Building a Mansion to Last Forever–or at least 8 years

This oddball-house that was torn down forty years ago keeps popping up–two years ago in a box of china and yesterday in an e-mail. The certain things in life that Benjamin Franklin mentions, death and taxes, can also include another item–that certainty is anything but certain.   In 1923 my great-grandfather Henry Kelly moved his law firm and large family to Detroit from Ottawa, Illinois where his Irish immigrant grandfather James had settled after helping build the Erie and Illinois canal systems as a mason.   James had left Ireland with a conviction that he was going to the right place with the right job.  His son, Martin, decided to become a farmer.  At the risk of invoking Gone With the Wind’s Gerald O’Hara, “Why land’s the only thing that matters.  The only thing that lasts.”  For Martin, the chance to finally own land and not be a tenant like his… Read More…

Ever Want to Knock on Your Old House Door?

I love this picture.   It was taken in 1966 in the basement of my parents’ home on Ward in Detroit.  It almost looks like a Norman Rockwell painting, the way my Uncle Bill is leaning back with the cue, my Uncle John is supervising in his vest, and my Uncle Joe is taking the shot with cousin Matt advising.  My dad is holding me and even my grandpa is watching from the booth. It’s a perfect image of this nostalgic time that I can’t even truly remember.  We moved from the house in 1970 and those pre-6-year-old memories aren’t too specific–just a collage of images mixed with feelings.  A fire hydrant we climbed on, the curtains I set on fire by moving a candle too close to the window, burning leaves in a can in the backyard, the cardboard lunar module, complete with Neil Armstrong’s footprints.  My dad even… Read More…

Brother-Sister Relationships: Solid as a Bungee Cord

My daughter’s first sentence, “Aidan pushed me!” can accurately sum up most sibling relationships in the ebbs and flows of a life.   As a family historian and generally nosey individual, it’s been interesting to watch them grow apart, together, apart and together again–even before they’re out of high school. The default setting of a new family member is encouraging–a two year old’s inquisitive look in the hospital and sloppy kiss.  Then the parents go through stages of trust and fear as the toddler gets close–but not too close to the baby. …even if he tries to cover his tracks. Abby came into this world as a trusting soul and continues to be that way toward nearly everyone, except her brother.  He’s earned that distrust.   After ten years or so of offering him half of her allowance and a “bite” of her ice cream that became 7/8 of her… Read More…

Beware of Grandpas Bearing Reptiles

Abby’s upstairs studying for her sophomore year mid-term exams right now but it seems like I just took this picture on a trip to visit Patrice’s parents at their winter home in Arizona. It completely captures both of these kind souls, Bob having fun with a toy snake bringing himself down to his two-year old grandchild’s level while Abby’s sense of fun and permanent smile completely loves her grandpa–even if he is carrying a snake. You take for granted the walks, laughs and card games you have with parents and grandparents. It seems such a constant that it’s hard to imagine it not going on forever. Bob passed in November, 2009 after a long brave struggle for both him and Helen. At his funeral, we wrote his famous Bob-isms on the inside of his beautiful pine casket cover. A couple of my favorites: “If we had any ham, we could… Read More…