Thursday, November 30, 2017

Shower Power


Avery's paternal great-grandparents: I love this fabulous, charismatic picture!

In mid-November I hosted a baby shower for my friend's daughter Avery, a girl I have known since she was four years old. This is her first baby, so pretty special. At her request, I wrote a presentation with an accompanying slide show (with help from her mom) about her family background. Sound kinda weird? She loved the one her mom and I created for the bridal shower of her sister-in-law, so.

I got to work on gathering info on Avery's parent's family lines, collecting photos of and listening to stories about them. Tons of research was already done so I familiarized myself with it, and decided which people to focus on. The theme ended up loosely being "I can do hard things."

On the maternal line are a large number of Mormon pioneers, possibly the world champions in doing hard things. 19th century Mormons were chased out of several states by murderous mobs, and finally emigrated out of the United States to the almost uninhabited Rocky Mountains in 1847. Less than a year later the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican War, and the Mormons found themselves right back in US territory.

Brigham Young, their decisive, domineering leader, executed a plan to colonize much of the western American continent. Mormon individuals and families were assigned to move to forested areas of the Pacific Northwest and Canada, to prime agricultural areas in Utah and Idaho, and to bleak and desolate spans of Nevada, Arizona, Mexico and California. The Haws family (below) moved to Arizona.

George Haws had over 20 children by three wives. The family's days were spent eking out survival by coaxing crops out of poor soil, digging irrigation ditches, milking, preserving food, protecting themselves from Apaches, saving their crops and adobes from driving rain and swollen rivers, and battling dirt, day in and day out. Just getting to Arizona was a feat in itself, traveling through narrow sandstone canyons and down steep banks to cross swift rivers.

One of Avery's Burrell ancestors who was sent to settle in Mexico was bayoneted by rebels during the Mexican Revolution. An English ancestor sneaked away from her abusive husband with their five children, and fled via ship to the US. Still another became a Mormon in the 1830s in eastern Canada, and began years of migration westward, marking her trail with the graves of family members.

Other of Avery's maternal ancestors lived and worked in mining towns in Colorado and Arizona. One of the daughters who was born in the early 1900s in Colorado, was given a doll, possibly her only toy in that bleak, harsh settlement. The family still has the doll, and so this presentation was given as if spoken by that doll. That was a creative way to present the info and to easily throw in amusing comments and observations.

On Avery's paternal line, some of the ancestors were patrician types born into bounteous luxury. That's not their fault, haha, but it makes them a little less interesting than those who lived a hard-scrabble life. But I did find myself loving them in another way. Just because someone has an easy life doesn't mean they have an easy life, if that makes sense. They battled demons not of poverty or those that imperil survival, but demons of demands, the Depression, and depression. I truly feel sympathy for their brand of hard things.

It was a treat to find out more about my friend's background. We are in part, products of those gone before us.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Gram's Memories


In our family we haven't inherited items that are worth money, like fine furniture, jewelry and the like. Our parents, grandparents and those on back never owned fine things. I am pleased to have inherited my Gram's autograph book from 1911 when she graduated from elementary--middle school. She was 13 years old and her name was Alice Estelle Toomey. She hated the Estelle part because her brothers would chant, "Alice Estelle, she went to hell." Can't blame her!

Her school was P.S. 102 in Brooklyn, New York. The P.S. stands for Public School. I guess NYC was huge enough even a hundred years ago that it was just easier to stick numbers on their multitude of schools, rather than try to think of worthy people to name them after.

It's fun to have a sample of Gram's handwriting from early in her life:


Here's her intro:


Her book was signed by school-chums and family alike. This is her sister Marian's page, one of three or four by Marian in the book. The irony of this verse below is that Marian herself was a Toomey forever.


 I assume this tribute to P.S. 102 was written out by Gram. It has the ring of an "alma mater."


 Gram's Uncle Bill Toomey put in his two cents. He was the youngest of her uncles, in his early 30s at this writing. He never did marry and died at age 48 of cirrhosis of the liver, presumably due to alcoholism. Some of the Toomeys were great drinkers.


 A few pages have clever sketches to go along with an amusing verse:


Gram went on to Erasmus Hall High School for four years. She once told me that the school was overcrowded and some of the students were sent to what she called "Fort Hamilton Annex." Fort Hamilton was an Army garrison, near where the Verrazano Narrows Bridge is now. I think the move to the fort was only temporary. It's fun to enjoy a walk down the memory lane of my dear Gram's life.

 Erasmus Hall High School

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Bob and His Helms Truck


We had Adohr Dairy home delivery and lucky us, we also had the Helms bakery truck that cruised our neighborhood streets. We just called it the Helms man, as in, "go get your nickel--here comes the Helms man!"

Our Helms man's name was Bob and this is the truck he drove:


The rear was where the goodies were kept:


The Helms truck sold anything bread-ish. As with Adohr, the service was a boon to the families who owned only one car, the car that was absent most of the time with the husband at work.

Kids loved the Helms truck. A hard-earned nickel bought a glazed doughnut smothered in chocolate (my fave). Our Helms guy, Bob, knew the habits of folks on his route, including the school children. It wasn't a coincidence that he inched down the street by the school when the 3:00 bell rang. Any child with a coin in their pocket hit the jackpot.

Bob was the only Helms man we ever knew. I don't know his last name, or where he was from. Did he have a family? Don't know. And how well would a family get by on a Helms bakery truck income, whose products sold for nickels and dimes? Thinking about Helms reminds me what a nice guy Bob was.

Both Adohr and Helms neighborhood delivery began to disappear in the late 60s. A few miles from our house a drive-through place opened that sold the essentials--milk and milk products (even ice cream), eggs, and everything bread-y. We had two cars by then, so Mom could drive through this place any ol' time and tell the attendant what she wanted, without ever lugging all the kids into a grocery store for the essentials.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Adohr Milk Delivery

A favorite quaint memory of mine is that of the Adohr Man. In the 50s and 60s homes in our San Fernando Valley neighborhood had dairy products delivered to our front porch by Adohr dairy. Adohr Farms was at 18000 Ventura Blvd. in Tarzana, California (founded 1916!). Adohr had the largest Guernsey herd in the world, but we didn't know or care about that as kids. I just now read it on the internet.

Here's how home delivery worked: The night before our regular delivery day Mom put last week's empty milk bottles into the wire crate (see photo below) Adohr provided, and set it out on our front porch. A rolled up note was stuck into the neck of a bottle with our order for that day, as to how many bottles of milk we needed. And that was that. The next morning ice cold bottles of fresh milk magically appeared on our porch.

I remember that later you could get eggs, butter, cheese, and other dairy-related items delivered also. Am not sure if Adohr did that, or if another service delivered those items. Adohr milk was deliciously thick and creamy. Once in a while a bottle got knocked over and shattered all over the floor; that was tragic. Milk was more glamorous when it came in bottles.

Home delivery was a boon to families like ours who owned only one car--that was the norm then. In suburbia there was no nearby walk-to corner store selling the daily essentials. Once Dad drove off to work, Mom was stranded at home. Not only could Mom not run to the store any ol' time, but in fact, Mom didn't even drive until I was 5 or 6 years old.  The Adohr Man kept our young, growing family in milk.


Adohr Farms
Adohr milk bottle

Adohr crate
Adohr in the early days



Sunday, November 26, 2017

Grandchildren 2017

Another year older!

Brook, 16 1/2, lifeguard and swim teacher


Jonah, 14 1/2, wrestler and x-c runner


Meme, 12, ice skater


Eli, 10 1/2, everyone's favorite


Majd, 9, miss creative


Paisley, 8, miss responsible


Shiloh, 7, little mama


Sterling, 4, forest explorer


Cora, 3 1/2, water-color painter


 Sage, 3, cuddly girl



Holland, 1 1/2, communicator

Saturday, November 25, 2017

I'm Lucky To Be Alive


I ate bushels of Cocoa Krispies, yuck
Twenty-first century-ers are gaga over health-food, or, should I say, food that is touted by somebody, somewhere, to be healthy for you. Hardly a week goes by without media fanfare highlighting some miraculous new food that will  a) boost energy,  b) improve sex-life, c) detoxify (whatever that means),  d) make us sleep better, e) make us live to be 100, f) prevent a host of diseases including the big C, or g) all of the above. Celebrities are often proponents of one miracle food or another, and folks follow like sheep.

Trendy foods need not be pleasing to the palate--kale or fermented mushroom yuck come to mind. Proponents emphasize that the worse it tastes, the better it must be for you. These are the foods that become an overnight sensation with a rock-star following. Not that certain foods didn't become a health holy-grail in past generations--some did. But without the far-reaching tentacles of modern media, not to mention social media, food movements were a local flash-in-the-pan. An exception was the practically national about-face from butter to margarine around 1960. Butter==bad. Margarine ==good.  I remember this one because my Dad's high cholesterol forced our switch to margarine. We drank the kool-aid and stayed with margarine until about 20 years ago, when new information showed margarine's healthier hype to be a big fat lie.

Well, the purpose of this post is really to talk about a few super unhealthy foods I consumed in childhood. Most I wouldn't touch now with a ten-foot pole, but I still dream of fried bologna, the original 'heart attack on a plate.' Get a cast-iron skillet, sizzle a stick of butter, throw in the bologna until the center puffs up and the edges are crisp, and you have a meal fit for a king. My sister fried me some a few years ago and I tasted all the good memories of my childhood in every bite.

 fried bologna, one of the most heavenly foods ever

you know you're doing it right when they resemble little sombreros




Butter sandwiches. Mmm, my daily lunch during my pre-school years. Mom placed square slices of cold butter on the nutritionless white Wonder bread--no spreading the butter--it was delish. One small confession--we ate the generic version of Wonder bread, which was cheaper.

Cocoa Krispies. There isn't a food on the planet with less stick-to-your-ribs. Or nutrition. But I ate bushels of it.

Raw bread balls with a side of crusty pinwheel--these kept me alive from elementary through high school. Step 1) take a slice of white bread; 2) carefully peel the crust off into one long-strip; beware, if it breaks, then you can't make a proper crust pinwheel; 3) roll the crust up tight into a pinwheel; 4) squeeze the white part of the bread in a closed fist until the air is gone and all you have is a blob of dough; 5) eat the dough ball first; 6) hold the crusty pinwheel vertical and bite into it--if you see the many striped layers of crust in front of you, you'll know you're doing it right.




Twinkies--do they still make these? Now they sound pretty gross to me but we didn't get a lot of treats back in the day, so. Maybe these aren't actually Twinkies, but were called cupcakes. Anything chocolate tasted good to me. Still love chocolate but my tastes are more refined now. Even though the bar was lower then, I can't believe I ever thought these were tasty:


Another version of Twinkie cupcakes, but with pink coconut all over it. Yikes.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Beacon Rock


On the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge is a volcanic plug called Beacon Rock. About a hundred years ago someone built a trail up to the top, and it's a doozy. It isn't long, maybe a mile, and it's not a huge upward slog, perhaps 800 feet elevation gain. Looking at these two photos, it appears trail-less. Where would they even put a trail on that hunk of basalt?

Well, once you get through the the early part of the trail through the forest, here is the doozy part that lies ahead:


51 switchbacks and no earth beneath! It's a little eerie to climb up an external [is that the right word?] trail like this. I can't think of another one like it. I hold on to the pipe and refrain from looking down as much as possible. On the descent it looks like this:



In 1805 Lewis and Clark stopped here on their journey down the Columbia River. This was the first point where they detected tides, a sure sign the Pacific Ocean was not far ahead.

We have climbed the rock plenty of times. The summit is high enough that the views up and down the river are uninterrupted. The wind whips you around at the top--it is never not windy up there. On the way is this pretty stone wall that keeps climbers from plunging to their deaths:
Someone thought it wise to put an actual door on the trail to keep people away during the dangerous hours of darkness.  I assume the park service really does lock and unlock this door every day.

Views from the top:


UPDATE 16 January 2018: here is a news report noting a large boulder fallen on the Beacon Rock Trail


Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Working Woman

I've always loved this photo of my Baba taken probably in the 1940s. She would have been in her mid-40s. Her purposeful stride down the boardwalk with a bucket in each hand shows a woman tackling her chores head-on. She never shied away from hard work, and neither did her husband or children.

The house behind her is the company house my grandparents bought from the Frick Mining Company about 1936. Where they put all the family bodies, I don't know. It was a tiny place. When Dad was maybe in his teens he and his brothers dug a cellar underneath, but it was for storage, not for sleeping. By 1936 Aunt Mary had moved to New York but that still left six children and two parents in the place. Back in the day if a family member had requested privacy they would have been sent out with the cows.

After World War 2 the family bought additional acreage to farm. They had a truck garden, and also grew tomatoes for the Heinz company. Not much later the State of Pennsylvania took about half the acreage for the new state highway, and the family got more money for that portion than they had paid for the entire piece a few years earlier. On their new highway frontage they built a gas station, grocery store, diner, and a beer distribution business. The photo appears to be from before those structures were built.

The current term "working woman" means something quite different than Baba's type of working woman. Physical labor didn't do her any harm. She lived to be a hundred years old with all her faculties!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Smiles From Heaven


 Laurie, Mary Elizabeth, Suzanne, Ellie

 Laurie, Ellie, Mary Elizabeth, Suzanne outside St. Jerome Chapel

A year ago on a visit to Mom's hometown of Holyoke, Massachusetts, my cousin Laurie and I decided to visit our ancestor's Catholic Church--St. Jerome. We called another mutual cousin named Ellie to invite her along, and she, an ultra-devout Catholic, suggested we go to mass together on All Saints Day the next morning. We agreed, and also invited a 4th cousin, Mary Elizabeth.

Our mutual ancestors are my Irish great-great grandparents, Thomas Doyle & Mary Murphy, who in 1880 arrived in New York on the steamship City of Montreal. Tom and Mary are great-grandparents to Laurie, Ellie and Mary Elizabeth--I am one generation further down the chain.

In May of 1880, the Doyles made their way from New York to Holyoke, where two daughters already lived and worked. Those two girls, Bridget and Nell, had come ahead several years before to earn transportation money for the rest of the family. They labored long, monotonous days in the cotton and paper mills and dutifully sent most of their wages home. I don't know the cost of the ship passage, but the two of them sent enough money to bring their parents and six younger siblings across the sea. Bridget is my great-grandmother.

On this day, November 1, 2016, the four of us, all born Catholic, sat together in the huge sanctuary of St. Jerome. Attendance was good that morning. After mass Ellie gave us a tour of the church. I didn't know until then that St. Jerome has a separate chapel for smaller gatherings, such as funerals and the like.

As we exited the chapel, we all concurred that Tom and Mary today had smiles on their faces, knowing that four of their descendants sat together for a mass in their beloved church. St. Jerome was a place of refuge for them through thick and thin. It was a safe haven for mingling with fellow Irish immigrants, those who had left their beloved homeland under duress, who strove to fit in to a community that didn't want them. St. Jerome saw their children married, children and grandchildren untimely buried, and they themselves were paid last respects within its walls.

We four cousins agreed that heaven was a little brighter that day. Tom and Mary could delight that their descendants joined together at St. Jerome,  discovered more about their family, and paid tribute to them who left everything dear to come to this country.

We had an enjoyable lunch together, and then announced to Ellie that we were off for a "tour de Holyoke" and would she like to come. Absolutely she would NOT, and we laughed. Ellie has lived in Holyoke her entire life so there's absolutely nothing we could show her that would be new or interesting. Though the three of us had visited Holyoke before, we were sure that we would make discoveries new to us, and we did. We were equipped with addresses of ancestor's homes and work places and finding them gave us a greater appreciation for the hard things they did.

Here is a link to a post about the Doyle family
Here is a link to how I became acquainted with Cousin Laurie


Laurie and Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth and Ellie

A few photos of St. Jerome interior:

 pew carving

 window decor

confessional