Saturday, June 30, 2012

What? Another Christmas Letter?!

Tucked inside a letter bearing much the same greeting as the one found and posted yesterday was a two-page note from another correspondent. While the cover letter was signed, again, by Father Hennessy, it bore no date of its own, though the stationary boasted an imprint declaring “Silver Valley”—as if that were a proud announcement with a significance all would acknowledge. Inside Father Hennessy’s letter, the enclosed second message is dated—February 19, 1873—and reveals the return location to be, simply, Oakland.

That enclosed message we will reserve for tomorrow’s post. Why it was coupled with this letter from Father Hennessy is not clear, for the cover note was composed during the Christmas season, though the enclosure was not written until February. Perhaps Catherine Malloy Tully, the recipient of both letters, chose to tuck the one inside the other even though the two bore no connection. Perhaps that task was done by her daughter, Agnes Tully Stevens, who passed the two letters along. Whether the “much haste” spoken of by Father Hennessy was related to the matter in the enclosed letter or not, there is still much missing from this story.

                                                            519 W. Indiana St

My dear Mrs. Tully.
            From my heart I wish you, John and all a very holy, Merry and happy Xmas.
                                                            W. S. Hennessy.

Pardon much haste. Also my ignorance of your correct address.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Christmas Wishes From Another Century

The Tully family had a long tradition of befriending and ministering to priests and nuns by correspondence. There were a number of letters to Agnes Tully Stevens saved among her papers that indicate this habit. Agnes’ daughter Patricia also took up this role, following in her mother’s footsteps. But it has also become evident that Agnes was, herself, following the example of her own mother, Catherine Malloy Tully.

There are only a few letters saved, among the papers passed on to us from my husband’s grandmother, that were addressed to Catherine. Sometimes the letter was addressed simply to “Mrs. Tully” in that more formal age when it might not have been appropriate to address a lady by her first name.

In the note below, the “87” did not signify 1987, but one hundred years prior. It is not clear whether the letter’s greeting was meant for “Mr. Tully” or his wife, as the context seems to indicate the latter, but the illegible title does not appear to include the r and s of “Mrs." As the writer’s style seems almost foreign, or at least extremely formal, it might actually have included for a greeting the more European address of “Madame” in the format of the French abbreviation, “Mme.”

Unfortunately, the letter does not include any address for the man composing it. In another hand, next to the signature, someone had inserted the abbreviation, “Fr.” Yet without envelope or return address indicated, I’m at a loss as to how to identify the bearer of these Christmas greetings almost one hundred twenty five years ago.

                                                                519 W. Indiana St.
                                                                Dec 23rd 87.

My dear Mme Tully,
            I cannot permit this holy season pass by without wishing you, John + children a very holy + Merry Xmas + happy New Year.
            Remember to pray for me during this holy time. You + all shall not be forgotten at Mass by me on Xmas Morning.
            Again wishing you many happy returns of a merry Xmas + prosperous New Year. Be [?] also of God to bless + protect you all.
                                    Your very sincere friend
                                                W. S. Hennessey.

P. S. How are you + all. I am real well + very strong. I will [?] see you soon please God.
                                                W. S. H.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Call of Nameless Faces

Two people caught in a picture. One in the forefront, standing, looking straight at the camera as if expectantly serving as subject of a photograph. The other, partially obscured by architectural details, submitting to a secondary role as bystander.

Neither of them have left me their names.

While my mind may engage in flights of fancy, creating stories for each subject’s background, inventing scenarios for where each will go next, the fact remains: I don’t know anything about either of these people.

The postcard from which this picture is drawn belongs with the papers from my husband's grandmother, Agnes Tully Stevens. It was part of the beachside series, as far as I can tell. Though this postcard does not include an imprint from any photography studio, the design on the reverse of the card is similar to that of the waterfront pictures featured a few days ago.

At the same time, I wonder if the construction of the porch in this photograph is similar to those at the resort pictured yesterday behind the boat with all the fish. Could this be the other side of that impressive building in the background of yesterday's photograph?

Most of all, I wonder what the significance might be of the young man posing for the picture.

As much as I want to know, if these photographs were all from a summer holiday outing from 1911, there is no one left to tell me the story.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Fish, Anyone?

We gain a sense of place regarding this series of photographs from the collection of Agnes Tully Stevens when we see this postcard today. Once again, the card is marked on the reverse, indicating the studio. Again, the credits go to Abananza Studio, with offices in both Atlanta, Georgia, and Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.

My vote goes to the North Carolina location.

While I’m tempted to say the bald guy on the far right in the top row is the same as the one we’ve seen in several photographs at the beach, I can’t be sure. This may be wishful thinking on my part, hoping to find some connections and put names to unidentified faces.

The aspect of this picture that fascinates me, though, is the building that serves as backdrop for this scene. Could this be a resort at which the family is staying? The tower seems to serve as lookout point, affording a better view of the water’s expanse. And what a view that must have been. The building seems like quite a recognizable landmark for that time one hundred years ago. Though it likely is no longer standing, it would be helpful to identify it in historic records to confirm the location for our purposes here. Was it a resort at Wrightsville Beach?

The geography of the area between Wrightsville Beach and Wilmington, North Carolina, may provide clues as to why some pictures look like bay or lake water, while others include waves more like those featured on oceanfront beaches. Affording vacationers such a variety of venues for summertime outings, this must have been a popular place at the turn of the last century.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Could This Be Agnes?

Yesterday, I talked about wanting to determine connections in photographs so much that I felt like my imagination was working overtime. However, before dismissing that notion, I want to take a second look.

My question: among all these beachfront antics photographed in a series kept by Agnes Tully Stevens, could any of them actually be her own picture? After all, she kept these photographs tucked in her private papers since the early part of the 1900s. What significance did they hold for her?

I thought that the picture of the woman standing under the pier at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, might be Agnes, herself. Since I do have a photograph of Agnes from about that time—admittedly from a vastly different occasion—I could cut and paste the head shots from both photographs side by side and see if that possibility bears any fruit.

The photograph on the left is from Agnes’ wedding in 1912. Thankfully, it is also an outdoor picture. Actually, the photograph on the right, from the under-the-pier vignette, has more shading of the face than does the wedding shot.

The picture on the right does hint at the possibility that the subject is wearing glasses, as does Agnes’ wedding picture. The shape of the face seems similar. Of course, there is little that can be determined by the full picture, since the outfits are so dissimilar. However, just the attitude that radiates from the beach shot seems to match the no-nonsense-mom persona that Agnes soon assumed as the mother who eventually raised six boys and one girl, herself.

If this was Agnes at the Wrightsville Beach pier, I’m still not sure what that tells me about the rest of the people in this series of photographs. I’m just going to have to be satisfied that she kept these mementos all these years as a reminder of a pleasant summer getaway with people who meant very much to her.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Same? Or Different?

Two photographs from the early 1900s, both in a postcard format, remind me of those children’s puzzles—the kind where you have to spot the difference between two very similar drawings.

With the series of summer holiday photographs here, all from the papers of Agnes Tully Stevens, we’ve already seen what looks like endless iterations of the same swimsuit style: for the women, dark-colored contrivances etched in variations of white borders, topped with a kerchief meant to preserve one’s hair style for post-water-romping events. I’ve tried to match swimsuit designs across a variety of photographic presentations, hoping to identify individuals across groupings. I may be too desperate in my hope to succeed.

Yesterday, I posted a snapshot of a girl whose fun smile seems similar to the faces of two girls tussling, ankle-deep in the water, in this photograph today. Perhaps this pose demonstrates the 1911 version of the age-old swimming argument: jump in all at once, or wade in gingerly? But what it makes me wonder is: could one of today’s young ladies be the same as the one in yesterday’s snapshot?

The picture here is not of the usual dimensions of a postcard format, but is printed on one nonetheless. On the reverse, the cardstock bears the legend:

A second photograph is from the same studio. While the setting of the first picture shows the pier in the distance, the second photograph brings us directly under that same pier. Is someone shy? Or reticent about being found in such a ridiculous getup? Perhaps it is just a matter of wishing to stay cool out of the heat of the sun.

However, taking a closer look at this second subject, whose suit markings seem different than those of the first two people, I see another similarity. Perhaps I’m trying too hard to discover some identities of these mystery faces.

Tomorrow, I want to explore some of the possibilities for the identity of this woman.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Good Old Summertime

While the water seems timeless—whether ocean, bay, or gulf—those sporting their swimsuits serve as date markers for me as I go through Agnes Tully Stevens’ personal papers.

A cluster of friends—or possibly members of the same family—gathers arm-in-arm for a photograph in the water. The lack of ocean waves makes me wonder if the picture might have been taken at the Gulf of Mexico or one of the Great Lakes, or at a bay where the motion of the water seems much gentler. A telltale sign to the right of the frame may be the end of a pier.

One girl, wading waist-deep in the refreshing water, seems to resemble one of those featured in a postcard format we’ll review tomorrow. The postcard reveals the location as Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, tying it to the collection we’ve already been perusing.

No markings on the reverse of these snapshots leave us without any information about the people, the place, or the occasion. All we can tell, from those satisfied smiles, is that the event is an enjoyable one for those who gathered for this vacation outing. Judging from the length of time Agnes Tully Stevens held on to these pictures, this is one holiday they all chose to remember for years to come.

Photographs from the private collection of Agnes Tully Stevens.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Seaside Romp, Circa 1911

Though I don’t know who they are, some people known to Agnes Tully Stevens must have had a refreshing time at the seashore during a summer in the early 1900s. Each one of these pictures from Agnes’ personal papers was printed on a postcard format, though no identifying stamp displays the name of the photographer or the location of the scene.

One unifying detail ties these three photographs together: the tall, balding man who may have been the father in this family. There is a woman in two of the photographs, too, but she seems to have been reticent about having her picture taken in those new-fangled swimsuits. Others, too, must still have been too shy to "come on in" and enjoy the water, as can be seen by the telltale shadow of two adults—one complete with hat—in the concluding photo on this entry.

In the picture below, there are—if I am seeing everyone clearly—six boys in addition to this man and the seated woman. Could this be one family? Does the baby from the first picture—possibly being held by a nannie—belong to this family, too?

While the photographs featured in yesterday’s post included an inscription on the reverse dating the series as occurring in July, 1911, today’s series provides no such telltale mark. We are left without any clue to determine who these people are or where they are enjoying such a summertime treat. The only thing of which we can be certain is that it would be a rare sight to see such swimsuits on the beaches of our current times.

All photographs from the private collection of Agnes Tully Stevens.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Same Ocean, Different Year

Having as much singularity as a grade school student’s essay on “What I Did on my Summer Vacation,” the collection of beach photos amongst Agnes Tully’s personal papers fans no desire to possess and cherish. Yet, I struggle to toss the memorabilia of a close relative. Somehow, these nameless faces may turn out to be significant, I think.

I need to be ruthless—to redirect that sentimental outlook. To purge my mind of such thinking, I’m clinging to the myth of permanency while invoking the powers of the internet. If I post such ephemera here, it will be saved for generations to come, right?

Only if any generation cares to come see…

And so we begin with the obligatory shot of the ocean—how many photo collections include that nameless expanse in their albums?!

This series, thankfully, bears two kinds of labels. One, for the ocean view above, shows a description on the reverse of the picture: 
Ocean at Wrightsville, N. C.
July 1911

Its companion, placed on the reverse of the shot below, shows sailboats in the dim distance approaching a pier on quiet waters; it was also identified as Wrightsville.

The photographs are also labeled with a second identifier, in a fancy hand, with something that looks like a person’s initials: possibly H. E. G. Unfortunately, I can think of no relatives connected with the Tully family who could claim such initials.

Following the mysterious initials is an additional word, which appears to be “feist”—or in one case, “fesit.” Could this be a reference to nearby Wilmington’s Feast of the Pirates Parade? Or the Feast of the Pirates Festival?

There is another photograph in this set, along with the beach pictures labeled Wrightsville. It is a street scene labeled “Wilmington N. C.

Checking online references, while there is no Wrightsville in North Carolina, there is a Wrightsville Beach. It happens, conveniently, to be about ten miles from a town called Wilmington. The two were for years connected by an electric streetcar—the beach trolley bringing hotel guests from the town to the waterfront. The perfect turn-of-the-century summer getaway.

The beach resort included a recently-opened entertainment center, the Lumina Pavilion, which drew dance bands—and the crowds that adored them—to the area. With this draw for musicians—and since this July, 1911, sequence predates Agnes Tully’s wedding in 1912—it makes me wonder whether Agnes had come to the area as part of her musical ensemble’s tour.

Or perhaps it was just as simple as those tedious schoolgirl essays at the close of vacation—just a series of unremarkable shots of a vacation that held special memories for only those few who shared the experience.

All photographs dated July, 1911, are from the personal collection of the Tully family, except the color panorama of Sunrise Over the Wrightsville Beach, courtesy Wikipedia, which photographer Ken Thomas has released into the public domain. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Evry Kiss You Miss

Ahhhh…summer! A time that blends well with genealogy research. Or a time when some researchers set aside their quest for family past and pursue the celebration of family now. It’s a time for some to gather the family and head to the nearest cemetery detour on their way to their long-awaited vacation destination.

Since last August, I’ve been making my way through a stack of memorabilia passed down through the Tully and Stevens families. Many of the items I’ve already posted here have been letters and photos of easily-identified family members as well as friends of the family.

But things get murkier as I work my way through the collection. I’m now to the point of finding pictures without names—or worse, names which I can’t place within the extended family picture no matter how I push, shove or jiggle those puzzle pieces.

For instance, from the era when it was popular to send family pictures embedded in a postcard format, I have a handful of photographs from a beachside resort in the Carolinas. Who these people are, I have no idea—except that they are somehow connected with our Tully family in Chicago.

Rather than give up and toss the mystery pieces, I’m going to follow the lead of orphan photograph caretakers such as Forgotten Old Photos or Family Photo Reunion or The Cabinet Card Gallery. I’m just going to post what I have, names known or not. Perhaps in the future, courtesy of a Google search, someone will find the picture, recognize a detail and help me with some clues.

In the meantime, it will give me the opportunity to continue pursuing my goal of getting all this material posted where it can be accessible and searchable. It can be in a place where others may benefit from it, too.

In honor of these lazy days of summer, I’m going to start tomorrow with the mystery series on my swimsuited friends.

And today, I’d like to start off with a postcard that someone in the Tully family must have purchased long, long ago in celebration of that never-changing summer sun. Never addressed nor received through the mail, it must have just been a whimsical reminder of something about the season—something found in a store, something bought to keep and enjoy. It bears a microscopic inscription on the margin of the reverse, “Copyright applied for, 1910, by P. D. Bacon, Chicago.”

On the face of the card, a handwritten explanation asserts:

Evry kiss you miss maks a Frekel.

Now I know why I’ve always mourned all those summertime freckles.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Not Many Days Later…

Twenty two year old Jesuit student Benedict Desmond closes his letter back to Chicago from the Saint Joseph’s Sanitarium in Albuquerque. It must have been a lonely outpost for him, and a difficult recuperation, though he mentions finally gaining the strength to actually write any letters at all. In 1907, there were no other means of long-distance communication than what we now view as the tedious “snail mail.” Gathering the pens and paper needed, going through the actual act of writing his thoughts on paper, then securing proper address, stamps, and delivery to whatever postal service was available in the New Mexico Territory at that time may well have been an exhausting process for a victim of tuberculosis.

He was, though, getting better, as he mentions in his letter to Catherine Tully that December 16, 1907. And yet, he still humbly requests the Tully family’s prayers on his behalf. He asks also for the widow Mrs. Tully to remember the widow Mrs. Anna Catherine Desmond in the town of his birth—Galena, Jo Daviess County, on the other side of the state from Chicago. “If it is not too much trouble, call at our house now and then.

Did he know? Was he just attempting a feeble hopefulness despite what his symptoms were shouting at him?

Young Ben starts a litany of “remember me to….” These are all Catherine Tully’s daughters he mentions: Mae, the one married and living in Ohio with three daughters of her own; Lily, her next-younger sister, by now nearing thirty yet still single; and Agnes, grown-up enough to be almost twenty, herself. His mention of his role as god-father of William and Mary Balfe Tully’s baby, Agnes, prompts me to someday access the microfilmed records of the Catholic parish they attended in Chicago in hopes of confirming that detail in church records.

Was it just formality, or was there a twinge of wistfulness in the holiday wishes included in closing? Benedict Desmond, Jesuit student, carefully inserts the “S. J.” following his name, remembering who he is—who he will always be—despite any sickness which seeks to prevail. He is part of the Societas Iesu. There is a calling on his life.

And yet, before any letter could make the return trip to bring him a reply from the Tully family, Benedict Desmond succumbs to his illness. He dies on the day after Christmas, ten days after writing this letter. Whether for time, finances, or restrictions of distance from home, Ben still remains in that outpost so far from everyone he knew—classmates, church friends and family—buried in Mount Calvary Cemetery in Albuquerque.

            I am a very poor god-father, I must confess, but I hope to make up for it by my prayers, sooner or later.
            If it is not too much trouble, call at our house now and then.
            I hope Mae is doing well, also that Lily and Agnes are prospering. I don’t doubt that Agnes is become quite a grown-up lady since I saw her last.
            Wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas! and “Happy New Year,” I remain as ever
                        Very truly yours,
                        Benedict Desmond, S. J.

P. S. –A “Hail Mary” would make a very nice Xmas present for me. I shall pray for all of you, too.
            L. D. S.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Regular Chicago Luck

In a letter with the original intent of offering condolences to a widow friend of his mother, Benedict Desmond wanders from eulogizing the man now gone to discussing various other family members. Catherine Tully, the recipient of this 1907 letter, had a son—William—who also had been struggling with health issues.

Thinking that perhaps the “white plague” may have been the cause of William’s demise—for Catherine’s son died only a few years after his father did—I took the time to look up his death certificate. It seems half of Chicago had fallen to such dreadful communicable diseases during this era. At least, that is what Ben’s letter seems to imply.  But no, Catherine’s son suffered from heart issues, not tuberculosis. Perhaps this sweep of ill health that affected the family was just one of those cases that hit families in the deep of winter.

As we’ll see when we continue the letter tomorrow, this young writer was not merely being socially conscious in inquiring about the health of all the family. Ben Desmond must have taken on the designation of godfather for William and Mary Balfe Tully’s daughter Agnes. The birth of “Babe” in 1904 also gives us an idea of how long this correspondent has known the family, and how close he had become to them.

            I’m sure that Mr. Tully’s death was a case of “the good and faithful servant” called by his Divine Master to “the joys of eternal life.” The little I saw of him was enough to assure me of this fact. He was such an upright, honest, self-sacrificing man of duty, so very different from the average “blue-coat” of Chicago; and what struck me very much, was his devotedness to you and the other members of the family. Well, you can be sure that God has already rewarded him for the many good works that filled his life.
            I hear that Willie is sick. That is regular Chicago luck. I hope Mary and the baby are correspondingly better.

Monday, June 18, 2012

That Dread White Plague Again

It hardly takes much time in researching family history roots in the city of Chicago to see that tuberculosis played a looming role in the ebb and flow of life events there. It seems, also, that among Agnes Tully Stevens’ personal papers, there were many letters from priests who had been smitten with the disease. Banished to far-away sanitaria in higher, drier climes, they were doomed to spend their days separated from all they knew and loved—indeed, anyone who held the possibility of bestowing upon them any role of significance.

Agnes was not the only one in the family to serve as such a correspondent. She inherited this proclivity from her mother, Catherine Malloy Tully, who also sought to connect and comfort with her pen those sent far away—whether for service or disease.

Nearly ten months after Catherine had lost her husband, John Tully, a letter arrived for her from Albuquerque. It was meant as a letter of condolence, but, as the writer explained, the expression of this sentiment was unavoidably delayed due to his own difficulties which had brought him to that location.

The writer was a young man by the name of Benedict Desmond, but a note inscribed by Catherine on the envelope, “Ben’s letter,” reveals a more familiar nickname. He was a Jesuit student, being at the time twenty two years of age. Second son of a woman widowed many years before, Ben had been raised in a town well over one hundred miles removed from Chicago. His pursuit of service with the Society of Jesus—or, as it is more commonly called, Jesuits—required a path of training acknowledged as one of the longest terms of formation for priesthood within the Catholic church. Undoubtedly, with those religious requirements, this rural Illinois student’s educational path brought him to the city of Chicago; perhaps he found himself one of the student boarders hosted by the Tully family. Or perhaps, Catherine Tully served as a self-appointed adoptive “mom” to many such students as this Ben.

Whatever his role in Chicago preceding this 1907 letter, Ben was now residing at an institution founded by the Sisters of Charity not many years prior to his arrival. Saint Joseph’s Sanitarium, in what was then the New Mexico Territory, was built in preparation for the waves of tuberculosis victims yet to come to the southwest, seeking—hoping for—treatment.

In Ben’s case, it seemed the hope was catching. Perhaps his sentiment regarding “happy days that are soon to come” was not only meant for the mourning widow he was addressing, but for himself as well.

                                                                       St. Joseph’s San.,
                                                                       Albuquerque, N. M.
                                                                       Dec. 16, 1907.
Mrs. Tully.

Dear friend,
            Having heard of Mr. Tully’s death through my mother, I had intended to write you a few words of condolence when I myself was stricken with the dread White Plague. Since my sickness and subsequent removal to Albuquerque, I have not done much writing to any outside my family.
            But since Christmas is so near and since I am improving so fast that I can now write with more safety than heretofore, I could not forbear a few words, of condolence for the sorrow that is past, and of greeting for the happy days that are soon to come.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Remembering Fathers No Longer With Us

I spent a lot of time this past week, discussing Father’s Day with many people. The consensus was, despite our culture’s ever-present push to sell more stuff, that the day really isn’t about things, or better gifts bought, or even what to grill on the barbecue or where to enjoy breakfast with the family.

It’s about people, not the latest products.

Those most poignant comments evoked in these discussions were from those who no longer had their fathers here to honor on this day. I fall into that group. So does my husband. And so do many, many others. For people such as these, Father’s Day brings memories of someone gone—sometimes a father long gone—and, occasionally, even feelings of regret.

I think many of us, once we get to a certain point, wish we had thought less of ourselves and our needs and plans, and more of those others who weren’t, after all, going to be here with us forever. We wish we had asked more questions. Stayed to listen some more. Paid attention when that was the very thing craved anyhow.

Of course, those engaged in family history research are keyed in to these thoughts all the time—it doesn’t take a Father’s Day celebration to prompt us to wish we had done so for many of our relatives now gone. We wish we knew more about not only our father, but our mother, our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and the many generations trailing back from them. We wish—as if Time hadn’t been able to separate us from doing so—that we could connect with all these people so vital to our past.

I found it a rather melancholy remembrance to discover one particular Father’s Day card tucked away in my husband’s grandmother’s papers. Agnes Tully Stevens saved so many bits of memorabilia, it is true—stuff that many people would have trashed in subsequent decades. But these bits of mere paper held a deeper meaning to her: they recalled the people who were most important in her life.

I know from her many saved letters that her son Frank—my father-in-law whom I never met—was very important to her. The fact that I now have so many of the letters he wrote during World War II attest to her concern for her boy. But these saved bits of paper went so far beyond mere worry for his safety. They represented a bond of love between parents and their children.

One card in Agnes’ papers—uncharacteristically not saved with its postmarked envelope—was meant not for her, but for the husband who was no longer there with her. It was a Father’s Day card, true, but it was signed from “From Mr. + Mrs. F. X. Stevens + family.” That could only mean a delivery date subsequent to that father’s passing in 1946, as Frank and Norma weren’t married until 1949. Besides, the one who permitted them to sign, “and family” was their firstborn, John Kelly Stevens, who didn’t arrive on the family scene until late in 1950. The soonest this card could have been sent was for Father’s Day in 1951—five years after Will Stevens died.

Though the card is worded as if to a living father, the intent is the same: a family who missed their father and thought about him often, year after year, especially on this special day.

There are a lot of us who miss our dads and what they meant to us. Yet another tie or pair of slippers—not even the newest gadget or tool or fishing tackle—could supplant the best gift we could give our fathers if we still had the chance to give it: the gift of our gratitude and the present of our presence.

My Spiritual Bouquet for Father

This Father’s Day,
The gift I offer you is a remembrance in the
celebrated in our Church
For you and your intentions
to thank you
for your love and devotion!

From Mr. + Mrs. F. X. Stevens + family

May the Sacred Heart, the Source of all Love
help me always be a source of happiness
to such a wonderful Dad!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

For You Who Make an Art of Life

As we saw yesterday from a simple commentary included in a church bulletin from the 1940s, Father’s Day was seen and celebrated in a much different manner than it is now. Oh, the concept of setting aside time to celebrate the Dad in the family still remains a constant, but the sentiments expressed—and the manner in which they were delivered—seem so much a part of a different world.

And it was a different world. It was during and just after World War II—an experience that shook both men and nations to their foundations, with profound effects upon family structures as a whole.

Just the simple thought expressed in a card can illustrate that. I discovered a Father’s Day card tucked away in the stash of papers saved by Agnes Tully Stevens. It was a red-white-and-blue festooned note, with an actual ribbon of those same colors woven into the card stock at the top of the page. Though odd for a Father’s Day remembrance, it was, after all, delivered to Will Stevens during the war—in fact, just after his son Frank’s month-long leave from the Navy and just before he was assigned to the Pacific arena in July, 1944. Two crossed flags underscore the words, “A Father’s Day Tribute.” My father-in-law’s familiar inscription to his dad, “To the Auld Won,” seemed jauntily out of place for both the military d├ęcor and the syrupy poetry to which we’ve grown accustomed for such occasions, the only detour from the proper ambience conjured for the occasion.

Deftly focusing on the recipient, the two stanzas enclosed within the card focus not on things to be given, but the person himself. Despite the materialism and all that we’ve accumulated over the years since that wartime era, isn’t that really what the celebration is all about? May we honor—or remember—the person and not just the things that we choose to purchase to perpetuate his persona.

To you life is a magic cup
That overflows with zest,
And time again you share its gifts
That others may be blest.

Now let the cup be passed to you,
And others make the toast,
For you who make an art of life
Deserve the tribute most!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Remembering a Father on Father’s Day

On Father’s Day sixty five years ago, the 10:30 morning mass at a church in Chicago served as a remembrance of one particular father. One hour’s commemoration meant enough to cause Agnes Tully Stevens to tuck the church bulletin away as a keepsake, rather than choose to discard it after the close of the day’s events.

That simple token of storing the paper—even for all these years—wouldn’t bring back a loved one, of course, but the wish was certainly there. For, if he had still been alive, William Stevens and his bride would have just celebrated thirty five years of marriage.

Such an anniversary milestone was not to be reached, however, for in that year prior, Will had slipped away, overtaken by the heart problems that had already plagued him for some time. Agnes and the children had bid him goodbye on May 10, 1946, and laid him to rest at Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Evergreen Park—close enough to their Chicago home to return often to pay their respects.

On this date in 1947, the family wished to honor his memory with a high mass. The bulletin advised the congregation of this designation with the note,

10:30—HM—William Stevens (Anniversary) req. by Stevens Family.

Whether this was to remember the anniversary of the wedding or of Will’s passing, I don’t know. Perhaps, if the latter, the church calendar was so full that a request for the exact date could not be accommodated. Yet, somehow, it all fell together: a special remembrance, on Father’s Day, for a man whom the family had mourned for the past year, near the date of his wedding anniversary.

The church—Saint Martin’s, “Princeton Ave., at 59th Street”—published a small token of the day on the front page of their bulletin for that June 15, 1947. Perhaps this essay seemed more precious to the family for reminding them of their relationship to the father they had lost. How different it seems from sentiments expressed in more recent years.

            Today we assure the Father of the Family of our love and loyal affection due to him as the founder of the home. Children cannot bestow much in the way of gifts, for they are usually dependent upon him, but what they can offer, and they may be sure it will be appreciated, is a spiritual bouquet of their prayers and sacrifices for him, a small token of their love for him, a promise to obey and respect him, so as to make life pleasanter and easier for him. Grown-ups can best show their affection by giving generously both time and attention to Father on this day of his. Older people seem to be neglected in this busy world, and they get lonesome, even if they don’t show it, for the company of the fledglings which have flown the nest…To the Heavenly Father, above all things, say fervently, say it frequently, the “Our Father,” “The Lord’s Prayer,” and resolve on this Father’s Day to be a good faithful Child of God, destined as children of God are—to be Heirs of Heaven.

Above left: line drawing of Saint Martin's Church, Princeton Avenue at 59th Street in Chicago, Illinois, obtained from the cover of the church bulletin dated June 15, 1947.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Notes and Remembrances

How often have I done this myself—scribbled a note on a piece of scrap paper the instant I came across something I needed to remember, and then forgot where I put it, or where that last detail was stowed that needed to be recalled?

Coming across such a telltale sign while going through the papers of Agnes Tully Stevens prompts such a feeling of instant identification with her sister Lil. I can see myself, in a rushed moment, wanting to—needing to—note some particular detail, like the specific date of death of a now-gone loved one, but in the haze of present loss getting sidetracked despite good intentions to follow through with my quest.

On the outside cover of a folded note, in a hand not at all similar to that of the correspondent, was a quickly jotted note:

Catherine Tully
born 1848

Died when? Did Lil just forget? Had it been a long time prior? Or just a recent occurrence? Why did she want to remember it at this time? Was it due to the subject of the letter, or was the letter just a handy piece of scrap paper that came to hand at just the right moment?

I don’t know how long it took Lil to look up that tiny detail whose precise recording loomed so much larger in personal impact than did the encoding of it. For whatever reason, Lil never returned to that hastily scrawled note to complete the record. But I know the date now, and have tucked it away for safekeeping.

Catherine, the only child, the daughter abandoned by her father when an infant of barely one year of age, the one whose intrepid mother refused to stand by and let the man slip away even if it was to be shrouded by the distance of a storm-tossed winter oceanthis Catherine lived a full seventy-four years, completing her journey from her native Ireland in a thriving Irish-American community on the south side of Chicago. She completed her journey there on March 6, 1922, being laid to rest by her children and grandchildren at Calvary Cemetery in Evanston, Illinois.

The funeral notice for Catherine was modest. Buried on page 21 of the Chicago Tribune the very next day, it said simply—and complete with the inevitable journalistic errors:
TULLY--Catherine Tully, nee Maloy, widow of the late John Tully, beloved mother of the late William, Mrs. Austin McGonogle [should be McGonagle], Lilly A., and Mrs. William A. Stevens. Funeral notice later. For information call Yards 0124.
There was, of course, no “funeral notice later”—at least, not as far as I can determine. But that was alright. For a widow of her age, surrounded by family who, mostly, lived within close range of the family home, and connected within a tight-knit neighborhood and church family at St. Anne’s Church on Chicago’s south side, everyone who knew her would undoubtedly not need a newspaper to discover the date or location of her funeral mass. In an age sans cell phones, texting and email, the connections were palpable, not “virtual.”

Some time after March 6, 1922, Catherine’s daughter Lily must have decided to arrange for special masses to be said on her mother’s behalf. Judging from the rather informal tone of the letter in response, the arrangements must have been made with an organization—or at the very least, a specific priest—familiar with the family. The Tully family women had—over three generations, as it turns out—developed the fine art of encouragement in communicating with several priests and nuns whose paths they had crossed during their time in Chicago. While I have no idea who the “S. H. Wand” of this particular letter might be, he is evidently someone whom Lil had already known for quite a while.

Inside that letter which bore the scribbled reminder on its cover, the message, though apologetic, was simple:

Dear Lil:
            Just to let you know that your letter with its contents came safely into my hands. I have not been able to say the masses as yet. I’ve been busy with some that I had taken upon myself to offer for your mother. I wanted to send you a “spiritual bouquet” card with that assurance, but was not able to lay hands on a card. –Hope you are well
                                                S. H. Wand
While the letter bore no date, no return address, no envelope to reveal even a postmark, it whispered the slightest hint of a mother who was remembered not only by dutiful family members, but by those others who also appreciated her imprint upon their lives.
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