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Category Archive: Stories

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 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)!”

Feb 05

First-timers visit the Super Bowl — a look back.

Super Bowl 2012

Lucas Oil Stadium

Super Bowl  XLVI (46)–Feb. 5, 2012

From my archived columns, first published in The Examiner on February 9, 2012. The Examiner is a daily newspaper, Tuesday through Saturday, serving Eastern Jackson County, Mo.

“Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark; professionals built the Titanic.” –Author Unknown

First-timers, amateurs, novices—that is how you could describe my husband and I as we set out last weekend for Super Bowl 2012 in Indianapolis.

We weren’t afraid, we just had no idea what to expect, or for that matter, who to cheer on to victory. We did not have a favorite team, but happily, we did have free tickets thanks to a drawing my husband won through his work.

And, we had a parking pass, which turned out to be golden.

Pure “awesomeness” as one of our grandkids remarked when he heard Grandma and Grandpa were going to the Super Bowl.

I began to refer to our trip, however, as “Ma and Pa Kettle Go to the Super Bowl” because we were clearly ‘babes in the woods’. Nevertheless, it did not take us long to acclimate ourselves to the energy and excitement of Downtown Indy and the Super Bowl experience. It goes without saying that right away I began to jot down some observations of the day, knowing I would want to share them with you when I got home.

My Super Bowl 2012 observations & reactions from a newcomer to the scene:

–Go early, buy a parking pass before you arrive and take plenty of cash. Essential.

–At the Super Bowl, don’t spill any popcorn. It costs 15 cents a kernel.

–Best Tweet: from @JerrySeinfeld: Ok Bill B, grotesque grey cutoff hoody officially not ‘lucky’! Can we move on? #jos.abankfirststoptomorrow.

–If I were younger, I would ride the block-long zip line near Super Bowl Village.

– Star sightings in the stadium included announcers and commentators Kurt Warner, Aaron Rogers, Dan Patrick, Al Michaels, Chris Collingsworth, Tony Dungee, Bill Cowherd and others we “thought” we knew. And stars, such as “Biff” Henderson from the David Letterman Show, Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, Meg Ryan, Guy Fieri of Food Network, and on and on. My husband and I would continually tap each other on the shoulder and whisper, “Who was that? I know who it is but I can’t think of the name.” Yes, we admit, we were star struck.

–Luckily, because I’m tall,  I could stand on my toes and shoot a few pictures of sports celebrities over the partition designed to keep gawkers such as me from disturbing the NBC commentator’s pregame booth. That plan worked for a few seconds until security made me move. However, I still wanted a close-up photo of Aaron Rogers. Seeing my disappointment as I was being sternly told to move on, a very tall young man asked if he could help. He grabbed my camera, stood on his toes and leaned over the partition to snap a picture of Aaron Rogers for me, handed the camera back and ran. Good boy. It was all I could do not to break into a “discount double check” Aaron Rogers’ move.

–The Players:

Since we arrived in the stadium at 2 p.m., we had plenty of time to watch the players warm up. Eli Manning wore sweats, no pads, and no helmet and practiced passing to his receivers, over and over and over again. Then he performed a series of exercises and jogged. After the informal early practice, the teams went to their locker rooms and came out later in their full gear for an “official” practice. I took a lot of pictures of both teams. Then, I asked the Patriots fans who were seated all around us, where’s Tom Brady. I don’t see him. They laughed and said, ‘Oh he’ll be out later. He doesn’t practice much before a game.” You may draw your own conclusions from that.

–Halftime:

This may sound like a bolt from the blue to some of you, but honestly, I thought it was the best Super Bowl halftime show I have ever seen. Some people apparently hated Madonna’s performance, but most reviews called her outstanding. In fact, there were non-Madonna fans that found her to be surprisingly and unexpectedly excellent. Watching Madonna in person was a treat, to say the least. We thought her to be the consummate entertainer, talented and stage savvy with strong vocals and great moves for a 54-year-old (I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the fact that she can still gyrate). She gets my vote. I suppose I can overlook the self-centered attempt by M.I.A. to get world attention. From where we sat, we could not see M.I.A. “gesture”, and apparently, the cast didn’t see it either as they later reported. NBC and the NFL apologized to viewers. Frankly, there is always something or someone trying to grab the headlines, and I don’t really care to give M.I.A. any more ink. Madonna, that’s another matter. No wonder some call her the high priestess of the music industry.

–Tickets:

Before the game, we listened to a band in Circle Centre Mall while waiting for nearby Lucas Oil Stadium to open its doors. It didn’t take long for us to strike up a conversation with a man from Tennessee who was there trying to buy tickets for himself and his elderly dad. Going to a Super Bowl was on his Dad’s bucket list, the son said, so they just got in the car and came. He was confidant he would find some for $1,000 each, his bottom dollar, but so far no luck. Ticket prices on the street ranged from $2,000 to more than $15,000 a piece.

So there we were, not quite believing our luck. We simply took it all in and relished this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Granted, the trip was not on our “Bucket Lists” before we went, however, we are certainly glad it is now. And it’s crossed off, too.

“Awesomeness”, yes that is a word I use a lot these days.

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