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:

Continue reading “Thankful Thursday: A Stranger’s Kindness”

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

Friday Funny: The Writing on Her Wall


Benita (McGinnis) McCormick (1889 – 1984)

 

Photo:  Alan Reeves.  Creative Commons; in the public domain.


Like any good social media maven, Benita McCormick had a wide circle of “followers” in the mid-1970s. They visited often and posted witty messages on her wall, eager to read and “like” what others had left there before them.

Most were anonymous, but some left names, initials, or tell-tale handwriting styles by which to identify them. There was no counter to show how many “friends” or “followers” Aunt Detty had, who they were or how they were related, no profiles or status updates.

You had to get that from actual conversation.

If this seems incongruous, you’re right. We are talking about social media in the mid-1970s, decades before high-technology geniuses invented personal computers or dreamed up the term or even the concepts of  “Facebook,” “Instagram,” and “Twitter.”

You see, to view my Aunt Detty’s “wall,” people had to visit her at home in San Mateo, California. The way it typically worked was that after exchanging pleasantries, most people excused themselves briefly from their gracious hostess and made a beeline for the bathroom.

Yes. The Bathroom.

Aunt Detty loved art in every form and believed people should not just look at it but participate in it and have fun in the process. Taking her philosophy to heart, she covered a bathroom wall facing the toilet in bright floral wallpaper from from floor to ceiling, drawing a white picket fence over the bottom half so the flowers were visible between the slats. At the edge of the fence she hung a pencil on a string for her “guests,” inviting them to not just sit there but get “inspired.”

The McCormick’s bathroom was a “must see” destination for her visitors. People young and old spent their time in the “throne room” reading the latest postings and the rest of the time adding their own contributions: daisies peeking over the fence, silly faces, and a variety of good-natured sayings. The postings, of course, were light-hearted, respectful, and proper, befitting their 80-something-year-old residents.

It was not unusual to hear howls of laughter from men and women alike behind that door.  Such a conversation piece it was! Even the most introverted visitors had something to say after visiting “the fence.”

I’ve drawn my own elementary rendition of that fence here with some the actual postings as I remember them. I won’t tell you which saying was mine.

 

My rendition of Benita McCormick’s 1970s “social media” wall.
Yes, Kilroy was there, too!
Happy Friday, everyone.
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Copyright ©  2016  Linda Huesca Tully

 

Sentimental Sunday: Happy 100th Birthday, Daddy

Gilbert Cayetano Huesca (1915 – 2009)

 

Everyone knew this gentle man as Gilbert Cayetano Huesca.
But to my sisters and me, he will always be our “Daddy.”
Of the many things he did in his 93 years, my father couldn’t be prouder of anything more than his family. “She looked into my eyes,” he said of my mother. “I looked back into hers. We were very much in love. How lucky I was. How lucky I am. And here (all of you) are the results.
 
Today, November 1st, is my father’s birthday. He would have been 100 years old.
 
He showed his love for us: my mother, my sisters and me, our husbands, and our children – his grandchildren – in words and actions, every day. And that’s why, no matter how many years go by, his love will live on in the hearts of our family.
 
I think we were the lucky ones. But blessed, too, so very blessed!
 
Happy Birthday, Daddy! I love you with all my heart. xoxo

 

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Copyright ©  2015  Linda Huesca Tully

Amanuensis Monday: Portrait of a Woman

 

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick (1889 – 1984)

A local Bay Area feature story from the mid-
1970s depicts Benita (McGinnis) McCormick 
with mementos from her travels.
Clipping courtesy of Suzanne Olson Wieland.

[Note:  Amanuensis is an ancient word meaning one who performs the function of writing down or transcribing the words of another.  Derived from the Latin root manu-  , meaning manual or hand, the word also has been used as a synonym for secretary or scribe.]

A few years ago, my cousin, Suzanne Olson Wieland, sent me a newspaper clipping about her maternal grandmother (and my maternal great-aunt), Benita (McGinnis) McCormick.
The paper was most likely The San Mateo Times, a publication covering peninsula news of the San Francisco Bay Area. Based on the photograph, I would estimate the article was published in the mid-1970s.  
 

A transcription of the story follows here.  (The story contains one factual error; it refers erroneously to Aunt Detty’s son as “George.” His name was Phillip, and he went by his nickname, “Bud.”

 


PORTRAIT OF A WOMAN
She Grabs An Idea…

Then Just Hangs On

Artist and businesswoman, Benita McCormick, zips through life with vim and vigor.  The secret of her zest is to grab hold of an idea in the same way one would grab hold of the tail of a donkey – then hang on.

It was shortly after her marriage to Phillip McCormick, a railroad executive with the Baltimore-Ohio in Chicago, that Mrs. McCormick began putting her ideas to work.  Prior to that she had been too busy studying art illustration and painting at the Art Institute in Chicago and the galleries in Paris and later, working on the Chicago movie censor board.

Mrs. McCormick’s method is to take a creative idea, hammer and chisel it into the commercial world and produce a going concern.

Shortly after her marriage she got the idea of teaching children to paint to music after seeing the moods created by violinists during the rehearsal of love scenes in Hollywood.

She rented a studio in the Astor Hotel in Milwaukee, where she was then living, and began to teach the children painting to the tunes of the Teddy Bears’ Picnic and the Clock Shop.  Her idea was so successful that the Milwaukee Art Institute copied her idea and installed an electric organ in their institute.

Her painting classes brought an acquaintance with the youngsters’ mothers and out of this grew her interior decorating business which was soon thriving.

The McCormicks returned to Chicago and became involved in raising their twins, Jane and George (sic).  What then could be more natural than for a young mother busy at home to decide to redecorate her dining room?

So Benita set to work.  She stripped the dining room of its five panels of wallpapered hunting dogs and began to paint.  She painted the room in oils showing the different fairytales that would entertain the children.

Article about Benita McCormick
Guests coming to the house were impressed and soon she was doing scenes for other people’s homes. One painting she did for her father, of his favorite fishing haunt, added $500 to the sale of the house.

As the children grew older and became more independent Benita turned her interest towards advertising.  She got the idea of making Christmas cards that showed the different models of cars.  And she soon had more orders than she could handle.  The result was a studio business that ran for three years.

A business enterprise that started during World War II and was to last for 16 years began when Benita dreamed up the idea of a job survey.  Her idea was to call people in their homes and tell them of the job opportunities available to them.  She would then send the prospective employe her card and have them present it to the personnel office that they applied to.

It was a workers market in those years; there were hundreds of jobs available that employers were desperate to fill.  Benita took her idea to the most conservative firm in town and won them over with a contract.

At the end of 16 years of personnel work Benita decided to retire with her husband and “have some fun.”  They made their base in San Mateo and began to travel.

They went to Europe and fell in love with Spain where they stayed one year.  After a year in California they returned to Spain and toured the Near East and the Holy Land as well.

“I’m mad about Spain,” says Mrs. McCormick, “I love the people, they’re so warm and friendly.  I like Barcelona best because it has a lot of life to it.”

It was during her stay in Barcelona that Benita became interested in applying gold leaf to statues.  She found a man in Barcelona who worked in gold leaf and became his student for five hours a day for eight months.

Professor Antonio’s studio was what had once been a stable and later the carriage house of a great mansion.  It had walls one foot thick that were pocked with cannon balls, a false floor and cathedral-high ceiling.

Back in California, Benita applied her newly learned gold-leaf technique to making coats of arms.  She first became interested in shields because she thought “it was a nice thing for people to have pride in their families.”

Like all her ideas, this, too, has become an enterprising project with Benita making coats of arms for families and newly formed businesses.

And the McCormick’s coat of arms is “Without Fear.”

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Copyright ©  2015  Linda Huesca Tully


Travel Tuesday: The Exotic and the Mundane in Mexico City

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

Gilbert Cayetano Huesca (1915 – 2009)
Joan Joyce (Schiavon) Huesca (1928 – 1987)

From the Many Branches, One Tree treasure chest, this 1966 photograph celebrates the spring visit of my great-uncle-and-aunt, Phil and Benita (McGinnis) McCormick, to Mexico City, where our family was living at the time.

Cover of the folio containing a souvenir photograph of my
parents’ and great aunt and uncle’s dinner at the Mauna Loa
Restaurant, Mexico City.

 

Souvenir photograph of dinner at the Mauna Loa Restaurant
in Mexico City. Left to right:  my parents, Gilbert and Joan
Huesca and my great aunt and great uncle, Benita and Phillip
McCormick.  Spring 1966.
My parents, Gilbert and Joan (Schiavon) Huesca, took them to dine at the legendary Mauna Loa Restaurant at 172 Hamburgo Street, in the Zona Rosa neighborhood of the Federal District.
 
The Polynesian-themed restaurant was considered by many to be quite exotic in its day. It later burned down, but its former customers and fans still talk about it today, and you can view photos of it on the Critiki blog. Indeed, my parents and my aunt and uncle shared fond reminiscences of their beautiful evening for many years.
 
The rest of the McCormick’s visit was much more mundane. Some days after their dinner at the Mauna Loa, my parents and youngest sister travelled on personal business to Brownsville, Texas.  Brave souls that they were, Aunt Detty and Uncle Phil stayed and babysat my other two sisters and me for the week.
 
Uncle Phil used to walk to our elementary school to pick us up at the end of the school day. Though in his 70s by now, he remained energetic and relished his daily walks through the city, nonplussed by the high altitude.  One afternoon on our way home, he took us into a candy shop to look at all the treats.

It was Holy Week, and the shop, like most others in the city, was sporting a colorful window display of its most festive creations and goodies in anticipation of Easter Sunday.

 

As only children could do with a loving uncle, we talked him into buying us half the candy store.

Well, maybe not that much, but it must have seemed that way to Aunt Detty when we got home, licking our sticky fingers and chasing each other around the house on a sugar high. There went her chances of getting us to eat our dinner that night!   

 
As she regarded us with exasperation, I wonder if she recalled the words of our late grandmother and her sister, Alice (McGinnis) Schiavon. “Nana” once joked to my mother that having four little girls was like going on a wild adventure with four little monkeys.
 
Luckily for us, Aunt Detty couldn’t stay angry for very long. Hours later that evening. with Uncle Phil nearby in his chair with his pipe and newspaper, my sisters and I sat at her knee, breathlessly listening to her recount one of her Irish fairy tales in a dramatic brogue.
 

Monkeys never had it so good.

 

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Copyright ©  2015  Linda Huesca Tully

Sentimental Sunday: Keeping the Lord Company in the Dark

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

Phil and Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s love affair with Spain began in 1960, when they arrived for a couple of months and ended up living there for a year, making some of the best memories of their lives.  Benita – my great-aunt Detty – also created some of her best art there.  In her untitled ode to Spain below, she painted a loving picture of the country that captured her heart and sparked her imagination.

Iberian Peninsula at night, NASA,
International Space Station, December 4, 2011
Creative Commons; in the public domain
 

 

My husband and I used to wonder
About this nocturnal activity of a people.
It puzzles most visitors,
But we think God loves it.
Picture, if you will, El Rey de los cielos
Gazing nightly upon our dark, revolving earth.
All is stygian
Except for a little glimmer
Around New York. 
The Americas are asleep.
Then, gracefully, España spins slowly into view
And warms His heart.
For there below, stepping gaily but with authority,
Heads high, spines straight, toes pointed,
Under the gleaming lights
Of every town and city in Spain,
Pass a proud and beautiful people,
A whole nation of night-walkers,
Laughing and talking
To keep the Lord company in the dark.

Benita McCormick

 
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Copyright ©  2015  Linda Huesca Tully