearby San Francisco International Airport.  Most were Pan American Airways or Trans World Airlines 747s bound for exotic destinations: the Holy Land, Europe, Mexico, and the Far East.  My sisters and I would watch spellbound from the balcony as the jets banked toward the Pacific Ocean and steered their course toward adventure.  We knew they sometimes carried our uncle and aunt off to those exotic places and could not wait for our own turn to fly away and explore the world, too.
 
Indeed, Aunt Detty and Uncle Phil traveled the world well into old age, thanks to the airline flight benefits they received through their daughter, Jane, – first from Trans World Airlines (TWA) and then from Delta Air Lines.  They visited the Holy Land in 1962 and returned to Europe and Mexico a number of times.  In their mid-80s they went to Japan, beaming as airport personnel whisked them off the plane in wheelchairs “in high style” Aunt Detty said, to save them from walking long distances.  They basked in the adulation of the Japanese who paid them the high respect accorded to respected elders for the experience and wisdom of their years.  
 
Closer to home, they began volunteering to visit elderly and ill patients in local nursing homes, where they would read, teach, and sometimes just keep residents company.  People often were surprised to learn that these “youngsters” visiting them were, in fact, much older than they.
 

Aunt Detty would throw her head back and laugh along with them when they learned she was in her mid-80s.  Quoting Mark Twain, she would remind them, “Age is a matter of mind. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

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Copyright ©  2016  Linda Huesca Tully