Making Memories Around the Table
Like many a family in the early twentieth century, my maternal McGinnis ancestors reserved Sundays for family gatherings and dinners. It was a ritual, understood by all that no matter what everyone did during the rest of the week, they came together at the family home on Sunday afternoons.
It was the weekly after dinner custom of Thomas and Mary Jane (Gaffney) McGinnis and their children Benita, Eugene, John, and Alice, to linger for hours into the evening to tell stories, read aloud correspondence from far-away relatives, share personal news of the week, and debate politics.
Extended family and other guests were always welcome. More often than not, my great-grandfather, Thomas, held the room spellbound as he recounted dramatic stories of his adventures around the world while he was a merchant sailor on the high seas.
Someone must have told a joke right before this picture was taken, because everyone is smiling or laughing, seemingly unaware of the camera. The exception is Eileen Kelly, a cousin, who is looking at the photographer. We can surmise that the person taking the picture was a member of the group, as a chair has obviously been pulled away from a place setting at the end of the table. My guess is that it was my great-uncle Gene, who is missing from this picture.
I will never forget the first time I really looked at this image. It was in the mid-1990s, and my husband, our three small children, and I were living in a tiny 1925 Spanish bungalow, our very first home. It was well after midnight, and despite having tucked our three children into bed, washed the dishes, and started a load of laundry, I was still wide awake. I pulled out my scrapbooking supplies and some old family photos and sat down at the dining room table.
When I came to this picture, I stared at it in disbelief. Except for the McGinnises, it could have been taken in our very own dining room. It had the same built-in buffet and the same large window to the left of the table. Looking at the door next to the buffet, I knew it led to the McGinnises’ kitchen, just like ours. And I was certain that there was a large opening into the living room, right about where the photographer would have stood.
I thought back to when we bought our house, when something about it that I could not pinpoint seemed oddly familiar, and I knew I wanted to live there right away. It was quaint but looked nothing like any of the homes I had lived in, except that it had a breakfast nook that reminded me of the one in my childhood home in Chicago. Despite living far away in California, I felt an inexplicable closeness to my ancestors in that house.
|Left to right: Erin, Kevin, Charles, Welner “Bing,“ Patricia (Fay), Michael,
and Linda (Huesca) Tully. Photo taken by my father, Gilbert Huesca, at the Tully home,
San Jose, California, in November 1996.
That evening, as I studied the photo of the McGinnises and another of them from roughly the same time, I understood. Though my great-grandparents’ home had been a Craftsman bungalow, its interior design and floor plan was roughly the same as our little house, even down to the built-in furnishings in the dining room, living room, and kitchen. The funny thing was that as far as I know, I have never been there.
I framed that old photograph and kept it on our buffet in our look-alike dining room while we lived there, next to a similar, more recent photo of us at our own Sunday dinner, some 70 years later.
We no longer live in that house, but to this day when I see the pictures, I can still hear the laughter of our families as they meld together through time and tradition, the stories still as earnest, the news just as urgent, the political debates just as fervent, and the laughter around the table still hearty and memorable.
Surely some day, our children will think of these as the good old days.
Copyright © 2014 Linda Huesca Tully