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Longing for Home
PUB DATE: 5/15/2016

Irish Monument to Choctaw Nation

Famine Memorial Dublin

I’ve talked on this blog about the Irish Famine: The Great Hunger in the 1840s that cost a million Irish lives and displaced millions more. When I last posted about the famine I wasn’t aware that the Choctaw Nation had responded to the Irish in need.

Choctaw Ball Players

In 1847 the Choctaw sent 710$ (5,000$ in today’s money) to the Irish, a people they didn’t know. What makes this story so compelling is that the Choctaw were in desperate need themselves. In 1830s they had been marched from Mississippi to Oklahoma in a trail of tears. The Choctaw were still desperately poor in the 1840s, but they were moved by the plight of the Irish and sent them money. 710$ was, of course, not enough to address the desperate need of the Irish. However, it was a powerful message to the Irish that they weren’t alone.

The Choctaw could have lumped the Irish in with all the other white people bent on genocide. They didn’t though, they opened their hearts and recognized what the Choctaw had in common with the Irish. They found compassion to reach out to others who were suffering.

Ireland has just commemorated a monument ‘Kindred Spirits’ to the Choctaw gift. The memorial is a beautiful bowl of feathers. If I ever go to Ireland I’ll definitely go to County Cork to see the monument.

The sharing spirit of the Choctaw nation is an amazing example of solidarity and hope that has inspired me this week. I hope you click on the links for more information and find this story inspiring as well.

Harvey Girls

Harvey House in rail station Belen New Mexico

Long before there were truck stops there were Harvey Houses. Fred Harvey was a cafe owner who saw an opportunity to open cafes along the rail lines. When he started business in 1870 most of the rail stops were limited to small eateries that sold beans and bread or other easy to make food. The quality wasn’t the best and many people packed their own food for trips. Harvey’s cafes were clean and served large portions of good fresh food. They also really went for class with fine china and Irish linen. Harvey had an association with the Santa Fe railroad. The railroad would take the passenger’s orders while they were on the train. The orders would be put out with the mail at a town before the stop and then telegraphed to the Harvey House. When the passengers got off the train, with only a half an hour for a meal while the train changed out the car and took on water, their meal would be already prepared and waiting for them. The waitresses even had signals for what type of drink passengers wanted. They would turn the cup a certain way to signal juice, milk or coffee so one server could quickly fill the drinks. It was the fast food of the time.

Diner Blue Plate

Harvey Houses are credited with the first blue plate special, an affordable complete meal on a blue patterned plate.

The thing the Harvey Houses became most known for though was the Harvey Girls. Fred Harvey hired girls between 18 and 30 of good character to work in his restaurants. The girls wore a black top, a large white apron and a white bow in their hair. It was a clever piece of marketing and they were easily recognizable. Historical websites sometimes gloss over the fact that he hired only white girls. That rankles me now, but it was a sign of the times. At any rate, many of the girls had never left the east coast and wanted a little adventure in the west. They generally are credited to helping tame the wild west. Many of the girls married and settled in the western territories. There is a cute Judy Garland movie ‘The Harvey Girls‘ where she plays a Harvey Girl and Angela Lansbury plays the madam of the local brothel. As part of my research for my second book I made my long suffering husband Charlie watch the movie, well, he loaded it up for me and watched part of it. If you want a light little bit of fluff check it out.

Judy Garland in The Harvey Girls

Memorial Day

Shiloh Cemetery – US Civil War

The US started Memorial Day celebrations after the Civil War. The US was reeling from the loss of 620,000 people killed in battle, the largest number of Americans ever killed in war. In 1868 the holiday, then called Decoration Day, was a day for putting flowers and flags on graves. The day in May was the Northern States Celebration. The Southern States had their own holiday in January.

WWI parade in Dallas

After WWI Memorial Day was expanded to be a way to honor all the soldiers who died in American wars. This year is the 100th anniversary of when the US entered into WWI. When I was in Kansas City I went to the National WWI Museum. If you are ever in Kansas City, eat the BBQ and visit the Museum. It was most informative about why WWI wasn’t the last World War. It was sobering and humbling that so many men and women gave their lives for our freedoms.

Vietnam Memorial

In 1971 Memorial Day was made a national holiday. It was the middle of the Vietnam War and the country was struggling with how  to honor the soldiers of a very unpopular war. I would like to say that was the last war, but I work at the VA and the price of freedom is visible in the halls every day.

Take a moment on Memorial Day to remember those who gave their lives. Traditionally it is at 3 pm. I will have a moment of silent gratefulness.

Tombstones at Arlington

For love of country they accepted death…  ~James A. Garfield

Cooking, but feeling lucky compared to 1890s

1958 Great Grandma Koetting in the front

So, Charlie and I are trying to be healthy, you know, cutting down on added sugar, no preservatives, that sort of thing. The thing is, it means I’m in the kitchen alot then I started thinking about how my great grandmothers cooked. They all cooked a hot meal everyday. Here is a quick list of things about the kitchen that have changed and that I’m really grateful for.

Kitchen pump
My Terrific Sink

Running water – Thank goodness for turning on the taps and having hot and cold water just come out. In 1900 the cities were mostly plumbed, but in the country people had wells or water tanks and a pump in the kitchen. I have a terrific sink, thanks to Charlie who put it in for me.


I also like my refrigerator. At the turn of the century people owned ice boxes. The top chamber has a place for ice and the food in the bottom is kept cool.  There was a whole industry of cutting ice from lakes in the winter and storing it in ice houses.  The ice man would come with deliveries on a regular basis. Ice boxes weren’t huge food storage because people shopped more often and usually ate less variety. Working class cooking in the early 1900s was fairly repetitive. The roast on Sunday would be re-purposed for most of the week with really simple meals. It was cheaper and fancy cooking wasn’t possible on a daily basis. Of course if you were rich you had a cook who could spend all day in the kitchen, but for everyone else meals were pretty simple

Early refrigerators

One thing that hasn’t changed over time is how families bond over food. My brother Kevin Morey and I had a good time making dinner for the rest of our family in my nice kitchen.

Kevin and Lisa in the kitchen

All Dressed Up for Easter

Sewing Patterns

When I was a kid it was a big deal to dress up for Easter. At least a month before Easter I would chose a pattern for my Easter dress and pick out the material. Mom would sew not only my dress but outfits for herself and my two sisters and two brothers.

Margaret Koetting and Mary Begus 1941

Besides the dress I would have a hat, since in the 60’s and 70’s girls didn’t go to church with their hair uncovered. Some women would wear a little piece of lace on their head called a mantilla or veil. Most women though wore hats. Women had to cover their hair during church as a sign of female submissiveness, which I didn’t know as a kid, I just thought it was pretty.  Men wore hats, but they took theirs off inside as a sign of respect. Check out the hats on my Great Aunt Marge and Great Grandma Begus.

I also had gloves. By the end of the 70’s women weren’t really wearing gloves anymore, but in my childhood a girl wasn’t dressed up without them. I had a white cloth pair with little buttons and a lace pair. Mary Begus and Margaret Koetting obviously were dressed up for church with their gloves on.

We didn’t have the money to buy the whole outfit at once, so it was a treat to get each piece. I can afford to buy the outfit now, but I miss the anticipation of each piece being added to the ensemble.

100th Anniversary of the US in WWI

I’m remembering and honoring our military history by taking a moment to contemplate the 100th anniversary of US involvement in WWI. The US contributed 4 million military personnel. It is sobering to think of the 17 million people who lost their lives including 110,000 from the US. I’ll be wearing a poppy on my lapel.




In Flanders Fields – by John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Church as a time to be quiet

I haven’t been to church in years, and for the most part I don’t miss it. I do however think sometimes about the opportunity to be quiet. We are now in the season of Lent and Catholics are reflecting and preparing for the celebration of Easter. In ‘Longing for Home’ church is the only time working people got to sit and just be quiet. So I thought I would share a short excerpt here.

Fr. Gallegan preached that children should be in school until sixteen and not at work. I looked around the pews, at least half the children between ten and twelve and about seventy-five percent of those twelve to sixteen worked in the factories. They oiled the machines, cleaned and did other chores that didn’t take muscle. Smaller children worked too, doing piecework at home, or were out on the streets selling papers or matches and even picking the dumps for anything that could be re-used. There was a murmur of dissent around me as the sermon went on.

A man behind us muttered, “Lot of good it does for young ones to have schooling if they don’t got coal or oats.”

Seamus glanced sidelong at me in silent communication. We had both worked as children, not because our parents didn’t care for us, but because it was necessary. In Limerick Seamus could have easily worked in a factory, but his Da had had convinced his friend the blacksmith to take Seamus on as an apprentice when he was really too young. It didn’t hurt that Seamus had been large for his age or that he worked for room and board until he was fifteen. Still, it was an incredible advantage that he had a skill. I felt a pang of guilt that he wasn’t able to be a blacksmith in Chicago.

Father continued expounding on the need for industry to pay a decent wage for workers so that parents didn’t have to send their children to work. The congregation relaxed, Father was obviously talking now in the realm of the Promised Land, just like the lamb and the lion parable, nice to think about, but not really relevant in the here and now. Sure, there was talk of organizing, even all the way in Vienna I had heard about the Chicago Haymaker Riots in 1886. The workers struck for eight-hour days and better wages and during their peaceful protest someone had thrown a bomb killing seven policemen and wounding hundreds of others. Anarchists were arrested and four were hung. Last year the May Day labor marches were international, including ones I saw in Trieste. In Chicago the march had been huge. The steelworkers in Pennsylvania struck for better working conditions and fair wages just last year and look what happened then; they were shot down by hired guns and nobody was punished for it. Besides, with a thousand people wanting your job for any wage who could strike?

The congregation settled back into complacency, tired and enjoying the one hour a week when they could sit and do nothing. Fianna knelt up next to me and fingered the lace on my head that Mama gave me from Idrija.  Fianna touched it with such reverence that I didn’t move her hand away. The woman in front of us put her baby to the breast, Molly stretched out on the pew and kicked her legs against Seamus’ arm; normalcy settled in. The men would argue about unions later and the women would try to wash a few clothes and buy some food for the week, and then we would all go back to our six-days-a–week, twelve-hour-a-day jobs that we were lucky to have.


A Few Things About St Patrick’s Day

Now that you are hopefully recovered from your St. Paddy’s day celebrations, here are a few things you might not know about St. Patrick’s Day.

St. Patrick in the Nuremberg Chronicle

St. Patrick wasn’t an Irishman. Most historians think he was a Roman citizen of Briton. He was captured by Irish raiders and was a slave shepherd in Ireland for six years. He escaped slavery, and then returned to Ireland to convert Ireland to Christianity. He had a steadfast purpose even though the Pagan citizens weren’t always happy to be converted. He is now the patron saint of predominantly Christian Ireland.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin

In Ireland St. Patrick’s Day is a holy day of obligation, so people will be in church. As for the wearing of the green, well shamrocks will do, nobody needs green clothing.

Of course it is much different here in the US. St.Paddy’s Day is a day to celebrate Irish heritage. At first it was a way to take pride in a heritage that was not always a point of pride. The Irish were not welcome immigrants during the 1800s and early 1900s. They were poor, uneducated and Catholic. Celebrating St. Patrick’s day was a way to make being Irish something to be proud of rather than something to be ashamed of.

St. Patrick’s Day Parade, DC

Now everyone wants to get in on being Irish, so there are St. Paddy’s day parades and drinking green beer, really a big party.

Me with corned beef and cabbage

I made corned beef and cabbage, I cooked it in Guinness, so it was terrific. I know that corned beef and cabbage aren’t really Irish food. It is Irish American food. When the Irish came to America they couldn’t afford their usual bacon or lamb, so they ate corned (preserved) beef. I like corned beef, but I’m Irish American, not just Irish, so I had no problem eating it. I put mustard on it too. Delicious. I did make traditional Irish soda bread.

As far as green beer – no way. Why would I put green dye in perfectly good beef? My friends and I drank boilermakers: Guinness with a shot of Jameson dropped into it. The Jameson and the Guinness perfectly complemented each other.

Margaret Corbett and Joseph Koetting on their wedding day

The best part of St. Paddy’s was a chance to get together with friends and toast our Irish ancestors. I remember mine for their courage to come to America in hopes of starting a good life. I definitely have benefited from their struggles.