Fred Langworthy and Susan O’Leary: Cultural Exiles

IMG_2437Since I wrote about an ancestor on my father’s side (one of his side’s anyway) from the 1920s, I thought the next story to introduce should be from someone on my mother’s side, from roughly the same time period.

But one generation later. And with a theme of religious intolerance. And possibly related to 19th century Irish-American history. Continue reading

The Apple Falls Far from the Tree

Apples groundMy family name is Apple, but I am not related to anyone by that name.

Well, legally, yes. And by marriage. But genealogically no. So the old adage is definitely NOT true. At least not genetically.** Continue reading

Finding the Tree in the Family Forest

IMG_2197While visiting Montreal and Upstate New York for summer vacation, my family were greeted by an unhappy surprise.

My mother has Stage 4 cancer.

I’ve been spending the past two to three years researching my ancestry (at, you guessed it, ancestry.com) and I had already hoped to talk with my mother about her memories of our Irish and French Canadian heritage.

I’d already managed to find quite bit online via various databases, both public and private. But there’s no substitute for family stories. And now I have a time limit.

Continue reading

Winter: A Time to Read

Since becoming sick this past November (first a momentary, sudden illness in the pit of my stomach…), I’ve found it difficult to stay 100% healthy as winter has well and truly set in. It’s not terribly cold where I live (the middle of Honshu, the main island of Japan), but the up-and-down irregular temperature pattern this year has made it easier to catch colds, influenza, and other upper respiratory sicknesses.

So while down in the dumps with the mumps (which I contracted over New Year’s from my two children, despite having been vaccinated against it as a child…different strain here, perhaps), I’ve tackled a reading book list compiled from last summer. Even managed to finish one or two! Continue reading

Stories from next to the grave

img_0719In April, my grandmother died. She was my last grandparent.

In August, I was finally able to visit her grave. Anyone who is living overseas for an extended period of time (or permanently, as I probably am) will tell you how difficult it is to have a sense of closure at the death of a loved one. Particularly a close family member.

But as we were standing there, gazing down at the names of my great-grandparents (whom I had barely known) and my grandfather and grandmother (whom I had known very well from a young age), it wasn’t just a sense of closure I was seeking.

It was a sense of history. Of stories.

When the three cars of relatives arrived at the cemetary — myself, my wife, my two daughters; my parents and one younger brother and sister (I have eight siblings in total), one of my aunts and uncles (I have at least twenty…yes, it’s complicated…) an interesting thing happened.

We all started telling stories. Maybe it’s the Irish in us (Bushnell, Connally, O’Leary, and Dougherty, among others). But telling stories has always come naturally to people in my family, as natural as eating and breathing.

My uncle started it. Stories about my grandfather when he was in the Navy during World War II (he never left Florida).

My aunt followed. Stories about my grandfather when he was growing up. Stories about my grandmother when she was the same age as my cousin. (A recently discovered photograph showed her to be almost identical in appearance, too. Scary, that.)

My father continued (with a little prodding from me) with a story from when I was a child. (This is how I found out that the United Methodist Church-owned apartment building I had lived in as a young child had been and has been occupied by family members for at least four generations.)

When I mentioned my intention to write a book of non-fiction about my grandparents and their generation — I’m thinking of calling it “My Three Grandfather” — the stories came fast and furious.

Right next to my grandparents’ grave.

There we were, in the middle of the afternoon, in the middle of a centuries-old cemetary overlooking the Hudson River Valley (near HVCC, as a matter of fact), telling stories about the dead, with the dead. With the living.

Stories aren’t just all that’s left. Stories are what we always had, and have, and will have.

Eat your heart out, Washington Irving.

1000 Isles

Some people have asked me on FB for some previews of Notes from the Nineties. It’s difficult to prepare excerpts from short stories (which are already short). So while I’m thinking of what’s appropriate as a teaser, here’s another poem from the volume. It appears right after the story “Boys Will be Boys” together with the poem “Grandmother.”

 

1000 Isles

 

Summers of my Upstate youth were spent

in the family station wagon, the six of us, or was it seven,

traveling to the great St. Lawrence

Seaway of a thousand islands.

 

The first time we stayed one night at Mosquito Heaven,

sleepless in a brown canvas tent,

and four nights on the biggest island—

half in the US,

half out.

 

I learned how to gut a fish, how to swim,

how to roll up a sleeping bag,

and where to buy fireworks—

I mean sparklers.

 

On my 12th birthday, I got a wallet,

put in a year’s allowance,

then when I forgot it in the campsite bathroom,

got advice in return the next morning—

“I told you so.”

 

Looking back, it makes sense

to me now

that I hate dressing.