by Patrick Clapp
In 1912 my great-grandfather on my father's side was giving a talk on a new dental material that he had developed. The talk was given in England. After he had finished, he was contacted by a friend who had missed the presentation, but was insistent that my great-grandfather travel up-country a bit to spend the weekend with him before returning to the states. My great-grandfather was hesitant, he had a ticket for the Titanic and was looking forward to the spectacle. The friend whittled away his resolve, however, and my great-grandfather spent an enjoyable weekend catching up on old times while hundreds upon hundreds sank to their icy doom in the North Atlantic.
This is not that tale, however, it does provide a mnemonic for me to recount, with accuracy, the happenings on my mother's side of the family. The Titanic sunk in 1912, one year later, my grandfather was born (1913). Two years following that, my grandmother was born (1915), all of this being on my mother's side.
In 1935, at the age of 22 and 20, Martha Haynes and Olin Perkins were married. It was the height of the Great Depression. A year later, my Aunt Patricia, of whom I am a namesake, was born. I once asked my grandfather how he was able to marry and start a family amidst the most crushing economic period of U.S. history at the time. He told me a short tale:
It was the Great Depression, and jobs were scarce and money was hard to come by. Olin Perkins had the fortune to acquire a position that paid him five dollars a week.
I thought for a moment before replying, "Grandpa, that is an outrageous amount of money for the time, what were you doing?"
Walking the gas lines. My grandfather, during the depression, walked the gas lines and noted their pressures and, most likely, made adjustments where needed. This was dangerous work. Extremely dangerous, for the gas lines had a tendency to explode every once in a while.
I asked my grandfather, "Grandpa, how did you get that job?"
Well, he replied, there was an explosion that killed five workers. So they had an opening.
My grandfather was a wellspring of stories, and had a treasure trove of historical knowledge within him. He also was an unbelievable card player. This, because, during the times he was not walking the lines, he was playing solitaire. By the end of his life, my grandfather had played so many hands of solitaire he must have seen the same game more than once.
However, the year is 1936 and my aunt has just been born. A few years later, the second world war begins in Europe and my mother is born (1941). Two uncles follow, and my great-uncle, brother to my grandfather, dies in service of the U.S. Navy at the start of the Pacific campaign.
The war ends, and the prosperous '50's arrive. My mother and her siblings finish high school and move on to college. And matters progress as they are likely to do.
You may think at the root of this lies the strength of my grandfather. In part you are correct, however, only in part. My grandmother was the other half of that amazing duo. They raised four children through the depression, the second great war, and the tumultuous fifties (wherein the states saw a shakeup and resettling of its culture). My grandmother, who was married to a man whose hearing had started to fail him, and his hair turned white at 25. In reflection, I think this is one of the strong points of their 67 years of marriage. They loved each other dearly, however, my grandmother would badger my grandfather into chores. (Of course, most of the time he couldn't hear it).
The benefits, however, far outweighed the cost. My grandmother, as some of you may have known, was one of the single greatest cooks of her generation. This woman could transform the air itself into a lavish meal swimming with subtleties of flavor. It is this ability that was her greatest gift to her family. For somewhere locked within our genes, there lies a hidden talent for cooking.
Of the four children of my grandmother, three married. My aunt had two boys, my mother had four boys, and my uncle had two girls and two boys. Ten grandchildren. That was the legacy of my grandmother. Her house was filled with pictures of each, accomplishments, newspaper clippings (she outright threatened the Southern Tier's mainstay newspaper with cancellation due to their lack of diligence in publishing the completion of my academic degrees. I don't know if the editor realized how close he and his publication came to eternal damnation, but all was forgiven when I cropped up in the pages a few days later). Ten grandchildren. Scott, Sean, Chris, Doug, Holly, Mike, Patrick, Mitch, Pati-jo, and Daniel.
Time passed as time is likely to do. Grandchildren married, Great-grandchildren came on the scene. Of the ten, three are not married, myself, Mitch, and Daniel. Scott has two children; Emily, an angel who looks like my aunt, and Cole, who looks like his father. Sean has one, Jonathon, blond, blue-eyed, and happy. Chris, my brother, has three; David, a mischievous and devious elder son who is unknowingly exacting a younger brother's (and possibly mother's) revenge; Erin, a blonde, blue-eyed princess and unholy terror who will drive my brother mad when she enters high school; and Martha Rose, namesake to my grandmother, cursed with the eye-sight of my mother, wherein one eye is far-sighted and one is near-sighted (Which causes her to look at you quite intently), and a head of tight red curls. Doug has two, Nicholas, a down-right brilliant boy, with blonde hair and blue eyes like his parents (who, when quizzed about math over Thanksgiving dinner by myself informed me that it was not possible to think of a 'highest' number, because you could always add one to the last one you thought of. What about infinity I asked with a smile, thinking I had him. He looked to my cousin, Doug who smiled, nodded and said, you tell him, Nick. Infinity is a concept not a number, he told me. Which is, of course, the correct answer, but not what I was expecting from a four year old). Doug has a young son now too, whom I do not think I have yet met. Holly has no children yet, and her expression waffles between alarm at the mentioning and daggers at the mentioner. Mike has two children; Samantha, who is five foot one and will be that way for many years to come, and Nyella Amira, the happiest baby on the face of the earth (Who possesses the elfin beauty of her mother and the wicked wicked intelligence of her father). Pati-jo has one, also who I have yet to meet. Many many great grandchildren, to whom we owe a debt.
My grandfather passed away in 2002. His health, the one thing that never seemed to fail him, finally did. He had a wonderful life, filled with amazing journeys and fantastic stories. He left behind a legacy of children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He left behind a woman who was his wife for sixty-seven years. When two people spend such a considerable about of time together, it is quite common for one to follow the other quickly into the great beyond.
We inundated my grandmother with great-grandchildren. Wave after wave after wave. I firmly believe that they are the reason she lived another month, and then two, and then two more, and so on. A spark had gone out of her life, and her primary anchor had left her. It was apparent, but she persevered.
My grandmother died on Sunday, September the 12th, 2004, eighty-nine and a half years after her birth. I spoke with her late last week, she sounded so very tired. She perked up when she recognized my voice, and when I spoke to her about cooking, she seemed to come alive again. She faded soon after. When I returned from my weekend, she was gone. Left in her place is her legacy. Four children, ten grandchildren, and wave after wave of great-grandchildren. And cooking. And cards. And pottery. And sewing. And a love of spicy food. And a love of church. And a love of her family.
Many of you have had the fortune to share in the recipes of my grandmother. Some of you have even sat at her table. I think it is something you should remember and cherish. She was the matriarch of my family and she will be missed.