Talkin’ ‘Bout Whose Generation? by
25
(36 Stories)

Prompted By Aunts & Uncles

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Catherine, Lizzie, Hadley and Connor (and sister Suzie)

 

That was my first encounter with Hadley. I held her on my lap the entire time. Having this sunny, beautiful four-month-old niece was a welcome counterweight to my grief for my mom.

The thing about “Aunts and Uncles” is that they’re generational.  As I mentioned (“I Wuz Robbed”) I had only fleeting contact with my one aunt and a mere glimpse of my uncle.  But I’m an uncle.  And my mom and dad had aunts and uncles.  Important aunts and uncles, some of whom I even knew!

I never knew my mom’s Aunt Domenica nor Uncle Francesco, but they were a crucial part of my mom’s life.  First, there was a double bond with mom’s parents, my grandparents: Domenica was my grandmother’s sister and Francesco was my grandfather’s brother.  Not uncommon in small villages in Italy in the early twentieth century.  Second, Domenica became mom’s surrogate mother after my grandmother died when Mom was not quite seven.  I know little about the extended family other than about “Cousin Joey” – I’m not sure of the exact lineage – but he was the golden child of his generation (our generation).  And unbeknownst to me he lived around the corner from me when I lived in suburban Hartford.  I found out only after I had moved away.

My dad was awash in aunts and uncles.  His dad had a brother, Fred.  Don’t know much about him.  Their mom, Lottie, died very young (25) and their dad remarried.  They had a daughter, Mildred, my grandfather’s half-sister.  I knew Mildred.  She was larger than life, to a somewhat literal degree.  A large woman, she and her husband, Walt, never had children, and I think my sisters and I became very special to them.  And such good humor!  And appetite!  Every day Walt would bring her glazed doughnuts.  And a large Hershey bar.  All of which she consumed.  Must have been health food for her because she lived into her late eighties.

Dad’s mom was the oldest of five.  Next in line was Henry Clay, “Clay”, who married Debra Larison, “Aunt Debba”.  There is an early home movie that I treasure taken at a birthday party for Clay that included the extended family.  Dad panned the camera around the dining room to capture the crowd, and the scene includes me sitting on Mom’s lap.  Dad’s father is in the picture, too.  And the guest of honor, Clay.  They look ancient.  It was Clay’s seventieth birthday. (Gulp).  I remember visiting Debba on her farm after Clay’s death. I think I was about eleven or twelve. She was as tiny as Mildred was large, but full of life and energy. I don’t remember that it was a special occasion but my sisters and I were joined by some level of cousins – don’t know about degrees and removes but there were about eight of us.  We had a great time taking turns riding in or pulling a horse cart around and around her house.

The youngest of the five was Nelson, called “Pete”.  He was a noted surgeon at New York Hospital and dad’s mentor as dad followed in his footsteps.  Dad lived with him and his wife, Natalie, for at least some of the time he was in medical school.  My sisters and I got to know Pete and Natalie quite well.  Natalie could be a little sharp but Pete was a gentle soul, very soft spoken.  My middle name is Nelson, after him.

As mentioned in “I Wuz Robbed” I do have the great fortune to have nieces and a nephew.

Lizzie and Catherine

Catherine, the eldest of the bunch, besides being smart and accomplished has genius level emotional IQ.  She also was a gifted athlete in her younger days.  For two consecutive summers when she was eleven and twelve her parents and her sister Lizzie joined my sister Suzie and her two children, Hadley and Connor, and my sons and me at a family camp week at a “Y” camp In New Hampshire.  We all stayed together in one big cabin and had great times all together.  I especially recall a post supper game of “Capture the Flag” involving all of the families there.  Catherine, who was a near-national caliber sprinter, ran circles around all of the boys to their immense frustration.

Hadley, two years younger than Catherine – the same as my son Tom – is particularly special to me.  She was born in the fall at a time when my mother was in declining health due to cancer. Her mom took her to Florida to meet her grandmother in January; the pictures are endearing.  When my mom died in early March Suzie took Hadley to Florida again to join me and my sister Barbara.  As it happened we arrived in Miami at about the same time in late afternoon and were booked on the same puddle jumper to Naples on the Gulf Coast.  That was my first encounter with Hadley.  I held her on my lap the entire time.  Having this sunny, beautiful four-month-old niece was a welcome counterweight to my grief for my mom.

Hadley and Connor

Connor, Hadley’s brother is two years younger than Hadley.  There is a strong resemblance between him and me, so much so that his father’s father remarked on it on several occasions.  He has a special relationship with my older son Charlie.  And with me, due to our shared  enjoyment of genealogical research.  Turns out that his father’s family and my family share ancestry dating from the fifteenth century.

And then there’s Catherine’s little sister Miss Liz.  Lizzie was born after my Mom died and was still quite young when my dad remarried, so to her my stepmom, June, was truly Gramma.  Lizzie was and is Little Miss Spunk.  Why she puts me at the top of her uncle list I don’t know, but I’m pleased.  Lizzie, like her sister, was an athlete, and an even better one.  Taller than Catherine she was a skillful basketball player, but her real forte was lacrosse. She was a third team All-American at Bates. I remember standing on the sideline of a game not far from her opponents’ bench and overhearing the coach instruct her team “whatever you do, stay away from Denver (Lizzie)”.  Sound advice.

Sister Suzie and Connor, Charlie, Catherine, Hadley and Tommy (Lizzie was 3 months old)

So, there it is.  I have it covered on both ends, generation-wise.  With more to come.  Catherine and her husband have two boys, Justin and Lucas, and Lizzie and her husband have two girls, Addie and Nola.  Further good times await.

Profile photo of Tom Steenburg Tom Steenburg
Retired attorney and investment management executive. I believe in life, liberty with accountability and the relentless pursuit of whimsy.


Comments

  1. Marian says:

    This is a lovely bookend to your previous story, Tom, and I enjoyed reading about your nieces and nephew. While I had only one aunt (mom’s sister) and one uncle (Julian, dad’s brother), I have tons of great aunts and uncles, including half relatives from first marriages. And, I was particularly struck by your ancestors and how the “double bond” worked. In my mom’s family, generations of Samuels (maternal side) and Meisels (paternal side) intermarried, so that my mom today has “double cousins” who are related to her on both sides. When I had her DNA done, along with mine, on Ancestry, the screen nearly exploded with potential 3rd and 4th cousins for her, and I bet many are for real because of the double bond.

    • Thanks. Yes I’ve seen a similar thing in my own ancestry although not to the degree you suggest. A curiosity: you mention “great” aunts and uncles:are these your parents’ aunts and uncles or your grandparents’? I’ve never been sure about the terminology; can’t say I’ve ever seen a usage of “grand aunt or grand uncle”, which would seem to be appropriate for parents’ aunts and uncles.

  2. Marian says:

    They are my parents’ aunts and uncles. (I’ve never been certain of the terminology either.) My mother’s mother had seven full siblings and three half siblings (grandma was in the middle of the seven from a second wife). My father’s father had six brothers and a sister. Here’s where Ancestry proved its worth, because a second cousin whom I didn’t know I had found me. My father’s father was the second oldest of the siblings, and my found cousin Kathy’s grandfather was the youngest, so there is a generation between us.

  3. Suzy says:

    Wow, Tom, it turns out you had a lot of people to write about in the generations above and below you! So even though you said you “wuz robbed” in your previous story, once you looked a little farther, you actually had many family members in both the aunt-uncle and niece-nephew category. Thanks for telling us about all these folks.

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    Tom, as Suzy says, you had so much more to offer about your family. I tend to be my family historian and know all about “greats” and “seconds” on the family tree and you are using the terminology correctly.

    It is so interesting to see brothers marrying sisters at your grandparents’ generation. As Marian comments, that happened in her family, and happened in my mother’s family too (which resulted in one of those family feuds that went down through two generations). I gather that sort of thing was common among the immigrant generation (they kept to their own and only knew a small social circle, I guess).

    So happy to learn that you are a “favorite” uncle! Great bragging rights and good for the soul!

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    I like how you took this prompt both back to your aunts and uncles and then forward to your nieces and nephews, Tom. I am blessed to have 12 nieces and nephews, and 16 great nieces and nephews, and now 3 great-greats. Lots of early marriages on my husband’s side to produce that extra generation. I feel lucky but also old!

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