Monday, May 26, 2014

A Memorable Family Tour

Memorial Day is here again—the unofficial start of summer—although, just a couple of short months ago we were all a bit hard pressed to imagine that summer would actually ever arrive.
Memorial Day is a time for remembering…remembering not only those who served and protected, but also those family members, now gone, who set the stage for us, along with all the significant places that served as those stages throughout the span of our lives and all of our extended family’s lives.

Extended families consist of many different pieces and mine is no different…except for the peculiar headwear, sported by some.

But that’s a topic for another day…if ever.

Z’s contingent is, well…large to say the least; large enough to fill up the state of Rhode Island.

Check that…make it Vermont, Massachusetts’s, Maine and pretty much all of the original 13 colonies.

My immediate family, on the other hand is, well…small, by any measure, and less of what it was by half in recent years, even though it too is spread out over 4 states, with no restrictions…as far as I know.

I have a number of Italian cousins in various incarnations, spread about the region. I know because I’ve seen them on Facebook and once they clear up that glitch, I’m sure they’ll respond to my “Friend Requests”.

And then there are my Irish kin, encamped across the river, at the same time, both familiar and mysterious, at least to me, most of whom, through no fault but circumstance, pretty much disappeared, after my dad died when I was just a month past 13 years old.

Yes, I said “died”. I’m not big on euphemisms of death, such as, “passed”, which, at least to me, is flatulent reminiscent, or the more elongated form, “passed away”, which evokes an image of fading into another dimension; although, of course, there are many who believe that’s exactly what happens.

Of course, I could always say, “I lost my father in 1967”, but then people might think I was just careless and misplaced him.

But the point is—and yes, I do get to them eventually—for various reasons, I fell out of touch with my Irish kin, until the more recent past, which, if I was to tell you the circumstances, I’d  have to repeat the whole euphemistic death routine, and none of us want that.  Trying to make people laugh at death is hard enough the first time.

I suppose it’s human nature to want to know you’re roots, and for the past 4 decades, the only roots that I had any familiarity with was the one that starred Levar Burton back in the mid 70’s.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m half Irish and half Italian, but, to be honest I’ve never felt I was anything but American. I guess mostly because both sets of grandparents rarely spoke of the “old country” or discussed family history, shaded or otherwise…at least not with me…maybe because they sensed I would be writing everything down someday.  And in that way, I come from a very wise people.

So when I say, I don’t know much of my ancestral past, it’s certainly an evenly weighted familial ignorance.

But that’s just DNA, and to be honest, to me, genes are the least important factor when it comes to defining family…despite the fact that I’ve had several tests done over the years in the hope of eliminating some holiday dinner guests.

Okay, I’m kidding…it was just the one test…and nothing was conclusive.

So now, having reconnected with the core of my semi-local, Irish Kin, it was with a great bit of pleasure and surprise when I was invited to tag along on their annual pre-holiday “Coming Home” tour,  this past year. 

Since I’m the last of the family hometown locals, the group assembled at my house for the first time, and I was actually surprised to discover how comfortable it felt to have them all gathered in my dining room, laughing and berating one another, while pursuing gramp’s old scrap book, much of which illustrates his exploits as a P. C. police sergeant nearly 100 years ago.

But I guess that’s the comfort and connection of family, another thing I’d unfortunately lost touch with over the years; something I thought I didn’t need.

Luckily our mode of transportation—provided by my cousin Peggy,
or Maggie as she goes by now, in some circles, especially if she is pretending not to know the rest of us, which is often understandable— was more than accommodating for our “small” group, especially since Peggy/Maggie’s hubby, James, is accustomed to riding in the trunk…even when it’s just the two of them.

I didn’t ask….

So, after literally packing the car with Moloneys, we were finally ready to set off on our Port Chester family tour.

We began with a quick drive by the High School, which, according to my nearly 90 year old Uncle Jim—my dad’s older bro—hasn’t changed all that much in the last 70 years. In fact he thought even the crossing guard might still be the same.

Then a quick stop at the cemetery to acknowledge the, now, somewhat quieter members of the family, who, apparently, always the nit pickers—a family trait—take offense if they miss the tour.

Luckily, after about 20 minutes, someone remembered to let James out of the trunk, which avoided a potentially unpleasant situation, especially since he was the keeper of the coffee thermos.

From there, the tour began in earnest as we visited the many streets my grandparents had lived on in P.C. dating back to the early years of the 20th century. I’m not really sure why they moved so often—though I suspect it might have had something to do with all the loud fiddle playing and laughs that routinely sang from their windows on Saturday nights—but if you happened to live anywhere in Port Chester during the 20s and 30s, chances are you were neighbors at one time or another and you sang right along with them. 

Rolling down upper Main, we passed the site of a now long gone and forgotten house where my Uncle was born back in 1924, then continued south, past familiar store fronts—most relatively unchanged—and down through Liberty Square, where my Grampa Jim once manned the original Police Booth; a village ambassador to all passing through and across our humble hardworking streets.

Then over to Washington, and around to Oak, then Parker Street where, according to Uncle Jim, Mrs.“Somebody” once threw a frying pan at Mr. “Anotherbody” presumably for consorting with Miss “Anywhatabody” on a warm summer night in 31.

Then a lengthy stop on Bush Avenue, where my Uncle spent the bulk of his early years and for which he had the warmest bundle of memories and stories, set aside.

As our car pulled up to the past, nestled across the street, the current residents were enjoying a sunny afternoon, on the front porch and were naturally perplexed by the site of an SUV packed with a bunch of middle aged folks staring up at their house.

My cousins and I debated the merits of whether or not to disturb their solitude, when we spotted Uncle Jim already crossing the street and bounding up the stairs, announcing his kinship by residency, back in 1927.

“1927!” I heard one of the porch sitters declare.  Followed by a shout across the yard to the next door neighbor, “Hey, this fella lived right here, back in 1927!”

“1927!” suddenly filled the air as it bounced back and around from neighbor to neighbor. It was almost as if George Washington, himself, had returned to claim his long lost wooden teeth.

My Uncle was glowing with all the attention and recounted one story after another of his family life on Bush Avenue; and you could tell from all the smiles, that he was echoing many of the same memories from the current residents as well.

My cousins, Patty and Peggy, soon joined the chatty group, up on the porch, while I—always the observer—was content to stand back on the street, bearing witness to some fresh family lore that I knew would live on for a long, long time to come.

After a while, poor, forgotten James knocked on the trunk door, asking to be let out, again, which I did, only to hear one of the neighbors exclaim… “Look, they’re even coming out of the trunk!”

Once my, now, celebrity Uncle bade his farewell to Bush Avenue, with a promise to return, we zipped up Poningo—a street I terrorized as a 4 year old—until we eventually wound up at the place where I first experienced this saga, on Rollhause Place, the last of the family homes, the only one, other than my own, that I knew, through 1964.

The house has been altered quite a bit since then, but as we all stood there in front, on the familiar sidewalk, the spirits and memories it held for all us, remained intact.  Grandma Nellie’s doilies atop the furniture, the varnished wood trim, the yellow kitchen table, the wallpapered dining room, hosting family holidays and parties, the old cuckoo clock that signaled every hour, all through the day and all through the night. The garage, still there, which once housed an entire wall of ancient license plates. The stone basement with the picture of the aforementioned George Washington, his unshakable eyes following you wherever you walked, the piano, the once state of the art, ring roller washtub and even the radiators that went clank in the night.

All the things that connected us as family, much more so than DNA ever could.

Finally, the day reluctantly wound down after a late afternoon lunch, and, following a few Irish toasts, we all said our goodbyes, at least for a while, already looking forward to next year’s family tour. 

And as I watched James, climb back into the trunk, even though now there were only two of them left in the car—once more, I didn’t ask—I couldn’t help thinking how nice it was to be connected to family again…even if sometimes you have to say goodbye, before you can really say hello….

So for me, this Memorial Day, I’ll be thinking more about what I’d forgotten, but intend on remembering, not only today…but all the days to come.


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  1. A moveable feast. I am glad I was invited. Yes, I was there the whole time.

    1. Thanks, Joan. I thought the trunk was a little more crowded that day....

  2. It's just as enjoyable the second time around. Hey, I have a Kindle now. I was experimenting with it to see what I could find, and I searched for The Kingdom of Keys. You got a terrific review from one Allison, an adult, not a kid.

    1. Thanks, Joan. You're still the best...


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