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Category Archive: Stuff

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.

Mar 09

Bring on the Brackets! Basketball in March—the way it is supposed to be played. (From archived columns and first published on March 7, 2012, in The Examiner, an eastern Jackson County daily newspaper.)

“Basketball is a game that gives you every chance to be great, and puts every pressure on you to prove that you haven’t got what it takes. It never takes away the chance, and it never eases up on the pressure.”– Coach Bob Sundvold (former head coach at UCM and assistant coach at Mizzou and Missouri State)

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I guess you could say that the game of basketball during March Madness is the way it is supposed to be played – flying high just like kites in the March wind.

During most of the regular season, basketball players know the pressure never eases up, and they know they have a chance to play well.

Normal everyday operating procedure for a ball team.

Come March, however, they know they have a chance not just to play well but also to be great, exactly what Coach Bob Sundvold said. And certainly, they know the pressure will ratchet up.

March Madness blows in with a fury each year when we flip the calendar from February to March, as though the weatherman just announced a severe wind advisory.

Conference championship tournaments begin, and miraculously and mysteriously, these very same players who played reasonably well during the regular season, now can fly and perform other inhuman feats, for one, levitating themselves toward the basket. Simply put, it is March Madness and flying happens, among other remarkable things.

We have seen it before, but we do not understand it.

Award-winning novelist John Edgar Wideman, described what basketball is like when it is played the way it is supposed to be played, especially in the month of March: “…basketball happens in the air; flying, floating, elevated above the floor, levitating the way oppressed peoples of this earth imagine themselves in their dreams.”

That thought leads me to an epic game played on March 12, 2009, at Madison Square Garden between Syracuse and Connecticut. Syracuse, No. 18, beat No. 4 Connecticut in six overtimes 127-117. According to an AP story at the time, everyone was left “exhausted, and except for the losing team, exhilarated.”

I know we were watching every minute of it in our household. When the game went into the first overtime, we thought we should call it a night, but just couldn’t quit watching. And according to my ESPN research, the game did not end until 1:22 a.m., three hours and 46 minutes after it began. I remember the exhaustion and the exhilaration.

Furthermore, I didn’t really care who won because it was the fact that the game was mesmerizing, played just the way it should be in March.

Not only were the players on Syracuse and Connecticut elevating themselves to astonishing heights and greatness, they were also enduring implausible pressure.

According to the AP account of the game, Jonny Flynn, a Syracuse point guard, inexplicably “had 34 points and 11 assists in a game-high 67 minutes, only three fewer than were played.”

The kid played 67 minutes without sitting down!

And that is why I love March Madness. They play the game the way it is supposed to be played—flying high.

Bring on the brackets!

Nov 20

Bread is king at Thanksgiving dinners. (From my archived columns, first published in The Examiner on November 24, 2011. The Examiner is a daily newspaper published Tuesday through Saturday, serving Eastern Jackson County, Mo.)

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“Bread is the king of the table, and all else is merely the court that surrounds the king. The countries are the soup, the meat, the vegetables, the salad, but bread is king.”

– Louis Bromfield, American novelist, 1896–1956.

Thanksgiving Day is almost here, and dinner smells wonderful, yes it does, but nothing, absolutely nothing, has a finer aroma than light yeast rolls baking in the oven.

Each autumn, as the fourth Thursday in November draws closer, I think a lot about turkey and all the trimmings, including my Dad’s sausage-pecan-apple dressing, a green-bean casserole, fried apples, cranberries, mashed potatoes and turkey gravy, sweet potatoes and a large dollop of whipped cream atop a piece of luscious pumpkin pie.

A Thanksgiving feast could possibly be the most wonderful collection of food one enjoys during the entire year, but since childhood, ‘light’ yeast rolls have been my favorite Thanksgiving Day food.

Yours, too, or perhaps not? Some say yes, some no.

However, I know this to be true, at our house kids pop these heavenly rolls into their mouths like candy. Everyone else around the table eats at least two, and my husband would think the world came to an end if we served Thanksgiving dinner without yeast rolls.

The late Emily Post, renowned newspaper ‘etiquette’ columnist and author, wrote once “bread is like dresses, hats and shoes—in other words, essential!”

When families and friends break bread together, we are indeed sharing an essential food staple that has been a part of our world since the beginning of recorded time.

Bread is important. In fact, noted American chef James Beard once called it the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods.

Out of curiosity, I researched the history of bread and learned, to my surprise, that bread, beer and yeast went hand-in-hand in ancient Egyptian culture, where bread is thought to have first originated. Bread and beer were staples of every meal there. At some point, yeast was accidentally discovered when someone dropped it in the dough, as the story goes. Possibly someone had too much beer, but nevertheless, the rest is history. The Egyptian’s flat, hard crusty bread eventually evolved into light, heavenly manna from heaven.

Today when we think of Thanksgiving dinner, we know that bread is a major element in its own right, but it is also an ingredient in stuffing or dressing, whichever you choose to call it.

Inspired by this talk of yeast rolls and dressing, I decided to search for my Dad’s legendary sausage-pecan-apple dressing recipe and found Grandma’s “light rolls” recipe as well. Two undeniable stars of our turkey dinner this Thanksgiving.

After all, bread is the king of the table.

Note to readers: There are many yeast rolls recipes to be found, and you probably have your favorite, so instead here is my Dad’s aforementioned stuffing recipe in case you would like to try it for your next Thanksgiving dinner. It’s good.

Sausage Dressing with Apples and Pecans
8-10 ounces of sausage, chopped
14 cups dried bread, cut in cubes with crusts removed
1 ½ sticks butter, melted
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped onions
4 large apples
3 cups pecans, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh sage
2 teaspoons dried sage
4 large eggs, beaten
5 cups turkey stock, maybe more if needed
Fresh chopped or dried parsley to taste
Dried thyme to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat baking dish with oil or cooking spray. In large skillet, cook sausage. Drain and remove, cool. In bowl, add bread cubes to sausage. Melt butter in skillet and add onions and celery and cook for a 3-4 minutes, add apples and cook two more minutes. Pour this mixture onto bread and sausage mixture. Add seasonings, mix, and finally stir in pecans.

Mix eggs in turkey stock and add to dressing mixture, stirring completely. Sometimes it takes more stock to moisten the mixture. Put in baking dish, cover with foil and bake 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until top is slightly browned and crisp, usually takes about 20 more minutes.

Serves 10.

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