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Category: Personal Stories

Christmas at Williamsburg

 

Back row: Meg Kelly, Terry Marshall Kelly, Rosann Kelly, Kay Marshall McGee Front row: Maureen Kelly, Mary Ellen Reardon, Beth Kelly 1993 Williamsburg, VA

This is one of my all time favorite pictures! I came across it the other day out of nowhere and took it as a sign that it should be shared. The picture was taken in December of 1993 at Colonial Williamsburg.  My sister Eileen must have taken the picture.  Several of the ladies of our clan met in Williamsburg for a long weekend. My sweet cousin Beth works there and we had such a fun trip. Everything was decorated for the holidays and was just beautiful.
We almost weren’t able to make the trip. On the day we were to leave Buffalo was enjoying bit of a snowstorm – did anyone see the Bills game this weekend? It was kind of like that! We were the last flight out as they were closing the airport. I can still remember watching them de-ice the plane.
We had so many laughs and made great memories on this trip. Beth still works at Williamsburg and her sisters Meg and Maureen live there now too. Maybe it’s time for another trip…

Life Lessons

Day 11: Looking at your family history, write down five life lessons you feel you’ve learned from your ancestors. Write an essay for the benefit of sharing with your children, grandchildren, and future descendants.

1. You are Braver than you think

Brave is not a word I would use to describe myself.  I always think I am more of a chicken.  Maybe it is getting older but I feel braver than I ever have. Maybe it is just life experiences losing my mom, watching my newborn son undergo open heart surgery, going through 9/11. None of it destroyed me, it made me bend but not break. Watching that same sweet boy grow up with his brothers has been a joy. Parenthood makes anyone braver! When my sister and I went to Europe for the first time, it was scary. We were completely out of our comfort zone – but you know what? We figured it out and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. The older I get, the less I care what others think. I know who I am – and I like it! My ancestors were incredibly brave – to leave for the promise of a better life. Sometimes you just have to take that leap.

2. This too shall pass

Sometimes cliches are truth. This phrase is always with me, always.  It has helped me through some really tough times in my life, because it is true.  It doesn’t have to be a tough time – sometimes just a regular stressful day. Things may not turn out how you want them to – but somehow they end up ok.  Just wait and see. My ancestors surely went through the hard times but they persevered and kept moving.  No matter what the situation, good or bad it will pass.

3. Strong Foundations

Strong foundations make for strong people.  It isn’t money or things, it was being raised by people who showed me what it means to be a parent, partner, family member and friend.  I believe that this has been handed down for generations.

4. Whatever you are be a good one

This one was a favorite of my dad’s.  He taught me that it really didn’t matter what you did for your living as long as you put your heart and head into it.  I would like to think he would be proud that I became a nurse – but I know that he was just as of proud me working at my first job in a library.  He supported his children in whatever they did as long as they worked hard at it.

5. You come from Hearty peasant stock – deal with it

As a kid I had a pretty active imagination and was pretty sure that my family was secretly royalty.  That somehow my ancestors had to flee their palace and in order to keep themselves safe had to hide the truth.  Please tell me I am not the only one…  Through a lot of research and DNA testing – it turns out that there is not an ounce of royalty anywhere on my family tree.  In fact I am descended from hearty peasant stock on both sides.  Turns out I am ok with it.  They may not be royalty but they were good, hardworking people. People who fought to live and raise their children, people who changed the course of their lives by making a decision to leave their homes in search of a better life and opportunities for their children.  Here’s to good hearty stock, it has served me well!

National Date Book

 

Day 7: Select a family heirloom (watch, quilt, Bible, etc.) and write a narrative about it. Where has it been? How did your ancestor acquire it, and what would it have encountered throughout the years? What important family milestones might it have witnessed?

In terms of money, the family heirloom that I am writing about is not valuable at all. In terms of helping me with my research it is absolutely priceless.

Tucked away in a dusty box in my mom’s basement was a small green book. It is maybe 4×6 in size and has seen better days, there is some discoloration to the cover of what was once a dark green.  The words National Date Book are stamped on the cover and it is bound with thread.

Inside is a simple lined notebook with the month and day at the top of each page.  The notebook belonged to my paternal grandmother, Madeline McVay McGee  or Maime as she was known.  Maime was good at keeping track of her life’s events, there is another notebook in which she lists her classmates and information about her high school graduation.  The second half of that book lists every wedding gift and card that she received.  I have always felt like Maime  and I were kindred spirits and this is just another reason.  I have always been a list maker, it helps to ground me and organize my thoughts.  I have taken to Bullet Journaling and who knows – maybe someday my ancestor may come across it.  

Like most people of her generation the notebook was used for more than one purpose.  On the top of the page under the date there are names and years written in faded ink. The writing looks a little different than the rest of the book and I think it originally belonged someone else in the family. I don’t recognize most of the names the dates are from the 1870’s to early 1900’s.

Maime kept meticulous lists of every Christmas card that she sent and received beginning in 1936 and going until 1966 (Maime died in 1967).  She even listed cards specifically sent to my father.  It is a fascinating look into her world.  There are many familiar names in the book and many more mysteries. Some of the people have addresses carefully written next to their names.  Every single time I open this book I find something new.  There are a few McVay’s listed – usually as “The Dick McVay’s”  There are one of my brick walls. It was reassuring to see them listed, they did exist and one of these days I will track them down!  Last year I found out who the “Art Hau’s” were and they unlocked many more of the names for me!  Leo McGee is in the book – he was the author of a really informative family history that I use all the time.  I was especially happy to see the “Jack McGee’s” of 703 Starin Ave, Buffalo listed.  The Hau’s helped me to unlock this branch and amazingly – cousin John McGee is now on my Christmas card list…on Starin Ave in Buffalo!

The last part of notebook and by far my very favorite part is documentation of life events that happened each year starting in 1930.  She documented the move from Warsaw to Batavia for my grandfather’s job in March of 1932 Her mother had a stroke and was living with them when they moved.  She says:  “Mother was still an invalid – stayed upstairs most of the time. It was a bitter cold day”  By 1934 my great grandmother was recovered enough to move to New York City to live with her son, Madeline’s brother Wayne. Maime mentions going to visit them in NY and that my Grandfather tried to find work in a bank.  She also mentions a trip to Chicago for the World’s Fair in 1934.

She records heart breaking things very matter of factly.  Maime records the death of her sister in law Nora McGee Pierce in 1932. She wrote: Nora very sick all summer, died September 15, 1932. This had to be very hard on both of my grandparents.  Nora was Norm’s only surviving sibling and they were close. The saddest entry is from 1934: “Very sick all winter. Mother came home from New York February 22. I went right to bed for two weeks. Then went to the hospital. Our baby was born March 6.”  Her sweet son William was born and died on the same day.  

She talks about my dad a lot  – his various illnesses and how he missed quite a bit of school in his first year.  Maime proudly records various professional achievements of my Grandfather’s. It is in these little details where I feel connected. This tiny book has given me a vivid glimpse into her life, details that I would never have known without her words. Its pages span the majority of her adult life. It records her life as a young mother, a widow, and a grandmother. It is concise and factual. It lovely to watch through the years as my mother’s parents and siblings begin to show up in her Christmas card lists.

This small book isn’t valuable, it isn’t beautiful, it probably never travelled outside of Batavia, NY.  It pages though are incredible, they hold a family history of 34 years a few lines at a time. In the Christmas card lists you can follow couples having children and of those children growing up and starting families of their own. Wedding dates carefully recorded in the back section by year, addresses changing through the years. The book chronicles couples year after year until one year only one name is written.

I love my technology but there is something to be said for handwritten history.  Imagining my Grandmother sitting at her desk – a desk that I still use just makes me happy.  Some of the entries are written in pencil and are very faded, some are written in pen and are a little easier to read.  For me it is a wonderful piece of history and is something I am truly grateful for.

The Night of the Big Wind

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I had something all picked out for Picture Day today, but when I walked outside and saw this beautiful flower,  it changed my mind.  While in Ireland I bought a package of seeds from Kylemore Abbey, planted them and then forgot all about them.  Such a nice surprise to see them blooming today!

My mind and heart have been with Ireland all week.  With Ophelia bearing down on them, we spent Monday watching the news.  My niece Katy kept in touch with our tour guide Martin and his wife Maureen.  Martin was sweet enough to even come up with a comforting answer for our 6yr old.  Sean was very worried about what would happen to the sheep during the storm. Martin said they would be safe in “sheep houses”. While it probably wasn’t exactly true, Sean was happy with the answer.

If you have a few minutes please check out Ronan Burren’s Facebook group called Ireland’s Inner Beauty https://www.facebook.com/groups/1561847780795422/?hc_ref=ARQs17kwSxcURgGna_b5BVmpF7U4M2TqakFNtoXgRtoQ3a66RJMbFuu7vAw9fujL_T0

He posts gorgeous videos from all around Ireland. However my favorite are the videos he posts from the local pubs.  They are of local musicians and are just perfect.  Of course I am biased but by far my favorite are the videos are from Cruises Bar in Ennis, County Clare and my favorite singer is Martin White.  Last night Ronan posted a video of Martin and Maureen. He talked about our time there – we are all extended family now!  I truly can’t say enough about how amazing our trip was and how welcome we felt.  

I am also attaching a link to a fascinating article I read about a destructive storm that hit Ireland in January 1839.  It must have been truly terrifying experience to those who lived through it.  Our McGee ancestor’s included, they were living in Donegal at the time of the storm. The night of the big wind.

https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/night-of-the-big-wind-the-hurricane-that-killed-90-irish-people-in-1839

 

Ireland

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Just a simple country road! Beara Pass

 

Going to Ireland has always been a dream of mine. My dad loved to listen to Irish music in his car. I vividly remember him singing along to “I’ll Take you Home Again Kathleen” and listening to him talk about taking my mother to Ireland. I found it terribly romantic – never mind that my mother, although named Kathleen was not even remotely Irish (she was 100% German).

My non-Irish mom did get to Ireland, but my sweet Dad never had the chance and I promised myself that I would go. Researching the Irish side of the my family only fueled my desire to make the trip. It was a long time in coming and after almost 2 years of seriously talking about it, planning and saving – it finally became a reality! Our group consisted of myself, my sister Eileen, my niece Katy, our 2 very good friends Karen and Patti.Group

We flew from Rochester to JFK and then on to Shannon. It was a long and cramped flight but as we got closer, we got more excited. I was a little disappointed to see heavy cloud cover that seemed to go on forever. As we finally broke through the clouds and got our first glimpse of Ireland – I was hooked. It was all at once familiar and completely new. It was also GREEN, brilliant, vibrant, gorgeous green.

We met our tour guide, Martin and headed out to start our adventure. We spent the next six days seeing some of the most incredible sights that I have ever seen. Every time it couldn’t get more beautiful, it did. Really, the words and pictures aren’t enough, it was just beautiful.

We saw the big sights, the Ring of Kerry, the Cliffs of Moher, Kylemore Abbey as well as some of the more out of the way spots. One of my favorites was a small perfumery located in the Burren – appropriately called The Burren Perfumery. They make their own perfumes as well as soaps, lotions, candles and teas. The garden is so peaceful and lovely, it was one of my favorite stops on the trip.

Martin bravely drove us up the Wild Atlantic Way, regaling us with stories and songs – I included a link to his family run tour company. If you are looking for a chauffeur driven small tour – this is the way to go. We spent a couple of nights in his hometown of Ennis, County Clare and met his lovely wife. We even went to his favorite pub for some Guinness. It is true that Guinness does taste better in Ireland!

One of the most interesting parts of traveling to almost anywhere in Europe is how people have adapted and modernized while still honoring the history of a place. I used to work at a living history museum where our oldest building was from 1798. In Ireland – that is fairly modern! The Pub that we went to in Ennis was called Cruises and featured local music nightly. The musicians played traditional instruments against a backdrop that made easy to believe that it we could have stepped back in time.

We were able to spend a day in Donegal, the county where the McGee’s came from. So far, I haven’t been able to find their town but just to even make it to Donegal was great. We visited a famine memorial and graveyard which was really just a grassy area that served as a burial site during the famine. There were no grave markers and no way to know who rested there. I did bring home some pebbles from Donegal and plan to take them to the graves of my McGee’s so they have a little bit of Donegal with them.

We left the safety of our tour guide after Donegal and took a train across the country to Dublin. The next several days were spent exploring the city. We stayed in Temple Bar – there was alway something going on!! My niece and I took a day trip to Northern Ireland and saw the Giant’s Causeway and braved the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. I could probably write for days about how incredible that was!

While in Dublin I had the opportunity to meet with a genealogist. This was truly a highlight for me. He was lovely and very generous with his time. I didn’t find any earth shattering new information – but at least know that I am not missing anything either. It may be as far back as I am going to get with the McGee’s. It is ok with me – because I have plenty more to research and discover!! The Genealogist did give me a couple of ideas to try – they are long and pretty complicated but I am definitely going to work on them.

Some of the other highlights along the way included Killarney, Adare, Muckross House, Dingle Peninsula, Connor Pass, Connemara, Galway, and Sligo

Ireland exceeded every expectation that I had. It is a stunning place and hopefully this was just the first of several visits for me.

info@scenicirelandtours.com

http://www.queenshotelennis.com/cruises_pub.html

http://www.burrenperfumery.com/

The Real Thing

All of the research in the world can not compare to the feeling of actually seeing, and touching the real thing.  I have been hard at work researching our immigrant McGees, last weekend I had the opportunity to visit the land where our McGee’s began their new life. My partner in crime, my niece and somewhat unwilling participant, Katy came along with her husband, Allen.  We also brought along my littlest – who is always ready for adventure.

The family who owns the land was gracious enough to invite us out to take a look. They have a small greenhouse and so of course the trip included some shopping!  I picked up some flowers, Katy and Allen found a gorgeous  strawberry plant and some vegetables. It is so special to have plants that were actually grown from this land.

 

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How gorgeous are these?!

We met Hans who grew up here- his parents, immigrants from Germany purchased the farm in the 1950’s.  His parents gave him his own parcel of the land where he built his house.  He showed me the footprint of where o

ne of the original houses stood.  It is now a black top drive in front of a small shop. Below is a picture of an original barn. It gave me goosebumps to see!

 

The farm in its current state is about 160 acres and includes a piece across the road. Seeing it really put it all together for me.  William must have had so much pride in this, his land, his ability to own it and pass it on to his sons.  As a Catholic in Ireland that is a privilege he could not enjoy.  The surrounding area is wild and open with rolling hills, farms, and woodland. We were struck by the fact that this could not have been easy land to cultivate and farm. In my mind, it is what I imagine Ireland to look like… maybe that is why they choose it.  I leave in just over 2 weeks for Ireland – I’ll let you know how it compares!!

Hans was kind enough to let us take pictures and explore, he invited us back in the fall to take in the views!  The next few pictures really don’t need words…

 

The original barn gave me goosebumps to see

 

9/11

Telling the stories of our family has taught me that it is important to tell the stories of our present also. Hopefully someday someone else will come looking for our stories.

September 11, 2001 started out like any other day, until it wasn’t.  It was my mom and dad’s wedding anniversary and even though my dad was gone we still celebrated it.  It was also the 1yr anniversary of finding out that our first baby was on the way.  

I got up that morning and did the laundry, the dryer had stopped working a couple of days earlier. With a 3 1/2 month old there was a lot of laundry.  My husband, Jason had gone out of town for training for his job.  I had a basket of wet laundry and was headed out to hang it on the line when the phone rang.

It was my sister calling to say that something was going on in NYC and I better turn on the TV.  Jason was in lower Manhattan that morning, specifically he was on the 61st floor of the South Tower.  I turned on the TV just in time to see his tower being hit.  At the time I only knew he was on the 61st floor but I wasn’t sure which tower.  We live almost 300 miles from NYC and he was supposed to be there for 3 weeks of training with Morgan Stanley, it was his 3rd day in the city.

My sister knew he was in NY but didn’t’ realize he was in the WTC, immediately said she was on her way over.  I called his regular office in Buffalo, I will never forget the tone of the person I spoke too.  She just kept saying they didn’t know anything and they had been trying to call the switchboard for information, and she kept saying she was sorry.

There were a lot of phone calls for the next little while – I called his mom, I called my office to say I wouldn’t be in – they hadn’t heard yet. Then I called my mom.  I held it together pretty well until I heard her voice and then I fell apart. She said she was on her way.  

It is is such silly details that we remember during crisis. I remember holding the baby who was by now crying right along with me trying to decide what to wear.  I mean really, what is the appropriate outfit for such a situation? I have no idea what I actually put on.  My sister arrived and was followed by my neighbor from across the street.  She had been watching things unfold on tv and kept looking at our house and trying to convince herself Jason wasn’t in THOSE buildings.  When she saw my sister, she knew he was.  

Before long, the house was filled with people. The thing I remember most were the telephones.    My neighbor had her cell and her cordless, my mom (who lived next door) had her cell and cordless and the phones were constantly ringing.  As the news spread, the calls kept coming.  I started carrying our cordless phone around because I couldn’t distinguish all the ringtones.  My neighbor took over caring for Baby James, she made a bottle and got him dressed.  I just couldn’t function, I just kept thinking – how could I ever tell him about his dad, how could I teach him to play hockey, throw a spiral, be a good man?

They kept telling me not to watch the tv, but I thought maybe I would see him.  The absolute lowest moment came when the South Tower came down, by now I knew that is where he was and I thought if he is trying to get out there is no way…

His class had just stopped for a break and all the smokers headed down to have a cigarette outside.  Jason was standing and looking out over the river, he could see the Statue of Liberty.  When the North Tower was hit they heard an explosion and he saw paper and broken glass in the air.  They thought something internal had caused a fire.  Morgan Stanley had a good evacuation plan in place. After the 1993 bombings they came up with their own plans.  They had people on each floor  who told them which stairs to go down and that no matter what they heard, they were not to come back into the building.

So they started walking, still having no idea what happened, they heard the announcements telling them that the South Tower was secure and to back to their offices, he saw people turn around.  He saw  the firemen on their way up the stairs. He and another person helped a woman who was getting too tired to walk, they carried her heels and and her bag for her.  When he was at about the 40th floor his tower was hit.  The lights went out and the building started to shake, he said a prayer for James and I and then just kept going.

When he finally got outside he stood and looked at the devastation. He will never tell me all that he saw that day.  He saw unspeakable things. As he stood there trying to figure out what was happening, he heard a rumbling.  He didn’t know what it was but knew it wasn’t good. He was about a block away when the Tower started to come down.  He started to run and was one of the people covered in ash.  He had a very small burn on his hand but was otherwise unhurt.

The phone I was holding rang a little before 10:30 and his number was on the screen.  I didn’t say anything to anyone and answered it.  In the most calm, casual voice, my sweet husband said “Hi Honey, I thought you might have the TV on.”  It was literally the only call he was able to get through while he was in Manhattan.  The scene that unfolded in my living room is something I will never forget as long as I live.  Our mother’s hugging each other and everyone was crying.  It was the most joyful, devastating moment I have ever been a part of.  To be to happy amongst so much destruction was haunting.

Jason literally had NO idea what had hit him.  He asked me if I knew what had happened, that he had heard something about an airplane on his way down the stairs.  He was standing in the middle of it and didn’t know what was happening.  We only spoke for a few minutes and he was trying to figure out where he was and how to get to his hotel.

I was a travel agent at the time and called my office.  They booked car rentals at all the major airports for him. The next day he was finally able to get to Newark and get a car, he brought several people from our area with him and dropped them off along the way.

We had a gathering at our house on the Friday night after.  I think almost everyone we knew was there.  I just remember the amazing feeling of love in the house that night, everyone was still reeling and it was honest and raw. No one was afraid to say “I love you”. I can remember one neighbor saying it in a way it made her think of “It’s a Wonderful Life”

For the first few years he was busy trying to convince everyone he was fine, he would answer questions about it but would never, ever bring it up.  On about the 5th anniversary he finally started talking about it.  The 10th anniversary was probably the hardest. Our 3rd son had just been born after a tough pregnancy  and scary delivery.  We went to a 9/11 exhibit.  It was tough to see and it was the first time our older boys really started to understand.  They had a lot of questions. Jimmy obviously didn’t have any memory of the day, for Thomas and Sean it will only ever be a story.

There have been a lot of bumps in the road in the days and years since that Tuesday morning.  He isn’t the same person who walked into the South Tower that morning, but really none of us are. There has also been so much joy and so many milestones that we have shared together.  Baby James is now 15 and a pretty good hockey player, as is his brother Thomas, and we have Sean, our sweet 5yr old.  His due date was Sept. 11, he came earlier than that and has taught us to savor those sweet early years all over again. There is not a day that goes by that we don’t give thanks.  Life isn’t perfect, it is messy and busy and pretty amazing.

Go Dumbass!

the track

 

My love for genealogy is in uncovering the past and bringing it to life.  It makes me so happy to break down a brick wall or connect to a new branch of the tree.  That being said, I think it is important to spend some time in the present. To tell the stories as we are living them so that someday if anyone goes looking they will find them!

Our family tree has taken a hit in the last couple of years.  We have lost our last connections to the previous generation with the passing of my Aunt, Uncle, and Mom.  We have begun to lose some from our generation with the passing of two of my cousins.  It was starting to feel like the the only time we were together was at a funeral and that is not ok!  

Some of our local (ish) cousins have really been making an effort to get together just for fun.  We tell the old stories and make new ones.  This past Saturday night was one of those nights.  My wonderful cousin and her partner came from Rochester and my wonderful cousin’s wife came from Buffalo, we met in the middle in my hometown, Batavia.  Now there really isn’t a whole lot to do in Batavia but we met for dinner.  The restaurant is part of Batavia Downs, there is gaming and a harness race track.  There are not a whole lot of harness race tracks around anymore.  The jockeys sit in small carts behind the horses and it is fairly dangerous for both the jockey and the horse.  We had a great dinner and got caught up on each other’s lives, but mostly we laughed.  Is there anything better than an evening spent laughing with people you love?  During dinner my cousin mentioned that she had never seen live horse racing so after dinner we headed right down!

We had a blast!!  Several of us had absolutely NO idea how to even place a bet, luckily a few did.  The first race my cousin won .10, the second race 4-5 of us placed bets and not one the horses we picked even placed!  We sure knew who NOT to pick.  In the middle of it I had to go and pick up my teenage son from work and I brought him back with me.  For the 3rd race my cousin was still in it and she picked a horse named Dumas.  Of course she read it fast and was calling it Dumbass the whole time.  I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard watching her jump up and down cheering on “Dumbass”.  Unbelievably, he came in first place!!  It was like he had won the Derby.  My cousin excitedly went to collect her winnings – just over $9.00.

What a great night, it will definitely be entered into family lore. My son thought we were all nuts but I noticed he was pretty into it on that last race.  I told him that even though he may not get it now, someday he will understand how important and rare moments like that are.

Photo from left: Brian Ellingham, Eileen McGee, Rosann Kelly, Mary Ellen Reardon, Yvonne Kimaid, Jim Dubois. Front row: Staci Ellingham, Katy Greene

Uncle Lee's Christmas Letter

Mike and Amy McGee were awesome enough to answer my email (from a stranger at the time) and send me a copy of a Christmas letter penned by Leo “Lee” McGee in 1980.  This letter was a goldmine for me and filled in so many blanks!  I was struck by the fact that he mentioned several times that other people had more information, or would have been better storytellers.  I wish he knew just how much his letter means to me…

Many of you may have already read the letter, but I typed a copy to save and thought this would be the place to share it.  In the letter he talks about the Murphy family (his mother’s family) and mentions that they lived in a place called Pearl Creek in a home that was once a ticket station for the Railroad.  A co-worker of mine lives in Pearl Creek – it is a very tiny place.  She remembers it being very small and fairly run down by the time she moved there. There was a a man living there but sadly the little house that was owned by the Murphy’s burned down a few years ago.  The man continued to live on the land in a camper for a time but has since moved on.  Uncle Lee’s stories about working at the family store were wonderful – I will be doing some more research about it soon.

I hope you enjoy Uncle Lee’s letter as much as I did!!


Christmas 1980

In trying to supplement my sister’s recollections of her early years, I would like to add some of my memories which have remained in the back of my mind the past fifty odd years.

First of all I find Mary Ellen’s ability to communicate far superior to mine and I marvel at her storytelling talents. I will not challenge her report in any manner for even the slightest exaggeration (?) to comment on how fortunate those English III and IV high school students in Silver Co. were to have such an outstanding teacher. (Shades of Aunt Alice Murphy’s business teaching and administrative expertise in Binghampton, NY)

Later on I will try to put this narrative into a chronological sequence but before getting too involved in my personal experiences, let me try to trace my elders when I was a “wee lad”.

I was born at 225 West Buffalo St Warsaw, NY. the numbers, 225, that I made in sixth grade manual training class still adorns the front porch. However, I must admit that my artistic handicraft talents began and and ended with that one project. My father started in the grocery business because the hours were too long, the pay too little and the dangers too great in the salt mines that Warsaw was famous for when he was young. Eventually one small store prospered into a large general store that now would be called a department store. His partner, Will Cheney, died soon after the partnership was formed but the name always stayed Cheney and McGee until my father sold in 1929.  At that time he signed a long term lease with a new firm (W.T. Grant) which really was a stroke of genius because the Great Depression was just getting started. The 20 year lease plus a couple of extensions permitted our family to survive the depression years in much better shape that many of our friends.

I was told that I was breaking into the business nicely by working Monday nights when they remained open until 10:00pm. I usually ended up asleep on the piles of overall until someone wanted to buy or my father woke me up to take me home.  There was a stalk of bananas in the middle of the store and if anyone was looking for Bob the first thing to check for directions was the way the banana stalk was swinging. Jack’s long lets were good for deliveries and he also had a persuasive way with the horses. I can’t remember my sister’s or my mother ever being in the store but most of the clerks were relatives.

One of which was Angie McGee, a spinster, who lived with her brother George who was blind.  What a pity Angie isn’t around to write this narrative. She and George were the family historians and Angie could compose a poem at the drop of a hat. I marvelled at the way she would inquire about our Christmas presents and then write a related poem that was almost as good as the dinner and gifts combined. Her brother was a real comedian and it was always a pleasure to visit with him. He was extremely well informed because he would listen to that new gadget, Radio, all day and most of the night. I was always amazed how George always knew when I didn’t complete the trimming job after mowing a large lawn.  Before paying me, sometimes up to a quarter; he would send me out in back to correct some flaws.  At first I corrected them, bet later on being older and smarter I would just leave the house for a few minutes. However he never let  me get away with anything unless he heard the lawnmower moving.

Sunday was visit Grandma Murphy’s day and off we’d go down the road about 10 miles to Pearl Creek. Grandpa Murphy was a railroad man and they remodelled the old ticket station into their home.  The quaint old building (now call Aunt Jenny’s house) still stand today and my children enjoyed playing “Andy, Andy Over” as much as I did years before.  She had no modern conveniences or you might call them essentials such as central heat, telephone, water service, electric, or inside plumbing. (In fact as I grew older I had an important job after Halloween in replacing the “Out House” back onto it’s foundation) Her one luxury was a battery radio. Although Grandma came here as a young girl, she retained her Irish beliefs. She lived in both good mind and spirit until 93.  In fact in the true Irish tradition, she she was to be anointed at our house  by a new priest who had just arrived from Ireland, she asked him what town he came from. When he answered (Northern) she excused him from the room. Afterwards she relented and let him back in saying there might be someone good from that town but she didn’t know any when she was last there.

Also at Grandma’s house lived Aunt Jennie (1876-1973) all the time and Aunt Alice (1881-1976) when she wasn’t teaching school. They also had two brothers, Thomas (1875-?) who died about the time I was born.  In fact Thomas was the link that led to my mother and father getting married. Uncle Thomas worked in the store and bragged about his nice sister. He meant Aunt Jennie but she thought John and Mary would make a better couple and so it was.  Another brother James (1872-1937) lived in Pearl Creek and married Mary Donaghue (1882-1959) and they had four sons. Uncle Jim was a very active Democrat and just happened to have his sons available for appointments. John’s career was a NY State Trooper, James was a prison guard, Tom moved to Florida and Peter was my age. Tom is the lone survivor and has remained a good friend. Tom, Vivian his wife, and Guyla(?) daughter were very helpful to my family when we moved to Florida. They presently are good friends of Art’s and Mary Ellen and we usually see them when we visit in Florida. Grandma’s maiden name was Ryan and we used to visit and correspond with the Ryan’s from Olean, NY as well as those that remained in Ireland. I am afraid that we have now lost touch with each other.

Now to get back into some chronological order that I promised several pages ago. As a real youngster (six) I can remember faintly the joys and sorrows of having two brothers leaving the same day to go to college. Jack went west to Notre Dame, travelling from the Erie RR station on the West Hill and Bob went East to Rutgers, New Jersey on the Buffalo, Rochester, and Pittsburgh RR from the East Hill. They had always been in the same class because Jack has lost two years of schooling as a youngster. Before completely recovering from Scarlet Fever, he was caught in the Great Flu epidemic.  The other big event I remember was my parents 25th Wedding Anniversary that was held in the Wyoming Sun.  That was as close to a huge family reunion as was possible in those days.  The next event which I remember well was going to Jack and Bob’s graduation. The most significant part of the trip was the (?) everyone had for a family to travel so far in such a short time with that family new gadget of a 1929 Touring Buick with so few mechanical problems. The trip went to South Bend, Indiana to New Brunswick, New Jersey with a stop in between to visit the Loggies (Sp?) and check out Seton Hall College for Mary Ellen in between.  Three of the things I distinctly remember are: 1. My nickname of “Sharp Eyes” because my main job was to look out for trains at all the grade level crossings. I remember counting the white crosses that publicized the fatalities at each crossing. 2. My losing with my mother how my  one white shirt became so black when we stayed with the Loggies. I tried to blame it on the steel mills but she didn’t agree. 3. The choice of sleeping quarters which consisted of either a large hotel or more often a large house in a small town that offered tourist accommodations. You usually shared all the privileges with the family that lived in the house. Then came a fairly rough time in my young life. Even youngsters felt the Depression. The low point came when I lost my father. Jack lost his job in California because he came home for the funeral. Bob’s company went out of business (Marr and Colton Organs). Neither Jack or Bob could find any work and I think they remained at home for two years at least. Eventually they both began long employments in their respective fields – Jack with Government and Bob with Data Processing. Mary Ellen went on to Seton Hill and then a teacher in Silver Creek, NY. My high school career was entirely sports and and naturally a comparison to my older brother’s skills. Warsaw usually enjoyed winning seasons with McGee’s.

From Warsaw High onto Niagara University was a quick and happy four years.  The next four years were neither quick or happy but I did get to travel around the United States and ended as an Infantryman in the Pacific arena. Upon returning from service, I realized it was time to catch up with my two brother and sister who were all happily married. So enter one Jeanne Elizabeth Dayton who was a Registered Nurse in the Warsaw Hospital. We were married in Auburn, NY on November 23, 1946.

Because we were geographically close (two blocks) when our family was growing up we have probably retained closer relations with Jack’s family. Bob and Ellen were not that far away in New Jersey and we enjoyed many good times and we still correspond regularly with Bobby and Bill. Incidentally I believe they have followed the usual McGee tradition of being excellent “picker-outers” in Rose and Carol.  Mary Ellen and Art moved to Puerto Rico and now Florida but we always visited as often as possible.  The Hau’s are blessed with nice, healthy happy and welcomed additions to their family but they sure know how to scatter in different directions. In spite of the miles that separate them, I truly believe they are as close today as they were at 43 ? Rd Grand Island, NY.

Now to offer a punch line to you “young-uns” who too soon with be “the older generation”. Keep in touch with your relatives because you’ll be happily surprised how great they are.  Two recent incidents that prove my point are: 1. Jeanne and I visited Alice and Mike McCarthy in California. We certainly enjoyed their genuine hospitality and you can’t imagine the awe and respect shown by their five children to some real live relatives way back East. 2. Jeanne’s niece and husband hosting a “Fourth of July McGee Party” this year that will have to be repeated.

Now let’s start on the McGee ancestors by introducing my Great Grandparents. Thom Gill married Catherine Glancy (Clancy?) and their daughter Catherine, became my father’s mother. William McGee Margaret McConnell and became parents of my father’s father. I am not certain how my grandparents got here from Ireland (single or married) nor do I know when but I do know my grandfather became a US Citizen in 1850. My father married Mary McGinn (1866-1893) but she and their son, James, both died in childbirth.  My father waited about 10yrs before he married my mother.  **

As you well may surmise because both my father and I were the youngest of several children, it is apparent I needed some assistance to put this together. I first turned to Veronica Derrick Calmes, my first cousin who still lives in Warsaw. In addition to benefitting from Veronica’s astute memory I gained a terrific source of information from the grand-daughter, Brenda Reilly Leyden, who lives in Albany, NY. Brenda has gleaned information from Birth Records, Death Certificates, Census information and several other tidbits here and there confirmed by her grand-mother that has become the mainstay for my telling my version of the generation of the McGee’s.

I think I will leave enough traces that should my children of grand-children were to modernize or update they can do so. However mainly I wanted  to go back into the earlier McGee history.  Both Veronica and Brenda spent many hours in researching this document and deserve all the credit for assisting me in accomplishing something I never could have done alone.

My memory is dim on my Aunts and Uncles and somewhat hazy on the first cousins and very poorly informed on the children of my cousins. My paternal grandparents had six children as did my father as I will attempt to keep  (unreadable). These dates can easily be verified or contradicted by some of the living member.

Uncle Bernard, dates unknown, married and had two daughters. Nellie remained single while Mattie married William Donahue who had a daughter, Helen, who married Bill? And they had a son who met an early death when I was in college.

Uncle William (1857-1926) married Martha Flynn (1865-1936) and they had two sons and one daughter. The daughter, Nora (1903-1932) married Orrin Pierce (1885-1936) and they had a son, John. One son, William (1897-1927), remained single while the other, John Norman (1894-1952), married Madeline McVay (1894-1967) and they had a son, James, who married Kay Marshall and they are presently living in Batavia, NY with their children Mary Ellen, Eileen, John and Michael.

Aunt Catherine (1858-1914) married Christopher O’Melia (1858-1914) and they had three daughters. Loretta married Lee Fleming and they had no children.  Eileen married Joseph Engle and they had two daughters. One, Mary Agnes(1914), had two children and still lives in the Rochester area. The other Barbara Anne (1923?) has six children and lives around ?. The third daughter, Marie (1889-1979) married James Loggie (1885-1964) who had a daughter and son. Catherine (1919) married William Holtz and had eight children and still resides in Arizona. James (192?) and Beverly had six children and live around the the Los Angeles area.

Aunt Mary (1860-1919) remained single but probably was the matriarch of the McGee’s from the stories I’ve been told.  Aunt Mary and my father kept the old homestead going and she really was the second mother to all the nieces and nephews.

Aunt Ellen (1861-1897) married William Derrick (1860-1891) and they had a daughter, Veronica (1891-1982) who married Lawrence Calmes (1891-1968). The Calmes’s daughter Eileen (1913-1975) married Brendan Reilly (1911-1973) and they had three children – Kevin, Brenda and Derek. Both Kevin (Melissa and Daniel) and Brenda (Lisa and Brian) presently have two children while Derek has remained single.

I’ll tell what little I know about my Grandfather’s three brothers and admit to knowing nothing about his two sisters (Nancy and Ellen). Of Bernard (1831-1864), his grave marker lists Donegal as his birthplace, (probably also my Grandfather’s). William (1837-1906) married Sally Malone (1844-1905) and they had three children. Mary C. (1869-1912) who married Edward Dillon (1860-1938), then Mattie (1873-?) who married James Simon and William (1877-1933) who married Maude Crawford (1882-1966). The Dillon’s and Simon’s scattered and I don’t know the whereabouts of the current generation. The William McGee family remained fairly close by Warsaw. Bill and Charles are deceased; Marjorie, Mary and Betty are around Warsaw; Dick is in Jamesville; Maurice (Mike) is in Ellicottville and the youngest Sally settled in the Mid-West. Michael (1832-1894) married Mary L (1840-1911) and had two boys and a girl. Charles (1873-1904) and George 1810-1939) were the boys and Mary Angela (Angie 1866-1942) was the girl. I have previously mentioned Angie and George who could have told more and better stories about all the McGee’s than have been mentioned before.

Now how do I conclude this narrative? I believe to oversimplify my position is to advise you to be “Proud of Your Family Heritage”. You have no idea how our anxieties are relieved because Mary Ellen, Art and Julianne are only a 100 miles down the road from Woody. You also can’t realize what a pleasure if was to take Chuck and Mike for a short vacation to Letchworth Park reminisce. Mike and Jo were listening intently while I told them about the “good old days” and Chuck and Pat watched intently while I tried to position their son to match a picture of myself at the Rail Road Station taken a few ? years earlier.

May all of you have a Happy Holiday and Healthy Christmas season and a Joyful 1981.

Lovingly,

Dad, Brother, Uncle or Cousin

                                                                                                 Lee

 

**Mary McGinn gave birth to James McGee on July 14, 1893. She died on July 2, 1893 and baby James died on August 13, 1893.  

McGee, Leo Gerald. “Christmas 1980.” Letter to McGee Family. 25 Dec. 1980. MS. Lake Pinellas, Florida.

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