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In light of President Trump’s executive order suspending immigration, students in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Mosaic journalism class are working on a series of stories about the role of Lincoln and the state of Nebraska in the resettlement of refugees.
We’d like to hear from you and publish your comments to help tell a richer and broader story.
Over the course of the state’s history of refugee resettlement, many friendships have been formed between Nebraskans and refugees. We’d like to publish those stories.
Late afternoon light pours into the Diaz Brothers Barbershop in downtown Crete, Nebraska, making the goldenrod-yellow walls of the small shop glow.
Owner Julian Diaz has just finished cutting a customer’s hair and is sweeping the floor of the small shop, which has two stations — one for him and one for his brother, David Diaz.
His four-year-old business is growing, and he enjoys the work. His job allows him to see many different kinds of people every day.
“I get to cut the hair of people from everywhere from Africa to Asia,” he said. “I really like what I do because of that.”
This diversity is a reflection of Crete’s expanding minority communities. An abundance of job opportunities at nearby plants and factories, along with a safe environment to raise families, has attracted to Crete a significant number of Latinos (35 percent), a fair number of Vietnamese and a handful of Burmese, Sudanese, Somali, Serbians and Bosnians.
To help the community’s growing group of newcomers, the City of Crete created a new position: a community assistance director whose main job is to provide services for minorities and anyone in need of help.
It’s thought to be the first government position of its kind in Nebraska, Crete officials said. And it is just one of many efforts Crete has made to welcome newcomers since populations started to shift.
City officials hired Crete native Dulce Castañeda for the position at the end of June. Castañeda is a Latina and Crete High School alumna who obtained her bachelor’s degree in communications studies and sociology at Northwestern University in May.
While the new position is still evolving, Castañeda’s job duties revolve around assisting people in need. Her responsibilities are to provide services for newcomers, help make individuals self-sufficient and foster relationships between the community and city government.
The idea to designate a community assistance director started with City Administrator Tom Ourada. In December 2015, he attended the National Immigrant Integration Conference in New York City, a conference focused on welcoming efforts. At first, Ourada felt as though Crete had nothing in common with the larger cities represented, but he soon realized they faced similar issues.
“I sat at a table with two people from Chicago, a person from Minneapolis and a person from New York City,” he said. “They said we all have the same challenges, [but] yours might be on a smaller scale.”
Ourada was inspired by other city governments that created departments dedicated to helping minorities. He realized that he could make big-city ideas Crete-sized and spent months developing a department head position dedicated to helping new community members. The position’s function would be to help newcomers with questions and minorities with problems they might not feel comfortable asking others.
Now four months later, Castañeda spends the majority of her day helping people with things like registering to vote, starting a new business, applying for Medicaid, finding translating services or filling out job applications.
“Everyone needs something different, or comes in for one thing and doesn’t realize they need three or four other things,” she said. “It starts with the simple things.”
Her priorities as community assistance director are to establish trust in the minority communities and spread the word about the position. A strong rapport is necessary, she said, particularly when the individual needs help with a more difficult situation like domestic abuse or having undocumented status.
Because of the position’s design, she reports directly to Ourada. This helps build confidence in Castañeda’s services because reporting to the city council or mayor might require private problems to be released as public information.
Castañeda’s position isn’t Crete’s only effort to assist newcomers, city officials said. The school district, police department and churches have been working with city government for years to help its minority communities.
And because of this collaborative approach, Crete received the Roots of Justice Award in October from Nebraska Appleseed, an immigrant and refugee advocacy nonprofit.
This award was given in recognition of Crete’s welcoming efforts. While usually awarded to an individual, the selection committee made an exception when it determined there were many people responsible for Crete’s efforts, Mayor Roger Foster said.
Implementing the community assistance position in Crete has been a natural progression for a city that has been changing over the past 25 years. Crete’s demographics started to shift around 1990, when Latino families started moving there for jobs at places like Smithfield Foods and Nestlé Purina.
The population size of about 5,000 was also appealing to those raising families, since that meant low crime rates and less expensive housing. While Crete remains family-friendly, its population has skyrocketed to 7,037 in 2015, a 15.3 percent increase since 2000.
Castañeda said that services for minorities started appearing in the community before her family moved into town in 1996, but services were more sparse. She remembered being pulled from class to translate for new families whose children were starting school in Crete.
And although the city now has a much richer network of minority-friendly resources and attributes like bilingual bank tellers, Castañeda’s mother remembers a different Crete 20 years ago.
Carmen Castañeda didn’t have anyone besides her children to help translate in situations like doctor visits. During school hours, she was on her own.
“Every day I needed to find someone (to help). I went to the hospital and I just tried my best,” she said, laughing. “Yeah, I don’t know how I handled it.”
Carmen Castañeda said that although people were usually friendly, a laundromat owner once asked her to leave as she was washing clothes. And the local paper had its share of nasty letters to the editor when more Latinos started settling into the community.
Dulce Castañeda remembers reading those letters, too.
“There were letters to the editor that … sometimes were hurtful in regards to population changes,” she said. “And then slowly people just kind of began to accept it, that the change was happening and there wasn’t anything they could do. More than that, embracing the change.”
Ourada agreed. His minority-focused ideas often receive support from the community, he said. However, he added that he still has conversations with people who “feel threatened” by changing populations or don’t see value in Crete’s approach.
“People have said, ‘You are catering to the minority,’ which isn’t really true,” he said. “We’re trying to help anybody and everybody succeed, but we help most the people that need the most help.”
Now that Dulce Castañeda has started to settle into her position, Crete officials are looking ahead to their next projects to help minority populations. At the top of their list is creating interim housing to accommodate Crete’s influx of newcomers.
Crete’s leaders are also trying to encourage more Latino leadership to represent the needs and views of Latinos. Dulce Castañeda currently holds the highest governmental position in city government and there are no Latinos on the City Council, although some serve on city boards and committees.
While the community assistance director’s services are for all newcomers, most of her interactions have been with the Latino community. There is a growing Vietnamese community in town, but it has generally been more difficult for non-Latino minorities to remain settled in Crete at this time. Lincoln, which is 30 miles away, is often a better option because it has more ethnic grocery stores and established communities.
The individuals who remain in Crete, however, find welcoming and helpful people throughout the community— from government leaders to entrepreneurs like Julian Diaz, the barbershop owner.
Crete has been an ideal place to open up shop, he said, because as a Crete native, he already had strong connections. He has grown his business over the last four years and now supports his family as a single-income earner with the barbershop’s profits.
Providing support for entrepreneurs is another focus of Dulce Castañeda’s services, and one of many examples of the value she has brought to the community, Mayor Foster said.
“Dulce’s been very busy and (her position) is one of those things you didn’t realize how much you needed until it’s there,” he said. “We have new businesses (in Crete) and those numbers continue to grow.
“Immigrants are much more likely to start a new business and take a risk. They’re entrepreneurs and we’re lucky to have them. … They’re good members of our community, and we see our community as everyone and not different parts.”
Food. At its core, it is a source of life. A necessity. We cannot survive without it.
But food is much more. Food feeds the soul. It is a reflection of our culture and who we are. It is an integral part of our histories, our traditions, our celebrations.
For refugees and immigrants feeling their way in a new country, food becomes even more important. It is a precious link to the past. A way to feel at home in a place that is not home.
This multimedia project, produced by University of Nebraska-Lincoln students in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications Mosaic course, examines the importance of food in the lives of new Americans in Nebraska.
It’s after school, in the library of Roper Elementary, and several pre-schoolers sit on the floor playing with Legos while school-age children play educational games on computers. In the corner, a fussy baby is being bounced in the arms of a young volunteer. Across the room, two women talk about the day’s upcoming lessons.
Down the hall, away from the noisy little ones, eight refugee and immigrant parents work hard to master English so they can more better provide for their children.
The parents and children are participating in the Family Literacy Activities for Immigrants and Refugees program, established by Lincoln Literacy in 2007 to provide literacy classes for immigrant and refugee parents while offering free educational childcare for their children. Transportation to the 11 locations the program is offered also is provided.
FLAIR is just one of the programs Lincoln Literacy offers annually to more than 1,000 people, 90 percent of whom are refugees and immigrants. More than 300 volunteers help provide a variety of English language learning services.
FLAIR aims to teach children language skills as well as science, technology, math and behavioral skills, said Bonodji Nako, the family literacy coordinator at Lincoln Literacy.
“Some of these kids are just entering school as kindergartners, others are new to American schools, so we incorporate LPS behavior standards into our own classes to help kids get used to school expectations,” she said.
On this day, Nako was helping 7-year-old Fabian Ibarra boot up a new laptop and log onto freerice.com, a charitable website with educational games. For each correct answer on this site 10 grains of rice are donated to people in need. Nako helped Fabian set a rice goal to reach for each subject before moving on to another and asked him about why he thought it was important that they were using this particular site to learn.
“The ones in need are more important than the ones who already have stuff,” Ibarra replied.
Nearby, Anna Helzer, a freshman Spanish education major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, shares with other volunteers a new idea for helping the kids learn English. She had large Lego blocks with words on them and smaller blocks with single letters so her mentee could stack small blocks to recreate the words found on the larger blocks. Helzer had also drawn pictures of the words featured on the blocks.
FLAIR has a semester schedule with summers off, similar to the schedule of LPS. The program has measurable goals for students but tries to minimize formal testing. Instructors fill out behavior profile sheets each month, stating how well students exhibit certain behaviors, such as participation, following directions and playing well with others. Instructors also fill out a sheet reporting literacy and numeracy skills and explaining how each student prefers to learn, whether they are a visual, verbal, written or hands-on learners.
Nako said that this is what makes FLAIR unique.
“We teach a la carte. We watch our kids for the first two to three weeks and then set routines based on their individual needs.”
According to Lincoln Literacy, immigrant and refugee children can face extra hardships that can stand in the way of their education. First-generation Hispanic students have a 13 percent lower graduation rate than the overall LPS graduation rate and it is likely this statistic applies to refugee students as well. FLAIR’s goal is to help LPS close this gap.
Parents can contact Lincoln Literacy to enroll themselves and their children in classes.
As parents came down from the end of the hall to pick up their children at the end of the day’s class, Nako encouraged the kids to take home one of the free books that FLAIR provides.
“We only see them once a week,” Nako said. “So we encourage the parents to take a book to read to their children so that the parents and the kids are learning together, even when they’re not in class.”
Meanwhile, Helzer gathered up the Legos with words and letters written on them. She spoke fondly to Nako about her five-year-old mentee, whom she meets with for an hour and a half every Thursday and of the bond they have been able to build during the last two months.
“When we first met she would hardly talk at all,” Helzer said. “Now when she first sees me every week she runs up and tells me all about her week in really fast Spanish. I can’t quite catch it all but it’s so nice to see that she’s becoming more confident.”
Every Monday, Lucy Long, a secondary math and English education major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, spends about an hour mentoring a refugee family, teaching them English and helping them adjust to life in the United States.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s a small amount of time. But for Long of Lincoln, who also tutors high school students, leads a Bible study, visits Alzheimer’s patients and talks with homeless people in downtown Lincoln, it’s a considerable investment.
“It’s like a part-time job I don’t get paid for but definitely better than a part-time job,” she said.
Long is a volunteer at Lincoln Friends of Refugees, a refugee mentorship program staffed almost entirely by UNL students.
But the organization doesn’t have as many volunteers as it needs. Only about 12 students volunteer each semester, and two mentors are assigned to each refugee family. So only about six families are mentored, and more families want mentors but can’t get them due to the volunteer shortage, according to Drew Miller, the founder and director of the program.
Miller started Lincoln Friends of Refugees as a UNL student in the fall 2013 semester to give busy college students the opportunity to work with refugees. He modeled the program on the TeamMates mentoring program, so he requires students to spend at least one hour a week with a refugee family for three months. During that time, volunteers help the refugees acculturate to the U.S., primarily by immersing them in English.
“I always say that it’s the best opportunity to put the refugees in a place where they have to encounter the English language,” Miller said.
Long, who has mentored three families, said the volunteers are given packets of English lessons for them to go over with the refugees.
But the material isn’t necessarily taught in a classroom lecture format. One Yazidi girl Long worked with liked to pretend to be a teacher, so Long let her lead the instruction.
“You love kids that are energetic and passionate, but then you want to direct that energy and passion into learning,” Long said.
On Halloween night, Long and another volunteer, Katie Seim, were at the home of the Yazidi family they had been mentoring for about a month. In the modestly furnished and dimly lit living room, they sat next to small cups of chai on a rug nearly as big as the room.
The family has five children, so on this night, Long and Seim, a finance major at UNL, helped with math homework of varying degrees of difficulty.
When the father came home from the store, Long and Seim helped him go through his mail, explaining each piece to him and telling him what do with a bill and a report card, which showed that one of the daughters has all A’s and B’s.
No one in the family speaks much English yet, so throughout the night, they used the Google Translate app on one of the daughter’s phones, although the translations are often humorously inaccurate.
The father took one of the chai cups back to the kitchen and brought out snacks for his guests — first pistachios, then mini candy bars. It was Halloween, after all.
All of the refugees Long has worked with have made her feel like part of the family, offering her Coca-Cola, orange soda or even beer, which she politely turned down.
Long said the father in another Yazidi family told her and another mentor through a translator, “While you’re here, you’re my daughters. If you’re cold, tell me to turn up the heat. If you’re hungry, get something from the fridge. If I don’t understand, just do it for yourself.”
Despite the benefits of working with refugees for college students like Long, the program struggles to attract more volunteers. Miller said the main reason is that college students have such busy schedules.
And some college students aren’t dependable, so Miller only accepts volunteers who he knows can make it every week.
“I’d rather have six families get a lot attention in a semester than have 20 families where 15 of them are like, ‘Yeah, we saw them once or twice,'” he said.
Long said although there are many families who need help, it’s hard to move from one family after getting to know them.
“I know it’s cliché, but it’s like you really get more out of it than you give.”
The Asian Community and Cultural Center recently faced the challenge of moving to a new location within 30 days. The nonprofit has moved into a new home, but now it faces another test: finding money to pay for rent that has doubled.
On June 28, the center received notice that the building at 2635 O St. was sold. The center paid $1,000 a month with a month-to-month lease at the old address and had been there for five years. That lease meant lower monthly payments for an organization with financial stress, said CEO and executive director Sheila Dorsey Vinton.
Through word of mouth, the center found a new location at 144 N. 44th St., Suite A. With help from volunteers, furniture was moved and the new space was painted, re-carpeted and re-tiled.
Now the center is trying to find ways to pay the monthly $2,000 rent.
360-degree photos of the new space (click on “fisheye” to change the view):
The center helps refugees and immigrants in Lincoln by offering more than 20 different programs and special services such as tax preparation assistance, English language learning classes, citizenship classes, advanced writing classes, women’s groups and youth and senior programs. The center, which serves 700 to 1,000 people each year, opened its doors in 1994 to Asian refugees and immigrants as well as Asian Americans so that they could have a community space for education and a place to preserve Asian cultural heritage. It now helps people from all cultures and backgrounds.
All of the programs are funded through donations and grant monies. But when it comes to administrative costs like rent, very few grants cover those expenses.
“That’s going to be a challenge as we go forward,” said Daizaburo Shizuka, a member of the center’s board of directors. “Most of the grant money goes to implementing programs and staff hours. We’ll have to adjust the budget and increase fundraising to make up for the difference.”
The center doesn’t plan to increase the number of fundraisers, but has instead focused on making its fundraisers — like the recent Curry Clash — bigger, Shizuka said.
Despite the challenges ahead, the center’s staff is happy about the move.
“The advantages here are greater than any disadvantages,” Dorsey Vinton said.
The new building has have more usable space, over 20 new parking and no steep stairs, which allows seniors to move about the center easier. It also is located closer to two larger Asian communities. One of those has 40 to 69 Asian residents and the other has 92 to 143, according to 2010 Census data compiled by GIS and Human Dimensions, LLC.
Although the center lost about 200 square feet in the move, it gained a shared conference room. That additional space could mean additional programs in the future, Dorsey Vinton said.
The center has been in the new building for a few months, but the move couldn’t have been accomplished without the volunteers and donations from local businesses and restaurants, she noted.
Slideshow of volunteers remodeling and moving furniture into the new building.
Twenty volunteers from the center’s Karen youth group and its board helped move desks, computers, tables and other furniture to the new location.
Bryan Seck, a developer from Prosper Lincoln, Nebraska Wesleyan University students and others helped paint the new building.
Slim Chicken’s donated food for the volunteers and Union Bank and Trust donated chairs for the new office space.
“It’s really great when you have community support from banks and restaurants,” Dorsey Vinton said.
Griffith Swidler had taken French classes before traveling abroad last year, but by no means did he speak French.
Not the way French people speak French, anyway.
He learned as much of the language as he could conventionally in a classroom, but as anyone who has learned a second language will tell you: books and worksheets will only take you so far.
“You have to experiment a lot,” said Swidler, who applies the same principle when teaching English as a second language to refugees at Lincoln Literacy.
In the search to find better ways to learn and teach English, students and teachers alike have been experimenting with online technology — ranging from YouTube to language apps. Teaching and learning a language is a personal experience that can vary greatly from one teacher or learner to another — but teachers agree that engaging with the language on a regular basis is a necessity for effective learning. And that’s why free and accessible online tools are helping.
Some of those teaching ESL in Lincoln report success with an application called Duolingo — a free language-learning platform available on any computer or phone. Swidler is a big proponent of the app.
After you create an account, the website asks you what language you want to learn and how long you want to study each day. The choices range from five to 20 minutes per day and are tracked as goals for learners. Users new to a language can start from the beginning or take a placement test.
Duolingo also caters to different learning styles. It uses pictures for the visual learner and has an audio function to help with learning pronunciations of words, in addition to traditional vocabulary and grammar memorization. You can even speak into the microphone on your computer or phone and have the app give you feedback on your pronunciation.
Rhonda Dutra Gross, a professor in UNL’s Intensive English Program, not only has her students use Duolingo, but she uses it herself because it’s engaging and convenient.
“I’m trying to learn French,” said Dutra Gross, who has taught English for 17 years in a variety of countries, from China to Brazil. “It works with your reading, writing, listening and speaking skills.”
While Dutra Gross acknowledged that she doesn’t know of any research that proves or disproves the effectiveness of technology in English language learning, she knows it has worked for her.
“I know that it engages my students well,” she said. “And for the next 20 minutes after I play a computer game with them, they are paying attention to me, which helps.”
Swidler agreed that there has to be supplemental conversation and work outside of a classroom.
“Right before I went to France, I didn’t want to show up and know nothing,” Swidler said. “I had taken classes here (at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln), but it was like 50 minutes and then you leave and speak English.”
The UNL senior global studies major said he didn’t feel like he was retaining much of what he learned after class. He found that to be a problem with the students he taught as well. So he kept experimenting.
One method he found especially effective for learning French was to watch French movies. He watched with the subtitles on and eventually progressed to watching without subtitles. It was a quirky solution for Swidler, but one that he said helped him a lot.
He now recommends that to his students.
“If you have time, go to the library,” Swidler said. “Watch a movie in English. Go online and read articles.”
In a recent newsletter, Lincoln Literacy also suggested that method for English learners but using American TV programs with subtitles. The newsletter cited a YouTube program especially prepared for English language learners the focuses on the American TV comedy “Friends,” which is popular around the world.
John Andrews, an ESL teacher at UNL since 2011, said he’s found that YouTube videos can be helpful as supplemental material to coursework.
Lincoln Literacy suggests YouTube as a way for language learners to supplement their weekly tutor sessions.
“Most of our volunteer tutors meet with you once a week,” the Lincoln Literacy newsletter said. “But that doesn’t mean that you can only learn once a week. You have opportunities to learn every day, if only you try. YouTube can be a helpful partner in learning English.”
The newsletter noted that these YouTube channels are especially helpful.
For those without Internet access at home or on a mobile device, language learners can go to a branch of Lincoln City Libraries and sign up for access.
Swidler, who had never taught before taking the position at Lincoln Literacy last summer, knew that he’d have to quickly adapt as hew as teaching students who knew little of his language, and he knew little of theirs.
In addition to the tech tools and strategies he now offers his students, he has some simple advice for the refugees he teaches: read as much as you can.
“That way you are learning about your community. A lot of them (students) are pretty new to America, so you are learning about your community and also practicing your English,” he said. “It’s pressure free, there is no one there judging your reading. Use Google Translate next to it.”
The newsletter includes international, national and local stories of particular interest to Lincoln’s refugee and immigrant communities. It also includes an update of stories students publish during the year.
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And if you have a story or information you’d like us to share in our newsletter, please email Professor Michelle Hassler at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This time next year, I hope to be living in another country.
Of course, I will miss Nebraska—it’s been my home all my life—but I’m ready to try something new. Despite planning this move for the past three years, I am a little nervous about it. Moving to a new country is difficult. Even in this day and age, when transportation is quick and support is readily available. I’m sure my ancestors felt the same way when they immigrated here.
My father’s side was predominantly Irish: Edward Coffey was born in Ireland in 1670. He moved to the United States and married Ann Powell in 1699 in Essex County, Virginia. Their daughter married the son of an English immigrant. Over a century later, the family later moved to the Midwest.
In the early 1920s, my great-grandparents on my mother’s side moved from Friesland, a northwestern province in the Netherlands, and they settled in the Midwest. All four of my grandparents grew up in Chicago. They went to school and married there, then moved out of the city to raise their families.
The Osenga family—my mother’s side—moved to Anchorage, Alaska. My father’s side moved to Tarpon Springs, Florida. My parents met when my father moved to Alaska for two years while my grandparents worked.
When doing research for this project, I was surprised to see that I have family from all over the United States and ancestors from many different places. Although I am still a little uncertain about my upcoming move, I can see that I come from a long line of world-travelers.
The Irish. Everyone thinks they know everything about the Irish.
Here is where I want to dispel every assumption about Irish families, but the reality is I can’t.
Yeah, my family loves carbs. Bread, potatoes, you name it. We love it, and we aren’t afraid to admit it.
Wherever my mom’s side holds a family reunion, the location pretty much becomes the third most populated city in South Dakota. We all genuinely try to remember everyone’s name, but it seems like there is a new name to remember every other month. My mother is one of 10 children. Three branches of her family’s tree have more than six children — and counting.
Big families, carbs and Catholicism. That’s the big three. When I’m having an issue, my mom is quick on the draw with the patron saint I can pray to for a resolution.
When you grow up in a big family, I guess it is natural to wonder where the hell all of these people came from.
My mother, Rebecca, is the daughter of Elgin Edward Lemon and Ann Keating.
Elgin died before I was born. I never got to know his side’s story. His grandparents came to America by way of Germany in the mid-1800s and settled in the Midwest. His parents were farmers, he was in the Navy during World War II and, according to my mom, he liked routines. And disliked when they were broken.
Ann was raised in Yankton, South Dakota, where she still lives and where five of her 10 children live. The Keating side of the family is so well documented someone could write a book about them.
I have gotten the best impression of the roots of my family from the stories I have heard about the Keatings. My dad, Jeff Bowden, is from a small, tight-knit family. I haven’t ever gotten to know much about his side outside of my grandparents and my one aunt’s family.
Ann’s paternal grandparents, Edward and Mary Keating, came to America from Ireland in the mid-1800s and met in Wisconsin. They had 14 children; only 10 lived into adulthood. John Laurence was the 14th child born to Edward and Mary. He is my grandmother’s father.
Rumor has it Mary, who was widowed when John was five, had a tough time keeping John in check. He was a big fighter (check fighting Irish off the Irish assumptions list). He only ever attained a fourth grade education, which wasn’t all that uncommon.
John grew up and moved to Yankton, where he began working at his brother Frank’s creamery. Keating Creamery would later be called Keating Dairy, but it started out selling only butter. When milk was added to the list of products, it could officially be called a dairy.
Mary liked Wisconsin because it reminded her of Ireland. Her children working in South Dakota got her to move West in the early 1900s, but she moved back to Wisconsin two years later because the plains weren’t enough like her old country.
My grandma Ann’s mother was Patricia Hart. She was John Keating’s second wife. He had two children with his first wife, who died in 1922 of tuberculosis. John and Patricia had five children together.
Patricia was my great grandmother’s name on her birth certificate, but everyone called her Bob. Her father, Patrick, who had three daughters and a son at the time Patricia was born, wanted to name another son Bob. So he called his daughter Bob.
Patrick was born in Canada. His parents, Cormac and Winifred, both came to Canada from Ireland because it was $10 cheaper than sailing to America.
Patrick moved from a small town in Ontario to Minnesota by way of covered wagon. He married my great-great grandmother Ellen in Minnesota. Ellen’s parents were both born in County Kilkenny, Ireland. Her mother paid her way to America by agreeing to work as a maid for two years in the ship captain’s home in New York.
My great grandmother Patricia was Pat and Ellen Hart’s youngest child.
My great aunt described her mother as “CATHOLIC” — in capital letters. She was a heavy religious influence on her children. One of her children, Larry, became a priest. Another, Ginner, became a nun — Sister Angeline.
Grandmother Ann was influenced by her mother as well. My mother remembers Sundays when my grandparents would lug 10 children to mass. Everyone attended Catholic grade school. Ann played the organ at church.
She learned piano by ear. She is 89 and in the late stages of Alzheimer’s now so she does not play piano. I haven’t even heard her talk in the last five years. Even when she struggled to remember the names of her children though, she could still play piano. You could whistle her a tune and she would be able to play the entire song. It was incredible to see how piano was what she remembered best.
Big families, carbs and Catholicism.
I grew up in a house with six people. We have always been competitive. We stress out our mother with our arguments. But when I need advice, or just need to vent, I have someone to confide in.
My siblings and I give my mom grief when we all get back together and dinner is, like clockwork, pork loin and potatoes. In between the banter at the table, we jokingly ask mom when the menu will be different.
The answer is never — and we’re alright with that.