I am getting back to work here

I have not posted on the blog since last summer.  In the interim I have been working on my other blog.  If you know about that blog, you know about it. If you don’t,  let’s just say I do not want to cross contaminate between the two blogs.  This is the lighter of the blogs, where I am going to put out family histories or stories that I want to tell.  You can contact me if you want to know about the “dark” blog.  But for now I am going to tell you what I am going to focus on projects here for a while.  I am doing this not only to give you an idea of the things I uncovering or rediscovering, I am also doing it to put myself on the hook to complete the unfinished posts in my queue.

Grow Old

Photo from promo materials from the film “They Shall Not Grow Old” by Peter Jackson

Last night, Matt (the eldest of the “sons”) and I attended a screening of the film “They Shall Not Grow Old”.  One Hundred years have passed since the end of the Great War (World War I).  This film is about the ordinary British/Commonwealth Soldier along the Western Front from 1914-1918.  This was not meant to be a discussion of significant battles or a rehashing of the geopolitical implosion of Europe in the wake of the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, Hapsburg heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1914.  This is a story, told through the film archive of the Imperial War Museum in London,  using over 100 hours of film shot along the Western Front from 1914 -1918 and over 600 hours of audio files of Veterans of the Great War telling their stories.  It was not a Ken Burns style documentary, but it was a powerful piece of film making.  I know this is not everyone’s “cup of tea”.  But I was all in.  Thanks to Matt for inviting me to attend one of the screenings here in Norfolk, Virginia with him.

 

At the end of the film, after the credits had run, Peter Jackson discussed the techniques used to restore and make the film more natural to watch.  It was really fascinating.  One of the things he said resonated with me.  He pointed out that as the generations pass these stories are lost.  He encouraged people to preserve those family connections to history.   I am going to do just that.  I have been researching the service of my great-grandfather, Ensign Sidney J Kelly, USN and two of his sons during the war.  His youngest son, my grandfather, was too young to serve in the war.  I have Sidney Kelly’s service record from the National Archives and information on his sons through unit histories that I will share.

I am also working on Bernard Kelly (my maternal grandfather, Sidney’s youngest son),specifically his service with the Fire Department in New York.  I recently acquired a copy of his service record and I am working with sources in New York to get more information on his house assignments throughout his career.  I have completed his chronological list of assignments from 1928 through 1960. I am trying to fill in details.

Finally, I am working on a post about the Baumanns of Red Hook in Brooklyn. I have always been curious about my father’s family so that is a labor of love and curiousity.  Along with all this family history,  I may throw in some funny stories and adventures to Savannah into the mix.

I think I have given myself enough of a homework assignment for the moment.    Stay tuned…

Serendipity, Thy Name is Goat

The text of the email read as follows: “Don’t ask how I got to your page but I may have what you are looking for…”

Sometimes the universe surprises me.  Something incredible happens, and I have no explanation for it.  My father would call that a miracle.  I will call it serendipity.

We all have icons in our lives.  Some are more obvious than others.  Growing up in the largest of the five boroughs in New York City,  I could point to structures such as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Williamsburg Bank Building or the Cyclone as being Brooklyn icons.  But, there are more personal icons.  Those are things that may be small and significant to a neighborhood, a block, or a family.  Examples in my life included the letter “F’ on the front end of the subway train that serviced my neighborhood.  The F Train was transportation to adventure. It would take you to Manhattan and, with a change of subway line, would transport you anywhere in the city.

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Panthers of Prospect Park (3rd Street Entrance)

The Panthers at the Third Street entrance to Prospect Park guarded the approach to a different universe in my imagination away from the traffic and buzz of my neighborhood.  (They are not lions! Google it if you don’t believe me. I’ll wait.)

And then there was Fred Goat.  I have been on a mission to find a photo of Fred Goat since last October.  That tasking came from my godmother, my Aunt Anne.  This post is, in fact, my third on the subject.  The other two posts are:

To summarize, Fred Goat was a logo that adorned the side of the turret on the building at the corner of 3rd Avenue and Dean Street in Brooklyn. It was the home of the Fred Goat Company, a machinery firm.  In the 1940’s and 1950’s, my maternal grandfather would encourage his daughters to say “goodnight” to Fred Goat as they passed by on the journey from my grandmother’s family home on Dean Street to their home in  Park Slope.  The tradition continued with my siblings in the 1960’s as we made a similar journey home from the venerable old brownstone on Dean Street to our home on 4th Street near the park. As a child, I would look at that castle-like structure, and I would imagine it was ruled over by a goat named Fred.

My search for a photo had yielded me various shots of the exterior of the building, but none had an angle I wanted with Fred on the side of the turret. I worked with the Brooklyn Public Library, the NYC Municipal Archives, the New York Times and other potential sources of the holy grail of Fred Goat photos.  But my efforts went unrewarded.

That is until last night. I noticed that an email had arrived in this blog’s admin account as I was working on some old family photos.  The text of the email read as follows: “Don’t ask how I got to your page but I may have what you are looking for…” I took a look at the name of the sender, and I knew the universe might be up to something.  I replied to the email hopeful that I was about to be reunited with an icon from my past.

The email was from the great, great, great granddaughter of  Fred Goat (the entrepreneur, not my mythical goat).  I don’t know how she stumbled on my blog.

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Courtesy of the Goat Family

Perhaps, one of my 23 subscribers let it slip that I was looking for a photo of her family’s old business in Brooklyn.  My subscribers are, after all, a very exclusive and influential group! I would like to know how she stumbled on me, but I promised not to ask. So this is me, not asking.

Just before ten last night, another email came in with two photos attached.

Ladies, Gentleman, and exclusive and influential subscribers, I give you Fred Goat!

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The Fred Goat Company, corner of 3rd Avenue and Dean Street.  Courtesy of the Goat Family

We all have quirky family traditions.  At least I hope and wish we all do. The real Goat family probably never knew what was being whispered from the back seat of a random Ford Country Squire station wagon to the logo on their building. That secret is out now.  Without ever knowing it, there was a connection between the families.  Of course, you didn’t know about us, and the younger members of my family thought you might be real goats.

Aunt Anne, here is your photo courtesy of the Goat Family.  I will start working on quest #2 (that is another story for another evening).

My thanks to K.G. for sending the photos along. Please know that from southern Virginia to coastal Massachusetts, my Mom, siblings, aunts, cousins and maybe some nieces and nephews are going to be saying goodnight to Fred Goat tonight.  Some are doing so for the first time.

Goodnight, Fred Goat!

Brooklyn Tour

It was my youngest sister’s idea. In recognition of our parents’ 60 years of marriage, we would return to where it all started. Brooklyn! The plan was pretty simple, Mom and Dad would come down from their home in Massachusetts with my sister and meet up with the rest of their children in Brooklyn. I cannot remember the last time we (Mom, Dad, and all six children) were together without spouses and grandchildren in tow.

We booked rooms at the Brooklyn Marriott and used that as our starting point for our tour.  My brother had arranged for a tour guide from Brooklyn Unplugged and a large luxury van to take us on a four-hour tour of the significant locations in my parents’ lives. Our tour guide was Jeff Stirewalt, and our van driver was a gentleman named Tito.

IMG_4002We boarded the van in front of the Marriott at 1 p.m. Our first location was the house on Dean Street in the Boerum Hill neighborhood that was the center of my mother’s family for generations.   As we stopped along the street, we, noticed the door open and an arborist coming out of the venerable old brownstone with the owner of the home.  My sister jumped out of the van and introduced herself to the owners, Bob and Carol.  As it turns out, they had purchased it from my great-uncle in IMG_39771989.  To our surprise and delight, they invited us into the house for a quick look around. The house has been restored over the years, but the architectural details, many of the light fixtures and some remnants of my mother’s family remained.   Our hosts talked to us for around 20 minutes.  We were even invited up to the third floor where my great uncle’s study had been converted to closet space for the front and back bedrooms.  It was in this room where my great-uncle had painted a map of a large section of Brooklyn with the Fire Department of New York firehouses, call boxes and equipment. When the closet renovation was done, the new owner could not bring himself to paint over the sections of the map that survived.

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Brooklyn Fire Map painted by my Great Uncle, Edward A. O’Connell

 

After speaking with the owners and reminiscing about our eccentric great-uncle, we offered our appreciation for their incredibly generous invitation to glimpse the house.  We left Boerum Hill and headed to Red Hook, the neighborhood where my father lived as a child. While this part of Brooklyn had gone through a dramatic transformation from the turn of the twentieth century when it was predominantly populated by Irish and Italian immigrants to a mostly Cuban and Dominican neighborhood, some of the places from his childhood remained.  The most emotional location was Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, my father’s family parish when he was a child. (Visitation is located at 98 Richards Street at Verona Street)

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Dad, as a Visitation altar boy, front row, center

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Visitation of the Blessed Virginia Mary, Red Hook, Brooklyn

48.visitation.church-506x380There was a social going on the in the yard next to the church when we pulled up.  The front door was open, so we got out of the van and went inside.  While we were inside the darkened church, a woman from the social came in and asked if she could assist us.   I told her that my father’s family had been members of the parish and that he was an altar boy here in 1940.  A smile came across her face, and she immediately offered to light up the church and illuminate the fresco behind the altar. Tears came to his eyes as he took in the sights of this grand old Gothic church.  I am sure memories of both his parents’ families came to the forefront of his consciousness.

We loaded back into the van and headed to Coney Island to the place where my parents met as summer camp counselors for the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO).  I would be remiss if I did not mention our driver, Tito.  He handled that Mercedes Van like he was in a car modified for drifting.  He maneuvered us around Brooklyn as if he was on rails, narrowly missing cars in traffic, pulling U-turns on city streets and squeezing into tight spaces with remarkable ease. His handling of traffic on the Belt Parkway was NASCAR worthy! He was able to turn the transits between stops into a thrill ride. Every time we loaded into the van after a stop I made sure Mom was buckled in.  As we traveled from stop to stop our tour guide, Jeff, filled in with facts about Brooklyn.  My parents, of course,  corrected him a few times! (I know my father is reading this so I will admit to chiming in a few times as well.)  While we were on the Belt Parkway the subject of beer came up, followed by an impressive display of classic beer jingle singing by my brother, Bob, who belted out the tunes for Rheingold, Schaefer and Ballentine Beers, respectively! We were all having a grand time.

Once we made it to Coney Island, we offloaded at the West 28th Street ramp to the boardwalk at Coney Island, this is the place where my parents met and got to know each other while they were working at CYO.

 

Lunch had to be at Nathan’s!  Tito somehow parked right in front of the restaurant.

 

My parents were full of stories about taking their summer camp charges to the pool and to the beach. Stories of their own adventures on the Cyclone, which turned 90 years old the day after we visited.  You could almost see the memories in their eyes as they took in the sights and sounds around them that day.

 

From Coney Island, we traveled to the neighborhood that I remember, Park Slope.  This is the area where my mother grew up in the big limestone on 4th Street, my father lived in an apartment on 9th street with his family, and I grew up in a brownstone down the street from my maternal grandmother.

 

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Liz knocking on the door on 4th Street

Tito, our driver, was able to park the van across the street from the house I grew up in on 4th street.  My youngest sister jumped out of the van and up the stoop to the front door of the brownstone.  Ringing the bell brought the current owner to the door.  I have no idea what she must have thought when she saw the group gathering on the sidewalk.  Liz asked for permission to take a group photo on the stoop.  Isabel surprised us all by inviting us in for a quick look at the house. Amazingly, for the second time today, we were entering into a house that was important to our family, welcomed by people who did not know us but were quick to offer a kind invitation to revisit memories.

 

We finally did get the photo on the stoop as we departed for our last official stop.

 

Tito dropped us at our final tour stop, St. Saviour Church on 8th Avenue. My parents were married here in June 1957.  This is the parish to which both sides of my family belonged in the 1960’s and early 1970’s.  It is the parish where my mother went to high school and where I went to elementary school.  My father and older brother sang in the choir here.  At the end of my choir audition when I was a child, the choir master looked at me and announced that they were also looking for altar boys. He pointed me to the front of the church.  This was the center of parochial life for the family.

 

We arrived at the church in time for five o’clock mass, which we had arranged to be said for my parents.  My parents seemed to be deeply moved by the service.  It had been over 40 years since the last time we sat as a family in this church.

Once mass was concluded, and my parents had spoken with the priest on the steps of the church, we made our way to the Stone Park Cafe for dinner.  Seated at a large round table at the front of the restaurant, we enjoyed a meal while talking about our adventure that day and sharing stories.  We could not believe how lucky were to have Bob and Carrol invite us into their house on Dean Street and Isabel welcome us into the brownstone that was our home on 4th Street.  Mom and Dad were ready to call it quits after dinner, so we made our way back to the hotel.  Once we bid them goodnight, the “children” headed for a nearby tequila bar.

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Around midnight, June 24, 2017

After a few drinks, someone came up with the idea to walk up onto the Brooklyn Bridge to check out the skyline.  We had been game for anything all day, so why not?  We ended up on the Brooklyn tower at midnight, taking in the sights of the New York skyline.

While looking at lower Manhattan, I had to wonder how many more times we would be together.  Was this the last time we would be in Brooklyn as a group?  Given how widely scattered we are from Massachusetts to southern Virginia I am afraid I know the answer to that question.  As we packed up the cars on Sunday morning, my brother handed off two big boxes of old photos and slides from my father for me to sort, scan and catalog.  I am sure that will keep me busy through the summer.  After saying our goodbyes, I started my trek south to Virginia.  While the family had moved out of the city years ago, I could not help but think at this moment we had left Brooklyn for good.

 

It was a fantastic day for my parents and my siblings.   It was a celebration of Regina Kelly and Jerry Baumann on the occasion of their 60th wedding anniversary.  It was a day I will not soon forget.

I want to thank my sister, Liz, for coming up with this idea and bringing my parents down from coastal Massachusetts.  My brother James for arranging the tour and the guide. My sister, Cathy, for finding a fantastic restaurant. My sister, Eileen, for finding parking in Park Slope and staging a car to get my parents back to the hotel after dinner.  I also want to thank Bob, the oldest of the siblings, for capturing the day with his camera and his encyclopedic knowledge of 1960 beer jingles.

For Bob and Carol on Dean Street and Isabel on 4th Street, your own kind invitations to come into your homes was astounding and much appreciated.  I think I speak for all of us in saying that going into the houses again was the biggest thrill of the day. From me,  from my family, thank you so very much!

Thanks to Jeff, our guide, and Tito, our driver, from Brooklyn Unplugged for an incredible afternoon!

 

 

“Money Cake”- Tales from 4th Street

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Edward and Regina

As a child in Brooklyn, the first notable event in my family that came after the Christmas and New Year’s Holiday was my maternal grandmother’s (and her twin brother’s) birthday. This year will mark the 111th anniversary of their birth on 23 January 1906.

At a family reunion back in October, my mother and her siblings gathered the Kelly  family together for the first time in quite a while.  Old  photos and artifacts from the family were on display, shared with stories about those that went before us.  Many of the stories centered around Nana’s kitchen, cooking and baking in her Park Slope  home. The stories of her old gas stove were legendary.  For years, I think only Nana knew how to coax that old relic to life and then to the right temperature for whatever she was making.   I know in the back of my young head I had a cartoon vision of her lighting the pilot light leading to a small, smokey explosion that would leave her unharmed with the exception of a blackened face and wildly singed hair, smoking from the ends.

Out of that gas oven came countless family meals, holiday feasts and, in her later years, more intimate meals for the occasional grandchild visiting or boarding with her in her ubiquitous brownstone just down the street from Prospect Park West.

Several of my memories center around her baking.  She would bake raisin nut soda bread and, what my siblings and I would call, “pound cake”.  I later learned that my mother’s siblings referred to it as “money cake”, named so by my uncle. The name comes from the expense of the ingredients during the 1940’s.  It was extravagant and it was a treat that appeared on special occasions.

I am one of six children. For some reason I was the only one that would leap for the raisin bread while my brothers and sisters would favor the “money cake”.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved both treats.  But when you are the middle child competing for limited treats, you go for what you like and what is plentiful.

When my grandmother passed in October, 2001, my Aunt Maureen put the recipes together and passed them around so the next generation would have an artifact that they could taste.  Over the years, I have become fairly proficient at the Raisin Nut Bread.  A few years ago I even made a loaf and passed it to my son who sent it overnight to my mother (but that is another story).  But I had never attempted the “Money Cake”.  To be honest, I did not realize I had the recipe because the recipe sheet I had called it “Cream Cake”.  The same product had a different name in each generation of the family. Nana called it “Cream Cake”, my mother’s generation called it “Money Cake” and my siblings and I called it “Pound Cake”.  Confused?  Yeah, sorry!

About a week ago, while discussing some genealogy discoveries with Aunt Maureen, I asked her for the recipe again and she sent it in an email.  The recipe goes as follows:

Nana’s Cream Cake (“Money Cake”)img_3765

4 eggs
1/2 pint heavy cream
1.5 cups sugar
2 cups Presto
1 tsp vanilla

Mix cream, sugar and egg yolks.
Add vanilla and mix well.
Add flour, stir until well blended.
Fold in egg whites, beaten to stiff peaks in a separate bowl. Bake in a deep pan 1 hour at 375.

Presto Cake Flour was very popular in the New York City area.  I live in Southeastern Virginia and this is not an item I can find in the local Harris Teeter.  I ordered a box from Amazon.  If you cannot find Presto, add 1/2 tsp of baking powder and 1/4 tsp salt to every cup of cake flour. Because it was raining yesterday and I had nothing more pressing on my list of things to do, I decided to give it try.   I had all of the ingredient and Aunt Maureen’s email up on my laptop sitting on the kitchen counter.

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Coming out of the oven at about the 55 minute mark

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The result was surprising. It revived a taste memory I think I had filed away in my brain.  Was it as good as Nana’s?  It was close.  I think I may have left in a minute or two longer than I should have.  My oven temperature in an electric oven may be more stable than Nana’s old dinosaur gas oven.  I recommend you test with a wooden toothpick or bamboo skewer.  If it comes out dry, it is done.  My sons seemed to like it.  They happily helped me taste the result of my successful baking experiment.

This is how I paid tribute to Nana on the day before her 111th birthday.  Maybe later on I will go pick up a Hershey Bar as a nod to her twin, my Great Uncle Ed.  He always seemed to have Hershey Bars for his grandnieces and nephews when we visited him in his brownstone on Dean Street.  But that story can wait for another day.

via Daily Prompt: Successful

Successful