This was a common occurrence around the dining room table in La Canada, CA (abt. 1957)
My mother, Jean Marie Burnham (1914-2012), was a prolific writer. Writing was an important part of her life and she was probably one of the last letter writers since the art of pen to paper is rapidly becoming a lost art. In addition to her letter writing, she would write to the local newspaper editor and create poems filled with her often strong opinions and feelings. She wanted to leave her thoughts and recollections for others to read so she not only wrote her memoirs, she actually penned her own obituary, not wanting to leave her life story to others (which tells many in our family where the “control-freak” originated). In her later years, she composed poems for the holidays and included them in family Christmas Cards.
I had a dream the other night.
It was Christmas.
All the family was there
From the eldest to the least.
None were missing.
We were sitting at a long table
In La Canada
In the living room.
We were so happy
Eating, laughing, talking.
I woke up
And reminisced of Christmas’s past.
Then I thought of the time
We would all be in heaven.
The circle would be unbroken.
What a day of rejoicing that would be.
It would be Christmas
The McKinnon children, Helen Kathleen (1909-1990), Herbert James (1913-1996) and my father, Neil John (1910-2000) Not pictured, William Sylvester(1913-1996)
Revere, Massachusett 1913
On the stoop of their grandmother’s home,
Katherine O’Brien nee Lanigan
Doesn’t the above picture remind you of the Little Rascals TV series? Not the full colored movie that was released in 1994 but the black and white TV series that was started in 1955 and had morphed out of the short ‘Our Gang’ comedies from the 1920’s. I grew up with those rascals and all their escapades. If you haven’t seen this series, you must. It takes one back to a time that was innocent and fun for children, when kids could run the streets with their friends, be relatively safe instead of consumed by technology. It was a time when adventurous and sometimes naughty children were call ‘rascals’.
Here are some of the Rascals’ characters, Alfafa, Buckwheat, Darla and Spanky (courtesy of Photo Bucket). See the resemblance with the McKinnons? William (Bill) looks like Alfafa, Helen (Nell) looks like Darla and my father Neil looks just like Spanky. The other character pictured above is Buckwheat whose name would surely be politically incorrect today but was a fan favorite and introduced many young viewers to another ethnic group that they were probably separated from in their daily lives.
Unfortunately for the McKinnon rascals, their young lives would be met with many challenges as they grew up in a household with an alcoholic father, William Peter McKinnon ((1884-1951) and a fiery-tempered, Irish-descent mother, Mary Ellen O’Brien (1889-1960). My father shared the story of the numerous arguments between his parents which ended in dishes that flew across the room and smashed against the walls. This always was the result of his inebriated father returning home after a night out spending what little money he had made. William Peter McKinnon finally left his home for good in 1918 when my father was only 8 and he never saw him again. The youngest three children, Helen, Neil and Bert eventually ended up in a Home for the children of single parents and the oldest, Bill stayed with grandma Kate O’Brien since he was 15 and too old for the home. Their mother couldn’t afford to support them and couldn’t find their father but one might ask where their mother ended up. Well that is a story for another time. Yet, through all the McKinnon Children’s challenges, as you can see, the Little Rascals turned out all right and for the most part, happy and somewhat successful in each of their own ways.
L-R: Herbert James, Neil John, Helen Kathleen, William Sylvester 1937
Celia Grace Overholtzer
September 22, 1872 – August 5, 1976
Daughter of Samuel Ashton Overholtzer and Mariah Harnish
My sister and I have a saying that we use sometimes to describe certain people in our family that seem to have no sense of the scope or magnitude of what they are doing in certain circumstances. If you are wondering if you might be one of those people that are a “piece of work”, you aren’t, because the designated recipients of that title never even imagine they are and would never even question it.
“Piece of Work” came to mind as I started going through my grandmother’s, Celia Grace Overholtzer, primitively-carved, wooden box that held some of her most cherished items. My mother also had one such box by the time she had passed away and I always find it fascinating what people who have lived as long as my mother and grandmother see as their most cherished possessions after multiple downsizing and reevaluations of those items. My mother’s box held treasures such as notes and letters from her children; a minuscule porcelain doll that was her only toy as a child; a letter from her father after he had left following a divorce which he had sent to her when she was 12 but her mother had withheld until she was an adult.
In contrast, my grandmother’s box was filled with pictures of herself and then I recalled how she would often have her Brownie box camera in hand at holidays and events but somehow always ended up with a picture of herself at each of these times. Those pictures were in her box and it became apparent that she had created a ‘ME’ monument in that wooden box. Of course, I will never know for sure what her intent was but as I looked around my office, my eyes rested on a picture of my grandmother when she was 12. As chance had it, I came upon a hand-written story by my grandmother of just how that picture that came to be. This is what she wrote:
“I seemed to be the available girl of the family to go help women with their children. My first job, I was 10 years old and my mother let me go home with a cousin whose wife was sick and had 2 little children to take care of. I got homesick and only stayed one week. Too many children at home to play with. The next time Mother let me go was about like it but 2 older boys had a sick mother but they had to be cared for and looked after. I stayed through the 3 months of summer vacation and my brother took me home to start school. I used the money they paid me to have my picture taken (12 years old). That was just the start of being “another Mother” and helper and it didn’t end there.”
It certainly didn’t end there. She did go on to spend almost a lifetime of taking care of other people’s children and homes but evidently her love of having her picture taken didn’t end there either as we have hundreds of pictures of her throughout her life. Celia Grace Overholtzer, you’re a piece of work!
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(L-R) My father, Neil John McKinnon; sister, Mary Kathleen; brother Neil Jay; sister, Dorothy Grace; brother, Charles Ronald; my mother, Jean Marie Burnham; and me, Joy Colleen
A new year often brings new hope for better things and who doesn’t like to make a resolution or two, although I think that the new term is ‘Do-Over’. That’s probably because Do Over doesn’t sound so final. It’s like you are in the middle of a process that doesn’t have a real level or requirement of commitment. After all, don’t we just want another chance to try again at something whether it being weight loss, finances or a multitude of other areas in our lives? I have decided on two major projects this year. The first is a Do Over with all my genealogy, sorting through papers, organizing, and basically pretending that I’m starting from the beginning. The second is not the first attempt at this and sadly not even my tenth but I’m going to Do Over my daily menu choices and the only pat I can give myself on the back is for not giving up on this for the rest of my life.
New Years brings to mind not only the resolutions that I make but the traditions that my family shared for many years. New Years had a few special traditions in our McKinnon household and it always started with the Rose Parade. Beautiful, flower-laden floats, loud, marching bands and beautiful waving princesses along side their radiant queen was our New Year beginning. It began with watching it on a small black and white TV but I remember when we got our first color TV…well…life took on new meaning for me since I was always a girl that loved a great TV show but that’s a story for another time. (Think it falls under obsessive behavior.) Adding to the Rose Parade itself was the fact that I was raised in La Canada which is only a few miles from Pasadena and the infamous parade route on Colorado Boulevard. It is hard to believe that our family never went to watch it in person as close as it was. My parents were never fond of crowds but my mother sometimes took us down the next day where they parked the floats after the parade. It probably was better in many ways as we could get much closer to the floats and examine the meticulous work that hundreds of volunteers had put into designing and decorating them.
As with most of my family traditions, food was involved. My mother would cook a ham and serve it with potato salad and jello salad. Now, if you were a child born before 1970, most families had a jello salad or two that they were known for since a repertoire of dishes were needed for church potlucks . One of my mother’s was her lime jello with crushed pineapple and whipped cream. For the next few days, there would be ham on rye sandwiches with leftover potato and jello salads. Why is it that even now I can still savor it with only my memory. To finish off the ham, my mother would make split pea soup from the ham bone. Add Saltine Crackers and a glass of milk for a meal of perfection!
So, to New Beginnings and Do Overs for 2016 and the belief that the best is yet to come.