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Category Archive: Family

May 05

Genealogy, arsenic and old lace. First published March 31, 2011, in The Examiner, an eastern Jackson County, Missouri, daily newspaper.

“Every family tree has some sap in it.”—Unknown

I guess you could say I was never into genealogy that much, although my mother was passionate about it and researched our ancestors with fervor for more than twenty years.

Funny how time changes us though. Now, I rather like it. For awhile, we thought we came over on the Mayflower and owned a castle in Scotland, right? Well, did we or did we not?

Sooner or later, most of us start to shake our family tree for one reason or another and hope no lemons, nuts or bad apples fall out.

In my case, I found more than a little sap.

My research began because my sister found an old picture of our great-great grandfather and sent it to my brother. Curious, he began researching one Louis Ferree Carothers, a captain in the Union Army, who was born on Nov. 14, 1816, and left this life on July 13, 1871.

We assumed that our mother surely wrote more about him in her family history, “The Kreek-Carothers Family”, compiled in 1983. My copy was somewhere in a box in the basement, left there untouched all this time.

Eventually, I found it and discovered some relatives that made me swell with pride.

And sure enough, I found that the Carothers Family (also spelled Carruthers or Caruthers) did indeed hale from Scotland, although originally from France.

And yes, they once owned a castle.

I learned that the Carruthers Castle is located somewhere near Dumfriershire, Scotland, but is now in ruins.

Then, I found two more Carruthers Castles, one called Lochmaben and the other Comlongon Castle, this one with a lady ghost.

Shaking the family tree was getting better and better.

I began to wonder if we had a king hiding in that tree somewhere and decided it was worth a deeper look.

Who said genealogy was not fun? Me, I think.

Never mind that, starting with my great-great grandfather, Lewis Ferree, I traced his roots past the Revolutionary War to our common ancestor, Capt. John Carothers, a judge and member of the General Assembly. John was born in 1739 and died on his plantation in East Pennsborough Township, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, on Feb. 26, 1798.

The circumstances of his death, however, were far from ordinary.

Instead, what I discovered buried within my mother’s stacks of notes and genealogical files, was a chilling tale of double murder, a story filled with insane jealousy, arsenic, and yes, lace.

If you are interested, here is the shortened version.

It seems as though a young girl named Sarah Clark (nicknamed Sally) came to live with the John Douglas family, who were friends and neighbors of John and Mary Carothers, my ancestors.

Sarah “contracted a strong attachment” for Mr. Douglas’s son, who was at that time paying attention to Miss Ann Caruthers, daughter of John and Mary.

Are you with me so far?

Overcome with her infatuation (what we would describe today as “fatal attraction”), Sarah “determined to destroy the life of Ann Carothers and gain the object of her affections.”

Following her clever and sinister plan, she hired on as a servant in the Carothers house and “bided her time.” She wore servant’s attire, a dark dress trimmed in white lace.

The historical account reads: “Having no ill will against the family, she desired to poison only Ann Carothers, and with this in view, she purchased some arsenic. With no suitable opportunity offering, she grew desperate and put the arsenic in a pot of leaven.”

I am sure you guessed it by now; the family all ate the bread and became sick.

Capt. John Carothers died quickly, followed soon afterwards by his wife Mary. Andrew Carothers, Ann’s brother, lived but was a cripple for life.

Ann Carothers, the intended victim, was the only survivor and never married.

Sarah, a.k.a. Sally, was tried, convicted as a murderess witch and hanged at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, or so the story goes.

Incidentally, I did not find any Mayflower passengers or kings in my mother’s genealogy tales.

Just murder, she wrote.

Dec 28

Traditions follow us into the New Year. Do you have your lasagna ready to eat on New Year’s Day? Tradition says it will bring good luck to those who do.

From my archived columns, first published in The Examiner on January 1, 2009. The Examiner is a daily newspaper, Tuesday through Saturday, serving Eastern Jackson County, Mo.

 

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There is an old Sicilian tradition that says good luck will come to those who eat lasagna on New Year’s Day!

Laughing at that are you?

Better take heed. The folklore surrounding that custom also says that macaroni or any other noodle consumed on New Year’s Day will bring you bad luck.

In my family in my growing up years, we got a jump on the New Year’s Day lasagna custom.

On Christmas Day, we would feast on lasagna and boiled or deep-fried shrimp.  Looking back, I can only attribute that observance to the fact that my mother spent a lot of time in Italy and my dad spent a lot of time in San Diego.

Proof positive– my brother, en route from Colorado to Missouri for the holidays, called to ask, “Should I bring the shrimp? You are having lasagna aren’t you?”

Some might find that odd, but, to me, it was as normal as any time-honored tradition could possibly be.

In Missouri, most folks stick to the custom of serving turkey or ham with all the fixin’s for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I used to become embarrassed when a friend would ask, “So what are you cooking for the holidays?”

“Oh, the usual,” I would say to avoid saying, “lasagna and shrimp.”

 

Then, along comes New Year’s Eve, when we tend to join the common norm and serve our best horsd’oevres and the bubbly, just like everyone else.

Since we have already had lasagna for Christmas, I figure we are set for New Year’s Day.

Good luck is most assuredly “in the bag” or in the lasagna as the case may be.

Incidentally, there are other New Year’s Day practices that bear some mention, although they may not be quite as unique as the “lasagna brings good luck” one.

A quick internet search found these curious yet extraordinary customs practiced by folks around the globe. All are guaranteed to bring good luck and good fortune:

  • In England, the first guest or visitor of the New Year should be male and should bring gifts. All visitors who arrive too early and empty-handed, and presumably, all females, must wait on the guy bearing gifts before they can enter. That doesn’t exactly get a party off to a great start!
  • In Spain, when the clock strikes midnight, one must eat 12 grapes, one with each toll. Each grape brings good luck for each month of the year ahead.  Wow…you would have to be really good at eating grapes fast! Think about it.
  • Meanwhile, in Peru, those folks are eating grapes, too, on each strike of the clock, precisely at midnight. However, in Peru, one must consume a 13th grape, to seal the deal—now, good luck will be yours!
  • In Wales, at the first strike of the clock at midnight on New Year’s Eve, one must run to the back door and open and close it. This sends all the bad luck of the current year out the door where it is locked out forever. Then, one must run quickly to the front door in order to open that just as the clock strikes 12.  This practice welcomes in the good luck of the New Year.
  • In the United States, folks traditionally share a kiss that symbolizes purification and welcomes in the good fortune of the New Year.

Consider this:

What would it be like if one tried to practice all these customs at once?

The clock is starting to toll midnight. With the first strike, quick eat a grape. Then, run to the back door, open and close it, while eating a grape on each strike of the clock. Run to the front door and let in the new good luck of the New Year, all fresh and clean, but be careful, all-the-while, to not let in a female guest who does not bear gifts. Now, everyone kiss.

Wait, hold the phone.

We forgot about the 13th grape.

This could be a game show.

Lasagna on New Year’s Day seems a whole lot easier.

Dec 25

The Christmas grandma forgot to cook. First printed in December of 2006 in The Examiner, an eastern Jackson County daily newspaper.

With apologies to author Clement Clark Moore who was thought to have penned  ’The Night Before Christmas’ in 1823. Here’s my take on this delightful Christmas classic poem…

twas-the-night-before-christmas-little-golden-book-cover

‘Twas the day before Christmas, when all through the house, the grandkids were running and chasing a mouse.

The stockings, hung by the chimney with care, were falling into the fire before I could get there.

Only one of the grandkids was nestled snug in her bed, while her brother and cousins danced and jumped on their heads.

Papa in his slippers, and I in my wrap, longed to settle down for a cozy afternoon nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, more grandkids arrived to add to the chatter.

Away to the coffee table I flew like a flash, put away vases, pictures and books before they were trashed.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow, meant more kith and kin would come soon with toddlers in tow.

When what to my aging eyes should appear, but a van load of college students with eight cans of beer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick, I knew in a moment it must be Uncle Rick.

More rapid than eagles, the relatives came, as I whistled and shouted and called them by name:

“Now, Auntie! Now, Uncle! Now, Nephew and Niece! On, Grandpa! On Grandson! On Brother and Sis!”

To the top of the porch, to the top of the wall, Papa whispered, “Dash away! Dash away! Dash away all.”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly, the hungry settled round the table ready to eat ‘til they die.

So up to the kitchen, I flew like a flash, threw open the empty cupboards and searched for some cash.

With a purse full of bills and no time to blink, I drove straight to the deli but was soon back at the sink.

There was no food to be had in our little berg; the shops were all closed, the keepers gone home. There was nothing to feed this hungry, wild herd.

And then in a twinkling, I heard in the drive, the screeching and stopping of each giant tire.

As I drew in my head and was turning around, down the chimney the Schwan’s man came with a bound.

A bundle of boxes he had flung on his back, and he looked like a St. Nicholas just opening his pack.

My eyes how they twinkled! My heart how merry! He had entrees, desserts, and even frozen cherries.

He had hams and turkeys, gravy and pie. Casseroles, pizzas, chicken, oh my!

A wink of his eye and a check of his supply, soon gave me to know there was plenty to buy.

There were scalloped potatoes, California blend veggies, green beans and corn, frozen fruits galore, peppermint ice cream and chocolate cake rolls.

He spoke not a word but went straight to his work and filled our fridge, then turned with a jerk.

And laying his finger aside of his nose, and giving a nod, into his yellow truck he rose.

I sprang to the task; serving up the stash, and to my guests gave a whistle.
They flew to the table like down on a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight,

“Next year lady, buy your food ahead a fortnight (and don’t forget to cook)!”

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