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.)


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!

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,

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 America 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 ended up in Shreveport, Louisiana. There, she found work as a seamstress and married a French baker, François Perrotin.

Catherine would move twice more during her lifetime. When the Civil War broke out, the Perrotins left the South for the peace of Orizaba, Veracruz, Mexico, a small mountain town in eastern Mexico.

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 southwest of England.

Despite the rough and cold waters of the Atlantic, the sea-sick yet determined Catherine arrived in Ruardean, Gloucestershire, in the summer 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.”

Updated October 23, 2023.
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.


Copyright ©  2014  Linda Huesca Tully

Amanuensis Monday: They “Liked it Immensely”

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick (1889 – 1984)

Letter to Benita McCormick from The
Jewel Tea Company, thanking her for
her Christmas story and enclosing a
check for $50 as payment in full.  From
Benita McCormick’s scrapbook.

[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.]

One morning in mid-December, 1937, just months after returning from her trip to Mexico with my great-uncle Phil, my great-aunt “Detty,” or Benita (McGinnis) McCormick, opened her mailbox to find a check in the amount of $50.  It was payment for a Christmas story she had sold to The Jewel Tea Company for use in their company Christmas cards.

The Jewel Tea Company originated in Chicago, but as its success grew, the company relocated to Barrington Illinois. Though the company originally started out selling tea and coffee, it gradually expanded to include a trademark china pattern and a variety of household goods.

Whether or not the Christmas cards noted here were sent to customers is a mystery. So, too, are the cards themselves and even the subject of this letter, The Story of Shamus Beg.   Nonetheless, knowing my Aunt Detty’s vivid imagination, her story must have been filled with fanciful prose and whimsical sketches of leprechauns, or “little people,” probably based on the tales she heard during her travels in Ireland nearly a quarter of a century earlier.  


 December 10, 1937


Mrs. Phillip C. McCormick

8032 Vernon Avenue

Chicago, Illinois


My dear Mrs. McCormick:

I purposely delayed sending you your check because I had hoped to be able to include a few copies of our Christmas card.  However, I appreciate the continued urge to “do your Christmas shopping early,” and I am therefore sending your check today.  The cards will come pronto.

Naturally, the check is payment in full for all your right, title, and interest in and to “The Story of Shamus Beg.”  You will be delighted to know that all those folks who had an opportunity to “preview” the story liked it immensely.  It has the qualities of charm, simplicity, and dignity, which ought to make it ideally suited as a Christmas greeting.

I am returning under separate cover the material which you had given me earlier this year. I was very happy to be able to use your story and if in my contacts I come across people who are interested in stories of this nature, you may be sure I will keep you in mind

Best personal regards.


                                             THE JEWEL TEA CO.
                                             By:  Clayton N. Watkins, Chief 
                                             Publications Division


Copyright ©  2014  Linda Huesca Tully


Treasure Chest Thursday: There Was an App for That

Phillip C. McCormick (1892 – 1981)
Benita (McGinnis) McCormick (1889 – 1984)

Phillip Columbus McCormick,
circa 1914.
From the scrapbook of Benita (McGinnis) McCormick.


My great-uncle, Phillip Columbus McCormick, who always loved the Spanish language, must been smitten with it during the trip that he and my great-aunt Detty, Benita (McGinnis) McCormick, took to Mexico in 1937.

But unlike many people in the 21st century who rely on electronic applications, or “apps,” to aid with translating and pronouncing foreign words, Uncle Phil used something more basic and tangible. And in this age of hardware and software updates and crashes, his handy little tool happily endures to this day.
One day while in downtown Mexico City, he visited an American bookstore and stumbled across a small, cloth-bound phrasebook, Spanish for your Mexican visit. It was authored by Frances Toor, an American anthropologist who wrote several books on the Spanish language and Mexican culture. It contained everything he could have needed in his travels.


This small book, written by American anthropologist
Frances Toor, contains chapters on culture and language
for the traveler and the expat living in Mexico.

Ms. Toor geared the book toward expats and tourists, filling it with helpful vocabulary and relevant chapters, such as ordering food, visiting the doctor, asking for directions, and haggling for souvenirs. Her short, chatty paragraphs about the people and various practical situations could easily put newcomers at ease.  She even included pertinent, full page advertisements before each chapter for local businesses, such as restaurants, hotels, and jewelry stores.  While the ads must have helped defray publishing costs, they were probably among the few English-language ads for places and services that British and American tourists would have needed – and found –  during their stay.


The inside cover page bears the name of its owner,
“P. McGinnis       Mexico City  8/30/37”


I don’t recall Aunt Detty ever trying to speak Spanish, or for that matter any other language.  She would have left that to Uncle Phil.  Indeed, she was proud of his gallant efforts to carry on a conversation in Spanish, as it helped them make friends wherever they went.

Of particular interest to Uncle Phil would have been the chapters on bookshops and recreational activities, as he was an avid reader and golfer and loved to watch bullfights.

I can imagine him calling his artist wife’s attention to the ad below for A.C. Garies Almacen de Pinturas, or Art and Paint Store, in Mexico City.  Aunt Detty never traveled anywhere without recording her impressions artistically, and knowing where to find good paint supplies would have been at the top of her list for shopping.


Advertisements such as the one above at right, not only reassured
visitors to Mexico that there were goods and services available
that were just as good – or better, in many cases – than some of the
things they would find back home.
This small volume, measuring about 4″ square, was the right size to fit nicely in Uncle Phil’s coat pocket.  It is still in good shape, and though its pages are gently yellowed with age, it remains a sweet reminder of a young man who long ago leafed through it many times during this and subsequent visits to Mexico (and eventually Spain), in that universal desire to understand and be understood.
Copyright ©  2014  Linda Huesca Tully

Those Places Thursday: Postcards from Mexico, Part 5: The Floating Gardens of Xochimilco

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick (1889 – 1984)
Phillip C. McCormick (1892 – 1981)

We wrap up our postcard series by visiting one of the loveliest stopovers Phil and Benita made during their 1937 vacation, the famed floating Gardens of Xochimilco, in the southern region of the Federal District (Distrito Federal), about 40 minutes from downtown Mexico City.


A family enjoys their outing in a “trajinera,” or flower-decked gondola, as a young flower vendor poses in her “chalupa,” or vendor’s barge. Postcard; Mexico, 1937.
From Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s scrapbook.
Vendor-photographer, his camera mounted on a tripod, pauses on his “chalupa” as he awaits an approaching gondola of tourists.  Postcard; Mexico, approx. 1930s.  From Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s scrapbook.
Derived from the Náhuatl words xochitl and milli, Xochimilco means “field of flowers.”  Over eleven hundred years ago, the city was built on a lake by the Xochimilca tribe as a system of man-made islands, called chinampas, and canals for farming and navigation purposes.  It later was expanded as a waterway to the ancient Tenochtitlán, another city on a lake which would one day become the center of Mexico City.


Back in the 1930s, as today, colorful trajineras, open air wooden gondola-like boats covered with elaborately decorated arches, glided lazily through some 110 miles of canals, offering tourists and Mexican families on weekend outings a chance to convivir, or enjoy one another’s company.

Tall and graceful, Juniper trees line waterways in Xochimilco.  Postcard, 1930s, Mexico.  From Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s scrapbook.

Phil and Benita and their friends, John and Mary Coates, probably spent an idyllic afternoon here. Always living in the moment, they would have laughed and told stories, feasting on a picnic lunch and reclining on the long wooden benches of their trajinera. As the hours passed, they would have bought flowers and souvenirs and enjoyed the music coming from passing canoe-like chalupas.  Maybe Phil and John would have even hired a group of mariachis to serenade their wives with a love song such as Agustín Lara’sVeracruz,” and the two couples might have found themselves dancing in that carefree way that travelers do when the boundaries of time and language and space melt away into a languid infinity.


A quiet moment on the waters of Xochimilco.  Postcard, 1930s
Mexico.  From Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s scrapbook.

To read the other installments in this series, please click on the links below:

Part One: Postcards from Mexico

Part Two:  Taxco/2014/07/those-places-thursday-postcards-from-mexico-part-2-taxco/


Copyright ©  2014  Linda Huesca Tully

Travel Tuesday: Postcards from Mexico, Part 4: Tracing Phil and Benita’s Footsteps through Mexico

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick (1889 – 1984)
Phillip C. McCormick (1892 – 1981)

Three basket weavers smile obligingly at the photographer in “Tipos Mexicanos,” or “Mexican People.”  Photographer and location unknown, circa mid-1930s.  From Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s scrapbook.
The black and white photographic postcards my great uncle and great aunt, Phil and Benita (“Aunt Detty”) McCormick purchased during their 1937 vacation to Mexico are so many and so artistic that they seemed worthy of their own series here. 
In the absence of a written itinerary of Phil and Benita’s travels throughout that country, these postcards have provided us fascinating clues to where they went and the places that were special to them.


Map shows Aunt Detty and Uncle Phil’s travels, as
indicated by the postcards they bought.
“Man and burro.”
La Plazuela del Progreso, Taxco, Guerrero, Mexico, 1930s.
From Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s scrapbook.

And what about the back of the postcards, you might wonder.  Do they contain any writing?  Were they ever sent to anyone, or were they simply kept as artistic souvenirs? Oh, the stories they might yield, if only…

Ah, yes, if only.  Well, dear reader, for now they will remain unanswered questions – due in part to my own action, or lack thereof.

“Charro and China Poblana” depicts
couple in the typical dress of Puebla.
Location unknown; Mexico, 1930s.
From Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s

You see, some years ago, Uncle Phil and Aunt Detty’s daughter, Jane (McCormick) Olson (my first cousin once removed), loaned me the scrapbook of her mother’s memories. Aunt Detty had obtained the book, originally a large salesman’s sample album of Christmas cards, from my parents, who sold advertising specialties at the time.  She repurposed the book into a scrapbook in 1982, removing the samples and gluing her photographs, postcards, and memorabilia onto the pages.

Over time, the glue began to disintegrate, loosening some of the items (thankfully for archival purposes) from the pages. One of the postcards was among the loose items, and I was able to pull it back slightly to examine it further.

It turned out to be a postcard Aunt Detty had sent to her two children, Phillip “Buddy” and Jane, both of them 10 years old at the time. On it, she wrote briefly and tenderly that Mother and Dad were having a great time but were looking forward to seeing their darlings soon.

There may have been more correspondence on the back of the postcards. However, out of a combination of respect for Jane’s property and a fear of damaging the items in the scrapbook, I resisted the urge to peel back or remove anything else. Instead, I took photographs of the contents, which we see here. Thank goodness for cameras!


Woman selling clay pots.  “Tipos Mexicanos,” or “Mexican People,”
location and photographer unknown, Mexico, 1930s.  From Benita
(McGinnis) McCormick’s scrapbook.

The scenes in these miscellaneous postcards could have taken place anywhere in Mexico.  The general descriptions on some of them refer to the subjects as “Tipos Mexicanos,” or “Mexican People,” but on the face of the photographs there is no other information as to their location.  The exception is the postcard below, captioned “Jefatura de Operaciones, S.L.P.,” or the  the operations center of the state capital city of San Luis Potosí.  The north-central city’s famed colonial architecture may have been the reason Aunt Detty and Uncle Phil visited there.

Operations Center, City of San Luis Potosí, Mexico,
1930s.  From Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s scrapbook.

To read the other installments in this series, please click on the links below:

Part One: Postcards from Mexico

Part Two:  Taxco

Copyright ©  2014  Linda Huesca Tully

Friday’s Faces from the Past: Meeting John and Mary Coates

John Coates
Mary (?) Coates

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick (1889 – 1984)
Phillip C. McCormick (1892 – 1981)

Fun-loving John and Mary Coates, just who were you?

Caption reads, “John and lovely Mary Coates.”  1937, Mexico.  Exact location unknown; possibly Taxco, Guerrero?  From Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s scrapbook.
These photographs, from my great-aunt Benita’s scrapbook, tell us you were in Mexico in 1937.  You either already knew my great-uncle and great-aunt, Phil and Benita McCormick, before you traveled there, or you met them while south of the border. 


Mary Coates, 1937, Mexico.  From
Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s


I have tried to learn more about you, searching the usual genealogy sources, such as Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, and Mocavo.com, but the time frames and names don’t match up.  Still, I have a few theories about you, so please bear with me as I share them here.

Based on the note my great-aunt wrote under a photograph in which all of you were seated at a park fountain, you were American, but where were you from? If you knew the McCormicks before your trip, you might have come from either Illinois, Ohio, or Minnesota; otherwise, it’s anybody’s guess.  Or maybe you were simply expats, living in Mexico.


Whatever the case, it seems you and my relatives enjoyed one another immensely and spent a lot of time together.  You even hired a guide to take you to various places, including the great Aztec pyramids of Teotihuacán, about 30 miles northeast of Mexico’s capital city.


As I look at the picture of you and my relatives, I’d guess you were slightly younger than Phil and Benita McCormick.  That would mean you were born sometime after 1900.  
John Coates, hamming it up on a park fountain.
1937, Mexico, exact location unknown. From
Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s scrapbook.
John, you had the looks of a Hollywood movie star, with the character of a successful, self-assured, charismatic, and gregarious man who viewed life as a big adventure.

Mary, Aunt Detty described you as “lovely,” and you must have been that way inside and out. If a picture tells a thousand words, I think these photographs would say you were the counterpoint to your husband’s gregariousness. You seem outgoing, yet you also appear to be calm and poised and sweet.

I’m sure Aunt Detty loved spending time with you, sharing insights and impressions of your sightseeing excursions, and discussing your families back home.


Did you have children?  If so, maybe they or someone else who knew and loved you will find you here one day and enjoy these snippets of happy times shared so many years ago.  Maybe they will even share more with us, about you and your life together.


In any case, if they do find you here, I hope they will be happy to know that your friendship with my wonderful relatives, whether brief or long-lived, was treasured and remembered and treasured long after those serendipitous days south of the border.  
Here’s to you, John and Mary Coates.  Whoever you were, you were special to my great-aunt and uncle.  And for now, that’s good enough for me.
Left to right: John and Mary Coates, unidentified tour guide, and Benita and Phil McCormick. Caption reads, “4 Americans & Guide.” 1937, Mexico, exact location unknown.  From Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s scrapbook.


Left to right:  John and Mary Coates and Benita and Phil  McCormick.
1937, Teotihuacán, Mexico. From Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s scrapbook.

Copyright ©  2014  Linda Huesca Tully




Those Places Thursday: Postcards from Mexico, Part 3: The Artistry of Taxco

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick (1889 – 1984)
Phillip C. McCormick (1892 – 1981)

Phillip and Benita McCormick, Mexico, 1937.
From the scrapbook of Benita (McGinnis) McCormick.
As we trace my great uncle and aunt, Phil and Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s 1937 visit to Mexico, let’s return to the colonial hilltop village of Taxco, in the eastern state of Guerrero.  They were fascinated by this charming place, aptly dubbed the “magical town.”


Cathedral of Santa Prisca, Taxco, Guerrero, about 1937.  Postcard; photographer
unknown. From the scrapbook of Benita (McGinnis) McCormick.


From the postcards Uncle Phil and Aunt Detty purchased here, it would seem at first glance that Taxco’s mountain setting and colonial architecture attracted a fair share of artists and photographers.

Having visited there myself on two occasions, I found it to be a memorable destination, adorned by striking white stucco houses with red tile roofs, hilly cobblestone streets, and exotic flowers and plants. Its zócalo, or main square, is crowned by a splendid Churrigueresque cathedral and is bordered by artisan silver shops bustling with tourists from all over the world.
But Taxco wasn’t always bustling.  An ancient town that dates back to Aztec times, at one time it was surrounded by silver mines that fattened the coffers of several prospectors and facilitated the building of Santa Prisca Cathedral by its most prosperous miner.  Sadly, many of the mines were destroyed during the 1810 War for Independence from Spain, while other mines were depleted of their precious metal. The events precipitated the decline of the town’s economy and eventually, its population, by the mid-nineteenth century.
Taxco, Guerrero, about 1937.
Postcard, photographer unknown.
From the scrapbook of
Benita (McGinnis) McCormick.

It was not until the early 1930s that Taxco was reborn, thanks to the arrival of an American artist named William Spratling. He established a silver design workshop featuring pre-Columbian motifs that he designed and trained local artisans to create.  Spratling’s techniques and creations attracted worldwide attention, establishing Taxco as an artistic and cultural center and silver capital of the world and earning him the honorary moniker as the “father of Mexican silver.”  

A few short years later, visitors began flocking to this remote town.  It was not an easy place to reach; travelers had to endure narrow, steep, and twisting roads to get there.  ut the effort was well worth it, and artists, photographers, and tourists alike were inspired to record the rewarding sights with their cameras, paint brushes, and pens.

Aunt Detty and Uncle Phil probably spent a few days here, exploring the winding streets and filling their senses with the many sights, sounds, and smells..  If there was an artists’ class here, Aunt Detty, her blue eyes twinkling, would have been the first to sign up for it. Uncle Phil, in his trademark tweed jacket and beret, would have grinningly stepped into a small shop, Spanish phrasebook in hand, eager to practice his Spanish with the local residents.  
The McCormicks’ own striking presence would have turned the heads of many a Taxquenian. Despite the increase of tourism in this part of Mexico in 1937, foreign tourists (Americans were referred to as güeros, or “fair-skinned”) still were not seen frequently but were regarded with open and mild curiosity.  My aunt and uncle did not mind at all.  They viewed the attention as an avenue toward new friendships and discoveries.  


Women and children at communal baths, Taxco, Guerrero, Mexico,
about 1937.  Postcard; photographer unknown.  From the 
scrapbook of
Benita (McGinnis) McCormick.
Of all the postcards Aunt Detty and Uncle Phil brought back from Taxco, this last one is my favorite. It depicts a group of indigenous women and children washing clothes in a communal pool.  Their expressions suggest mild surprise at the (unknown) photographer’s presence, maybe even puzzlement over his choice of them as his subjects. His skillful composition draws us into the center of the  scene.  He juxtaposes the simple and lightweight dress of the women against the stark worn walls of the buildings, the wavy pattern of the tile roofs, and the passive waters of the pool.  The effect turns this otherwise routine act on a languid day into something very special, inviting us to take part in the ritual.  
Aunt Detty, who lived anything but a routine life, would have loved the raw beauty in this scene.  I don’t remember that she ever painted anything quite like this, but some of the female subjects in her later paintings bore expressions that were reminiscent of the purity and simplicity of the women in this picture postcard.  I have no doubt that she was moved by the beauty of Taxco and its people, as well as by the resurgence of artistic expression during the town’s rebirth. 
To experience the “Magical Town” of Taxco and its surroundings, as as it looks today, you can view this promotional 2011 video by clicking here.  

To read the other installments in this series, please click on the links below:


Copyright ©  2014  Linda Huesca Tully