Treasure Chest Thursday: We’ll Always Have Barcelona

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

Married couples often have a private word or catchphrase, born of shared experiences and rich with meaning.  My great-uncle and great-aunt, Phillip and Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s catchphrase was, “We’ll always have Barcelona.”
“Las Ramblas” depicts a Sunday afternoon on the famous boulevard in Barcelona. My great-aunt Detty, Benita (McGinnis) McCormick, painted this as an ode to the year long sojourn she and my great-uncle Phillip McCormick spent in Barcelona. Oil on canvas, 1970.
Those of us who loved them during their 50-plus years of marriage knew that of the countless places around the globe they had visited, nowhere else resonated with Aunt Detty and Uncle Phil more than that captivatingly proud, complex, and progressive land of Gaudì, Dali, and Picasso.
Barcelona was many things to Phil and Benita.  It was a retreat that offered them respite from the pangs of separation as they watched their children become adults and reclaimed their own lives.  It was a haven of inspiration, offering new ideas and methods of expression to an artist and an art lover who welcomed growth and new ideas.  And it was a seat of romance, where Arab and Roman influences danced gaily with the Catalan culture and rekindled their passion for life and each other.
As time passed, all it took to elicit a nod and a knowing smile was for one of them to repeat that storied phrase, summoning in an instant those memories of their glory days in Barcelona.
In 1970, some ten years after their extended stay there, Aunt Detty painted a tribute to the city that stole their hearts. Titled “Las Ramblas,” it is an 18″ x 24″ oil on canvas depiction of various groups of people, from lovers on a park bench to little girls in their First Communion veils and dresses to their parents gathering with their families on the famous Barcelona boulevard on a sunny Sunday morning.
“First Communion Sunday in Barcelona.”  Inspiration for her later oil on canvas
painting titled, “Las Ramblas,” this was painted by my great-aunt Detty, Benita
(McGinnis) McCormick. It is reminiscent of Degas’ style. Her writing in the
lower left hand corner notes the title and her name, “Benita E. McCormick.”
Watercolor, circa 1970.
Their daughter, Jane (McCormick) Olson, gave me the painting many years ago.  A couple of years before she died, she gave me another, smaller painting, this one a watercolor, of the same boulevard.  It seems that Aunt Detty had painted it first but was not entirely happy with the result, so she stored it away in a trunk for many years.  Both paintings hang on adjacent walls in our family room.
First Communion Sunday, the watercolor above, focuses on a group of little girls right after their First Communion and is reminiscent of the motion and pattern of an Edgar Degas ballerina portrayal.  Unlike its later version, Las Ramblas, its mood is brighter and more impressionistic by way of its lightly-brushed figures and pastels. The day feels warmer, hot even, with a flat light on the ground and surroundings.
By contrast, Las Ramblas has a more complex combination of shadows and light. The time of day seems later than the one in the watercolor. There is more subtlety in the details and gradation in the colors, with just a hint of a light blue sky beyond the sunlight-dappled canopy of trees. The activity is more varied; while the little girls first catch your eye, your find your gaze traveling diagonally toward the flower stand in the lower right hand corner, up to the center where the men in white suits stand as their wives talk, and then finally resting on the young people on the bench who seem oblivious to everything but each other.
I have always loved this painting the most of all my aunt’s works. Every time I look at it, I wonder about the stories behind the people and marvel at how they seem so connected.  Though I have yet to visit this charming city, still I am drawn into its busy, charismatic boulevard where untold surprises await.  I can almost hear the lilt of my aunt’s voice beside me as I weave my way through a sea of faces and a cacophony of sounds – life at its best.
Thanks to Aunt Detty, we too, will always have Barcelona.
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Copyright ©  2015  Linda Huesca Tully

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Visiting El Greco Museum

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

Toledo, about an hour’s drive from Madrid in central Spain, was one of the excursiones requisitas,  or obligatory stops, for my great-aunt and artist Benita (McGinnis) McCormick.  She and my great-uncle Phil made a pilgrimage to the Museo del Greco during their year-long Spanish sojourn in 1960, to view the master’s dramatic artwork and see a replica of his Renaissance-era home.  
 
Benita and Phillip McCormick leaving El Greco Museum.
Caption reads, “Recuerdo de Toledo – Casa del Greco.”
“Souvenir of Toledo – Home of El Greco.”
1960, Toledo, Spain.

The caption on this picture postcard is disconcerting.  While the museum is situated on land where El Greco’s home may have stood, the home within is in fact a very good replica.  It probably did not matter to Aunt Detty and Uncle Phil, who like many visitors to the museum, were presumably more awed by the excellent exhibit of many original paintings and sculptures of El Greco and other 17th century artists.

 

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Copyright ©  2015  Linda Huesca Tully

 

 
 

 

Travel Tuesday: Rebirth in the Land of Mañana


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

When a letter begins with the words, “Sit down,” a big announcement is sure to follow.

That was how my great-uncle-and-aunt, Phillip and Benita (McGinnis) McCormick, learned that their daughter, Jane, had married her true love, Eldon “Ole” Olson, in a private church ceremony in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, in May of 1960.

Reading the news in their Barcelona pension, some 5,000 miles away from home, they were undoubtedly surprised, though maybe not entirely. True, it had been easier to see their son, Bud, marry and start a family, but letting go of their daughter was tougher to do.

They had to admit that she did what they would want her to do, which was to follow her heart and do things her own way.  Besides, she had tried her best to cushion the news.

 

Did Aunt Detty gold-leaf this small statue of
the Virgin Mary? From her collection of Spanish
Madonnas, it now sits on my dressing table. 

 

In characteristic fashion, Uncle Phil and Aunt Detty rose to the occasion. Swallowing their pride, they sent her and Ole their congratulations and decided to extend their stay a while longer. And being the larger-than-life couple they were, even in their 70s, their idea of “a while” turned into a year.

Spain, a place to retreat in a moment of uncertainty as they struggled to give their daughter some room to grow, became the place of their rebirth and rediscovery.

They made the rounds of the major art museums and architectural jewels, not just in Catalonia but throughout the country and became active members of the local artists’ colony. Uncle Phil, already somewhat familiar with Spanish, began taking a conversational class so he could talk to people during his long walks through town.  Aunt Detty, always looking to reinvent herself artistically, signed on with a master artist to learn the art of gold leaf.

In a 1960 letter to my parents, Aunt Detty’s words spill out breathlessly, and she seems to abbreviate many of them to help her fingers keep up with her rapid-fire thoughts.  Here, “g.l.” stands for “gold leaf,” while “E” stands for España, or Spain:

I’ve had 6 days of wonderful gold-leaf application. Yesterday I g.l.  a little shelf. Today I do the Virgin (plaster) that I helped repair & prepared for g.l. yesterday. There is no one I know of in our country doing this gold and silver work and after we tour the rest of E, we may return here for Sept. & Oct. do do further study with this wonderful maestro – the head of the craft in Barcelona. We work in his studio-workshop – the former stables of a castle (walled – even now, if you please) and so old that even Antonio’s father, who had the place before him, doesn’t know its age.

 

I wonder if the small statue of the Virgin Mary, shown in the picture above, is the same plaster Virgin that Aunt Detty was gold leafing?  My cousin, her granddaughter Suzanne (Olson) Wieland, gave it to me a couple of years ago, one of a collection of Madonnas Aunt Detty brought back from Spain.

Evidently, her hosts were equally fascinated by their older pupil:

Each day our lesson from 4:30 pm till 8 pm is punctuated by loud rings of the bell to admit some visitor, or client, to meet the “Americana.”  [The maestro’s] daughter, 14, brings her school friends and his sister-in-law came to check on me. . . . Evidently I pass muster, look harmless, and so get the welcome Española!  I love them all.

 

Aunt Detty and Uncle Phil were especially taken by the Spaniards’ slower pace of life, their philosophy that there is always mañana – another day, and that if things don’t resolve themselves right away, they will work themselves out eventually.  In the same letter to my parents, she marvels at this slower pace of life.

Joan, this is a week to the day from the start of this note…. you also know what mañana means – Mary Harlow told me that if a Spaniard says “Mañana – mañana” that really means the next day.  but life is so full here – I can understand how it takes months to get things done.  No wonder they think we do everything by “machinas” we move so much faster than they.

 

As with everything else they did, Phil and Benita McCormick wholeheartedly embraced the lifestyle of mañana.  Sure enough, they gradually accepted the idea of Jane’s being married and lovingly welcomed their new son-in-law, Ole Olson.

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Copyright ©  2015  Linda Huesca Tully

 

Wedding Wednesday: Ole and Jane (McCormick) Olson

 

Benita Jane “Janie” (McCormick) Olson 
   (1927 – 2011)
Elson “Ole” Olson (1924 – 1994)
Secret courtyard passage, Carmel-by-the-Sea
On May 6, 1960, while 20 million television viewers watched England’s Princess Margaret marry Anthony Armstrong-Jones at Westminster Abbey, Eldon Olson and Benita Jane McCormick were being married in front of two witnesses in the quaint village of Carmel-by-the-Sea.
 
Ole and Jane, as everyone knew them, had opted for a quiet wedding ceremony on the Monterey Coast, some 100 miles south of San Francisco International Airport, where they worked for Trans World Airlines. Charmed by Ole’s romantic invitation to her to spend her life seeing the world together, Jane gladly said “yes” and set off to buy herself a wedding dress.
 
Unlike Princess Margaret and her groom, who arrived at Westminster Cathedral in a royal horse-drawn carriage amid a grand entourage, Ole and Jane drove for nearly two hours down to Carmel in a little Volkswagen Beetle, accompanied by their friends, Jerry and Sue Williams.  It would have been a cool and clear spring day, with temperatures ranging between 50 – 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Once there, they headed into the picturesque Church of the Wayfarer at the intersection of Seventh and Lincoln Streets.

 

Ole and Jane (McCormick) Olson on their
wedding day, May 6, 1960, at the Church of
the Wayfarer, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.
Inside, Sue Williams would have helped Jane change into her wedding dress, which we see here.  In her typical good taste, it was a stylish knee-length pale blue taffeta dress cinched at the waist with a satin belt, with a full skirt and a demure broad v-neck collar adorned with a large bow and chiffon-like three-quarter length sleeves.  A small pillbox hat with a short wispy veil crowned her head. 
 
This snapshot shows us the happy couple just outside the church after the wedding ceremony. Jane smiles obligingly, her veil blowing lightly in the Carmel breeze.   Ole, his arm around his bride, looks at her and not the camera, standing tall and proud.
 
Unlike her extroverted mother, Benita, or even the British royal family, Jane was never much for fanfare. For her, getting married was all that mattered, and as long as she and Ole were together, she wanted nothing else – neither a big wedding, nor guests, nor gifts.  Even the simple gold band Ole slipped over her finger acted as both engagement and wedding ring.
 
A congratulatory telegram from friends of
Ole and Jane Olson in care of the Church
of the Wayfarer, notes the wedding took
place in the afternoon of May 6, 1960.
Initially, Jane might have been apprehensive about telling her parents, Benita and Phil McCormick, after the fact. Then again, they had recently flown to Barcelona, Spain, for an indefinite stay.  She saw no reason to interrupt their stay by asking them to come home for the brief ceremony. She sat down and wrote them a letter announcing the news.

 

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Copyright ©  2015  Linda Huesca Tully

Sentimental Sunday: Loving and Letting Go

Benita Elizabeth (McGinnis) McCormick 
   (1889 – 1984)
Phillip Columbus McCormick (1892 – 1981)
Phillip Eugene “Bud” McCormick (1927 – 2004)
Benita Jane “Janie” (McCormick) Olson 
   (1927 – 2011)
Elson “Ole” Olson (1924 – 1994)

 

Benita Jane McCormick, known as “Jane,” circa 1960.
As happens eventually to parents everywhere, Phil and Benita McCormick must have wondered how they could have just blinked one day and looked up to find their son and daughter all grown up: living independently, working, falling in love, and starting families of their own.
 
Their son, Bud, married a local beauty queen named Ruth Kant sometime in the 1950s. Bud and Ruth had a daughter, but their marriage was short-lived.  Some time after their divorce, Bud fell in love again, this time with a young woman named Barbara Bowman. They married, had five sons, and established a home in the Chicago suburbs.

Jane went away to university in New Mexico to major in English and worked during her summer vacations as a “Harvey Girl” at the Fred Harvey Bright Angel Lodge at Grand Canyon, Arizona.  After a few years, she was offered a job as a reservations agent for Trans World Airlines (TWA) in California.  She worked for the airline in Fresno for a short time before transferring as a ticket agent to San Francisco International Airport, where she met a handsome and charming Norwegian-American TWA freight agent, Eldon “Ole” Olson.

 
This menu cover from Bright Angel Lodge at Grand Canyon, Arizona, hung in Jane (McCormick) Olson’s kitchen for many years, a fond memory from her days there as a Harvey Girl.
 
Meanwhile, by 1959, Phil, who had retired some years before, and Benita were feeling lonesome for their daughter. They sold their home in Chicago and moved to California,  renting an apartment at The Arlington at 1401 Floribunda Avenue in Burlingame, near the airport.  It was a big move for a couple entering their 70s, but they were thrilled to be closer to Jane and looked forward to seeing her often.
 
A TWA gate agent offers his hand to
Jane McCormick as she disembarks
a jet on one of her many travels.

At 32 years old, she was having the time of her life, working for a major international airline during the Golden Age of air travel.  It was the same way Phil had felt during early days with the railroad in the 1920s.

In 1960, most airports were new and clean, bright places that attracted not only business and leisure travelers but also the curious who came to see what all the fuss was about. And there sure was a lot of fuss. Large concourses displayed artistic tourism posters beckoning people to see new places. Passenger lounges offered travelers and would-be travelers enormous windows to gaze through at sleek and silvery jet airplanes that promised to take them in style to see their families, or maybe even to an exotic vacation abroad, much quicker than by rail or boat. Airline employees, usually clean-cut young men and women, wore crisp uniforms, enjoyed good pay and flight benefits, and received special training in customer service, charm, and etiquette.   

Eldon “Ole” Olson, year unknown

Passengers at the time were generally from the middle and upper classes. Decked out in smart outfits and wearing the latest hairstyles, they came to airports to see and be seen. Those traveling for pleasure were typically accompanied by large entourages of family and friends who saw them off and greeted them on their return as if they were the most important people in the world.

No wonder, then, that Jane and Ole’s courtship felt so magical, especially against this glamorous backdrop.  Ole Olson was everything Jane had dreamed of:  funny and bright, kind, attentive, and romantic.  She could not believe the similarities between him and her father.  Like Phil McCormick, Ole was fair-skinned and fair-haired and was from Minnesota. To top it off, he was a freight agent (and later supervisor of ramp services) for TWA, just as Phil had been a freight agent for the railroad.

When asked years later about those days, Ole recalled that Jane was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.  He loved her lilting laugh, the way she looked up at him through her clear blue eyes and long dark eyelashes, and the graceful way she moved through a room.  He teased her about being sentimental, but he loved her for it, all the same.

It gradually became clear to Benita and Phil that their little girl was falling in love with Ole Olson.  As she began spending more time with him and less time with her parents, they reluctantly had to admit that they were no longer at the center of their daughter’s life.

Sometimes love is about letting go.  As much as they understood that, Phil and Benita also  realized they would have to find something else to fill their new-found time.  So just months after arriving in California, they closed up the apartment and obtained two one-way TWA airline passes to Barcelona, Spain, to begin the next phase of their lives.

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Copyright ©  2015  Linda Huesca Tully

Talented Tuesday: Lady in Winter

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick (1889 – 1984)

Benita (McCormick) McGinnis drew this untitled
chalk rendering in Chicago, possibly in 1931.
 

With winter snow and rain storms in full force across the world this week, it seems appropriate to post this chalk drawing by my great-aunt “Detty,” Benita McCormick.

The back of this portrait contains no information to date it, but it resembles Aunt Detty’s artistic style during the early 1900s. If you look closely, you can see the outline of the thin brown wooden frame that held the portrait for decades until it fell apart in the late 1980s.  

 
The writing in the lower right hand corner of the picture is barely visible, but there seems to be a number, possibly “’31,” which could indicate that Aunt Detty drew this in 1931.  
 
The picture is untitled, as far as I can see, but I call it the “Lady in Winter.”  On the back you can see that my aunt purchased the art board at a Chicago art supply store for 75 cents.
Aunt Detty’s daughter, Jane (McCormick) Olson, gave me this picture in the mid-1980s.  I took it out at Christmastime to display on my antique dresser, across from a table lamp that also belonged to Aunt Detty and a small statue from one of her travels. 

 

The Lady in Winter, still as beautiful as she was when Aunt Detty
created her nearly a century ago, today sits contentedly on my
antique dresser, a reminder of an elegant and gracious era.

This “Lady in Winter” looks quite content here, dressed fashionably in her red wide-brimmed hat as a stray lock of her gathered-up hair catches the wind.  A matching thick red scarf gently drapes around her high neck, falling softly over what looks like a fur coat so typical of middle class midwestern ladies at the time. A steady snow swirls around her as she serenely yet confidently makes her way down the street against a stormy sky, just before dusk. Her lips slightly pulled back into a near-smile, she looks straight ahead as if anticipating a pleasant event or meeting.  It is easy to imagine her warming up the room when she walked in, turning heads with her fine features and rosy countenance.

She is, the more I think of it, rather a lot like Aunt Detty.

Where is she going?  Who is she meeting?  Only she knows. What I do know for sure, though, is that the Lady in Winter cheers me up every morning as she sits there on my dresser, reminding me that no matter what weather lies ahead, it is one’s light from within that warms the heart and cheers the soul.  


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Copyright ©  2015  Linda Huesca Tully

 

Wisdom Wednesday: Young for Such a Little While

 

Benita Jane (McCormick) Olson  (1927 – 2011)

Jane McCormick, Chicago, Illinois,
circa 1938

Of all their accomplishments, none brought greater joy to my great uncle and great aunt, Phillip and Benita (McGinnis) McCormick, than their two adopted children, Phillip Eugene and Benita Jane, known as Bud and Jane.

My mother, Joan (Schiavon) Huesca, told my sisters and me many stories about her cousins, as they lived only a few blocks from her in Chicago, Illinois. She was quite the tomboy and played mostly with her cousin Buddy.
 
Jane preferred to stay out of the mischief that my mother and Bud always seemed to make.  It would not be until many years later that Jane and my mother grew close as they discovered in each other common values and experiences as daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers.

 

At Jane’s funeral in 2011, her daughter, Suzanne, shared this poem from her mother’s leather scrapbook.  Jane had penned it at the tender age of 16. The Chicago Tribune had published it, no doubt making Jane’s own creative mother, Benita, quite proud.

Wistful and wise, the poem is subtly humorous and self-effacing, so characteristic of Jane’s personality.  It reminds me of one of her favorite childhood authors, A.A Milne, who wrote the Winnie-the-Pooh books.

 

When I was very young (almost a year ago)
And thought myself so awfully wise,
I’d sigh and smugly say,
“Aren’t children brats?” and
“What makes them act that way?”
I saw them with unseeing eyes.
 
But now when little girls are lost in make-believe
And grimy boys make cops-and-robbers’ sounds, I smile
Glad to hear that happy noise
And wish that I could lose myself, or climb a roof
And skin my knee, as do the boys – 

We’re young for such a little while.

Benita Jane McCormick
   Chicago, Illinois, 1944
 

 

(Gratefully published with permission from
Jane’s daughter, Suzanne Olson Wieland.)

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Copyright ©  2015  Linda Huesca Tully

Friday’s Faces from the Past: McGinnis Family Portrait

Mary Jane (Gaffney) McGinnis (1858 – 1940)
Benita (McGinnis) McCormick (1889 – 1984)
Francis Eugene McGinnis (1891 – 1961)
John Charles McGinnis (1894 – 1944)
Alice Gaffney (McGinnis) Schiavon (1895 – 1963)

Some time during the late 1930s, the now-adult McGinnis children: Benita, Alice (my maternal grandmother), Gene, and John, gathered at the family home at 8336 Drexel Avenue in Chicago, Illinois,  with their mother, Mary Jane, for a family portrait.

 

The McGinnis family in the living room of the family
home at 8336 Drexel Avenue, Chicago, Illinois.  
 Clockwise, left to right: Alice (McGinnis) Schiavon,
Eugene, John, Benita (McGinnis) McCormick, 
and Mary Jane (Gaffney) McGinnis.  Circa 1936 – 1939.

As far as I can tell, this was their last portrait together.  Diminutive matriarch Mary Jane died on July 13, 1940.  By early 1963, Benita, the eldest, was left, her two brothers and sister having preceded her in death and leaving her to succeed their mother as the head of the now-extended family.  

As with another photograph of the family at Sunday dinner in the same home, this picture resonates with me because of its uncanny similarity to the living room in the first home my husband and I owned, in San Jose, California.  Just by looking at this photo, I know the half-height bookcase was one of two that sat under small windows and framed a simple yet elegant Craftsman-style fireplace.  

We did not have a similar decorative screen in our own front window, however. I suspect the  photographer might have placed the one in the picture there for aesthetic purposes, to block out the street view and not distract from the subjects. I wish I’d done something like that when we took pictures in the same spot in our own family home so many years later!
  
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Copyright ©  2015  Linda Huesca Tully

Thankful Thursday: Moves and Migrations

 

This site has been a bit quiet over the past few months.  If you’ve wondered why, it’s because blogging has had to take a back seat for a short time while we moved to a new home.

A rose from our new garden

Growing increasingly weary of “big” city life, some months ago my husband and I sold our home and moved our family to a smaller community.  We were looking for a slower pace of life and a closer connection to people and the beautiful outdoors here in Northern California.

I guess you could call our move a mini-migration of sorts.  After all, we didn’t go all that far.

As anyone who has moved from one house to another can attest, moving is a time-consuming and sometimes painful process.  You agree to give up the known for the unknown; purge the excesses of your life; pack the loved and necessary; unpack and put it all away again; and give family, friends, and service providers your new address. It can be exhausting.  It can be even more daunting to think about going to a new area altogether, whether it is a new town, a new state, or even a new country.

As it turned out, we moved not once, but twice.  Our house sold in less than a week.  With scarcely enough time to buy a new one, we rented a small, quaint Victorian house in a high-tech city to the north while we looked for a house in a valley to the south. We were hardly there when we found our small-town dream home, made an offer, and moved in three weeks later.  It happened so fast, we could hardly believe it.

The move has been good for us. People here are friendly and welcoming. We now live on the far edge of a town some 35 miles south of our old stomping grounds.  It could not be more different than what we left.  There is no traffic, no smog, no hustle and bustle here.  Set in the foothills, our home backs up to an open space of majestic oak trees, pristine skies, and plenty of wildlife.

We inherited some gigantic koi fish who have accepted us – and our dogs – into their kingdom. Our three four-legged creatures, of course, are quite fascinated by their new fair-finned friends.  (Okay, maybe the interest is in their fish food pellets, which resemble dog chow. One of our smaller dogs, Kira, has either fallen or jumped in three times already to get a closer look!)

About the only downside would be our commute to work.  It takes longer than before, to be sure, but the scenery along the way is breathtaking, and the time we have to talk in the car is a true gift.

In all, it took us some 20 weeks to get here.  Putting it in perspective, that’s 284 cups of morning coffee for two people; over 300 boxes of “stuff” (72 of which were just for books); 14 pairs of hands to get those boxes from one place to another; four storage units; and 18 meetings with our Realtor, contractor, and lender.

We moved in a month ago and are still unpacking and purging, figuring out the nuances of the new house, and finding our way around town.  Like any adventure, it has not been without its ups and downs, but the blessings that have come from them have been great.

This move also has been an occasion to reflect on the many trials our ancestors endured in their own moves and migrations so many years before us, as they left the familiar for places unknown in search of a better life and greater opportunities. The risks we take and sacrifices we make today pale when placed next to theirs.

My great-great grandmother,
Catherine (O’Grady) Perrotin,
1884.

 

Take my great-great grandmother, Catherine (O’Grady) Perrotin.  When she was barely a teenager, poor and hungry, she and her older sister left their home in Waterford, Ireland, almost 200 years ago and sailed to New York in search of a better quality of life. Catherine had no idea where life would take her, but she trusted in God that all would go well.

And it did. She moved once or twice again after arriving in New York and ended up in Shreveport, Louisiana. There, she found work as a seamstress and married a French baker, François Perrotin.

Catherine would move four more times during her lifetime. The first move was to nearby New Orleans. When the Civil War broke out, the Perrotins left the South for the peace of Niagara Falls, New York. A few years after that, attracted by the burgeoning railroad industry in Mexico, they relocated again, this time to Orizaba, a small mountain town on the Mexican east coast.

Catherine Perrotin built this house in Ruardean, Gloucestershire,
for her family. Wanting them to remember their origins, she
had it built in the same style as their home in Mexico.  She named
the new family home “Orizaba Villa.”

Catherine and François lived in Orizaba for nearly two decades.  They became integral members of the community and raised two children there before François’ death from meningitis in the late 19th century.

This time, it was a widowed Catherine who moved, alone, back across the ocean to England, where her daughter and British son-in-law had gone with their children a few years earlier. To get there, she had to travel by train to the port of Veracruz, take a small boat across the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans, travel overland to New York, and sail across the Atlantic, traveling overland again to reach her daughter’s home in the south west of England.

Despite the rough and cold waters of the Atlantic, the sea-sick yet determined Catherine arrived in Ruardean, Gloucestershire, in the winter of 1895. She lived a contented life with her daughter and grandchildren until her death some six years later. Her legendary spirit and resolve live on today through her descendants now scattered throughout the world.

Yes, our own little move is small compared with my great-great grandmother’s many long-distance moves, but our motives have not changed.  Today, as I unpack yet another box, I remember dear Catherine and my other family members – including my own parents – who moved to new places in search of better lives. I thank them for crossing oceans and mountains and plains, for enduring hardships and overcoming obstacles and uncertainties, because without their sacrifices we would not be where we are today.

I will always remember them with a grateful and hopeful heart, never forgetting where I came from and all those who helped our family “get there.”

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Copyright ©  2014  Linda Huesca Tully

 

Thankful Thursday: A Passion for Creating

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick (1889 – 1984)

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick,
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

When my  great-aunt Detty, or Benita (McGinnis) McCormick, was born 125 years ago this week (September 30, 1889) in Conneaut, Ohio, I doubt her parents had any idea their daughter would be so passionate about the arts and making her mark on the world.

 
But that is exactly the way she was all her life. Considering that she lived in an era when society expected a woman to defer to husband and family and home, often putting off her own life dreams, she was unafraid to be her own person and  had her own ideas about how she should develop her talents and accomplishments.
 
The late 1930s and 1940s saw her broaden her interests as she proved she was not only an accomplished painter and short story writer but also a published playwright and songwriter.
 
In an earlier blog post, we read a 1937 letter to Benita from The Jewel Tea Company, thanking her for the use of a short story for their commercial Christmas cards.  During that same year, she wrote the lyrics and melody for a musical, “Gingham Apron Strings.”  The musical is on file in the Library of Congress and features the following five rather jaunty songs.  I have not yet been able to obtain copies of the script or the lyrics to the songs (whose titles appear below), but it is easy imagine that their theme and lyrics were as spunky and spirited as their author:
 

Quick as a Wink

Ha, Ha, I’m Laughing at You

Rumble, Rumble, Rumble

You May Part Your Hair in the Middle

Let’s Go to Town on a Waltz

 
This article, from an unidentified
newspaper (possibly the Chicago
Tribune?) was written sometime
during World War II.  The
original clipping still resides in
Benita McCormick’s scrapbook.

Benita adored her mother for her tender qualities and homemaking talents, but she was not the “domestic goddess” her mother was. Nor, for that matter, did she want to be.  In this regard, she was rather like her younger sister (my maternal grandmother) Alice (McGinnis) Schiavon, eschewing the idea of  being homemakers in favor of being artists and businesswomen.  They likely inherited their streak of independence from their father, Thomas Eugene McGinnis, and their five maternal aunts, four of whom were working women and never married.  

Choosing to not stay at home was an unpopular choice for  women in the years leading up to World War II. Indeed, many people at the time believed that women should have no choice in the matter at all.  Despite the passage in 1920 of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, it was still considered “unnatural” for women to pursue work or interests outside the home.

Thankfully for us, Benita McCormick was not one to be deterred by what others thought or said, and she followed her heart’s passion, creating thoughtful and sometimes provocative works throughout her life.

This 1940s clipping from an unidentified newspaper in Aunt Detty’s scrapbook of memories, tells of her unique contribution to the morale of soldiers in the Second World War:

During World War I, when every one was knitting for the Red Cross, Mrs. Benita McCormick, 8032 Vernon avenue (sic), wasn’t.  She couldn’t.  She made several vain attempts and gave up the idea.  For her part tho (sic), she painted and gave to the Red Cross a poster which they used quite extensively.

Now, in World War II, Mrs. McCormick still can’t knit.  Her contribution this time is a song, “You’re an American, ‘n’ that Means Free.”  It’s being readied for publication now.  She got the idea for the song when she saw movies at the battle of the Midway.  She was much impressed with two young anti-aircraft fighters who were shown briefly, and remarked later, “We’ll surely win with boys with Plymouth Rock chins like that.”  That provided the inspiration for her song, and it has a line, too, about the “Plymouth Rock chin.”

Mrs. McCormick is a former member of the motion picture censor board, and is now secretary of the Delphian society.

 

Benita was one of those fortunate people in the world who was not only talented but figured out how to make her passions work for others and for her.  In a future post, we will learn more about this side of her from yet another newspaper account about the accomplishments of this fascinating lady who was at her happiest when engaging in the world in her own unique way.

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Copyright ©  2014  Linda Huesca Tully