Monday, December 08, 2008

Blast from the Past

In an attempt to eradicate a pile of boxes that has been sitting in the middle of our bedroom floor, some of which have been there for at least 5 months, I plunged into sorting things out. One of the boxes was from my dad's house and contained old photos and mementos.  I had glanced through them initially after bringing them dome, but hadn't gone through them in detail. While doing so, I came across a great treasure; a letter from our sainted Uncle Leo, relating some of the family history. 

My maiden name is a very Irish name.  My great, great grandparents  both emigrated to the US at about the same time, around 1881-1882. My great, great grandfather came from Ireland, while my great, great grandmother and her family came from England.  

My grandfather, John S. McC-- had bright red hair and icy blue eyes, the stereotypical Irishmen, with a fiery temper to boot. He was a tragic figure.  His mother had died within a month of his birth during the Influenza Epidemic of 1918.  His father remarried shortly after her death.  Thus begins the story of the abusive stepmother and never-ending tragedy that shaped my grandfather's life. Many of the twists and turns his path took would make for an interesting novel, or sweeping movie, but that's for another time.

In the midst of my grandfather's story, and consequently my father's story, was the figure of the almost mythical Uncle Leo. Uncle Leo was the savior of my grandfather and his family on multiple occasions. Uncle Leo took my grandfather in when his own parents were ready to ship him off to a home for boys. Uncle Leo provided a place to live each time one of my grandfather's schemes fell through.  Uncle Leo was a place of refuge when my father decided to leave California--the most recent place my grandfather had dragged his family--hop on a bus, and head back to the Midwest, leaving behind nothing but a note, amounting to "see you later", for my grandparents. Uncle Leo helped out my mother when my parents divorced. Uncle Leo was a devout Catholic. Uncle Leo took care of his mother, the matriarch of the family, until she passed away at 95.  

The stories go on and on. 

I had an image in my mind of a long-suffering, mama's boy (meant in the best possible way) who was more saint than human, possibly quite virtuous but also boring. Not having any memory of him, because I was so young at the time, I had only stories by which to know him.

Reading his letter to some distant cousin of mine researching the family tree was a revelation. Uncle Leo was funny and colorful.  While recounting the family history, he would add little asides, or comments about the supposed truthfulness of the stories or his interpretation of the meaning of the family legacy.

On the superiority of the Hall-McC-- genes and the impending downfall of western civilization  at the hands of hippies and those without short haircuts:
Because of his efficiency and the industry with which he pursued his trade, he worked a long life(retired at 70) and provided a fairly large family with a good home, good living conditions, and good education, which it is doubtful he could have equaled in any other country.  If you want to verify that, take along look at his progeny. All the way through you will not find one hare-brained, long-haired hippie. [in reference to the Hall line]
Any 16 year old boy who left Ireland due to oppression(religious) and came to "free" America where in the short span of 20 years(1882-1902) did all of the above sure as hell must have been "efficient" and "industrious" while keeping his hair cut short. [in reference to the McC-- line]
On the "weird ideas" of having relatives, presumably male, attend the birth of a baby.
If your educated prof. thinks his or any other relatives presence in the delivery room, through the aura of love they might project from their nervous, fidgeting bodies would enhance the chances of survival for the infant being delivered, he is less than a half-wit.
On the truthfulness of my great, great, great grandmother McC--'s claim to be a daughter of the Colman mustard family in England, with a knighted father no less.
(This I heard but found a little hard to swallow. Who knows?)
He describes why a little later on.
By the way on the back of the lot where Tommie has his shop, Great Grandmother McC-- had a chicken coop.  One Sunday morning when I was three years old I went down to see her and she went out to the chicken coop with a grrrrrreeeaaatt biiiiggg butcher knife--chased the hens around until she caught one, brought it up to the back door and gripping its body between her knees, proceeded to saw off its head and dropped the squirming bloody necked body in a bucket to kick out its last moments. She had it for Sunday dinner. Hot diggity; what a gal!

You know, it just might be that that is the reason that I never could quite swallow that story about her being a well-bred gentlewoman--daughter of old Knight of the Garter--Colman.
On the family line and his place in it.
In 1895, May 13 they had their 1st son--John
---1897, June 13  -----------------2nd --Frances
---1899, Mar. 18------------------3rd--Stupid [Leo labeling himself...not sure why]
---1900, Oct. 20------------------4th--Thomas
This must be getting monotonous.  No daughters????
On his apparent inability to keep a job.
From 1916 to 1929, [he would have been 17-30 years old] when I left McKeesport, all through the roaring twenties I changed jobs so many times that it is hard to keep things in perspective.  Your dad can probably tell you more lucidly about those years than I.
My image of the man has changed quite a bit.  

Instead of wondering when this "pious" man was going to officially be beatified, I wonder what exactly he was doing in the roaring twenties during his prime. 

I wish I had more documents like this revealing the personalities in my family tree, rather than just letting me know someone's birth and death dates.

Fascinating stuff.

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