Monthly Archives: January 2012

It might not look like much…

My sister and I were browsing through my grandma’s old recipe book the other day and came across this little gem:

Mary to Agnes - page 1 - click to enlarge

Mary to Agnes - page 2 - click to enlarge

This letter was written to my grandma Agnes McMahon Regan by her older sister Mary McMahon Fuchs. When the McMahon family moved to Minneapolis in 1924, Mary stayed behind in Benson and lived with her Aunt Maggie Foley.

My grandma told me that growing up, Mary was often needed to help out at the Foley house in Benson. Aunt Maggie worked as housekeeper for Father Shea and took care of her parents, pioneer Tara settlers Patrick and Mary Foley, in their old age. My grandma never understood why Mary had to go to the Foleys all of the time, since her own mother could have used her help on the farm. Plus, my grandma would point out, her mother would also have enjoyed the company of her eldest daughter.

Let’s take a closer look at the letter…

The folks at Archival Solutions were kind enough to transcribe the letter for me so I could bypass the step of deciphering mid-century cursive writing and get right to the good stuff: the content. I find with transcribed letters, I am better able to appreciate the flow and nuances of the text that I sometimes miss when I am struggling with spelling and punctuation errors in the original documents.

My grandma would tell me how she and Mary were “great pals” and this is clear in the first part of the letter:

So you and Margaret (their sister) are doing your Christmas baking together. That sure is nice. I sure miss you…I have made some cookies and candy. Wish you were here and would make coffee and we could munch. Ha, Ha!

When I was a kid, I don’t think I really got the “great pals” thing…they were both old. Of course, I grew to understand that even old people had pals, but I don’t think I realized how close Mary and my grandma were until I read this letter.

A Fuchs, several Regans, a McMahon, and a couple of Byrnes

Mary talks a bit about family and friends, commenting, “Poor Jack Byrne. Does he suffer much?” Jack Byrne had roots in Tara Township and was married to Nellie Regan. Jack died in February 1954, which is one clue for my dating the letter to 1953. The photo at the left shows Mary’s daughter Franny, my grandma, their sister Rose, Nell & Jack Byrne, with my mom and her brother Johnny in front.

On page 2, Mary expresses her disappointment that they will not be going to Minneapolis for Christmas. We also get a glimpse into her feelings for her Aunt Maggie:

Well Agg, as things look now, we won’t be able to come down for Christmas – sure are sorry about that – but her nibs was in the hospital for 8 days and they gave her some drug and they gave her too much of it – took her appetite and she still doesn’t eat…

“Her nibs” was a slang term meaning a self-important person. It was used much like we might say “her majesty”, and not to refer to actual royalty. This was Aunt Maggie to whom Mary was referring… I will talk about Maggie Foley in a future post with some insight from my grandma as to why she might have been referenced in such a manner!

Mary inquires on Eileen’s (my mom’s) Christmas vacation and hopes the family will come to Benson for a visit: “Let us know when you can come and stay as long as you can…” My mom says they went out to Benson often, and she has fond memories of the visits. She said she could always tell Mary was so pleased when they would come for a visit, but was especially pleased to see her sister.

Mary ends her letter asking my grandma for several addresses – cousins, aunts, and uncles who lived in the Cities. And finally, the reason the letter was saved in the first place…a recipe. Mary doesn’t indicate what the recipe is for, but my mom says it is definitely a Christmas favorite – spritz cookies. When these McMahon women baked, they meant business! The recipe calls for 10 cups of flour and four cups of shortening!

My grandma kept the letter initially because the recipe was something she only made once a year – otherwise she would have committed it to memory like so many of her other recipes. After years of making the cookies, she didn’t need to look at that letter for the ingredients or baking instructions. I suspect that she kept it and looked at it for the exact same reasons I treasure the letter today.

When I first read the letter, I immediately remember the year we all made Christmas cookies together. When she was done mixing the dough by hand, I had the task of scraping my Great-Aunt Mary’s fingers with the dull edge of a knife to make sure not one scrap was wasted. That memory leads to how much I miss my grandma and love my own family and great-pal-older-sister.

Each time my grandma unfolded that piece of paper, long after her days of baking 10 cup cookie recipes had passed, I can only imagine what memories filled her heart, but I know she never forgot the love she had for her sister and pal, Mary.

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If you would like to see an example of what the transcribed letter looks like, please email me clontarfhistory@gmail.com.

Please visit the Archival Solutions website for more information on transcription and other services. They believe that history matters and we must preserve our history in order to keep the stories alive for future generations.


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Made in Clontarf (or Tara, to be precise)

My grandma Agnes (bottom) and her sister Margaret - 1919

This photograph was taken on a farm in Benson shortly after the Thomas McMahon family had moved from Clontarf. My grandma Agnes is about six-years-old and is pictured with her older sister Margaret. The only snapshots taken of my grandma as a child are from this one day. I suspect a visitor to the farm had a camera!

Today is my grandma’s birthday. Agnes McMahon (no middle name, much to her disgust) was born in Tara Township on January 12, 1913, the sixth child of Mary Foley (Minnie from the last post) and Thomas McMahon. Minnie milked the cows in the morning, came back inside and had my grandma. Although she was only six when the McMahons left Clontarf for Benson, and twelve when the family left Swift County for good and moved to Minneapolis, my grandma’s fond memories of life on the farm stayed with her until she died.

 

Agnes McMahon and John Regan - 1941 - my grandparents

 

Without my grandma’s stories of her family, the farm, and Clontarf, I doubt I would have become so interested in the history of this little town on the prairie. (I must confess, growing up I pictured Clontarf just like Walnut Grove from Little House on the Prairie.) Nearly every story my grandma told me has “checked out”. It has been fascinating to see her tales come to life in property deeds, sacrament registers, and general store records.

Grandma was misguided on one point, which was her insistence that her Grandpa Bushey – pioneer Tara settler Francis McMahon – was a drummer boy in the Civil War. In fact, he was an enlisted man. I can’t really fault her for this because Grandpa Bushey died when my grandma was only five-years-old and he was a tiny little man with a twinkle in his eye, I am sure she could not imagine him as a soldier.

My grandma enjoyed nothing better than a good puzzle (unless it was a competitive game of cards) and she would be interested in all the little “mysteries” my mom and I have solved in the last eight years of Clontarf research. She was the all-around best person I have ever known, and in my opinion, the best Grandma ever.

And it all started in Tara…

Grandpa Bushey's Tara homestead in 2007

 

The folks at Archival Solutions, LLP have transcribed a couple of items of my grandma’s that I would like to share with you…stay tuned…

 

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Happy Birthday Minnie!

Mary Foley, 1875-76

Minnie was my great-grandmother, and according to my grandma she absolutely hated the nickname “Minnie”. Please forgive me, Great Grandmother, but I think it is a cute name, and since your real name Mary is shared by about 75% of women in your family tree, I chose to call you Minnie.

Minnie Foley was born in Fisherville, New Hampshire on January 2, 1875. She was the fourth of five children born to Patrick Foley and Mary Crowley (their eldest son did not survive infancy.) She was baptized a few weeks later on January 24, 1875 at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Concord, New Hampshire. John Foley and Mary Casey were her godparents.

Three years later, Minnie and her family came to Clontarf, Minnesota with several other Irish families from the Concord, New Hampshire area, including the Regan family. Minnie and Nellie Regan were best friends from a very young age.

My grandma told me that Minnie worked hard her entire life, and that included working on the family farm in Tara Township while she was growing up. Her sister Maggie worked inside, while Minnie and her younger brother Jackie worked outside. My grandma confessed, she wasn’t sure where Minnie’s older brother Tim worked!

The McMahon family lived about a mile from the Foleys in Tara. Minnie married Thomas McMahon at St. Malachy Catholic Church in Clontarf on June 28, 1904. Minnie’s sister Maggie and Tom’s brother Frank were their witnesses. I imagine Minnie and Hoosie (as Tom is referred to in Minnie’s autograph book) having secret meetings over hay bales and missing chickens during their courtship…

Wedding photo, 1904

I won’t go into the entire McMahon family history now because this is about Minnie. She and Tom raised seven children and after giving farming all they had the McMahons moved to Minneapolis in 1925.

When she died in 1945, Minnie was living with my grandma, her husband John Regan, and their new baby (and my mother) Eileen. My grandma said that Minnie was smitten with Eileen. Minnie would say that she had never known a baby to sleep as much and as well as little Eileen. Minnie marvelled at how Eileen would even fall asleep with a bottle in her mouth.

In my grandma’s recipe book are a few recipes attributed to Minnie, her “Ma” – I think I will make “Ma’s Spice Cake” in Minnie’s honor today.

Nellie Regan Byrne and Mary Foley McMahon, about 1943

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Father Oster in Action

My mom reminded me of a photo she found at the Archdiocese Archives in Saint Paul, Minnesota…

Oster on the Farm, no date (courtesy of Archdiocese Archives - Saint Paul, MN)

Oster is the one with the beard. Does anyone recognize the two gentlemen and the boy baling hay with Father?

Note to Jim: I forgot about Shannon’s book – I do have a copy.  I need to look at his bibliography again. I still would love to find some sort of advertisement for the settlement at Clontarf.

 

Happy New Year to everyone!

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