My mother (Alma) was born in 1897 on a farm in Quyon, Quebec, close to the present city of Hull. Her father died of cancer in 1899. Her mother (Jane Brennan, nee Casey), was left a widow with 8 young children. Two years later the farm house burned to the ground. Nothing was saved. The eldest son, Thomas, 18 years of age went up north to help support the family. He worked in the lumber camps as a cook's helper. Thomas was already apprenticed to become a doctor (possible in those days). So much for that! Jane's brother, Pat, came up from Minnnesota. He loaned Jane $500 (a fortune at the time). This enabled her to purchase a large house in downtown Ottawa to provide a home for her children and run a boarding house to help support the family. In 1980, I recorded my mother while I plied her with questions about years ago. My aunt Iva happened to be visiting my mother; so she is heard, along with my daughter Kathryn and myself, Frank O'Hara. The recording suffers from the poor technology of the time as well as the fact that my mother and aunt tended to talk over each other. That's why I've provided the transcript below.
Frank: Did I hear you say something about a relative in Minnesota, because I'm going out to Minnesota later this year.
Alma: Casey, Pat Casey was his name. Was it Ambrose?
Iva: Cyril. His name was Cyril. Then he changed it to Pat. Our first cousin.
Frank: Would he still be alive do you think?
Iva: He would.
Alma: He would?
Iva: He's younger than we are.
Frank: What city did he live in?
Iva: I don't know whether it was St. Paul or..?
Alma: St. Paul, MInnesota.
Frank: That wasn't the name of the place you mentioned before.
Iva: That was Aitkin.
Frank: Is that near St. Paul? I never heard of Aitkin
Iva: It's just a small little town. Was it somewhere near St. Paul?
Frank: Minneapolis is the name of a city.
Iva: I don't remember whether it was Minneapolis or St. Paul.
Frank: Minneapolis is the name of a city.
Alma Minneapolis, what? What's the name of the state?
Iva: I was there. I was at their place. They had a gorgeous place. A big clapboard place you know.
Frank: How long ago was that?
Iva: Our house had burned down. Uncle Pat gave mother $500. He said, "When you're able to pay it back", so when we'd all started to work mother and I went over. He was dead but she gave it to his daughter. We used to call him Cyril but Cyril or Pat was the name.
Alma Well I never heard that before.
Iva: What? Alma That he was ever called Pat.
Iva: It was a small town but he had a store with everything that was imaginable - automobiles, a post office. He owned half the town, like houses and things. And uncle Pat's wife and sister were there too.
Alma How about the nun?
Iva: She's in St. Paul. Sister Cyril Clare.
Kathryn You should write this down, Dad.
Alma You don't know the convent?
Frank: What was she in. Was she a grey nun?
Alma St. Joseph's
Iva: She used to teach class at St. Francis College.
Iva: I don't know if it was St. Paul or .
Alma And then there was Erma Casey
Iva: She's dead. They are looking at photographs of the Casey family
Kathryn She is cute
Iva: And when they died they left this great big residence to Erma Casey.
There was no separate school in that town. She gave that to an order of nuns. The Casey's came to see us every year when we were at the farm in Quoyon. And we all had our hair curled and we all ..
Alma I remember they had one of those long carriages with a couple of horses.
Kathryn Who did you name Frank: after?
Alma A good friend of my husband, Frank: Tierney.
Kathryn And his middle name, Joseph?
Alma His grandfather.
Frank: My father's father's name was Joseph.
Alma I always had a nurse. My sister, Lyla, was a nurse. They gave me chloroform or whatever they give you. I burst into song. I never could sing. Lyla said it rather frightened her.
Kathryn How did Frank: get the third name of Fiske?
Alma Fiske O'Hara was a singer who came to Ottawa every 17th of March - a very lovely Irish concert. Mother always got us a box seat at the Roxy Theatre. I remember I was so proud that some of the kids would see me up in the box seat.
Iva: I don't know how to spell Minneapolis.
Frank: Just put down MN.
Iva: You know I can't spell sometimes.
Alma You know we had a brother, Mark, and he was quite a joker. At one point he took a notion to visit our uncle Johnny in Washington. He went to the back door and pretended he was looking for a handout. Aunt Bella, Isabel McMillan was her name, she said, "Ah you poor boy, come on in". He reached back and said, "You know who I am?". They wouldn't let him go. He stayed a whole week to visit.
Frank: That was in the state of Washington?
Alma Yes. Mukilteo, Washington. It's a lumbering town.
Frank: Were they Brennans?
Alma Yes. My father's people. Uncle Johnny, when he came to visit, I got a $10 gold piece. I couldn't get uptown fast enough to get it exchanged. I bought a hat that had feathers in it. Mother said, "What are you going to do with that." I thought it was beautiful and so Erma wore it. I don't think she had any money either. Mother wouldn't let me wear it. She wasn't that much older. I often worried about that. That ten dollars I never got even anything for it. I could have had a lovely trip out there. They wanted to take me out, just to meet the family. And mother was so protective that she started to cry if I would go. When I think of it now, didn't I miss a lot? I could have had a lovely time. One of the same relatives, I'm not positive if that attorney general is our relative but, oh he might have been born after that too. John Brennan - We were up at the summer cottage when he came and what was kind of whiskey he brought or wine.
Iva: I don't know.
Alma Well whatever it was Tommy (mother's brother) said that's the only type he'd get. And they'd order it for him in Kirkland Lake and he wasn't a drinker you know. What are you doing with my (inaudible) papers
Frank: I meant to bring them and I forgot. I had them on my dresser and I meant to bring them.
Alma My Libra (?) said extensive property coming into your hands. (inedible)
Iva: St. Catherine's and St. Paul's, I don't know, I don't know where they are.
Frank: And then you had some relatives in Flint Michigan, too didn't you?
Alma & Iva: No
Frank: I thought I remembered your telling us .
Iva: Kipping Minnesota, we used to have relatives there.
Iva: Kipping Minnesota. Mother had a first cousin. He was a senator in the Kipping district. But as Erma Casey told us, "They ended up getting a divorce."
Alma Who said that?
Iva: Erma Casey
Frank: I was sure you mentioned something about Flint Michigan.
Alma: What was the name of that man who stayed at our place, a lawyer.
Iva: He was married to one of mother's cousins.
Alma: (unintelligible) She used to come to stay at the farm on a visit. On purpose she'd leave quite an array of dresses in the clothes closet. Iva: Who was that?
Iva: She had an aunt Jane.
Alma: Jane Hawley?
Iva:: She came from New York. (unintelligible) senator. That was a long time ago. I'm pretty old now.
Kathryn: You don't look that old
Alma: Don't tell me that I'm old.
Kathryn: Well you're not.
Alma: The truth is you have to keep yourself as well as you can. You have to live with it.
Kathryn: Everybody grows old!