How To Survive as a Family

To me it is very important to tell your kids, spouse, parents, siblings that you love them and tell them often.  My family was always like that but it became an affirmation, a way to tell each other to stay safe.  25 years ago our world was blown apart when we found out that my grandfather had murdered my Grammy.  Everything shifts and nothing is ever the same again.  Somehow we survived as a family and we are very strong but it wasn’t easy.

I remember where I was the last time I heard her voice.  Something was off as we were on holiday and she called out of the blue.  But it was a good conversation and I told her I loved her.  Two weeks later she was gone.  We’ve never found her.  I think that contributes to it still feeling raw after all these years.  Because we never found her we could never get the justice we were hoping for even though we knew immediately it was him so did the police but a funny thing called law got in the way.  In Massachusetts you need a body.  I think he knew that.

My aunt was living with them at the time so she moved in with us.  We had five people reeling all dealing with this differently.  I was in the middle of my teenage years and a couple of days after this happened I had to break up with my first boyfriend because he was cheating on me and he didn’t have the guts to break up with me.  The start of my sophomore year was surreal.  I was an angry person to begin with but man I was consumed after that.

My mum was working very long hours, trying to find Grammy, get some justice, and somehow manage to keep it all together.  I’m not sure how she did it.  I mean, it wasn’t completely successful, not sure how it could be, but I think she did better than most would have.  Being a parent now I understand you just keep going, you have no choice.

I have to hand it to my dad.  He was the glue.  He listened any time I needed it and he did that for all of us.  All the while grieving as he loved Grammy very much.  They were two peas in a pod.  But he was there.  Gradually we learned how to cope and learned how to laugh.  Even though each of us dealt with this differently none of us turned away from our family unit.  The show Broadchurch is on over here now and the first episode was so hard to watch.  It hit way to close to home.  But it also gave me a light bulb moment.  We were spared the seeds of doubt.  In the show each of the parents have secrets which makes the other question.  I can see how families don’t survive.  I don’t know what would have happened if it happened in our household.  We never had to question where the other was coming from.

We survived because we loved each other.  There was forgiveness many times in our journey.  Just not for him.  I hear people say that a lot.  I don’t understand it.  To me it is releasing them of any responsibility.  While being angry a lot isn’t always healthy it seems better than the alternative of letting him off the hook.  That, to me, would be letting Grammy down.  And you hear some daft things.  One of my mum’s cousins said in front of me and my Grammy’s brother it was God’s will.  Excuse me?  Who says that to someone.  That she was supposed to die a horrible death.  That did not go over well.

We all think about her often.  Mostly now it is fondly and we can laugh about her adventures and the memories we have of her.  It is hard when there is a life event.  Leading up to getting married, my husband and I watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  I had seen it before and loved it.  This time round though it was like a knife in the heart watching the scene with the grandmother and they were looking at heirlooms.  She should have been there.

We have an amazing family now that has grown from the 5 of us to 12.  We get to see all the quirks passed down as well as the traditions Grammy and others introduced.  Homemade mac n cheese at Thanksgiving is something I remember from her groaning table!

As we figured out how to move on and continue with life we know how much we’ve changed.  I deal with anxiety when something bad happens.  If anyone of my family is within an hour of it I stress until I hear from them.  We became even more street smart than we were before.  My husband will at times sigh when he sees me locking up the house like Fort Knox.  Me?  I think why invite trouble.  But hey, I told him I had quirks!  I wish he could have met her, they would have gotten along really well.

She is sorely missed but her memory lives on and she will never be forgotten.

Irish History 3 2013


What is Home?

I’m an independent woman.  Spent years before meeting my husband and kids being self-sufficient traipsing about the world, taking care of my house, and comfortable being on my own.  I’m still very independent and my husband would never dream of calling me a wallflower.  But it is amazing when you find the love of your life and two amazing children how things change.  I have a wonderful home that is filled with love and laughter.

My husband is now on his way back from a 10 day business trip.  I don’t like it when he travels, not because I begrudge him for his job.  But because it isn’t home when he’s not here.  I feel like I’m rattling round our big house.  It loses it’s warmth.  Luckily I had the kids this week so it was only last week the major rattling was occurring.  Kids keep you on your toes!

There is a lot of anticipation today as we get things ready.  He will get quite the homecoming with me, the kids, and two extremely excited dogs leaping about trying to lick him.  Only our cat will be hiding.

Our dogs will look out the window a lot but this pic kind of represents how we are feeling waiting for him to come home.

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So in a few hours our home will be complete again.  🙂

The Birthday Girls

40 years ago today my mum spent her birthday having me.  We would joke that I was the gift that kept on growing and never went away!  I think the number of birthdays we haven’t spent together is in the single digits which given how busy we’ve been over the years is pretty remarkable.  Sharing it with my mum is what makes it special.

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I have been extraordinarily lucky to have her as my mum.  From day one she has been fiercely on the side of her daughters.  She has kept me alive when I turned blue from asthma and she was told she was a panicky mum.  Let’s ignore the fact she’s a nurse!  She never let anything hold us back.  My mum always put her family first.  Whatever decision she made it was with an eye for doing what was best for us.  I honestly can’t think of anything she did when we were growing up that was a just for her thing.  I am happy to say that now if she wants to treat herself she does.  A blow for freedom as she likes to say.

Throughout her career she worked long hours to make sure our family never went without.  I know she has wondered from time to time if it took away from us important time.  I don’t think she realises that the time she spent with us was quality time and we never felt cheated being latch key kids.  We never resented her having to be on call or work crazy overtime.  Because she did that we had a roof over our heads and got through college without any debt.  She was also the major reason why kids flocked to our house.  There was a good chance of homemade cookies and milk.  Let me tell you, her baked goods are hard to beat.

Mum and I are a lot alike.  We share so many of our traits both good and bad.  We can be stubborn, we like to be in control of the situation (though good luck getting either of us to admit that too often 🙂 ), we can be pretty fierce when we stand up for ourselves or our family.  I have to say she does that better than me.  I’m all fiery and she comes across as cool and collected but you know you stepped over that invisible line.  We share the same thought that our kids are the greatest thing since sliced bread.  After all, without family, what’s the point.  We love to dance in the kitchen while cooking.  If there weren’t books in this world we’d be a bit lost.  We cheer for the underdog.  Ginger is the first line of defense against illness before medicine.  Homemade gifts are the best, especially from your kids.  Food is one way we show our love.  She used to bring me lunch when we worked together.  Leftovers from the night before.  It was awesome.  When I was away at college I would get homemade cookies and congo bars.  I was the envy of the TV lounge.  🙂

Being a parent I find myself acting like my mum a lot.  I’ve even stopped myself in mid-sentence with the kids and say I sound just like her!  When they giggle I tell them to just wait until they have kids.  But you know, mum was right on a lot of things.  Chewing gum is not attractive!  Making me wait until I was 12 to get my ears pierced was the right choice.  It’s ok to use tough love.  There is a long list.

I guess I was trying enough as a child because when I started parenting my children they were 3 and 7 and I was bewildered or exasperated at something and my mum just burst out laughing and said “I have lived to see the day!”  Thanks.

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So thank you mum for being our cheerleader.  For being there for all the ups and downs.  You are an incredible woman and I am so glad you are on our side.  And I am so proud of you for all you’ve accomplished in life, it would make for an amazing story.  Happy Birthday, Lady.  🙂

Why I’m proud of my Irish ancestry…

Today there will be millions of people getting drunk.  Most won’t be Irish.  I debated going out tonight for the first time on St. Patrick’s Day then I realised, not only will a lot not be Irish, but a lot will be college students.  That settled it.  I have my Murphy’s here at home.  I’ll be having a lovely meal with my husband at home.

The notion of getting drunk like the Irish has always bothered me.   Aside from the fact that is a weird reason to get drunk, it’s a horrible stereotype.  Oh sure, Ireland has it’s fair share of drunks but so do most countries where historically hardship has been the norm.  I have found two drunks in my Irish tree.  That’s it.  And many more in the rest of the family tree.  And no my family history isn’t full of drunks but you get the idea.

No, what I like to remember on St Patrick’s day is the journey many of my Irish ancestors took.  The main thing is, if you have any Irish in you, you have some strong stock.  There is a definite survival of the fittest in play.  Though my dad, my sister, and I are from England my mum is American.  My sister and I joined the many generations of my mum crossing the Atlantic.  We had it easy though, the plane ride was hardly roughing it.  There is a term to describe the ships that brought millions across the Atlantic in the mid to late 1800’s.  Coffin ships.  They were packed with people with all their meager possessions looking for a better life.  Many didn’t make it.  My great grandparents, Margaret Mary McGee and John Joseph Morgan did it when they were young.  Not sure how old John was but from what I can gather from the genealogy Margaret was around 10.  It looks like she was an orphan when she landed.  There isn’t any record of her parents in the US.  They were married in 1892 in Massachusetts and had four daughters and a son.  Sadly John didn’t make it out of infancy.  Their youngest Elizabeth became St. Dolerine.  To be honest I’m not sure it was because she had a calling or it was expected of her.  She was elderly when I met her and a tiny little thing who loved her Dunkin Donuts coffee.

I forget the date when Elizabeth became St. Dolerine but this picture was taken on that day.  Margaret and John very proud of their daughter.

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My great, great Aunt Margaret was someone I’d have liked to meet.  My mum has a wonderful mind for finances and figures and I think she got a healthy dose from Aunt Margaret.  She was one of 4 secretaries for John D Rockerfeller.  Can you imagine the tips she would get!  He would dash out and say buy this and that, sell this and that.  Alas, she fell in love with someone who wasn’t Catholic.  These days it isn’t such a big deal but back then it just wasn’t done.  Her parents decided it was time for the three of them to leave Manhattan and head back to Massachusetts.  I can’t imagine how hard it was for her but she did it with grace and went back to take care of her aging parents.  In all the photos I have of her though she has a great smile.  Like there there is a private joke.

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My great grandmother was the eldest and I never got to meet her as she passed away 11 months after I was born and we were in England.  We all call her Mary B as her middle name changed from Agnes to Bernadette after confirmation.  She had a lot to contend with in life.  Her eldest, my great Aunt Myrtle, was very sick as a child.  She survived the scarlet fever and polio but it disabled her.  So Mary B’s family eventually headed to Florida where the doctors said Aunt Myrtle would do better.  By this time she was divorced and had to figure out how to make her way.  Back in the day when the “little woman” needed a man to make the money decisions she was able to get a $10K mortgage to start a hotel.  It ran for several decades.  She was tough as nails but she is thought of fondly as she loved her children.

This picture is of Mary B and Aunt Myrtle.

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Aunt Myrtle was full of vinegar!  What a character she was.  She gave the impression she would outlive us all.  We think because of the scarlet fever she lost the ability to feel pain.  Not very handy when you get old and you fall and break things.  Mum brought her flowers once and asked where she kept the aspirin so she could put some in the water.  She didn’t have any.   No pain killers.  Though that was dangerous as she never felt the cancer.  She survived that as well.  She loved to flirt with the husbands in the family and thought my dad was the bee’s knees.  She took over the motel when Mary B passed away and kept it going until she couldn’t care for herself any longer.  She lived until she was 92.  She was the perfect example of not staying down when live knocks you down.

My Grammy, whom I am named after, was a spitfire.  Her nickname growing up was Gingersnap.  🙂  A very fitting name for her.  Like her mother she was pretty tough.  Once, kidding around, I had my arm around her and wouldn’t let go.  I think I was 10 or 12.  I got a charlie horse for my troubles.  But she doted on me and my sister.  She felt that my mum had lots of promise, that she didn’t need to view college as a place to find a husband and settle down.  Grammy saw that mum hit the books after school.  And she was right.  Mum got into Cornell for nursing.  Grammy was also an amazing cook.  We have a lot of handwritten recipes from her which is so wonderful to have.  She was a classy lady who knew how to have fun.  For me she started the tradition of dancing in the kitchen while cooking.  I’d like to think that tradition went back further to the previous generations.

This is my Grammy in High School.

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My mum has carried on the tradition of these wonderful Irish women in fighting fiercely for their families and making sure we have all the opportunities to succeed ourselves.  My mum has succeeded in life in a way that would make these women proud.  It means their fight and journey to make a life for themselves and their families was worth it.  My mum has shown my sister and me how to be strong, that is it is ok to be strong minded (as all the women have that in spades), and how to make our own way in life.  From Margaret and John, who truly survived the unimaginable at times and forged a life together, we have a family tree with multiple cousins who all work hard and carry forward with the various successes but never forget the journey that brought us to this point.  This is why I’m proud of my Irish ancestry.