Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Alicemae Irwin Our Beloved Auntie Alice

    If you have followed this blog over the past year you know that we often speak of our aunt, Alicemae Irwin. Aunt Alice, our father's oldest sister is the most influential person in our lives. From  the moment we met her , she became a bedrock of faith and a lighthouse in our darkest moments. Aunt Alice passed away this July. We have had some time to consider if and/or when we would make a post about her on this blog. After recalling her intrerest in this project and assistance with many of the stories , we decided that yes, of course she should have a post here.. after all so much of the content has come from her.
   The many photographs, dates and sequences in the blog posts can be attributed to Aunt Alice and her many hours of phone conversations with one of us. I would have never know about my great grandmother's dedication in celebrating the Pennsylvania Dutch  day of Fastnacht.
Danielle,Ross and Geary with
Uncle Bob and Aunt Alice 1990
   Alicemae McGee was the oldest daughter of Gerhard McGee and Alice MacDougall. Her childhood as told to us was one marked by poverty and many of the typical struggles that poor  working families faced in the mid forties and fifties. She learned early how to keep a home and to be frugal. Alicemae as she was referred to was responsible for the small family garden that sustained them with fruits and vegetables, meat was a rare comodity.Looking after her younger brother Geary (our father)sometimes became and chore she would often tell us stories of how he would run around causing his asthma to flare up and then she would get the talking to from her parents. Aunt Alice came in to our lives in 1982 we were visitng our Aunt Kitty at the time and it becamse too much for her so we went to our grandparent Mcgee's home. We didnt know it at  the time but our grandmother McGee was dealing with ovarian cancer. So they couldn't take care of us ,in comes Aunt Alice a very soft spoken lady who showerd us with love and hugs that first day .After several hours of the adults talking in the kitchen it was decided that Geary and I would go stay wth Aunt Alice and her husband Bob who we grew to love as our nature loving Uncle Bob.

The Pink House

 Thier pink house in the woods became our safe haven it was there that we learned about unconditional love , Nature, and our Mcgee family history.That first summer with Aunt Alice and Uncle Bob we met our older cousins and learned that there was more to life than televison. At that particular time Aunt Alice was not too fond of televison and to us city kids thats all we knew . Aunt Alice was determinded to change that and get us out side in the fresh air. We soon learned to explore the yard and spent many hours asking Uncle Bob questions about the different animals we saw.

Aunt Alice and Uncle Bob in thier yard .

Uncle Bob's Dedication to Nature led his yard to be listed in the
wildlife federation  magazine.

Aunt Alice loved to read, crochet and collect dolls a passion Danielle later shared with her.
She also loved to journal and instilled this in her grandchildren and nieces and nephews how important is is to write something every day. In the 80s Aunt Alice was the main photographer in the family she was never with out her trusty Cannon camera. She never quite mastered the Digital camera though. I think it all became overwhelming for her.   She had many other hobbies that she enjoyed but these were some of the ones she enjoyed the most.  Aunt Alice suffered a lot of health issues but she never let them get her down she always found some way to deal with them.  In turn she introduced us to healthy food  and encouraged us to try different things.
Aunt Alice's Kitchen she painted each one of the
skillets they belonged to different
women in our family.
Aunt Alice was also a LPN She put her self  through nursing school while managing a home and raising three kids. She used her skills as a nurse to cope with her many health issues and she helped Geary and Danielle understand their mother's illness of Diabetes. Although there were times when Our Aunt Alice could be naive she was a wonderful woman who took her life struggles and used them as lessons in her life.   Our beloved Aunt passd away July 8 2014   she was surrounded by our Uncle and cousins and her last thought were of her niece and nephews as well.  This was the hardest post that we had to do but it had to be done right and took a long time to finish because Aunt Alice was such a large part of our lives it was hard to put everything in to words. We will miss her dearly but her lessons in life and her stories of our family history live on.
Geary and Aunt Alice

Danielle and Aunt Alice

Monday, February 17, 2014

Angela Gertrude Fries Mcgee 1949-1984

Angela. A name that is burned and seared as if with a hot iron onto my conscience, my memories and my future choices. Mother was Angela, a bigger than reality persona in my life . She is the creator of my past, the author of my moods and their eternally changing pendulum. I loved her, hated her, wished her memories would fade into oblivion, misunderstood her and ultimately and finally forgave and reconciled myself to her.
Mom was born Angela Gertrude Fries, second child to Lillian Fries and a mysterious fleeting lover named Charles Guthrie. This fact wouldn't surface for many years however and Henry Fries assumed the role of father. A father whom Angela would adore until his death in 1970. 
As the first daughter in an Italian household of aunts, uncles, grandparents and space to explore , Angie was given a good catholic education popular at the time for most children in North Philadelphia. She attended St Sophie's Catholic Church and school.

 Her Sunday missal is filled with doodles and "Angie loves ____" scrawled in corners surrounded by Latin phrases . She and her best friend Donna were somewhat mischievous and it was more than one occasion that a note was sent home from Mother Superior. Angie had slipped some makeup into school, shortened
her skirt and scandalously curled her hair. Playing hooky from classes, especially Latin to meet up with her boyfriend Bob was all in day's fun. 

The fun how-ever was short lived as Angie soon gave birth to her first child . The fates
of life began to change against her and the new life and subsequent new marriage to Bob was shadowed by a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes. At this time in the 1960's there was no other prognosis  but of a certain untimely death. Angela chose to not heed the warning and the battles that would eventually defeat her began.A child was soon born to the couple. The diabetes complicated her health .
The next few years were a struggle but Angie had the support of her mother and family. Unfortunately the marriage with Bob could not weather the storms of difficulties . With an uncertain prognosis Angie had to accept that her son would need more support. The Moser's were able to step in and take over the rearing of young Bobby. This decision, although a fight for her at first, was better for his stability as her own health ebbed and flowed between healthy and controlled to uncertain moments of illness.

It was in a period of good health that Angela met Geary McGee II. They both were single parents who lived in a n apartment complex in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Young Bobby Moser who was 10 or 11 played with Ross McGee. The two parents found friendship and eventually companionship with one another. 

Geary McGee was stable, an ex Marine and an electrical engineer. The answer was a definite yes when he proposed shortly . A new baby was due soon after the engagement and a baby girl, Danielle was born.
With a decline of the steel industry in Pennsylvania and the boom of oil in Texas in the early 1970's the choice was clear to follow Angela's mother, Lillian, to Houston. There Geary would find employment and it seemed that ill health would be manageable and a new life would begin for the couple and new baby.
Although their daughter was born with a mild case of Cerebral Palsy Geary had hopes that their daughter would be just fine. Angie on the other hand would worry constantly about her daughter's future.  In August of 1976 Angie's life would  take a tragic turn. While working on the family vehicle Geary accidentally cut the break shaft and the car rolled on to him causing  his death  at the age of 33 .Angie was 8 months pregnant with their 3rd child a son named Geary III. Lillian her mother stepped in and helped her take care of her  two young children while she worked several part-time jobs one being a a apartment manager. she was then able to move out with her children and start a new life for her self. She was able to socialize and mingle love found her several times over the next three years but didn't stay the night.

Angela with Country Singer Roy Head in 1979

 And night did come as Angela's health began to decline rapidly... her daughter learned to give her her insulin shots so that she didn't have to rely on her mother to give them to her.  She sent her children to Church on Sundays so that she could use that day to rest quietly. Molly the clown became  her children's friend who brought smiles to their faces.She even would often stop and pick  Angela's medication  and bring it to the home .    During the summer  of 1982 Angela  sent her two children to visit her Aunt Kitty  so she could have some time to deal with her illness. During this time she met a young man named Raymond  Pyler  who would  be the last man in her life He showered her with loving compliments and affection . He was the first man Sinse Geary  in her life who had a steady job  and he enjoyed her children  and they in returned liked him . Ray eventually proposed to Angie which her answer was yes but not right now.  After several attempts at marriage and several failures 
and to avoid the  judements of her family she kept the proposal to her self.Evenutally told her daughter Danielle  who she swore to secrecy  it would be a secert She would keep until her adult years then only telling her younger brother at the time of thier grandmother's death.
In 1984  Angela's son Robert came to see her during the summer before he left for boot camp for the Marines. she was so proud of him that she threw a big party for her party hardy  friends show off her  son. Little did she know that this would be the last time her son would see his mother.

The last photo of Angela and her son Robert

After Robert left for the service, her two youngest children were headed back to Philly to see their father's sister  Alicemae. While they were there Angela had a stroke and ended up in the hospital. In the hopes of recovery they stayed a period of time. The time came though that it was time to go home. Alicemae watched as Geary and Danielle boarded the plane. Geary remembers looking back and seeing Aunt Alice crying. She knew that what awaited the children at home would change the course of their lives. Lillian had called and arranged the return trip home as the doctors had informed her that Angela may seem to recover some but would never return to life as she had known it before the stroke. A brain tumor had been removed years earlier and this latest stroke had made Angie's motor skills profoundly difficult and permanently stunted. The children would have to come home and face reality that their mother could no longer care for them.
At Angela's insistence a children s group home was located for them to stay. Angela's felt it would be temporary . As she had done as a teenager, Angela would not accept defeat this time either.
Life had other plans....

Angela passed from a final stroke in the early morning hours of November 5th, 1984..
on the day of her funeral in the back of the chapel sat Raymond grieveing for his beloved Angela.  

12 hours earlier..

Gerhard McGee I, the children's grandfather also passed away 3000 miles away in his home in Roxburough , Pennsylvania. He had just completed reading the Bible and laid it on his lap and died.

The death of Angela  had a  profound affect on her family's life especially her children  and her mother. Eventually her name would become something the family never really spoke about not due to embarrasment  but because it brings back so many tragic moments  for them. Her two youngeast children were forced to grow up really fast and some how come to terms with thier mother's death and some how found a way to privately grieve for her in thier own way. Angela is now a name they can speak freely  with some laughter some tears but regardless they learned that her life was not in vain  she lives on in her six grandchildren who are her true legacy.   We Love and Miss you MOM
Danielle and Geary

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


A trip to visit Aunt Alice and Uncle Bob was filled with new adventures each visit. Unfortunately Geary was very young and can only remember some of these vacations. Here we will share some of the places that made a trip to Pennsylvania magical.

I believe our aunt and uncle felt it important to share with us our rich heritage of ancestry from the north. An early trip  in 1984 was to view most of the historical sites of Philadelphia.

 Geary recalls Independence hall and being sort of freaked that we were walking upon the graves of our forefathers to the underwhelming little home of Betsy Ross. We were given a copy of the constitution and told of its importance having had relatives lose life and limb to make that document a reality.
Christ Church

Danielle recalls  the fascination with the Christ Church and Betsy Ross's House. We sat in the pew that belonged to Betsy Ross .

Inside Betsy Ross House

Liberty Bell

   We saw the Liberty Bell  and rang the Texas bell we learned  that each state has their own bell.
Inside the Betsy Ross house they had  large "dolls" dressed as Betsy and her family members.

Early  in 1982 our grandparents,  Alice and Gerhard McGee, joined  us to two little known amusement parks. Great Adventure and Dutch Wonderland and Safari. One of the Biggest memories of that trip was that o the way to great adventure our grandfather's muffler fell off the  car . That led us to the  muffler shop  for a couple of hours  while the car was being worked on.  One we got there we took the safari ride  as our uncle told us stories about the many animals we would encounter.  Our Uncle Bob is big nature enthusiast.

Dutch Wonderland 1984
Dutch Wonderland  is located in Lancaster Pa. As we rode through Amish country we saw horse and buggies  Amish people as Aunt Alice explained to us the different cultures.

We ate lots of Amish food and rode the rides at the park. one was called the space shuttle.   We headed off to the ski lift where our Aunt Alice  had a mishap with her shoes she wore these slide on sandles and as we got on the ride she felt that she would lose them so she had to take them off during the ride.

We later went to Valley Forge, PA, Valley Forge National Historical Park is the site of the third winter encampment of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, taking place from December 19, 1777 to June 19, 1778.

It has been many years and everyone is older.. and slower. We feel that the time we spent walking, gawking, learning and laughing left their impression upon us as young children. We have grown into adults who value where we come from and the importance of honoring and passing these stories on.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Food and Family Traditions

“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one's own relations.” 
― Oscar WildeA Woman of No Importance

When I think of family traditions, get-togethers and important memories, I often recall the meal or sweet that accompanied that time. From  our grandmother Alice McGee's potato salad to that time when I begged to cook my specialty at the great old age of 5 ...mushrooms. 
Here follows some of those flashbacks and the recipes that made their way into our remembrances and our hearts:

Potato Salad
Alice McGee (1920-1982)
By Danielle

When I turned 10 years old in 1982 Grand mom McGee asked me what I wanted for my birthday my request was a big bowl of her potato salad.  She was surprised but she brought this huge tupperware container full to the rim with potato salad . I couldn't wait to dig in it took me a week to finish the whole thing but I enjoyed every bite of it. After my many attempts at making this salad I finally asked my aunt Alice what the secret was she told me Hellman's Mayo was the secret and Apple Cider Vinegar. years later I found out that my mother often requested this when ever she would visit them in Philadelphia.   Today i make this for my own family and it is a summer staple in our house.

Grandmom Mcgee's Potato salad
1 5 lb bag of red potatoes
1 large Onion
1 bell pepper
1 small jar of Hellman’s Mayo
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp of Apple cider vinegar add more to your taste
Optional ingredients  sweet pickles , Spanish olives  

cook potatoes till fork tender
Chop onion & Pepper
mix vinegar and Mayo salt and pepper together in separate bowl
put potatoes and veggies in large bowl or container.
pour your dressing mix on potatoes and veggies
wash your hands and then use them to mix the salad well
Chill for a hour then serve.

Faschnaut Donuts
Nella Louise McGee (188-1956)
By Geary

My aunt Alice told me a funny story of her childhood memories of her grandmother Nella Louise McGee. Nella was from a Pennsylvania dutch family, the Beilings, and she preserved some of the german traditions. One was Fauscnaut Day, the Tuesday before Easter. Nella was a very avid baker and often sold sweets to make ends meet. On this special Tuesday however she would make homemade donuts. Alicemae related how donuts would be hanging all over the house . She would fill potato chip tins with sweets and lined them up along the hallway . Alicemae would come home from school the home filled with the smell of cakes and donuts. The donuts would be hung around the home on strings. It was a sight.

Photo of Fastnachts (German Doughnuts) Yield: 25 doughnuts 

Units: 1 cup lukewarm milk 1 fresh yeast cake 3/4 cup soft butter 2 tablespoons sugar 6 eggs 6 cups flour 2 teaspoons salt Directions: 1 Dissolve yeast in lukewarm milk. 2 Sift in flour and salt in bowl. 3 Make a hole in the center. 4 Pour dissolved yeast and all other ingredients into the hole and mix until not sticky. 5 Cover and let rise until doubled. 6 Punch down, then let rest for 10 minutes. 7 Roll out to about 1/4-inch and cut. 8 Let rise another 20-30 minutes. 9 Fry in deep fat until light brown. 10 While still hot, roll in sugar.

At Aunt Alice's 1987
Spaghetti Squash
By Geary

My Aunt Alice also known as Alicemae is my father’s older sister. she has been such an anchor in our lives. An unfortunate lifetime illness of extreme food allergies has fortunately given us some food adventures. She was the one to introduced us Texas youngsters to Eden Soy brand soy milk, which I drink to day even instead of milk. At Aunt Alice’s was the first time I ever put blueberries in my cheerios or ate beets. These are all favorites of mine to this day.
When I myself was diagnosed with food allergies Aunt Alice was very sensitive to my sense of inferiority and made extra certain that I wasn't left out of spaghetti and meatball night. While Danielle and Uncle Bob had had their heeping helpins of spaghetti Aunt Alice and I had spaghetti squash with tomato sauce. Here are a few pictures i took of me baking a spaghetti squash just the other night:

Cut lengthwise

Remove seeds

Remove any loose hairs

put some water in a baking pan

Place halves upside down and bake on 400 till shell is soft

Remove from oven and meat will be removable and resemble spaghetti strands
Serve with spaghetti sauce and Parmesan cheese over it

Danielle's Crunchy Macaroni

One year when our Mother was really ill I decided to take it upon myself to make dinner for Geary and I. I set out to make macaroni and cheese and hotdogs . I figured I could make it after seeing mommy making it numerous times . So I added the water turned on the stove and waited for the water to boil when it did I dumped the macaroni in and timed it I figured 3 minutes would work I didn't want to burn it , turned off the stove and dumped cheese sauce mix added butter and milk and mixed away .feeling proud of myself  I went to work on the hotdogs. once they were done I called geary to the table and proudly told mom not to worry I had supper done. Geary sits down to eat and takes a bite first and says “This macaroni is crunchy!”Needless to to say I was devastated that I forgot to check to see if the noodles were done.   

We have shared just a few of our food and family stories but many more remain with us and remind us of the blessings we had and the rich cultural tapestry that is our ancestry.