Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas 2010

Several generations back, the Sullivan side of the family settled in what was then a very rural Sonoma County, in what’s now Guerneville and Sebastopol. A couple of my sisters and I have always been interested in our family history, and have both individually and collectively done quite a bit of research into our past. Peggy, who now lives on the big island of Hawaii is our resident champ at the family’s genealogy, and has really done some quality digging. Both my dad and grandfather (his father, Grandpa Gene) told us a bit about the Sullivan lineage in and around Sebastopol, but the details beyond my grandfather’s generation were kind of a blur. And unfortunately like a good many people I know, I didn’t have the common sense to ask enough questions when I was young and they were still accessible. There were some bits and pieces, broad strokes of information, but the nitty gritty about the day to day life of earlier generations were sort of a blur, in the grand scheme of things. Risa lost her uncle recently, and his daughter Katy did something I wish I (and a lot of people) had thought of; she “interviewed” her dad and dug out all the little bits and pieces, prior to his passing. Great idea, and it makes for a priceless piece of journalistic information to have around for posterity.

Grandpa Gene was an outdoorsman all of his life. Hunter, fisherman, and involved in some very early efforts at conservation and preserving nature for future generations. He was a master carpenter, and among other things he built the Pacific Rod and Gun Club at Lake Merced, as well as the now-defunct Milerick’s Hunting Lodge in Cazadero, off the Russian River, near Sebastopol. His father Cornelius was the namesake for my middle name, Neil. I’ve been thankful all my life that my parents didn’t opt to call me Cornelius! It was Cornelius’ father Isaac who was the focal point of an incredibly valuable piece of history titled “The Patriarch of the Valley, Day to Day Life in Early Sonoma County,” which was written by his granddaughter Emma Street-Hively and published in 1931. The book (which is the subject of a whole section of my book) provides a wealth of information about the life and times of the Sullivan clan, several generations back. And it’s a valuable tool for providing a clue to why the generations since then, and specifically my generation of Sullivans, celebrates holidays such as Christmas, the way we do.

Christmas has always been a fun day filled with family and friends, for us. It seemed to be the time when everyone put any sort of differences or issues behind them, and simply enjoyed the day. I imagine our family was like many, inasmuch as our two sets of grandparents never particularly got along, other than at Christmas and major family gatherings. Something along the lines of “your daughter isn’t good enough for our son,” or “your son isn’t good enough for our daughter” depending which set of grandparents you were talking to. But one particular Christmas shortly after Grandpa Gene died, there was a very unique gathering at our house on Grandview Ave, in Daly City. My mom had prepared traditional Christmas fare of a big turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and her incredible gravy, green beans, and undoubtedly canned Ocean Spray cranberry sauce, the only kind she’d eat or serve. On this night, we had my dad’s mother, and my mom’s parents, and of course my parents, me, and my five younger sisters all at the big dining table. And it was at this Christmas gathering that we decided to do some digging into our history and find out whatever we could about our lineage.

With a name like “Sullivan,” you’d think we’d be predominantly Irish, but we discovered that this isn’t the case. Our grandfather Gene was mostly Irish, with some Scotch and English mixed in along the way. My grandmother Phyllis (my dad’s mother) was from a combination of English and Welsh stock, both a mere generation back. Her grandfather was in fact a Welsh sea captain with the last name of Minor. My mom’s side is mainly Danish, with her grandmother McKinnon (who we used to call “Old Grandma” when I was growing up) being from Denmark, making my mom’s mom the first U.S.-born generation. But Old Grandma’s husband was Scotch and Welsh, adding more of the latter to our backgrounds. Grandpa Dean (my mom’s dad) also had a Welsh background, with a little American Indian mixed in a couple generations back. So the Irish that we all took for granted was minimal, and it seemed that we were mainly Danish and Welsh, with a little this and that mixed in along the way. Truly, American mutts!

Back to the present and this year’s Christmas, where we once again find ourselves back in our wonderful home in Bend, with access to all that the Central Oregon high desert has to offer. Although we’ll always miss our friends and family in the Bay Area, this is where we chose to move in 2005, and we love it. We’ve made some incredible friends here, and we seem to be luring more people up here, as well. Our friend Rich and his lovely fiance’ Patty just bought a house in Bend, and I think it’s going to be tough for them to remain in Sacramento and use this as a vacation home, once they get a taste of what all of us have discovered as a great place to live. I suppose time will tell.

Although it’s been a tough year financially, we’re so happy to be home in Bend. This year’s festivities will be relatively “easy” for me, as we’ve been invited to both Christmas Eve and Christmas dinners at friends’ houses. I cook every night, and that commonly includes most holidays, so this is a total treat. I’m doing a couple side dishes for tonight’s dinner at Lynda and John’s, and for tomorrow’s feast at Barb and Chuck’s, I was ordered to bring “nothing, other than your lovely wife.” I couldn’t go empty-handed, so I’m “cooking” a bottle of Grey Goose and some fancy martini olives as my little contribution.

This will be our older kitty Penny’s 14th Christmas with us, the first of which was in Gilroy in 1997. I remember her jumping from the top of a ladder, over to the upper branches of the big Noble Fir, which was about half decorated. Surprisingly, she’s never messed with a tree or any of the ornaments since then. However our new kitty Emily, who’s spending her first Christmas with us, is a total maniac. She has a tendency to have long involved conversations with her toys, and these now include many of the tree ornaments, which she somehow has managed to get down from the tree that’s gracing the front window. It will be the first year without Abigail (she was 13), and the second without Annie (18) and my big Maine Coon, Cody (10). One of life’s unfortunate realities is that we tend to outlive our pets and our parents.


We feel lucky to be back in our home this year, to be relatively healthy, to have two healthy kitties, to have access to all of our friends up here, and to be able to experience everything that makes Central Oregon such a special place. Financial times are tough everywhere, but I have faith in both the economy and our collective ability to get through it. Wars are taking too many young lives and a ridiculous amount of our tax dollars, and none of them are even remotely “winnable.” But there are some positive signs that the powers-that-be in Washington are being to cooperate with each other, and there’s hope. In the meantime, we feel blessed to have the life, family and friends that we have around us, and we’re looking forward with optimism to a brighter 2011.

Risa, Penny, Emily and I wish you all a wonderful holiday season, and a much better 2011!!


1 comment:

seaotteratpedro said...

I love the photo of Penny! Even though she is 14, she's still a kitten to me. -Lisa