Archive for the ‘Mother’s Day’ Category

This page of the altered photo album I made for Mother’s Day 2007 features my great-great-grandmother Emily (Creager) Conover. She was married to William Henry Conover, son of James Conover, Civil War prisoner and possible victim of the Sultana explosion.

I thought of Emily Conover over the Memorial Day weekend. I think of her every Memorial Day because hers was one of the graves we always visited when I was a child.

Sometime in May (maybe it was on our holiday for the Ascension  — it always seemed to be on a weekday, but we weren’t out of school for the summer until early June), we’d have an outing to Warren County to visit the Morrow and Maineville cemeteries. These held the graves of Grandma’s and Great-Grandma’s people, including Great-Grandma’s mother, Emily Conover.

We usually had a picnic lunch somewhere (often at a roadside park near the bridge over Fosters; the park no longer exists). The party consisted of my mother, Grandma, Great-Grandma, me, and my brothers (Diamondqueen wasn’t to come for several years yet). On each of these outings, Great-Grandma told the story of her mother’s death and funeral.

The story she passed down was that her mother was very pregnant. The piano teacher had arrived for a home lesson, and Emily Conover didn’t want to be seen. So, the way Great-Grandma put it, she “climbed” out of a window and fell. Mom and I have wondered about that over the years. Maybe it was one of those very tall windows that open almost like a door. We can’t imagine a pregnant woman climbing out of a window, especially one who considered it inappropriate simply to be viewed by the piano teacher.

Whatever the case, Emily fell. She lost the baby and died herself. Great-Grandma said they buried her with the baby in her arms. I used to gaze at Emily’s grave feeling sad and a little haunted. It was a terrible, tragic story. A few years ago I found a death record for Emily Conover, and she did indeed die in childbirth. Whether a fall out a window was the cause wasn’t indicated.

Either going into or leaving Maineville, Great-Grandma would point out where her house had been at the time her mother died. We’d see a long avenue lined with trees leading to a two-story brick house. Great-Grandma was very young when her mother died, but one of her memories was of that long driveway being lined with carriages on the day of the funeral.

Maineville isn’t far from Loveland, so it’s easy to drop in on Maineville Cemetery. We have quite a few ancestors in the old section (more, in fact, than we realized when I was a kid, thanks to genealogical research). In the new section nearby, my stepfather is buried, and my mother will lie there one day as well (a LONG time from now, I hope). She thinks about Emily Conover, too, and says she likes the idea of her grave being within sight of Emily’s — that woman buried with her child in her arms, recalled by her elderly daughter, who lived so many more decades than her mother.


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This page of the altered photo album I made for Mother’s Day 2006 is devoted to my great-grandmother, Lillian Illie (or Illi) Applegate. She married my great-grandfather, John Black Applegate, son of Emily Jane Reddick Applegate.

Great-Grandma (or Grandma-Up-Dayton, as she was known long after she’d moved from the Dayton area), was also my godmother. I have only vague memories of her physically because she married a Native American and moved to Oklahoma when I was little. However, we always heard from her at the holidays. She and her husband had a trading post kind of store in Pawnee, and one Christmas she sent a whole treasure trove of the things they sold at the store: mocassins for the men, tom-toms with stretched rubber heads, wooden “tomahawks” tied with dyed feathers, and who knows what else. I must have been about four; I don’t remember a lot, but I do recall the delightful hubbub when the gift package arrived, and everyone’s amusement at the geehaws that were unpacked. I can still hear the muffled thump of that tom-tom.

Great-Grandma was the terrific baker who made the “inspirational chocolate pie.” Recently while doing some genealogical digging, I found the census record that showed her and her siblings in Cincinnati’s House of Refuge in the early 1900s. I’ve often wondered how she got from Cincinnati to the wilds of Brown County, Ohio, and how she met my great-grandfather. In many of our photos of her as a younger woman, she looks as she does in that picture above: thin and cheerful, unbowed by what must have been a difficult life. By the time I knew her, she hadn’t been an Applegate for decades and she had a round, apple dumpling face like a grandmother out of a Norman Rockwell painting. It was especially startling to see that face in a program she sent from Oklahoma back in the 60s. It was a photo of tribal mothers of World War II veterans, and there in the back row of those dark Native American women floats Great-Grandma’s sugar cookie face. I guess she always had a talent for belonging.

Speaking of photos, in the original version of the one I used for the altered page above, Great-Grandma is standing at a wash tub, her hands clasping a washboard. I cloned out the washboard and filled the tub with flowers when I digitally altered the photo. I thought it was the least she deserved in honor of Mother’s Day.  

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 Here’s another page in the altered photo album I made for Mother’s Day last year:

This page features Emily Jane (Reddick) Applegate. She’s my maternal great-great-grandmother, mother of John Black Applegate, my grandfather’s father. Her mother was a Creager; she married Joseph Martin Applegate.

I didn’t have a good photo of her when she was younger. All I know of her is what I heard through family stories, but apparently she was a pip. There’s a story about her son, William Applegate, getting shot during a hunting accident. The doctors were called in and performed an amputation, but William died on the kitchen table. Supposedly they buried William’s amputated leg in the yard somewhere and buried the rest of him in Bloom Rose Cemetery.

The story goes that Granny (Emily Jane) went into a crazy fit because William and his leg were separated. She carried on so that the brothers had to dig up the leg, take it to the cemetery, dig up William, and rebury him with his leg. I always look at his tombstone with morbid fascination, remembering that story.

The only part of the story I’ve seen referenced anywhere is in an Applegate genealogy that was widely available online years ago. It cited that William was believed to have been shot by his brother, but it didn’t give any details.  The grisly part of the story about the leg was handed down through the generations. I tend to believe it, simply because it sounds like such an Applegate-type of thing to have happened (especially the part where one of the brothers was supposed to have threatened to kill the doctors if William died; the doctors wound up racing unexpectedly out of the house and galloping away on their horses because they realized William was gone).

Regardless of the veracity of the story, what’s true is that Emily Jane probably had a challenging life, living in a “wild” rural part of Ohio and raising a family under circumstances typical of the late 19th to early 20th century. To live as long as she did, she must have had some feistiness to her. Of course, she did come from a line of settlers and patriots, going back to the Revolutionary War. I’m proud to trace my roots back to her and wish I knew more about her than I do.


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This page of the altered photo album I made for Mother’s Day last year is dedicated to Minerva Alice (Hutchinson) Mount. She’s my great-great-grandmother. Her son, George Dale Mount, married Helen Conover, and their daughter was my Grandma Martha (Mom’s mother).

I never knew much about Alice Mount (as she was known about the time the photo above was taken). Grandma Martha talked very fondly of her, though. Grandma said her grandmother made wonderful baked goods and canned goods; she’d often have something delicious waiting for her on her way home from school. Grandma said Alice Mount reminded her of Mom with her cooking and  baking.

Grandma quoted Alice Mount in only one instance: She said she’d go to see her grandmother, and Alice Mount would peer over her glasses at her and say quietly, “Is that a new dress? Did your mother make it? Hmmm…”

I learned far more about Minerva Alice Hutchinson Mount when I began to do some genealogical work a few years ago. Indeed, she must have been quite a baker — she supported herself with her own bake shop, at least for awhile, in Morrow, Ohio. She also took care of her elderly parents near the end of their lives when they were quite ill. Her mother, Margaret Doughman Hutchinson, and her father, Joseph Hutchinson, Jr., lived either with her or near her in downtown Morrow. I have copies of the military records for Joseph Hutchinson, Jr., a Civil War veteran, which show Minerva Alice applying for increased pensions to help her care for her father, whose eyesight had been ruined by disease during the war.

Alice’s husband, Frank Mount, abandoned her at some point, but this resourceful woman carried on. Her life couldn’t have been easy. But I know from a trusted source that she was a kind and loving grandma, much loved in return. If I had learned nothing else about her, that would have been enough.

NOTE: My mother has her own Mother’s Day tribute posted at Lillian’s Cupboard, including the original photos of some of the women featured in the altered photo album.

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I always feel a little ashamed as Mother’s Day approaches. There’s lots of talk on TV and in commercials about where to take mothers to brunch or dinner for a special experience, the kind of pampering a mother deserves on “her” day. I feel ashamed because I know my mother won’t be going out anywhere for a special meal. She always cooks her own Mother’s Day banquet.

In my own defense, I should say that we’ve been after my mother for years to let us take her out; or, at least, Diamondqueen and I could try to put a meal together (my lack of culinary talents notwithstanding) OR we could get take-out from a decent restaurant. Mom won’t have it. She says she LIKES to cook the Mother’s Day meal. And after all these years, I know she’s telling the truth. But it’s really hard to watch her put in on all that work any time, but especially on the celebratory day honoring her.

Yet, once again this year, my indomitable mother, at the age of 75, cooked a feast and served it as if part of the Mother’s Day tradition is for HER to treat everyone royally. She made chicken parmigiana and garlic bread. She claims this actually is an “easy” meal for her. She also baked two pies: a strawberry-rhubarb pie which has become, by her own designation, her traditional Mother’s Day dessert; and an apple pie for those who don’t like rhubarb’s tang. She did make the Italian bread and the two pies ahead of time, but still. And there’s no question of helping her prepare the meal on Sunday morning (I just get on her nerves by getting in her way); I supposed if Diamondqueen and I ganged up on her (I.e., tied her to a comfortable chair in the living room), we could do the clean-up, but Mom doesn’t seem to want that, either.

She often says, “As long as I can do it, I want to.” This is what she says at Thanksgiving, too, and when we have my birthday meal, for which she makes mini Beef Wellingtons. Mom has had two abdominal hernia surgeries in less than a year, the most recent just after St. Patrick’s Day. The Sunday before, as she served dinner, she said, “I guess it might be awhile before I feel up to cooking a whole meal on Sunday again.” Two weeks later she was back at it, on a slightly reduced scale, but she put a meal on the table for Diamondqueen and me and the kids. And it was delicious, of course,

I, too, want her to keep doing it as long as she’s able. There are the selfish reasons, of course. As I cut a forkful of her incredible pie crust, I had a quick flash of what life would be like someday without her pies. Without her cooking in general. She’s one of those cooks who puts her own spin on recipes. No one could duplicate her specialities; they might manage faint facsimiles. When she stops cooking, the loss will be enormous.

There is another less selfish reason I want her to keep cooking: It’s a part of her life force, an integral part of her feeling fit and alive, at one with the rhythm and flow of the active world. I know she can’t do it forever. And I’ll be watching for signs that we need to step in, to limit how much she does by herself, to negotiate what and how much we can contribute to these meals as well.

Fortunatley, Mom has a good attitude, and a realistic and pragmatic one. I know she knows that such “cutting back” won’t necessarily be a sign of waning; it will be a means for extending her participation because she’ll be sensibly rationing her energy and stamina. Maybe setting boundaries will mean that many more holidays with her prizewinning pies or bread or simply a much-loved entree, with the trimmings provided by helpers.

For now though, I’m grateful for another Mother’s Day spent the way Mom likes it best — cooking up a storm for the family gathered around her table.



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Last year I wanted to make my mother a special gift for Mother’s Day. I had an old, dilapidated photo album with a broken lock that I’d gotten on eBay (I’d bought it for the photos, thinking maybe there would be long lost relatives in it because of it being from Brown County, Ohio — there weren’t any, of course). I’m very interested in altered books, or anything “altered,” so I decided to do an altered photo album focusing on my mother’s maternal line of ancestors.

I went back as many generations as there were photos available. We’ve been scanning in family photos for years, so I had a good stock to work from. I digitally altered the photos and printed them out. I reinforced the delicate album pages (which had openings for the old-time cabinet photos) by covering thin cardboard with decorative paper as a background, inserting it into the window of each page, and using that as my canvas. I cut out each mother’s image and glued it within the page frame, adding embellishments in collage fashion.

Some of these women would probably roll in their graves if they saw the treatment I gave them. I was trying to imagine what they would look like in color, but I also wanted to “dress” them for the special celebration the altered album was supposed to represent.

I made a small “Mother” plaque for the album cover (see photo above) by using a rubber stamp and a small puddle of warm UTEE (ultra-thick embossing enamel). When the piece was cool and hardened, I painted over it with a gold marker pen and antiqued it, then glued it to the album cover.

The album opens with an invitation:

Tomorrow I’ll post the first “collage” in the book.

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With Mother’s Day this Sunday, I’ve been thinking of not only my own mother, but of the wonderful women going back generations in my family. One reason I know about those women is because both Mom and her mother, Grandma Martha, always told great stories, whether about their own pasts or about the female family members who came before.

One of Mom’s stories stuck with me because I was so impressed with her mother’s resourcefulness. Mom’s paternal grandmother was known as Grandma-Up-Dayton because she lived above Dayton, Ohio — in a community called Vandalia. Grandma-Up-Dayton lived in a rather rustic home with an outhouse and an iron wood-burning stove. She turned out unbelievable breads, pies, and other goodies on that stove, which my mother recalls with fondness and admiration.

It was a long drive from the southernmost border of Ohio to north of Dayton. Something that happened on one of those return trips was the foundation for that story of Mom’s that impressed me so. It involved a flat tire, a pie, a car key, and the talents and resourcefulness of mothers:


When I see chocolate pie I think of
a pie I never tasted, the one
my mother likes to tell about
from her childhood: She’d traveled
with her parents and sister to visit
Grandma-Up-Dayton, a remarkable
cook who baked glorious creations
in a wood-burning stove. When the
Applegates motored up from Cincinnati,
Grandma-Up-Dayton packed the car
with culinary plunder for the return trip.

On the way home that evening, their car
had a blowout. It was past dinnertime
and the girls needed something to eat.
While Grandpa wrestled with the flat,
Grandma took a chocolate pie
from Grandma-Up-Dayton’s stash of goodies.
There was no knife, so Grandma
used a car key to slice the pie. My mother
remembers how good that pie tasted,
they were so tired and hungry,
with so far yet to go.

When I see chocolate pie, I think
of this story and those three —
of Grandma-Up-Dayton, blessed
with cheerful generosity
and baking prowess; of Grandma,
blessed for life with calm resourcefulness;
and of my mother, blessed with a talent
for keeping the past alive
and for helping me understand
the kind of women I come from.

(c)2006 by Nancy Breen; “A Chocolate Pie” first appeared in Best of 2006: The 69th Annual Ohio Poetry Day Contest Awards

UPDATE: My mother has written a special blog post telling all about Grandma-Up-Dayton, her unusual house in the country, and her baking — not to mention the full story of the car key and the chocolate pie. Go to Lillian’s Cupboard for nostalgic details, period photos, and even a chocolate pie recipe!


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