Family Trees and Reunions

My childhood was filled with family reunions. And family, for that matter: Great-grandparents, Grandparents, parents, siblings, Great-Aunts and Uncles, Aunts and Uncles, their offspring, my cousins, first cousins, first cousins-once-removed, and second cousins. Those last two were hard to figure out. The conversation wound back a couple of generations and I’d be lost in the family tree.

There were, of course, the formal reunions like marriages, deaths, Grandpa’s ninetieth birthday, holidays, 50th and 60th wedding anniversaries. Those were big! But mostly we got together because we liked being together and there were enough families and enough reasons to make it happen often.

This is a Sunderland family reunion with “Grandma and Grandpa Walt.”” No one said just Grandma, unless you wanted something real bad. It was Grandma Walt. I learned a lot about cooking from her, my hands look like her’s when I’m kneading dough. And I have her name, the name no one ever said. And I don’t say. Because it’s ours.

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Grandma Walt, feeding family

That’s the Sunderland side of the family. Four to six brothers, I lose track, came to Missouri/Kansas. My grandfather’s father was one of those brothers and they settled in Marshall County, Kansas.

Then there’s the story of the Ellis and Moore families. That’s my mother’s side. Her great-grandmother, (my great-great grandmother) Lucinda Moore, came across the country in a Quaker migration and gave birth to my great-grandfather in a newly dugout home from a hillside, Jewell County, Kansas, above a stream is my guess. The dugout, not the birth.

And then there’s Mr. Ellis, my grandfather, a railroad man up from Kentucky who seduced a good Quaker girl…and married her…and had children, my mother the oldest.

How that whole family got from Jewell County, Kansas to Marshall County, Kansas is a more complicated story…my mother born in Jewell County…but it came down to Grandpa the Railroad Man getting a transfer to Frankfort, Kansas. Her parents followed with the rest of their children. My mother’s mother the eldest. And they all grew up in Marshall County.

The Bad Boy and the Quaker
The Bad Boy and the Quaker
Mother’s Parents and Grandparents


Now you understand why it became confusing to sort out the first-cousin-once-removed from the second. There were a lot of us.

All of which, in a round-about-way, gets me to our family reunions this summer on our road trip. We stopped along the way visit family in West Virginia and I got to hold my brand-new great-nephew and teach him how to suck his thump. Great-Aunties have prerogatives. But it was the first reunion for my primary group, grandparents, children, grandchildren. Well, there was one other when my granddaughter-in-law-to-be flew here one Christmas to check out her new boyfriend, my grandson’s family. I was impressed. This reunion was a family vacation, in cabin in the woods outside Blue Ridge, Georgia, on a lake. We played poker again just like the first time.

A grandson’s arms long enough to love us all

We laughed and we cooked and we ate. My daughter-in-law and I both take pride in feeding people. So does my granddaughter-in-law, although she and grandson more inclined to take people out to dinner, and now we take selfies.

My sisters and I, and the cousins, all adults, talk of when we could have the next family reunion, but we are so wide-spread, from New York State to Hawaii, and points in between, the task to organize becomes daunting.

At least we’re all on Facebook. The oldest of our current crop of babies, three so far, turned one-year-old yesterday, a girl. The two younger ones, boys, are less than six-months old. Another arrives early next year. The cousins’ babies.

So will they be second cousins? Or first cousins once removed? There must be a formula for that. I don’t think I learned it, growing up.



Photo Story: A Genteel Meal

I lived in New Orleans once, back in the halcyon days when I was young enough to bar tend until four in the morning and ride my Vespa scooter through the silent night to home – or to another bar for a last drink and something to eat at places that stayed open until dawn. I knew where to go for the best oysters – down the street at Bonaparte’s where the shucker sat at one of those New Orleans windows that opens all the way to the floor and offered fresh oysters from a huge iced barrel all day long–and all night; the best gumbo – down on winding Tchoupitoulas Street where the smoky bar served those of us who were workers of the night, and yes, some were hookers. I wasn’t. Just a lowly bartender. And coffee? You could get great chicory coffee anywhere, usually with fresh, hot beignets at just about any hour. I knew about Commander’s Palace. It was a landmark, but most of the clientele were old and genteel. Neither of which I was.Then there was a hurricane; and then New Orleans rebuilt; and then, well, then I finally got old enough to eat at Commander’s Palace and my husband wanted to see New Orleans.

Here’s the story of a Commander’s Palace visit – at least the food. You can look up the history on the web. It was built, as a restaurant, in 1880, so it has a colorful past.

Commander's Palace5 It also has a colorful present. I don’t know if it’s always been blue like this, but it was blue when I lived a few blocks away in the 1980s.

Commander's Palace3We were taken up the wide staircase to an upstairs room. Taking a photo of the chandelier above our heads was impractical – we were seated in an intimate room of nine tables with windows onto the front street, but it had the same look as the room beyond and all the waiters were formally dressed.

Commander's Palace1Commander’s Palace is justly famous for its 25 cent lunch-time martinis. We had cosmopolitans. It seemed appropriate. But you can only have two. They used to be unlimited, but some years back, a more-than-two (or even four) martini gentleman upchucked at the table. Not what one does at Commander’s Palace. Ergo: New Rule.

Commander's Palace2I’d ordered gumbo along the road to New Orleans but none were right. The Creole Gumbo at the Palace was perfect. Absolutely perfect. The yellow puffy things are soft cornbread dumplings – the perfect (again perfect) counterpoint to creole spices. And the crawfish were…perfect. The crawfish are the little pieces of tails; the big one on top a gulf shrimp.

Commander's Palace4Creole Bread Pudding Soufflé with warm whiskey cream. Oh. My. Goodness. Each order is made from scratch so it can’t be a last minute decision. It has to be a plan. Twenty minutes to prepare. And that’s if it’s not busy. If you go, you must have it. You might not be crazy about creole seasonings or even cosmopolitans, but you must have the bread pudding. It comes to the table all puffed up and hot, and the waiter takes a silver spoon, breaks open the top, and pours in the whiskey sauce.

Welcome to New Orleans…ya’ll come down. (But not during Mardi Gras or St. Patrick’s Day or Jazz Festival or New Years Eve…waaaaaay too many people acting like the two-too-many martini guy a few years back at Commander’s Palace.)

Trust me; I bar tended through them all.




Five days in Baltimore – a visual journey

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St. Johns Annapolis; Janet’s Alma Mater (hers the Santa Fe campus)
Crab Cakes at Michael’s in South Federal Hill
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Rockfish with Crab Salad….oh, my
Camden Yards…where hope reigns eternal.
The Brothers, Cliff and Ken, at their old camp Msgr. Clare O’Dwyer Retreat Center, Sparks, MD
Everyone gets a little strange back home. Especially out in the country.
The magic tunnel under the highway.
Outside the Labyrinth.
At the end of the Labyrinth.
A deserted house beyond the old ball field.
A deserted house beyond the old ball field.
Old rock house in the woods. We could all live there                                                                                                      (once we chased the monster from the basement).


Taking the Slow Path

***This is a re-purposed blog post from May of 2010, as relevant today as it was then. In one way or another, this “chaotic time” has been going on for a while. We should have become used to it, but we aren’t. Here’s the good news: You’re still around four years later, and still reading; I’m still writing. That’s something.


Last week, a student snuffled at the next desk. He muffled a couple of coughs in his elbow as kids are taught these days. “Go home,” I said to him. “You’re sick.” He nodded. “Are you speaking tonight?” He nodded again, muffling another cough. “Then leave after your speech,” I said. He shook his head. “I can’t. I can’t let my group down.”

That’s what I get for teaching a focus on community in Public Speaking.

I could have moved desks to observe and evaluate the speeches, but I didn’t. I handed him tissues and admired his dedication. At the beginning of each semester, I put an emphasis on responsibility to their small group as well as to the larger class as a whole. Maybe that’s what he was thinking by isolating at the back of the room. What could I say?

I hadn’t been sick all semester and thought nothing more except to hand him a tissue from time to time. By Friday, my soft palette was achy and I began the regimen of Emergen-C and Air Borne. By Saturday, my throat felt like a marching army in dirty socks. More Air Borne, more Emergen-C. Sunday morning I felt okay so went to church. Cliff said stay home, but I didn’t. And by Sunday afternoon, I was bona fidely sick.

The past few weeks have been pretty chaotic. For us all. Too much going on and too much to do and too many sudden changes in direction. Not much down time other than an evening stroll into the yard before dinner to cut asparagus, see how the flowers are doing.

“Behold the lilies of the field;

they neither sweat nor toil.”

Most spiritual traditions say the same in one way or another: Slow down. See beauty. Take time with your life. Or else (there’s always an “or else”) you get struck down in one way or another – this time with a cold, another time with a heart attack, another time with a broken leg. Take time. That’s exactly why I walk into the garden in the evenings, to take time – but one fifteen minute stroll in the evening doesn’t solve the challenges of the other hours.

No matter how many times we read or hear the same message, we get caught in the whirl. It’s even possible to be conscious we’re in a whirl and still be caught.

So, if being conscious of the whirl isn’t enough to stop, what is? I’m reminded of the play, Stop the World I Want to Get Off, first produced in London in 1961. It isn’t as if this particular time has the dibs on chaos. It’s been around; it will come back. So, is stopping when we are caught in chaos the answer?

In reality, being conscious of chaos doesn’t necessarily allow us to sidestep; the task is learn to live with it. To stop being afraid (I wasn’t afraid, just unwise) or in my case, cranky because my head filled with gunk and my chest hurt.

In modern-day vernacular, that’s some of what the Buddha said: suffering is part of the human condition, but you can choose how to live with suffering.

Today, I’ll take the slow, winding path, watch the sunlight, be at peace. Come sit with me. Well, I’m contagious, so do it in your imagination. You won’t hear my sniffling.


The Daily Post: Back of the Queue

Is there something you’ve always wanted to do, but never got around to starting?

What an interesting question, let alone prompt. It came out on July 1st, and I grinned and shook my head. No. There’s nothing I haven’t wanted to do that I haven’t done.

I’ve made visual arts and movie arts and writing arts. I’ve lived in Hawaii and Mexico and Europe. I’ve run businesses and I’ve failed at some. Succeeded at others (never could make visual arts work but I have made movies and writing successful to one degree or another). So what haven’t I started.

Well, for one, I’ve not taken the first step in walking the Elysian Way. I’m not even sure it exists anymore. Walking through Ephesus would be cool, however, and I’ve not gotten around to that, either.

Courtesy Wikipedia



I’ve wanted to climb the white layers of Santorini, and visit the monasteries on Mount Athos, but only men are allowed on the Holy Mountain and a sex change seems a step I’m not likely to begin.

Courtesy Wikipedia
Courtesy Wikipedia

In fact, traveling the Aegean Coast is still on the bucket-list. But that dream may go the way of my mother’s dream to travel to Africa. She traveled a lot, too, but never made it there. She did, however, manage an ocean cruise in the Pacific. So there’s hope. I did make it as far as Dubrovnik in Yugoslavia (when there was still a Yugoslavia and Dubrovnik a beautiful city) but not to Greece.

And if we’re talking travel, I’d like to “do” northern England and see the land where the Sunderlands came from. Oh, and Warsaw. That’s Poland, not Indiana. Cliff’s family is from Warsaw.

So, yeah. I’m pretty fortunate in the doing category. But as you might guess, doing everything you’ve wanted to do usually means, or at least it means in my case, never having a full-time job. Never having a full-time job means you’re short on the dollar category and long on dreams. Traveling to fanciful lands usually takes dollars. Dreams are free. Ergo.

That is what, dear readers, keeps me from following up on those to-dos.

But there’s always miracles.