Grace’s family history—from Ireland & Norway to South Dakota to the Barrio in East L.A
Grace and Ernest—married fifty-seven years, with one year off for Ernest’s bad behavior, one year to court her again
Grace and Martha—lifelong friends
Grace wrote this history of her family in 1992.
This is the story of where we came from. Although probably more is forgotten than remembered—so many questions not asked!
We are the O’Rielly’s, although there is only one branch left with the name we all carry some of the look and the traits that we inherited. Sometimes we are dreamers like Dad and sometimes worriers like Mama — and we all enjoy a good story and lots of laughter.
They lived ordinary lives in what we can look back on as extraordinary times. Dad used to say he couldn’t believe all the changes that had occurred during his lifetime. The automobile, two world wars, a great depression, the airplane, a draught that lasted on the plains for almost twenty years , the exodus (which they joined) from the plains and mothers two sightings of Halley’s comet.
Dad was born in the Black Hills country of South Dakota in Spearfish on February 2, 1894. It was the real wild west then. Now there is talk of a giant complex to be devoted to the spirit of Dancing With Wolves, native Americans running bingo parlors and other trappings to make it seem like what it was but when he was being raised there– it really was.
Dad was the third of 8 children. In the photo we have they look like stairs step. Jim, Gertie, Joe, Lucille, Miles, Isabel and Pat. Their last child, Cleona, was born a little before mother and dad’s first daughter, Josephine, was born.
All of the children look very serious (did you ever notice that in old studio portraits? Maybe because they had to stand still for a long time.) Joe’s suit looks a tad big for him but he has a wonderful bright look about him and very clear, intelligent eyes.
Patrick O’Rielly was born about 1817 in County Kerry, Ireland. Mary Scanlon was born about 1812 in County Kerry. The O’Rielly’s sailed from County Cork in 1849 with three children. Possibly during the potato famine or maybe just because they were poor, they joined the exodus and came to the new world. Seems pretty brave to me but they were part of the million or more who made the journey. They settled first in Smiths Falls, Ontario, Canada. In 1865, they went to Franklin, Pennsylvania, before moving to Jamestown, New York. In 1868, they migrated west to Akron, Iowa. In 1873, they settled in Union County, South Dakota, near Beresford, which is south of Sioux Falls. There had been a gold rush set off by Custer’s infamous announcement of a big strike, but they were probably twenty to thirty years too late to be part of that. Mary died in 1881 at age 69. Patrick died in 1893 at age 76.
Dad remembered that his grandparents lived with his family in Rapid City and were both small and dark, always wore black. Grandma Mary went off to the Catholic church every morning and Grandpa Patrick spent his time in the saloon. Their children were George, Robert, William and Leo. We don’t know what became of George and William but Robert was our grandfather and the youngest, Leo, was a druggist who had his pharmacy in Eagle Rock and Dad visited him regularly after we moved to California. He was a wonderful man for children to know — making strawberry sodas for us and letting us read all the magazines in his wonderful smelling store. He also loved to gamble and bought a house very close to Santa Anita Racetrack.
Robert married Nina Marie Armour (she was Scotch and French and reported to be very lovely to look at) and they began to have and raise the large brood named above. One thing about the O’Rielly’s you should remember is that they moved a lot. You’ll see that later on but this bunch had itchy feet or were always looking for something more. The times Dad liked best were the summers they homesteaded in Montana. If you could live on the land long enough the government would give it to you. They lived in tents and the boys were paid five cents for every rattlesnake they killed. They always returned to South Dakota but it must have made for some summertime trip.
The O’Rielly’s were the teamsters of their day in Rapid City. Dad called them draymen. With big wagons and huge draft horses they collected freight from the train station and delivered it thru the town and countryside. All the boys (I don’t know about Leo) seemed to like their drink maybe a little too much.
Dad was a bright student–he loved to read and continued to read and collect books, particularly on history and biographies all of his life. When he finished his obligatory 6 years of schooling he was asked to take over a one room schoolhouse . He went to meet the students and found that most of the boys were bigger than he was– he hadn’t reached his full growth–and he declined but thought he would have enjoyed it if he had been a bit bigger.
He would go into the Black Hills in the summers and sometimes went with an older fellow who was a horsethief and showed him small box canyons where he could hide his horses. At one point the KKK was trying to recruit in Rapid City and they rented a big hall for a dinner They were serving BBQ buffalo and all the trimmings.. A group of boys (including Dad) were watching through the windows as the speeches went on and on–America for Americans etc, etc. Finally the called on a Native American, dressed in buckskin and wearing a feathered headdress for his views. He rose to his fullest height and said “There are only two real Americans in this room — me and that buffalo.”
In those days Dad played the cornet in a band. The cornet is a near relative of the trumpet. I wonder what tunes they played.
My Mother, Hazel, was born 100 years ago on July 9, 1892 clear on the other side of the state in a farming community called Montrose. I’ve often thought of her time as being something akin to Little House on the Prairie. Laura Ingalls Wilder was from DeSmit which is in the same area. South Dakota is divided by the 100th meridian which effectively divides the prairie into east and west; wet and dry (less than 20″ of rain per year) tall grass prairie and short grass prairie So Montrose was east, wet, tall grass and very good for farming.
Mama’s father, Joseph Quackenbush was a farmer. Joseph’s family came from England and Germany and he was born in Albany, New York. Mother didn’t know exactly how long the family had been in this country but it must have been for some time since on the one time we passed through Albany I saw a street near the capitol building called Quackenbush which made me think the family must have been somebody or done something, though I can’t say which. He had been married and come west with his wife, Sarah, and son, Bert. He had a sister — Lottie Warner, also living there with her husband Seymour and their family. Joseph’s wife, Sophia, died and his son was almost grown and he was lonely and only in his late thirties.
Our grandmother was another adventurous soul. Her name was Sophia Peterson (or Pederson) and she was born in Norway in a village named Christiana and must have left from Bergen along with her sister Johanna (Hana) arriving in Sioux Falls in 1883. She worked “in service” until Joseph came along in probably 1888 or ’89 and they married and began life together in and around Montrose. There were four children: Ruth, Hazel Marie, Henry and Fred. They lived on at least one farm. They didn’t appear to care much about moving around the countryside.
Mother didn’t have as many stories as Dad and only began to tell them as she got older. She remembered her job as a child was to keep the wicks on the kerosene lamps trimmed and tidy and to wash the glass chimneys when they became blackened with soot. She remembered her father going to town with the horse and wagon, sometimes being gone for a day or even two days. Her mother didn’t like those times because she had to collect water from a creek some distance from the house. She didn’t mind that but they owned a bull that ranged free and was put into an absolute fury at the sight of her skirts moving in the breeze. So leaving the children in the house with them all on the watch for the bull she would try to go forth slowly so as not to draw attention to herself and if he did see her she would move as fast as she could while trying not to spill the water. ostly Mother remembered Sophia for being sick for a long time. It was thought that she was suffering from TB. But the doctor finally came to Joseph and said they had been treating her for the wrong disease, she actually had stomach cancer and she died from it at age 42. Mother was 12.
Mama expressed great admiration and love for her father. Although he was advised to give all the children to others to raise he said, “No, I’ll keep them all together” and he did. Mother was born with a large port wine stain birthmark. It went from the right side of her head, down her forehead and covered her right eyelid. We always saw it and so didn’t think much of it but I’m sure it made her a shy child, unsure of herself.
I don’t know that mother thought she would marry. So at an age when others were marrying she took herself off to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Mitchell to go into training to become a nurse. Her father only had $20 to give her and she went to Mitchell with that and one pair of black shoes that she polished and polished and wore until there were holes in the soles She used folded newspaper to fill the space in order to save money. It was 1910. Nursing school was very, very hard work — classes and patients 24 hours a day. And when the classes and shifts were finished it was up to the third floor for studying and sleep. It turned out she really liked this rigorous life.
She kept working during a scarlet fever epidemic, nursing patients and nursing nurses. She was one of the last to get sick. Her fever was so high that she lost her hair and had to wait a while til it came back. She particularly liked surgical nursing which she studied under “the noted surgeon Dr. B. A. Bobb. After graduation she went to work with Dr. Bobb at a clinic he opened. He had a surgery on the first floor and she was in charge of the medical section on the second floor. Mother always said to us girls that we should have some career so that we could always take care of ourselves. She was able to use her skills many times during the years to keep the family going.
Now its time for Joe and Hazel to meet. She knew Daisy O’Rielly, who was married to dad’s brother Miles and that girl loved to dance. And that’s how they met, a blind date at a dance. My sister Nina asked me if I had every seen Mother and Dad being affectionate with one another and I had to say no but they must have felt something once because they married when she was 24 and he was 22.
There was a great World War going on while they are setting up housekeeping. They ignored it long enough to have their first child who they named Josephine. But Americans boys were being called on to enlist and save Europe from the dreadful Huns. Dad enlisted and mother stayed with her father and the baby in Draper. Her father was sick with heart disease and died in October of 1918. The secret she kept all of her life she whispered just two months before she died was this: her father had a small amount of money to leave and he told her to keep it all and not give any to her sister Ruth because she was not his daughter. Sophia had come to him with the baby. I asked Mama what she had done and she said “I gave her half of the money.” And did you tell her? “No. She was my sister.”
Dad was trained as a machine gunner in World War I but he would never talk about the fighting. Just stories about how scared all these midwestern types were out in the middle of the oceaφn. As many as possibly could do it slept on the deck. No matter what the weather, it was better than the tight, airless space below decks.
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That’s as far as Grace got with writing her family history .
In her oral tradition, she told of how their departure for California was prompted in part by her Dad’s run in with the Church. He dared to check out a book on the life of Martin Luther. The librarian snitched to the priest and Joe suddenly started getting bills for a family pew he’d never requested. He refused them, of course, and soon found trade was falling off in his dairy.
With World War II creating demand for workers in Southern California, Joe and a reluctant Hazel decided to move their family to East Los Angeles. In the barrio Grace found herself adopted by the gang in her hood, who warned all other gangs that they had her back. Perhaps this explains how on their first date Grace sang Me Voy Pal Pueblo, a song by the Trio los Panchos.
Our friend Colleen Foye Bollen talked with Gracie about her family’s move from South Dakota to California and sent these notes:
Her dad got gassed during WW1 with mustard gas. It hurt his lungs, so he could not tolerate the South Dakota winters. His three brothers had all moved west to Oregon.
Grace was about seven when she and her family moved from South Dakota to LA. Her mom had a large family and it was difficult for her to leave them and move out west. They moved to East LA. Most of the neighborhood was Hispanic. She would stay with the neighbor kids after school, even though she was supposed to stay home alone. Her dad had a whistle she could hear from blocks away. When he got home and whistled, she’d run home.
Her mom was a nurse – worked 3 pm to 11 pm. Grace spent a lot of time with her dad.
The Mexican gang from her street told all the other gangs that Grace was one of theirs & off limits. They watched out for her and kept her safe.
When Grace’s family arrived in LA (about 1943) the Zootsuit riots were happening. Grace told me about Mexican gangs – pachucos – that fought Navy guys. She said the pachuco gang members put razor blades in the toes of their shoes to do more damage to the sailors. She could hear the gangs running in the streets with the metal toed shoes when she was in bed.
Grace went to the prom with a Mexican boy, but had to meet him down the block so her father wouldn’t know. She could hang out with the Mexican girls, but not the boys.
Grace and I met in the Fall of 1955. I was a senior in anthropology and she was the department secretary. She was warm and open and had a lovely smile. I fell in love with her almost instantly.
We went to see Mr. Hulot’s Holiday for a first date, enjoying Jacques Tati’s wry slapstick in this comedy with very little dialogue. We’ve watched it many times since. (A dvd of it arrived the day before Grace died.)
On Valentine’s day I proposed marriage, after a number of friends and my mother advised me to stick with my plan for graduate work instead. My mother had even warned Grace that I would likely die at an early age or become blind because of my diabetes. Grace just said yes to my proposal.
For now I’ll not write a decade by decade walk through of Grace’s marriage to me. But there is one period that is worth covering. In the late 60s and early 70s we went through a dance that led to our separation for a year. It’s an archetype of what many couples went through then. The male chauvinism I displayed forty years ago appears too often today, even in the Republicans’ policies on women’s role and freedoms. Grace’s journals from that time display a remarkable maturity. see next post
Since Grace died I have been learning a great deal about her and about our relationship. I have felt many regrets for things I did and things I didn’t do, going all the way back to the beginning. What you don’t see in the lovely picture gallery of us is the many times of turbulence and distress, especially in the 60s and early 70s. What we went through is an important part of Grace’s story, and the story of many women in her generation and even later. Continue reading The gap in our 57 years
My many perfectionist suggestions of how Grace could be a better person ground away at her self-esteem. I was controlling in my rationality and my failure to really hear what Grace was saying. One friend got so angry at me over this that he broke off our friendship for two decades.
What long convoluted arguments we had in the kitchen about my quest for the perfect breast, my desire for other sexual partners, even to form sexual threesomes. Most times Grace closed down rather than wield her Irish anger in defense.
Finally, I had a few stoned one-night stands and Grace was patient with me, giving me space to have my fling. But then we joined Claudio Naranjo’s intensive spiritual-psychological group, SAT. One side-effect was a game of sexual musical chairs many of us played. I went to excess with one younger woman to the point that Grace finally threw me out, tearing my vintage Pendelton shirt and breaking my rare Hopi pottery in her rage. We each moved into communes of SAT members, I with my younger woman. Grace found a new partner.
This is how Grace looked at the time of our separation.
And here is what Grace wrote then and during the following summer:
Grace’s journal: Easter Sunday, 1973 at Claudio Naranjo’s working home
The recognition of being at a new beginning and of the God in all. Touching Judith’s stomach after crying for what is over between E & I & feeling the beginning of new life in her. The cycle — something ends and something else begins to let go of what is ended.
In all sense that space is over — new things to come. With great love and tenderness . . . What is past & what is now. And the God & beauty in all things. The acceptance of your destiny (mine)
The ways in which we are alone and the ways in which we help and can be with one another.
Although we are alone & must know that, to be able to reach out to those who suffer and have others reach out to you in your pain. In a way that is just accepting. Not to try to solve the pain or sense of loss thru anything but presence.
Do not regret the past & do not worry about the future.
The snake w its tail in its mouth.
There is no beginning & ending. It’s all continuum . . . cycles . . . circles . . .
Nothing is ever really finished. It just changes form & substance. Weddings, births, deaths, partings . . . all is flow.
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The Summer of 1973 Grace drove up the Pacific coast with Martha and Corky (our Samoyed) to Cortes Island in British Columbia.
OK so now I know:
Pretty soon I will be self-sufficient enough that I can make the choice. It isn’t necessary to either be alone or no. Just to know it isn’t compulsive.
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Islands are good places. Places to leave the past behind. Not to be allowed for long though. BIG E comes on the scene. He sent the indications from Claudio & enclosed a little note saying he could see me again & wants to try to “get it back together” in the Fall. Flood of anger and sadness and the fear of being plowed under again—stifled—not having what I want—having to give up Clarke. I’m suddenly remembering the way E wooed me before and I wouldn’t like that near so well now. Anyway I’m trying not to let that spoil my time here.
The tide was way out yesterday. I walked to the little island and climbed to top. Beautiful view of Vancouver Island. Mountains clear with no clouds . . . fish in schools that M saw . . silver. . . an eagle. Went swimming in the “chuck” & dried nude on the rocks. Incredibly beautiful.
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Ernest says :
One of my regrets—beyond how I had forced her throw me out—is that I knew quite well how I had “plowed” her under. I’d let a character in my writing call me on it and I knew who was really speaking to me:
Anna Moon’s song to the poet
You tell me we’re one,
the two of us are one,
but you keep on forgetting
I’ve got to be me
before being you.
You tell me we’re one
with your eyes soft and warm,
but you never have seen
I’ve got my own way
of being everything.
You tell we’re one.
Your words suck me in,
but you push me away
for dancing my foxtrot
while you’re trying to tango.
I tell you I’m me,
shaped with great care.
Don’t tear me down
with your mystical eyes.
I’ll find my own way.
Grace was understandably wary of me when we started seeing each other again in the Fall of 1973. She finally accepted me when I came to her after photographing Swami Muktananda at a weekend retreat. I was so opened up by the experience that Grace looked into my eyes and said, “I think you’ve finally learned how to love.”
We traveled with Baba to Hawaii and Colorado, where he re-married us.
Martha was born June 8, 1958 in San Francisco.
Was it my great grandpa?
Or my great-great grandpa
that sailed here from that
wet, green land,
fleeing bad potatoes and pitiless rich men,
Planted all one variety, against common sense,
oh but they were tasty,
until the black rot came.
And millions died.
So he set forth,
that great or great-great young man.
To a country where, shortly,
Irish Need Not Apply.
To South Dakota
the wild prarie land.
To a life free, at least,
of the bloody bastards that
killed so many of his own.
A photograph of
solemn children in Sunday best,
arranged by size from tallest
Grandpa somewhere in the middle.
Grandpa and I.
Both bald and smiling
at one another,
we look alike.
The Clancy brothers sang
throughout my childhood.
I sang with them,
learning every word of angry rebel songs
and sweet sweet love songs.
I was ashamed to be an American,
it was the ’60’s ya know.
So it was Up the Irish and
up the IRA too,
Cuchullain and Boadaicea my heroes.
a sense of national pride,
I became a sympathizer
with those who blew up
men, women and children.
They had a right after all,
freedom fighters for a
for outright genocide.
The paper today
said its been 150 years
since the time of the potato blight
and empty stomachs.
Starvation first, then
typhoid and cholera.
Bodies too weak to resist.
And millions died.
The grain the could have
the grain grown by them,
shipped to England.
While they died.
Millions more fled
to Canada and America.
Human ballast for
returning to clear-cut more forests
that did not belong to them.
Raping a new frontier,
not content with having just raped
a small green island.
Seven weeks it took,
locked below with
dead and dying.
So crowded that children
shared beds with their dead
brothers and sisters.
My great or great-great granda
came this way
Was he born on the ship?
I dont recall the story exactly.
It must have been a
nightmare upon nightmare.
I hope that the clean, clear
the prarie hills and wildflowers,
the call of a hawk
soaring high above,
cleansed his mind.
Of his black dreams
of the black rot,
the black hold.
And that a warm
black Badlands night,
pierced with a million stars
for a million dead,
held him close.
If I put this poem into an envelope
address it to you in the Bardos
will Jaime find a way to get it to you?
Or perhaps I should drop it in a creek
flowing down to the sea . . .
After a busy dry day I break down
leaning against the kitchen sink
shaking, seeing you not here, not here
not here wearing your flowery silk robe
not here, smiling as I hand you half a honey tangerine.
Not here . . .
How can I possibly say, “Not here”
when I see across our round oak table
(Uncl’n Alan’s gift in 1963)
your flowery red silk robe
a red box full of Tibetan mandalas
your books — Peace is Every Step
Exploring the Labyrinth
Pema’s No Time to Lose
There’s Hanuman leaping into the air
carrying the Universe to safety
(you brought him to me from China in 1980).
On the bookshelf slender Ganesh
dances to remove obstacles
dances to bless new beginnings.
March 7, 2014
A month now since you left.
BJay took your elegant clothes
(the ones you were waiting
for a special occasion to wear)
to the Sali and consignment shops.
Your closet’s empty now.
I’m still eating your rosemary crackers
your dried stawberries and apricots
all the treats I’d stocked up for you . . .
perhaps my magic to keep you alive.
Your bottle of Proseco sits in the fridge
awaiting a last toast to you.
Dozens of lilies on the front porch
are rising up to bloom for you soon
but your fragrant sweet peas
aren’t ready to flower.
I’m not ready to stop grieving,
missing you, my long-time lover
with a pain deeper than a bear’s bite.
Maybe, My Lady,
after fifty-seven years
I’ve just started to know you.