Saturday, December 25, 2010

John Brown and Christmas

On December 15, 2010, my very dear friend and John Brown Scholar, Lou DeCaro, posted an intriguing blog entry on his "John Brown the Abolitionist: A Biographer's Blog" entitled "The Christmas Debate and John Brown" 

Now I have to admit that I had never really thought about whether John Brown and his family did or did not celebrate Christmas: Christmas just "is" to me and I assumed that all Christians since the time of at least Charles Dickens celebrated it. 

As I read the post, I thought to myself, "Well, how silly! Of course, John Brown's family celebrated Christmas. I mean, who wouldn't gather to sing hymns, exchange gifts, enjoy a special feast, and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. I know that I have read about Christmas in conjunction with JB!" Therefore, off I went to peruse my extensive collection of books, papers, research, and articles, in search of the proof that the Brown's celebrated Christmas.

Many days later, I raised my bloodshot eyes toward the ceiling and admitted defeat. I had found no mention of Christmas celebrations, gifts, hymns, or festive dinners, other than the one Lou mentioned in his post. Moreover, I agree with Lou, that this was more of a welcome home feast than a celebration of Christmas. I was still sure that Christmas fit in here somewhere. How could a hero of mine, this man who was so religious and Christian in his deeds and actions, how could he not participate in this important day on the Christian calendar?

I went back and reread Lou's post, and did some research of my own on the celebrations of Christmas in American in the 1850s. Hmm, it seems that many Christians did not celebrate, and December 25 was not a National Holiday until 1870. Before 1870, students went to school, and working class folks went to work on December 25, just like any other day. After the Civil War, women's magazines proved to be the biggest influence on the accepting of the celebration of Christmas as a time with family, food, and gifts.

Still, I was sure that I had examples of John Brown and Christmas, so I kept looking. Nothing on John Brown, but Annie Brown Adams, my great-great grandmother, and daughter of John Brown, wrote of Christmas in a letter to Dr. Alexander M. Ross on January 16 1886:
Rohnerville, Cal Jan 16th 1886
Dr. A. M. Ross
My dear Friend
I received yours of Dec. 2nd also the book you so kindly sent to the children for which please accept their thanks, as it came a few days before Christmas. I laid it away, and put it on their Christmas tree, which caused a good deal of surprise as well as pleasure.

I wish to add my grateful acknowledgement for the book as it is a great help to me evenings. I can keep them entertained by reading aloud the nice stories. It is quite a hard matter sometimes, to manage seven children, all sizes and ages, from fifteen years to eighteen months, these long winter evenings.
I was threatened with another attack of quinsy but thanks for your remedy – soda, I succeeded in preventing it. I never heard of the soda being used for that before. I have been in the habit, for years of using Chlorate Potash for sore throats.

I sent another lot of your papers to the San Francisco Bulletin, and have been waiting to see if he would publish them. But they have not condescended to notice them. The chief editor is a conservative Englishman. It is possible that he might be convinced and converted, if there could only be someone found to convince him.

It must have been quite a pleasant diversion to you after all you have gone through, for then to visit your “refugees” and to know that their children and grandchildren “rise up and call you blessed."
It is well that we sometimes are allowed to reap a rich harvest of gratitude for our labors for others, in this world, if we did not we might sometimes become “weary in well doings.”
With much love to your wife and family I remain as ever
                                                                  Annie Brown Adams

While I did not find any proof that John Brown celebrated Christmas, I did find proof that the family eventually did embrace Christmas. Annie wrote many letters to Dr. Ross over 20 years, and mentioned Christmas trees and the many gifts that he sent to her and the children. I also have stories of family celebrations involving Annie and her descendants passed on to me by my Great Aunt Alice.

To all my family, friends, followers, and readers of my Blog:

Letter from Annie Brown Adams to Dr. Alexander M. Ross 16 Jan 1886
Original held by The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

Friday, December 24, 2010

Sarah Parker Redmon - Remembers John Brown 24 DEC 1859

Sarah Parker Remond 1826-1894. Photo Credit Wikipedia

  Sarah Parker Remond, sister of orator Charles Lenox Remond, was a formidable orator and abolitionist in her own right. Born 6 JUN 1826 in Salem, Massachusetts, she was one of eight children born to free blacks John and Nancy Remond.  The Remond's were very successful in Salem with catering, provisioning and hairdressing endeavors.

 In 1835 Sarah and a younger sister passed the necessary exams to enter the Salem Higher Education School, but the girls were forced to leave because of the racist Board. Frustrated, the Remond family left moved to Newport, Rhode Island, where the girls attended a private school for Blacks. Sarah's father continued to lobby and fight the Salem School Board until 1841, when the decision was reversed, and the school was open to all.

  In 1853, while attending an opera in Boston, Sarah was forcibly withdrawn and pushed down a flight of stair, because she refused to sit in a segregated section of the audience. She had paid the same price for her ticket, and was going to sit where she wanted. She sued and won. She was awarded $500.00. She proved that she was wronged.

In 1856, Sarah and her brother, Charles, and Susan B Antony became traveling orators for the American Anti-Slavery Society. Sarah went on to be one of the society's most eloquent, powerful and persuasive speakers. In 1858 she was invited to take the society's message to Great Brittan. She arrived in Liverpool, England in January 1859 and never returned to the United States.

  The English were impressed by the genteel, eloquent, educated black women - "a lady every inch" - who always drew crowds when she spoke.She was instrumental in raising large sums of money for the anti-slavery cause. After the war, she spoke about the plight of the Freedmen, and collected money and clothing for them. She was a member of the London Emancipation Society and the Freedman's Aid Association in London.

  While in Europe, Sarah continued her education studying French, LAtin, music, history, and public speaking at the Bedford College for Women. At 42 years old, Sarah decided to continue her education and started medical school in Florence. She passed away on 13 DEC 1893 in Florence.

On 24 DEC 1859, just 22 days after the hanging of John Brown, a review of one on Miss Remond's rousing speeches was written up in the Leeds Mercury Newspaper, published 3 times a week in Leeds, West Yorkshire, England.

Miss REMOND then addressed the meeting in remarks characterised by great impressiveness and eloquence. She said she stood there to represent a race deprived of every privilege and even of hope. The American law had declared that black men and women had no rights which the white man was bound to respect. To her, that was a solemn and a sad hour. Every letter she received from across the Atlantic brought her tidings of the excitement rocking that land from its centre to its circumference, and she was constantly told—“Old John Brown sleeps to night in amartyr’s grave.” She had no word of censure for him, or for the means which he took to carry out his great idea. She had the honour of being identified with the ultra, the fanatical, the Garrisonian abolitionists of America, and having watched them from childhood’s hour, she thought they now occupied a more sublime position than they had ever before realised. What was the condition of America, enfolding within her warmest sympathies and encircling by her strong influence a system so foul and hideous that it called forth the execrations of the civilised world? Turn where they would, whether they regarded the legislative, the executive, the judicial, the political, or the religious opinions of that land, they found that, so far as the majority was concerned, they were wedded to slavery. American politics had sunk to a depth of degradation which she could not describe, and all the best men in America, with few exceptions, were outside the political arena. Even the Republican party had never dared to go beyond seeking to prevent the extension of slavery, and they had not yet laid the axe at the root of the tree. Every word of sympathy from English lips would tell in favour of the slave, and she asked them to send their moral protest across the Atlantic against the oligarchy which was crushing her brethren and sisters and reducing them to the lowest degradation. She referred to the support given to slavery by the religious and moral sentiment of America, and asserted that if this sentiment were really and truly opposed to slavery that curse would go down at once. 
(Hear, hear.)
The clergymen of the States did more to carry out the fugitive slave law than any other portion of the community, and as a body they had much to answer for in this respect. Miss Remond concluded by an eloquent tribute to the memory of John Brown.
"Sarah Parker Remond (1826-1894)". Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. vol II M-Z. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. 1993. pp. 972–974. ISBN 0926019619. Accessed 12 DEC 2010

 Civil War Women Blog, "Sarah Parker Remond"
Accessed 12 DEC 2010 "Redmond, Sarah PArker (1824-1894) 
Accessed 12 DEC 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Advent Calendar - Christmas Stockings Musings

Growing up, my family opened our Christmas gifts to each other on Christmas Eve. Then on Christmas morning "Santa" came and left us toys, and presents, and goodies in our stockings. We did not have a fireplace (okay we did, but it was bricked up and behind my parents bedroom wall) so we left our stockings under the tree in anticipation of treats and amazing things.

My older sister and younger brother's stocking was hand knitted by our mom, and I was always a little bit jealous of them.  While tjhey were skinnier than my stocking, they s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d  in length and width and as a child I always thought they held many more treats. My stocking, also made by our mom, was appliqued from fabric and did not stretch at all.  My parents did not have stockings.  I don't remember ever thinking that was strange, but I was aware that it was different from my friends, whose families all had stockings, even the pets!

I have learned over the years, as a sister, a mom, and friend, that there are two types of "stocking people" - those who turn it upside down and pour it all out so to see EVERYTHING at once, and those that pull things out one item at a time and treasure the feeling of excitement and joy over and over again. Both ways have pros and cons, and in my life I have been both a "dumper" and "digger." I now prefer to be a digger.

Our stockings were always filled to overflowing. While the toys, gifts, and small treasures changed from year to year, based on our current wants, needs, and loves, the core of the stockings were always the same. We got an orange or tangerines, a large handful of a variety of un-shelled nuts, chocolate coins, and candy canes. The orange and the nuts were family traditions handed down from my dad's childhood. I also passed those traditions onto my sons, as we always had oranges and nuts in their stockings.

I started to make my twin boys matching cross stitch stockings when they were two, but I bought printed kits and I quickly learned that I really dislike doing printed cross stitch kits. Our babysitter, Robyn, finished them for me. She worked on them each day while the boys took their naps. They are packed up with the boys Christmas decorations, which are still stored in our garage. G is in Uruguay and wants us to hold onto his until he someday moves back to America, and M is in Ohio, looking for a job, and not ready to take possession of "the rest of his belongings" just yet.

My future Mother-In-Law endeared herself to me with a Christmas Stocking during my first visit to her home at Christmas in 1984. Christmas morning we all came down stairs and there was a stocking with a 3x5 card paper clipped to the cuff. The card had my name written on it, and was covering the name of Fred's brother's ex wife. Alice, now my Mother-In-Law, realized as she was preparing the stockings for her large family, that I did not have one. She wanted me to feel welcome and part of the family, so she put together a stocking for me at the last minute. That simple gesture made the fact that I was thousands of miles away from my family and friends a little easier to handle.

Written for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories for 2010. December 18, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Sword of the Spirit

Photo by Fred Mecoy. Copyright 2009
 One of my favorite pictures: Alice Keesey Mecoy with Terry Leonino & Greg Artzner, also known as the Folk Duo Magpie. Terry and Greg do an incredible stage play based on the letters of John and Mary Brown. This picture was taken immediately following the presentation of the play at the Harpers Ferry Sesqucentennial in October 2009. I was in tears after the performance.

I have also included a link to a youtube video of the play.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lucy Brown Clark - Eulogy 1934

While transcribing the many, many documents related to the Annual Brown Family Reunions, that took place in Hudson Ohio from 1926 until 1964, I have found an incredible amount of information about the family members. The "stuffy" stuff -- date of birth, date of death, lineage to John Brown, etc. -- were all recorded by Dr Clarence S Gee in his genealogy of the Brown Family, (which I am continuing to add to daily), but these letters and notes contain what I consider jewels and riches. There are letters from cousin to cousin discussing births, deaths, trials and tribulations, as well as other tidbits.  I am in heaven!

I recently transcribed a eulogy that Dr Clarence S. Gee wrote, and I assume gave at the Brown Family reunion in July 1934, commemorating Lucy Emeline Brown Clark.  Lucy was born on 13 AUG 1850, in Hudson, Summit, Ohio to Jeremiah Root Brown and Abi Cornelia Hinsdale. Jeremiah was the half brother of John Brown, who built the lovely house that still stands in Hudson, Ohio. Mrs. Clark lived a long and full life, and knew her uncle, John Brown. She attended the Brown Family Reunions from 1926-1933, and was loved by all. She passed away on 26 FEB 1934 at her son's home in Kent, Portage, Ohio. I wish I could have known her, I think she must have been a great lady, but fun too!
Lucy Clark at 1928 Reunion


Eulogy for Mrs. Lucy Brown Clark
Brown Family Reunion Papers
Document 1934 A
Hudson Historical Society and Library
Transcribed by Alice Keesey Mecoy Dec 2010

Mrs. Lucy Brown Clark

The sun of her life has set. It has sunk where islands of refreshment lie, but has left behind the smile of its departure. Such is our goodly heritage of this noble life.

To have met her was a privilege, to have known her well was indeed a benediction. My first acquaintance was through my interest in her historic uncle John Brown. However, I was at once influenced by her own personality, so cultured and refined, and have felt my life more blessed by this friendship that by a mere research pursuit.

Physical handicaps of later years did not stifle her spirit. Strength and dignity were her clothing and the law of kindness was on her tongue. Readily, can we rise up and call her blessed.

She has lived through the years of many of our nation's most important events. She was but a child when her uncle John Brown, and members of his immediate family, were so involved in the stirring events in Kansas. She remembers John Brown as he came to her father's house in Hudson as he was on his way to Kansas in the fifties. He took her on his lap and told her of the sufferings of his sons and their families and that he was going to Kansas to help them. The strange and mysterious boxes which so baffled the child contained the arms for the fray. She recalled, and kept through all the years clearly, the special kindness of John Brown to children and to all who were oppressed. Letters came often to the home of Jeremiah Brown, her father, not only from the Browns in Kansas but also from the Adairs who were early missionaries to that state. Mrs. Adair was Lucy's aunt. Thus as a child she came into close touch with significant historical events. Her father was named to settle the estate of her noted uncle after his death in 1859. Civil war followed, then the reconstruction. Other wars, and our modern age. Through it all she grew in knowledge and in grace, even though there were many struggles she became more than conqueror and learned to know "the further side of victory."

Mrs. Clark was an intelligent and interesting correspondent. Her letters were rich in spirit and content. Some years ago she took a trip to Florida. Although well along in years her mental grasp of scenes and people and events revealed the richness of her mind.

For many years following the Civil war there was much hard and harsh criticism of the deeds of John Brown. These left no trace of bitterness or called forth no critical response from this cultured soul. However, as the years passed and the motives and purposes of John Brown were better understood the Brown family began to gather itself together in their common bond. The Brown Family Reunion is now an established institution and regular meetings are held each year in Hudson. Perhaps no one took a deeper interest in the recovery and further development of this family spirit than did Mrs. Clark. Her radiant personality will be greatly missed at these reunions and things will never be quite the same again.

Mrs. Lucy Brown Clark was born in Hudson Ohio, August 13th 1850. She was the second daughter of Abi Hinsdale and Jeremiah Brown, both families, the Hinsdales and the Browns, being among those pioneers who migrated to the western reserve from New England in the early decades of the 19th century. Her grandfather, Owen Brown who was the father of John Brown of Harpers Ferry, moved to Hudson Ohio in 1803, and her grandfather Herman Hinsdale reached Ohio in 1816.

Lucy Browns childhood years, from the age of three on, were spent in a home that her father Jeremiah built on the Streetsboro Road east from the center of Hudson about one mile. This home was noted for it hospitality, and Mrs. Clark has often told of the many gatherings of friends and relatives during those years.

Lucy Browns education was completed in Hudson Seminary conducted by Miss Emily Metcalf, and during this period she had work with, and under many of the teachers who were connected with Western Reserve College which was at that time located at Hudson. After her own schooling was finished she chose the calling that was nearest her heart, and  for more than ten years taught school, first at Stow Corners, then at Kent, and finally in the institution for the deaf at Columbus Ohio.

On August 18th, 1880 Lucy Brown became Mrs. Samuel L Clark, who was also of an established Hudson family, and who was at the time express agent for the C A & C. RY in the home town. It was in Hudson that the first and second sons were born, in the year 1881 and 1886. the first son passing away in 1901. The third son, Howard, was born in Killbuck, Ohio, in 1887. Thereafter, for reasons of health, the Clark family moved to a farm at Madison, Lake co., Ohio. And for the following twelve years Mrs. Lucy Brown Clark experienced the life a farmers wife, and it was there in 1894 that the last of her children, a daughter, was born.

In 1901 the family moved to Berea, Ky., where Mr. Clark was given an appointment as manager of the brick yard that was being operated by Berea College. In 1908 Mr. Clark was transferred to the management of the farm where he became rather widely noted for his new and progressive agricultural enterprises. After 1912 the scene changed again, this time to Delaware Ohio, where Mr. Clark was given the responsibility of managing a farm owned by the Ohio Wesleyan University. The husband and father died in 1915 at Delaware. Mrs. Clark made a home for her daughter in Delaware until her graduation from the university.

From that time she had lived in the home of her sons, Francis at Berea, Ky., and Howard in Kent, O.

I wish it were possible for me to look once more upon her face, beautiful in itself, yet more beautiful because it reflected a radiant life within. Of course she was a devoted Christian, or such things could not have been.

I began with the thought which came to me from William Cullen Bryant, and may I use another one of his when I say that she has passed serenely to rest while the soft memory of her virtues lingers yet like twilight when the bright sun is set.

Delaware, Ohio
February 26th – 1934                           Clarence S. Gee

Alice Keesey Mecoy outside "The John Brown Tannery" house in Hudson Ohio. This house was built by Jeremiah Brown, half brother of John Brown. Lucy Brown Clark grew up in this house.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Blog Caroling 2010

Thanks to FootnoteMaven for suggesting Blog Caroling! Bloggers from around the world, all sharing their favorite Carols. I went back and read all of the previous 2 years posts, and enjoyed every wonderful musical moment. I "hear" the music in my head as I read the lyrics. What a joyful sound we all make. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all my Blogging Friends!

My Carol is "Here We Come A-Wassailing."

I have such fond memories of this song. For many years, when I was a child, my parents would take me to the Methodist Church Christmas Concert. It was a special and magical night for me. We dressed up in our finest, I got to stay up really late, and go to "an adult event". I sat mesmerized by the hand bell choirs, youth and adult choirs, soloists, and more Christmas music than should be allowed in one sitting.  I loved it.  At the end of the evening a group of carolers dressed in Edwardian period costumes would stroll around the room singing this song, and inviting the audience to join in.  They then served us "figgy pudding" and Wassail (non alcoholic of course). Such wonderful memories filled with the family, the music, the taste and the excitement of Christmas.

Here We Come A-Wassiling
English Traditional Christmas Carol

Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wand'ring
So fair to be seen.


Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year
And God send you a Happy New Year.
Our wassail cup is made
Of the rosemary tree,
And so is your beer
Of the best barley.


We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door;
But we are neighbours' children,
Whom you have seen before.


Call up the butler of this house,
Put on his golden ring.
Let him bring us up a glass of beer,
And better we shall sing.


We have got a little purse
Of stretching leather skin;
We want a little of your money
To line it well within.


Bring us out a table
And spread it with a cloth;
Bring us out a mouldy cheese,
And some of your Christmas loaf.


God bless the master of this house
Likewise the mistress too,
And all the little children
That round the table go


Good master and good mistress,
While you're sitting by the fire,
Pray think of us poor children
Who are wandering in the mire.


 Written for the 2010 "Blog Caroling" event started by FootnoteMaven.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sentimental Sunday - I Still Miss My Mother

  Thirteen years ago, on December 30th nineteen hundred ninety-seven my mother, Norma Jean Hancock Keesey, passed away from complications of her long fight with Diabetes, although the official cause of death is listed as congestive heart failure. I still miss her.
  I still find a joke, or read an article, of see something that I know she would find as funny or ironic as I do, and I want to reach for the phone and call her....and then I remember that I can't. But that does not stop me from talking to her daily.  I often share things with her as I drive to and from work.

  My mother was an artist. I have seen some of her early works, and would have used the word "artist" loosely if those were the only examples, but when I was in Jr. High, she discovered a class on Japaneses Brush Painting and found her true love. Well after a few years of practice when the brush and ink finally began to bend to her will and produce the pictures she saw in her mind, she loved it. She studied both Japanese and Chinese Brush painting for many, many years and was actually quite good. One of her teachers, Jack Wang, a highly respected artist and teacher in Taiwan, arranged a trip for her class to go to Taiwan and have their pictures hang in a special exhibit at the Taiwan National Art Museum. My mother was so excited and thrilled by the honor. She prepared a 4 foot long scroll and an amazing picture of an orchid for the display.  The orchid picture appeared on the back of the brochure about the exhibit. Years later, she proudly hung the picture of the orchid in her office and on a small table below the picture, she displayed the brochure back page facing up, so everyone could see her picture in the exhibit. I think that this is the only display of vanity my mother ever made.

  My mother was going to be a home economics teacher and possessed amazing sewing and cooking skills. She taught me to sew when I was 10 or so, and I thank her for that skill often. She collected cookbooks and cut out recipes from magazines, papers, school bulletins, anywhere she could find them. Piles of recipes. I do not think you could have ever prepared all of the recipes that she collected if you cooked one for all three meals a day for a decade!

  My mother was a child of the depression. Prior to her death, she wrote a brief bio of her life. After reading how she was shuffled from relative to relative while her brothers stayed with her mom and step-father, my mother's hoarding tenancies make a lot of sense. She was never going to be without again. I won't go into the hoarding, suffice to say that I will never have to buy stamps again. I have stamps that she collected, based on the prettiness of them, my entire life. Some of my letters have 10 stamps on them to total the current postage, but I will never pay for postage again!

  My mother never said a bad word about anyone. Ever. She lived by the rule of Thumper "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." Seriously, I never heard her say a derogatory word about anyone. She always saw the good side of any challenge. I lost in the final round of a 4-H cooking contest, and while consoling me she pointed out that even though I lost the competition, the fact that I made it to the County-wide competition was an honor and I should hold my head up high that I did that well.

  My mother loved "good clean humor." her favorite jokes were puns and play on words. She did not enjoy sexual innuendos or mean-hearted humor. Her favorite jokes were ones like these:
"A city slicker turned farmer needs to know how to tell his two horses apart. Puzzled by how to do this, he asked the county vet what to do. The vet explained that horses are measured by "hands." The vet patiently shows the greenhorn how to measure a horse from the front foot up to the top of the head.  The farmer went home excited in his new found knowledge. He measured his two horses as soon as he returned home.  And that is how the farmer learned that his white horse was 10 hands high and his black horse was 11 hands high."
"A little girl opens the refrigerator door and finds a mouse snuggled up on the top shelf. She asks the mouse, "What are you doing?" The mouse asks the little girl, "Is this is a Westinghouse Refrigerator?" The little girl looks at the front of the refrigerator and responds, "Yes, this is a Westinghouse Refrigerator." The mouse responds, "Then close the door, I's westing."
   My mother always had time to take us to the park, to swimming lessons, to a special store. She lived by the credo that children and memories were much more important that a spotless clean house. While other mothers in the neighborhood were too busy cleaning house and polishing the the brass to spend time with their children, my mother was taking all of us kids to the park, or the movies, or for a real cherry coke at the real old fashion drug store uptown. This is one gift I made sure to pass on to my kids.

  My mother encouraged me through all of the stages of my life. She was an amazing women and I still miss her.

In Loving Memory
Norma Jean Hancock Keesey
1931 - 1997
Loving Wife, Mother


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Other Traditions -

  CANDY!  My family was not into the cookies for Christmas, we made candy.  Both my grandparent's and my family's houses were like candy stores during the Christmas holiday season. In addition to the homemade types below, you could always find a covered glass candy bowl on Grandma's table filled with old-fashioned ribbon candy. 

We made so many types of candy over the years that I am sure I have forgotten some of them, but here is what I can remember.
  • Divinity - Light, fluffy, clouds of sugar meringue that melt in your mouth. You could only make it on days when it was not going to rain and humidity was very low, or it would become a nasty, sticky, rubbery mess. Sometimes we added nuts, but I think the pure Divinity was the best. And Divinity is low in calories! We always made it in a cake pan and cut into squares, but I know that some people make it by dropping from a spoon. (Hmm, wonder if it is safe to make this anymore, with the salmonella problem in eggs? You don't really cook the egg whites, you beat them to high peaks and then add 270 degree sugar syrup. I may need to call the Agriculture Extension Office and check on that.)
  • Fudge -  Thick, rich, smooth chocolate love that engulfed your mouth with each bite. We made in an 8x8 square cake pan, and it was just thick enough to set correctly, yet a small piece would satisfy. I preferred this rich indulgent treat with walnuts. The hardest part about making it was adding the butter to the hot ingredients and then WAITING to beat it all together.  I always wanted to beat it right now, but I learned from experience there is a reason why you wait....otherwise you get grainy yucky candy.
  • Peanut Brittle - If you have never had fresh homemade Peanut Brittle, you have lead a very deprived life. Crunchy, sweet, salty, an amazing combination of flavors and textures. The crunch of the hard brittle, the slight softness of the nuts, the almost too sweet flavor of the candy and then a taste of the salt. Glorious. Amazing. Wonderful.
  • English Toffee - like the world famous Heath Bars, the hard toffee bar dipped in chocolate and rolled in nuts - but our own three layer version. We would cook the toffee to the hard candy stage and pour it into a buttered cake pan. Let it start to harden, and then add chocolate melted in a double boiler, and then cover it all with a 1/4 inch think coating of chopped nuts.  Carefully with a spatula, press the nuts slightly into the chocolate. Put the whole think into the refrigerator (or icebox as it was known in my family) until the chocolate was firm. There was no cutting this candy into perfect little squares. You had to force the tip of a large butcher knife through the chocolate and then tap-tap-tap the handle with a hammer until the thick toffee shattered into pieces.
  • Caramel Nut Rolls. I have never had this anywhere but at our house. My dad says that they are my Grandma's and Great Grandma's attempt to copy a candy that was once sold by See's Candies. I am not sure about that, but I am sure that once you tried these, you were hooked. Imagine a roll of "dough" about an inch thick and about 8 inches long. The "dough" is made from a fondant (sugar, Karo Syrup, and cream of tarter) mixed with Sugar, Marshmallow cream, butter, milk, and nuts. You refrigerate the logs overnight and then you cook caramel (sugar, syrup, 1/2 pound of butter, heavy cream and vanilla) until it reaches the hard ball stage, and then dip the rolls in the caramel and roll in chopped nuts. Slice the rolls into 1/4 inch rounds and serve.  I know, I know,  hard to explain, but wow! The results are amazing.  Leave me a comment if you want the recipe, but be warned it takes 2-3 days to make.
  • Mexican Orange Candy (Orange Fudge) - Another one that I have never had anywhere else. I found that this is an "I really love this candy" or an "Ugh, that is dreadful candy." My friends were pretty evenly divided on this one. You either like or spit it out. My family all loved it, as I remember, except for my brother, James, but he was never really fond of any candy but fudge! The Mexican Orange Candy is a cross between a caramel and a fudge made with sugar, scalded milk, butter, nuts and grated orange peel. It has the consistency of fudge, the chew of caramel, and the fresh bright explosion of fresh orange. Yummy.
  • Royal Brittle - My mom would make this one to take to parties, and always got raves. I don't remember us making it for ourselves that much, probably because it makes over 3 pounds of mix!! A mixture of candied fruits, pecans, almonds, filberts, walnuts is spread in an oiled 15x10 jellyroll pan. Poured over is a mixture of sugar, corn syrup, butter, and vanilla that is cooked to the hard crack stage (300 degrees) and immediately poured over the fruit and nuts. Cool and break into bite size pieces.
  • Candied Orange Peel - Once upon a time you used every single part of your food. Now a days we often throw away fruit peels, but there was a time when they were used for candy. And mighty fine candy it is too.  You scrape the white membrane from the outside of the peel, and cover with water and bring to a boil.  Discard the water and repeat two more times. Now add 1 cup of water and 3 cups of sugar to the boiled peels in a heavy saucepan and boil gently for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Most of the syrup mixture should be absorbed by the peels. Remove peels with a fork and let syrup drain back  into the pan.  Roll peels in sugar (or in a mixture of crystallized ginger and sugar) and let dry on a rack. A perfect example of waste not want not. 
There you have it. My Cook/Keesey Family "Other" Tradition - Candy in all shapes, sizes, flavors and textures. Made with love and shared with all.

Hope you have enjoyed this peak at my family's tradition.

Written for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Other Traditions - December 11, 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I have learned more about John Brown, Jr. and family

I have been transcribing numerous newspaper articles and Obituaries on John Brown, Jr. and his wife, Wealthy. They both died and are buried on Put-In-Bay Island, Ohio.

John Brown, Jr. married Wealthy C. Hotchkiss in either 1847 or 1850, depending on which source you review. I am still trying to nail it down.  They had 2 children, John Brown, III, who was reported to be "slow", a term used in the 1800s to describe what we would now refer to as mentally retarded, and Edith Mae who went on to marry, Thomas Benton Alexander, an actor and eventually, the Mayor of Put-In-Bay. 

John Brown, III, was affectionately known within the family as John the Eighth. He never married, and lived in his parents home until his Mother's death in 1911. I have found no information to substantiate my next statement, but I am assuming that John the Eighth then moved in with Edith and her husband, until John's death in 1917.

Edith and Thomas did not have children. I find this interesting as most of John Brown's grandchildren continued the large family tradition, yet the Alexander's had none. Was it because of John the Eighth's problems? Was one of them unable to have children? I have found no records of miscarriages, or babies dying, I believe that they did not have any children.

The 1910 Census shows the following:
  1. Brown, Wealthy C, head of household, 80 years old, mother of 2 children, both still living. Grape Grower, Owner of Vineyard, Employer, Owner of Home, reads and writes English. 
  2. Brown, John, son, 57 years old, Vineyardman, Home Vineyard, Working on Own Account, reads and writes English.
  3. Alexander, Thomas B, son-in-law, 43 years old, Actor, Employee of Theatrical Company, reads and writes English.
  4. Alexander, Edith M, daughter, 43 years old, Shopkeeper, Souvenir Booth, Working on Own Account, reads and writes English.
Yet in the 1911 obituary of Wealthy Brown, her son-in-law, Thomas, is listed as the Mayor of Put-in-Bay. I need to do more digging on that item also.

John Brown Jr, Wealthy Hotchkiss Brown, John Brown, III, Edith Mae Brown and Thomas Benton Alexander are all buried on Put-in-Bay Island in the Crown Hill Cemetery. 

The following photos were all taken by my friend, and John Brown Enthusiast, James Edward Hodges.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Outdoor Decorations -


I do not hang lights on the outside of my house for Christmas. I have nothing against houses with light displays, in fact, I love to drive around and see all the homes decked out in festive lights and go "Ooh" and "Aah" with my family. However, I do not hang lights on my house because, let's face it - I am LAZY! You put the lights up and then a few weeks later you take them down again.  Seems like too much work to me for the payback. If I did hang lights on my home I would probably be like my old school friend, Stephanie, whose parents were also lazy. They never took the Christmas lights off the house.  In the middle of summer, directions to Stephanie's home went something like this:
"Turn left on Colorado and Right on Lewis. Go a few blocks until you see a house on your left with Christmas lights blazing brightly. Yep, middle of summer and the stupid Christmas lights are on. {Sigh} Makes my house really easy to find."
Yeah, that would be me...the old crazy lady who leaves her Christmas light up all year. Therefore, no lights on my house.

One year, when my twins were 14 or 15 years old, they decided they were being unduly punished by my laziness, and they deserved to have a house with Christmas lights, so one bright, shiny, warm December day I drove down our street to find my kids on the roof hanging ....

Before I go any further I have to explain some things about our household. We have always encouraged the boys to be creative, imaginative, and frugal. And my husband and children use duct tape to fix EVERYTHING. Trust me, I mean everything -
  • When the boys were in cloth diapers, we used duct tape to fix the slits and holes that eventually occur in plastic pants. Slap on some duct tape and they would be good for a few more months.
  • When the grommet tore on the vinyl shower curtain liner, we slapped on duct tape and punched a new hole and voila - a curtain good for a few more years.
  • Son Number 1 and a friend spent one summer building a pull behind your bike go-cart from skateboards, PVC pipe and quite a few rolls of duct tape.
  • Son Number 2 mended a hole in his $5.00 wallet with duct tape. He then mended the next hole, and the next, until he had completely covered the cheap wallet with duct tape. He carried that wallet all through junior high and high school. Cost of wallet $5.00. Cost of duct tape $12.00. Having a cool silver duct tape wallet - priceless.
  • Bike handles were mended with duct tape, dryer vents were mended with duct tape, even sneakers were mended with duct tape.
  • One year my boys wrapped my Christmas gifts completely in multiple layers of duct tape.
I am sure that you get the point. We went through a lot of duct tape over the past 25 years. I should have bought stock in the company the first time My Love Of My Life said "We can fix that with duct tape!"  I always bought duct tape in the large economy size, and it was always the first thing mentioned when I asked if anyone needed anything from the store.

Okay - I am sure that you have figured out where this is going. I am driving home on a bright, shiny, warm December afternoon and my kids and the neighbor's kids are on my roof, and I have Christmas lights hanging on my house. Not ones to be fazed by not having the right tools, the boys used DUCT TAPE to hang the lights when they could not find any clips.

Yep, I was the proud owner of a house with lights, and between every light was a large piece of duct tape holding the lights to the house and the roof. Imagine if you will - the serenity of small twinkling Christmas lights offset by the dull silver shine of DUCT TAPE!

And it that was not enough, they had written in letters 3 feet tall on my roof "Merry Xmas" in DUCT TAPE. Yep it was a very proud day for me. My house, publicly held together by DUCT TAPE. I was mortified to say the least.

I made them remove the 3 feet tall letters from the roof, and encountered yet another wonderful surprise. The heat of the day combined with the adhesive on the duct tape caused a chemical reaction that removed the top layer of the coating from my roof shingles. It did not take off much, just enough to cause the duct taped areas to be a few shades lighter. So even though the DUCT TAPE was off the roof, the MERRY XMAS was plainly visible for all to see for the next six months. I bet the astronauts on the space station looked down at Texas in March and wondered why that house had Merry Xmas on the roof!

So, while I love the look of houses that are decorated for the holidays,  if you don't mind I have to go hide the DUCT TAPE from my family and try to live down the year I did have lights on my house.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Six Word Saturday

Can you describe your life (or yourself) in six words? Visit this blog which is dedicated to people who not only can, but do every Saturday. I find the concept of describing yourself in six words fascinating and a little bit scary.

"Do I want to be defined by six little - count them one, two, three, four, five, six - words?"
"Isn't the sum total of my life equal to more than six words?"

I pondered this for a while and found that I actually had 2 separate six word phrases that could be applied to me:

"Keeper of the Brown Family Torch"


"Laughter is the poetry of God"

Okay, so the second one is not exactly a description of my life, but rather a philosophy that I strongly believe in, and everyone who knows me knows that I just love to laugh!

How about this then -

"Laughing always, brightening the world each day"

Take some time today to think about a six word description for yourself, and maybe your ancestors.  New and interesting way to look at people.

John Brown - "Gave his life to free the slaves"

Annie Brown Adams - "Housekeeper, daughter, confidant; always fighting inequality"

Frederick Douglass - "Freed slave; still harassed, freeing others"