My grandmother Katherine Patton (nee Connolly, or Conneelly, depending which family member of mine you ask) came to America in either the late 1920s or the early 1930s. She married my grandfather Timothy Michael (aka Pap-Pap) in 1933; they had met at the Irish Centre in Swissvale. From 1933 until my father was born in 1945, she had nine pregnancies, and seven live children, of whom my father was the youngest.
Here are a few things I remember about Grandma Patton, in no particular order.
1. Her brogue. Although my grandmother had lived in America for more than 50 years, she never lost the soft, lilting brogue in her speech from Ireland. It’s a sound I always love to hear, a good Irish brogue. It makes me think of her.
2. Her house. Now, my father and his six siblings lived in East Liberty (S’liberty if you’re from here) until that house burned down. Then they moved to Hastings Street in Point Breeze, and when we visited from Erie, that’s where we went. I recall walking into the house, the way the staircase was immediately in front of you, steeply dark, slightly foreboding. Off to the right was the hallway that lead back to the kitchen, and turning to the right, was the wide open front sitting room, where Pap-Pap reigned in silence (and butterscotch candies).
3. Her mashed potatoes. We would arrive on Friday, just in time for dinner. In my childhood memory, the dining room table filled the entire room, and was laden with food. We had the same dinner every time: pork chops, corn, and mashed potatoes. (There may have been a green vegetable; I don’t recall.) I loved my grandmother’s mashed potatoes. They were smooth and buttery, the perfect texture and taste. Whenever my mother was going to make mashed potatoes, I asked her to make them just like grandma’s. Who was her mother-in-law, mind you.
4. Her blueberry muffins. I also loved my grandma’s blueberry muffins. Whenever we visited, she always made sure she had some to hand for us. It was years later that I learned they were Jiffy brand blueberry muffins, and thus came out of a box, but it didn’t diminish my love for them.
5. The pictures over the bed. When we visited, my siblings and I slept on a mattress on the floor at the foot of the grown-up bed, which is where my parents slept. Over this bed hung two paintings that to this day strike fear into me. In one, Jesus regards us mournfully, his eyes on our faces, his head lowered. Thorns from his crown of thorns bite into his flesh. In the accompanying piece, Mary looks at us, also mournful. Her heart floats outside of her chest.
And there are swords piercing it.
Every Catholic child in the world has seen this image. It was terrifying to me then, and I’m not sure that it’s not terrifying to me now. Dan inherited a set just like it when we were married. “We’ll put this above our bed,” he enthused. “Not if your parents want grandchildren,” I replied. They hang in our dining room, instead.
6. Her stature. My grandmother was tall and graceful with piercing blue eyes and black hair. When people meet the rest of my immediate family, they often ask, in so many words, “Why are you so tall?” My Irish grandmother stood five-foot-ten-inches in her heyday. She is why I am so tall.
I often refer to my grandmother Patton as the matriarch, and I don’t think I’m too far off. My grandfather died when I was just 6, but the clan continued to grow and flourish the whole of my life – it continues to this day. My grandmother had six children who survived to adulthood: my father, his brother, and their four sisters, who are known collectively as The Aunts. They each married and had children. I have 17 first cousins, referred to as the second generation, most of whom married and had children, who are the third generation.
Why am I telling you this? A couple of reasons.
Reason the first is because I am on vacation this week with my family, on what is basically the annual family reunion. The Patton clan convenes on a little resort in Pennsylvania, where we eat and drink and swim and play, and reminisce.Reason the second is my parents gave Dan and me some furniture, and as I was cleaning it, I found the eulogy my father gave at my grandmother’s funeral. She died when I was 13. She was 84 years old.
That’s my next blog post.
I feel blessed to have known my Grandma Patton. She taught me about quiet dignity and strong faith. She taught me that family is everything, and love is stronger than death.
What lessons did your grandparents teach you?