Monday, June 23, 2014

52 Ancestors - #25 Accoutrements of Catherine Barnwell (Higgins)-Grandmother

 Accoutrements of Catherine Barnwell (Higgins)-Grandmother

I’m decided to have a bit of fun with this post, I'm going to tell a story through photos. 
Some of my grandmother's (Catherine Barnwell) children and her husband Jack (Victor) Higgins are covered in other posts on this blog. 

See 52 Ancestors-#9 Barnwells on Past Remains Blogspot and 52 Ancestors- #21 Higgins Kids of the Past [on Past Remains Blogspot] , and 52 Ancestors-#24 Jack (Victor) Higgins on Past Remains Blogspot.  Living relatives aren't "ancestors" so of course I do not blog about them. 

Since I saw Catherine (Kitty) every week then I'm doing something a bit different, this post will be a picture story about everyday objects that evoke memories of her.
Of her family, the Barnwells, I have only a bit of reliable information on her parents and siblings. 
Her vitals and family information are in the chart below. BUT SCROLL DOWN--I have vintage photos! :)  Catherine was known as Kitty or Kate.

Catherine Barnwell’s Parents
Father:John Joseph Lawrence Barnwell

B. Dec 16 1881 in Brooklyn, NY

D. Oct 1948 NY, NY
Mother:Agnes McCune (last name, variously spelled)

B. Feb 1886 NYC   
D. about 1934? NYC

The 9 Barnwell children & spouses (or some of them)
Alice Barnwell
M. Patrick McGee
Lawrence Joseph
M. Helen Hannon
B. Sept 2, 1911 M 1926             D. Jun 4, 1992
M. Victor "Jack" Higgins
M. Mae Jones
M. Leslie Waite
M. Vera [maiden name?]
M. Lucille Knapp
M. George Traylor
Died as a child
M.Veronica Dooley
Before Jack and Kitty moved up to Sullivan County in the 1930s Jack was first sent to work in the Dannemora prison there and Kitty followed. 
However, she found it the long winter in this northern county too much for her (Clinton County is the furthest north and easterly state in NY, bordering Canada). 

She would tell a story of her getting a new Easter outfit in Dannemora, probably a dress with matching hat, likely new shoes or at least new stockings.
Easter Sunday morning came and she arose eager to dress in her new outfit only to find they’d become snowbound by a blizzard overnight (normal weather for Easter in northern NY). 

As she told it, she decided then to pack and to return to NYC: which she announced to Jack.  
That they moved to Sullivan County and not Clinton was all we need to know about the conclusion of the story. 

She was a woman who liked dressing up and going out. The sleepy life of small towns like Neversink and Woodbourne didn’t suit her but she had plenty of activity raising children.  Remember, she was not yet 16 when she married, the only “adult” life she knew apart from being a mother was being a teenager: dressing up and going out. 

However, having a big family meant she was always either working, working at home, or taking a break from working.  

Vacations were trips to see her sisters in New York now and then (when she was widowed she’d go to Myrtle Beach for a week with Richie), but that was it for traveling. I don’t recall her being in clubs or outside activities. 

I don’t have any photos from her youth (perhaps they’re with an aunt?).

The oldest one I have is the group shot taken in Neversink about 1942. She had very white skin, dark brown eyes, and dark brown, nearly black hair.  
Kate abt 1941

I think Kitty liked glamor, or at least, “the glamor of glamor.” Here are a few objects which I always associate with her.

I A wall plaque on her kitchen wall 
I don't know who gave this to her or when, but it is certainly "vintage" by now. It's a simple varnished wood plaque, on which is painted  a woman in a mink stole, a man in a top hat, and what seems to be the NYC skyline in the background with this saying: 
“We don’t want to be big shots--just live like ‘em.” 
(Sorry, the plaque is unavailable now).

II Ponds Cold Cream
Kitty was one of the millions of people who used this. She'd remove makeup with it, so she often smelled of Ponds. She comes to mind whenever I catch a whiff of this still used this product.
I found a Ponds Poster on line from the 1920s which she might have seen:
Here is an older version of the Pond's Cold Cream--I think the ones I recall were a different color label, same jar, same contents.

III Dresses
I think Kate knew how to dress with style, though never had much money to spend on it.
She seemed to select which suited her figure and height (she might not have been barely 5’2’’). 
These styles were probably reflect how she dressed-or wanted to-in each period. (I’m pretty sure she shied away from browns in the 50s--she wasn’t a “brown” personality at all.)
late 1920s 
mid 1930s
Notice the "peplum" feature has gained a foothold in the 1930s.

The peplum feature remains--and the "sweetheart" necklace has been added by the 40s.
Evening & Day dress- late 1940s

 Peplum feature remains but dress lengthens. 
Kitty at Richie's graduation  c 1960
Notice Kitty's dress is 2-piece, with a hat to match and a white purse (after all, it was spring).

IV Shoes
Kitty's feet were small and she had a high instep and a high arch to her feet. She would often wear strap shoes with open toes, a bit of a wedge heel (but usually in canvas). 
or a selection for summer:

V Lipstick
Kitty liked red lipstick - at least that's what I recall. She looked good in it, too.
Remember those "golden" tubes? 
Did every manufacturer buy them from the same vendor?

circa mid-1960s

VI Costume jewelry
Costume jewelry is my friend-and Kitty was in agreement with this. When I was old enough probably 9 and up, she would occasionally give me a handful of old costume jewelry. It was always stuff she was done with--and usually nothing I really wanted to keep but it was “new to me” and entertained me for an afternoon. 

The brooches I recall were large  and loud.  I could never figure out when and why women would wear them.  Since they usually were in good repair, I guess Grandma couldn’t make them work for her, either. I’d pin them on at home but they pulled on the clothes and just looked odd on a cotton jumper, so they ended up lost to the ages.
Very 60s. A wa-cha-ma-call-it

Supposed to be a star

Flies chasing one another?

VII Lucky Strike cigarettes
It was her brand, it's an old brand. Kitty may have tried Viriginia Slims when they came out, but Luckys were her brand. (No, I don't smoke--and she advised against it. "I'm stupid! That's why I smoke!) She did quit late in life, however.
LS (MFT - means fine tobacco)

Plain Zippo lighter

VIII Perfume (cologne)
Evening In Paris (which you can still buy). I think of this  as her trademark fragrance. 

But trademark fragrances can be overdone: 
One year several of her grown children gave it to her for Christmas. Her tiny dressing table was afloat with Evening in Paris. That was probably the year she swore off of it too.
1960s bottle - for sale everywhere

Thank you to the many "vintage" collectors and resellers who posted images on Google Images. I shamelessly used your pictures--and I hope you get some sales as a result!

Friday, June 13, 2014

52 Ancestors #24 - Jack Higgins, Grandfather

Jack (Victor) Higgins had an unexceptionally normal life--and ordinary guy, you’d say. I wrote about his youth in a previous post [52 Ancestors #5 - Recent Immigrant Catherine Higgins (Kate) What’s the Truth?], but will give you a thumbnail here:

His father is unknown. Victor was born 23 December 1905 in a hospital for unmarried mothers run by the Catholic Church in New York City. "Victor" is on his birth certficate (a name he hated and never used), but went by Jack (ultimately confusing because sometimes my father was called Jack). His father was likely an Irishman. His mother was Irish, from County Sligo--her last name was "Higgins" and he was "Higgins. I've not even looked for him-it's a brick wall.

His mother, as single mom, had to work to support them. As an uneducated immigrant, she worked as a servant. One census has the 9 year old Jack (in 1915) living in a boarding house and his mother’s not listed. Likely, his mother may have had a bed to use where she worked; she worked as a servant or cleaner.

This was pre-World War 1 tenement life--it must have been pretty rugged in the winter. When he was a young man his mother married a Patrick Devaney (they ended up having 2 boys together). 

Jack didn’t take to the new stepfather Patrick;  they'd get into brawls. Jack didn’t take to school either-- he left school when he finished grammar school (6th grade) and chose not to live at home. It seems hard to believe, but he had been quite independent till Patrick came into their lives. He would have been the same age as a junior high student, but was working-- doing the kind of jobs young men would do: sell papers, run errands, shine shoes.

And, he hung around a gym because he enjoyed boxing.
"Jack" (Victor) Higgins -probably abt 16 yrs old

The Boxer
Boxing went from sport to income as more of his income came out of boxing matches.  By the time he and my grandmother met and married, he was an amateur boxer. (If you’ve seen the movie Cinderella Man, it parallels the time and environment, but he was in New York City, I believe that is in New Jersey).  

At some point, he caught the attention of the people who make money off of boxers. And looked promising enough-and hungry enough--to be offered the opportunity to box for the syndicate. However, when Jack figured out his actual take-home pay after the syndicate’s cut, he realized that he was better off finding his own fights and remaining independent. Which he did.

This was still the 1920s, the syndicate pressured him hard, warning him to accept or he’d never get another fight in the “City” (NYC). He didn’t take their offer, and indeed, he never got another fight. Traveling far from the City, would cost too much (say, to Poughkeepsie or north).

When he was a middle-aged man the sacs under his eyes were quite prominent. He was probably tired mostly. I was told there was some scarring from the era when he was boxing. And that if his eyes were too swollen to see in a fight, the trainer would slit the sac open. I'm not sure how you fight with blood on the floor, but it makes a good story (and the Irish like a good story).

I’m not sure where my grandmother and grandfather met. My aunts tell me Kate’s (my grandmother's) sister knew him somewhat--mostly by reputation--and pointed him out to my grandmother while on the street. Everything else is left up to the imagination. My grandmother was in 15, going on 16, when she married him. He was an “old” man of 21. They had 13 children; of those, 5 boys and only 3 of the 5 lived to adulthood. I still haven't found a marriage certificate for them. Their marriage was loving, if stormy (but that's another story)!

Moving To The Country and Etc
 When my father was young, before he got hired by New York State, he had a variety of odd jobs: he worked as a driver mostly. I get the impression he didn’t make much and they had a growing family. 

Then in the mid-30s when he moved to Sullivan County (Neversink, NY), as he'd gotten a job in the newly-opened Woodbourne State Prison.
My dad recalls what a marvel it was for him that in  the country food  grew, and he could satisfy his hunger without paying a dime.

Higgins clan (or some of them) Neversink NY 1942
Jack quicklyalso moved his now-widowed mother with his two half-brothers out of New York City. The entire clan lived together in one house for a short time in Neversink,  till his mother and her sons found a place of their own.  Though supporting a growing family, he was likely giving as much money as he could spare to his mother: She now had a small amount of public assistance as she’d become a US citizen (finally) but wasn’t able to work. 

In Sullivan County, more children were added to the family--right up until the last child, who was born in 1947, three years after my father graduated from high school (he graduated at 16 having skipped two grades).

My dad said the only time he got a call from his parents while at college (on a Navy scholarship) was when they had to tell him they had moved house---because their house had burnt down. That’s right. 

Several of the children were still very young when their house caught on fire. Once they'd gotten outside, they realized that two of the younger children were still inside. My father’s brother Joe rushed back inside, got the children, and ended up getting somewhat hurt but the tots were safe. He was featured in “Boy Scouts In Action” in “Boys Life” magazine.

"Late" Life
Now comes the parts I recall. By the time I knew him, he had a stable job for some time in the prison system.

1955 Woodbourne NY Higgins clan, my 2 grandfathers, mom & 2 brothers (I'm the infant)

We went to their house every Sunday after church. We usually stayed all day--normally doing nothing. The entertainment industry has still growing, and people tended to stay home on Sunday. Most stores would be closed, or open for a few hours on Sunday.  I’d read the comics. When my aunts were still living at home, I’d listen to their gossip and to their records, jump on their beds, get chased out of Richie's room, learn where babies came from, get the inside story on which aunt was getting serious about what man, and I'd play with their shoes and jewelry.  

Jack would come home from Sunday's work (they work 7 days a week of course) and have a cup of tea with saccharine (because that's how he treated his diabetes) and smoke a pipe. 

Most Sundays he'd watch the ball game on TV--preferable baseball. If not, then any other sport would do. Boxing, when it was televised, wasn't on a Sunday afternoon. Sometimes, I recall Jack returning from playing handball--he enjoyed his sports. 
Late 1960s his chair is on the other side-near the pipes. He was talking about catalytic converters.

He’d take me with him to Levitt’s Store in Woodbourne where he’d hang around chatting with locals, then we’d go return the Squirt soda bottles, sometimes stop at church and say a few prayers. (He’d not stop at the soda fountain, as my aunts did.)  

We'd stay on for Sunday dinners (supper): it was always meat and potatoes. Literally. With canned peas or creamed corn. Hank or Uncle Richie (or someone) would peel potatoes if they wanted mashed pototoes. Often the meat was an overdone roast beef--so of course, I prefer my roast beef over done!  Now and then we'd have the oddball pot-roast or chicken. 

When the girls were living at home there were too many people for the table, so we'd eat in shifts. (When someone asked my daughter-in-law who also comes from a large family, how they all could eat together at their table--I knew what her answer would be).

But the Higgins family were clannish with our Sundays: it was for family only (including Hank Monahan who counted as family).  Jack bought some IBM stock in the mid-1960s, but other than that and his pension, they had just spent money on food, clothing, shelter and cars.(Not to mention weddings for those daughters!)

Don’t get me wrong: When we celebrated, we celebrated. None of the fashionable vacation getaways or “camps” in the mountains or at the shore, nothing was ever very fancy.  Slipcovers and plastic curtains were always in style in the Higgins house.   

But, we always had great Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners--lots of food, lots of booze. I think it was "great" or "fun" mostly because it was the Higgins family, where nothing is ever too dire.

1958 Devaney's at the end of the table

I always sat here-Vera's holding Grandma's place till she's done in the kitchen. Table & chairs from firehouse. :)
1960s - He was the meat carver & potato masher. Someone always made the punch. That shirt is still in style!

Jack died suddenly in February of 1969 at 63 years old. He was a diabetic,  and had gone into the hospital for an infected foot. The hospital thought he could be released the day after we saw him, but instead he died.
Known Trait
Throughout the depression, and even post-Depression, everyone was poor; Hollywood version of the 1950s aren't accurate.  Jack was just like everyone, but he was known for being generous.

Now, I was trying to recall why I always thought he was so wonderful (of course all of my grandparents were wonderful but he was exceptional).

Was it because he was generous? if so, then what did he gave me (other than the mandatory Christmas gift)?  Sure, he gave me Wrigley’s Spearmint gum,after he changing out of his work uniform, and maybe a few puffs on his Sunday pipe after work. 

My general sense was that people in town genuinely liked him--and that he really liked them. And after his death, people told me he was the most generous man they'd ever met. Certainly my father has been generous with his money as well. But Jack didn't have much money...

As I think about it I realize he gave me the one thing that is most precious. It's precious to everyone: he gave me his time. Everyone likes to be paid attention to, and children like it more than anything--and middle children love (good) attention. He didn't over-praise me--and I was treated as a child: alot of foolish ideas. No, he didn't ask me about my feelings or opinions. What did he do? He let me babble on all sorts of stuff that was likely nonsense. And I know he just enjoyed having me there. 

So now I wonder--was he really as generous as people said? Or was it the largeness of his heart and his seeming interest in their pesky little lives, that left them with the impression that he was more generous than he could ever really be?

The answer really doesn't matter. Sometimes the best living people in the world are related to you; if you’re related to a kind, generous and likable person, then cherish the time you spend with them.

Jack, July 1950