IMG_0293My son recently arrived home safely from an awesome nine day trip to Ireland with his dad. My two friends arrived home safely from an equally awesome visit to England for 15 days. They were all kind enough to “take us with them” via pics on Facebook and I am delighted for all!

It does, however, remind me of another visit to England many, many years ago. It wasn’t me – it was my mother! My dad had a trip planned to Paris for business and they decided it was a chance of a lifetime so they made arrangements for my mother to fly separately and they would rendezvous in England.

It was my mother’s very first airplane ride and it was all the way from Philadelphia to England – by herself. My dad was flown curtesy of the federal government – his employer so my mother was on her own.

They, too, had a delightful time. I know from the pictures that were later developed and printed. There was no long-distance communication back then – no cell phones, no texting, no Facebook and international calls cost a small fortune. They were gone 3 1/2 weeks.

So while they were gone, there was the matter of what to do with the children – my two brothers and I. It was decided that my brothers would stay with my grandmother, aunt and uncle and cousin in New Jersey. It was the home where my mother was raised and they had a barn to play in, woods to explore and an attic full of treasures to find.

Me? I was farmed out to my aunt and uncle and three cousins (all boys) in Philadelphia. I was nine years old.

Did I mention my cousins where I had to live for 3 1/2 weeks were ALL BOYS?

Actually, at that point, all my cousins were boys, but these cousins were the type that we cringed when we knew they were coming over to visit. Not disciplined, loud and into everything. Apparently I didn’t get a vote and my mother had a mind lapse!

Suffice it to say I had a lousy time. 3 ½ weeks is a long time to be away from my family when you’re nine years old and it certainly seemed longer where I was staying. My cousins were put out because they all had to bunk together since I needed a room of my own. My uncle was the gruff type – used to relating to boys. I was miserable. My aunt seemed to be the only one enjoying the arrangement. She finally had a little girl living under her roof. Whoopee!

The oldest cousin was a year older than me and he basically did the hanging out with me. We could walk to the local movie theater so went one day to the matinee. It was a scary movie – to me. And I got so upset that I demanded to leave in the middle of the movie. That meant he had to leave too. He was quite angry with me. The other two boys were younger and a real pain in the ###. They teased and tormented nonstop. A lot of tears were shed in the confines of my bed during the night.

But my aunt was having such a good time. She bought me dresses and permgave me my first perm. You may remember those home perms in the 50’s? The ones where all your hair is put up in pin curls with bobby pins all over your head and then this stinky stuff is applied all over followed by a plastic bag to cover it all. And then you sit for what seemed like days feeling nauseous from the fumes and being teased by the boys. Sigh.

Finally the 3 ½ weeks ended – the longest most wretched 3 ½ weeks of my life!!! My aunt took me to the airport to pick up my mother. It was back in the day when we could actually go to the gate. Her plane arrived and the folks exited the plane on the tarmac – no fancy contraptions that go out from the gate to the plane door. I was at the window and my nose was peeled to the window. Finally there she was! THERE SHE WAS!!! I waved and waved. I could see her looking up but she didn’t see me!  She didn’t recognize me with my straight hair now all curly and with a new dress on! I think my aunt was a bit hurt that I was so excited at my mother’s return.

When she entered the terminal she spotted my aunt and then finally me.

She was bubbling and going on and on about her trip and her plane ride – all the way back to my aunt’s house and through dinner with them. I just wanted to go home!!!

We did leave eventually and I was so relieved. I imagine my cousins were too. But my aunt, she was sad.

Never again!

My mother is still apologizing. I’ve forgiven her but I haven’t forgotten! 🙂

Then my people will live in a peaceful habitation,

And in secure dwellings and in undisturbed resting places;

Isaiah 32:18


Steeple Chase

3It just always does something to me – when I see a church steeple!

It’s probably silly and most likely misplaced, but when I see a church steeple, I feel distinct comfort and peace and, if I might be bold enough to add: joy!

As a child, we frequently would travel from Philadelphia to Owls Head, Maine where my pastor had a summer home. I, to this day, can visualize all the small towns and streams and rolling hills and church steeples along the way.

Obviously, this was way before I Phones, interstates and in-car-movies. And it was delightful!

Remember the little ditty you probably learned as a child: steeple5Here’s the church, here’s the steeple. Open the door and see all the people?” I’m going to teach it to my grandkiddos!

Hubby and I now travel all over and I’m always drawn to the church steeples in every town. Every town! Heck, I love the steeples around my own home. It saddens me when I see a new church constructed and there is no steeple. I suppose it’s a modern trend, but I don’t like it!

To me, that church steeple signifies God, or at the very least, pointing me to look up to God! I don’t know if folks in the church beneath it share my faith. In fact I can say for sure that some in those buildings do NOT share my faith. But I am merely focusing on the steeple as, I suppose, one would focus on the cross and see Christ.

IMG_9129I see that steeple, and every time, it brings a smile, not only to my face, but to my heart.

If you google “church steeple”, (and those who know me, know I have done just that) you’ll find differences. Some give accounts that the design came from European influence with the early American settlers. Others indicate steeples can be traced back to pagan worship. Whatever!

There’s always different points of view, but I know, in my heart, I know what looking at a steeple does for me. It makes me thankful for so many things. It’s a reminder, around nearly every corner and in every community that God loves me and I just have to “look up” to see.

Steeples are so different. I wonder if there are actually two alike? It reminds me that we all are so different – no two alike – and yet God loves us all!

I love a good steeple “chase”. Don’t you? 🙂

“To You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens!”        Psalm 123:1


The Sound of Music

balloons-12893936Who knew Lady Gaga would remind me of my 17th birthday?

I wasn’t exactly watching the Oscars, more like monitoring via Twitter. I am not a big movie goer so don’t have much interest in the awards show, but I’d see the tweets on a certain dress or comment or song and I’d tune in. When I noted The Sound of Music tribute, I tuned right in and immediately transported myself back to 1965.

It was my 17th birthday and The Sound of Music had just come to all the big movie screens. By big I mean, not local, but downtown in the big cities.

I loved musicals; was raised on them. I remember going to Valley Forge Music Circus and Paper Mill Playhouse and movies and school musicals, etc. If I didn’t actually see one in person, my dad had the soundtracks – 45’s  – and I would memorize and sing and dance my way around the living room at any given moment (when no one was home 🙂 ).

So it was only fitting that for my 17th birthday, my present would be the big trip downtown to see The Sound of Music.

(sidenote: it’s a bit depressing to realize it’s the 50th anniversary of this event! 😦 )

In the 1960’s it was a big deal to go downtown Philadelphia from the suburbs. Mostly folks took the train to commute.

But this was a BIG DEAL! It was like a double date: my mother and dad and my (current) boyfriend and me. We all dressed up and first dined at William Penn Inn – my very favorite and chosen place for special occasions.

Then downtown – and NOT on the train! My dad drove! We went to the Midtown Theater on Chestnut Street.

It was a GIANT state-of-the-art screen and there she was: Julie Andrews – dancing on the “hills”. I’ll never forget it. I was mesmerized!

And my boyfriend held my hand! That in itself was a pretty big feat – right under the nose of my folks!

My boyfriend: Bill Ayton. He was a nice young man, a child of missionaries who were away in China. He lived with other young people in a home for missionary kids whose parents were “on the field”. The group came to our church. It wasn’t until after that birthday evening that we found out he was not allowed to go to the movies – one of the many rules of the house parents. Oops! I guess it’s true, as the saying goes, that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness then permission!

Anyway, I loved – correction – love The Sound of Music. To.This.Day! And I still know all sound-music-28928936the words to all the songs.

So thanks, Lady Gaga, for the memories. . .

Grandpop was an Immigrant!

grandpopMy paternal grandfather was an immigrant.

I have a young friend who “follows” my blog and he lives in Ireland. This has had me thinking a lot lately about my grandfather.

I looked it up. My fellow blogger lives in southwest Ireland and my grandfather was from the north.

Grandpop was born in Ireland, in a small town called Ahoghill, which sits in The Borough of Ballymena, in Northern Ireland. He accompanied his parents to the United States as an infant, thereby making me a second-generation American on my father’s side!

In 1889, John and Elizabeth (my great-grandparents) left Northern Ireland aboard theGrandpop's ship ship Furnessia which docked in the port at New York City, a two-three week voyage. This was three years before Ellis Island was transformed into the major immigration station. They no doubt were processed at Castle Garden Depot in lower Manhattan. John and Elizabeth arrived with five children, ages ranging from ten years old down to 9 months old. Grandpop was the 9 month old.

For more than 50 years in Ireland there had been famines in the land.  More than a million people died of starvation and just as many immigrated to other countries. The Irish government subsidized their people in order to encourage them to leave and save themselves. The subsidy was a good thing because at the United States immigration stations, some folks were sent away and back to their country of origin if they could not prove they had adequate funds to support themselves and their families. My great-grandparents took the government up on their offer at the tail end of the blight.

Fun fact: Grandpop was named (first and middle names) after the minister who baptized him in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the same minister who married my great-grandparents. 

Grandpop’s family settled in the coal mining regions of Pennsylvania with many of their kinsman.  It’s interesting and kind of sad that they settled in the coal mining region as back in their country, Grandpop’s grandparents were farmers and his own father was a carpenter. Nevertheless, it was where they and many of their countrymen took up residence and made their home.

Eventually two more children were added to the mix.

The story is told of Grandpop having a bit of a skirmish in the 8th grade. Apparently he had an altercation with a teacher, therefore deciding (to himself) never to go back to school. He went to the coal mines and secured a job, something his father never wanted any of his kids to do. So while the parents thought he was attending school each day, he was working in the mines. Eventually the school contacted the family, and Grandpop was found out. Somehow, I imagine heated arguments ensued, he kept his job at the mines and never went back to school. (I have more character traits of his than I realized! 🙂 )

At some point, I believe in the late teen years, Grandpop and one of his brothers decided they would not live in the coal-mining region for the rest of their lives. They had the “world” to conquer. They left family behind and made their way to Philadelphia where they each met and married their wives, had children and settled down.

I remember Grammy and Grandpop living in a row home in Philadelphia. I loved to go there. It was inviting and friendly and fun. Grandpop was fun. (In my eyes anyway) Apparently even as a young child he was a handful. It was told that he was playing with fireworks (forbidden) and they exploded. He lost two digits on his hands. One is his thumb digit. As an adult, he always, always, smoked a pipe and he used that thumb, or what was left of it, to press down the tobacco in the pipe. I always though it was very clever of him as that digit was just the right size! 🙂 (Oh yea, I definitely am related! 🙂 )

When Grandpop settled in Philadelphia, he secured a job with Abbott’s Dairy. He worked there until he retired. He barely made enough to support the family (by now with three children) but it was a fun place to work so he kept at it. My dad (the oldest child and only son) tells of having to work at a very young age selling eggs, just to help make ends meet.

Grandpop was very creative and handy. He made his very own made-to-look-like Lincoln lincoln logsLogs and (I believe) crafted little cowboys and Indians, possibly made out of lead as they are heavy. He would be amazed and proud that even today, his great-great grand kids are still playing with the logs! (The little figures are put away as no doubt they are covered in lead paint!) Grandpop’s job at Abbott’s Dairy was as a mechanic and he put his skills to good use. Lack of formal education never seemed to hold him back.Grandpop's cowboy and indians

The following comes from The Philly History Blog: ” Abbott’s Dairy shut down in 1984, after 108 years. It is too bad. It sounds like it was a fun company. In 1937 they put out a book calledRaggedy Ann and Maizie Moocow, with an ice cream driven plot (meant to illustrate the healthful benefits of ice cream). It’s dairy truck drivers are remembered to have been known to throw kids free ice cream sandwiches. . .”

Yep, sounds like a good fit for Grandpop!

Their street of row homes was a delight. Each connected with the other and if you sat on the tiny front porch and looked in both directions, you could wave to your neighbors probably ten houses each way. There was an alley in back where all the cars drove in and garages were under each home. Overlooking the alley, in between each home, was a tiny porch off the kitchen attached to the neighbors kitchen door. (the expression “back-door neighbors” comes to mind!) The porch was big enough for Grammy to stand on and yell down to us kids as we played in the alley to “put away our skates and come in for supper.”

At one end of the street was a little shop of some kind where one could buy the necessities – milk, bread, eggs, etc. At the other end, we could always count on a street vendor selling hot pretzels! Philadelphia Hot Pretzels! YUM! I know the tradition was to eat with yellow mustard, but I was a holdout on the mustard. Just give me that big, soft, salty pretzel and I was good! Actually better than good!

Sometimes, if we were lucky, a little truck would come down the street playing a merry tune to get our attention. It was decked out in all pretty colors and on the back was a little tiny carousel with maybe four seats. I loved that thing and always begged Grammy for a ride. Money was so precious but she never said no.

Grandpop had a dog named Suzy.  That dog loved Grandpop and the feeling was quite mutual. Suzy knew Grandpop’s schedule and was at the ready when it was come-home-from-work time. Sweet little dog!

At one point in his career, Abbott’s Dairy sent Grandpop with a to Florida to give input on designing an ice cream shop for an extension of the company. Well, he had never been south of New Jersey before and fell in love with Florida! When he retired, he decided he and Grammy would move there.  She was heartbroken because their whole family was in the Philadelphia area – her two daughters (my aunts) with their husbands and children, along with my dad (their son) and our family. But Grandpop had made up his mind and off they went. I was in second grade.

Obviously we ourselves headed south a lot, at all times of the year, to visit. But Grammy only lived three years in Florida before her death.

Grandpop’s health and mind suffered in later years but he was surrounded by his family as he eventually moved back “home”.

The memories are sweet and I will always remember his “fun” influence in my life.

Another fun fact: my dad and his cousin (both sons of the two brothers who left the coal-mining regions) each bought houses across the street from one another in Willow Grove. Dad’s cousin moved out of state when I was two years old so I did not remember them but years later, my second (or is it third) cousin (our mothers were pregnant at the same time) was doing family research and tracked us down. I thank Janice for her research going all the way back to our roots in Ireland, which I’ve used here and for her new friendship. It’s really kind of amazing because she lives in South Carolina; our grandparents are buried in Pennsylvania; I live in Missouri!

I have fond vivid pictures of life in that row home in Philadelphia and my Grammy and Grandpop. I sure wish I had asked a lot of questions about them! But I was just a kid!!!

I’ll just have to hang on to my memories!