Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Tribute To The Past

I wished to write my post this week on the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan...though it is so upsetting and confusing to me, I could barely wrap my head around it.  Events such as these (hopefully) make you reevaluate your own life, looking at your own stresses and putting them into a new perspective.  That is what I did, as I watched videos of the destruction that has occurred and read reports of what the Japanese people are now facing.  I realized just how tenuous life truly is, and even though I still have my own daily issues to face I can see how lucky I am.  When I attempt to think about how it must be for those people in Japan, it is hard for me to even imagine...I look outside and see trees, and my neighbor's house across the road.  They are seeing what is left after the destruction, and the rubble that has been left behind.  It greatly saddens me to think of the struggles they are facing now, and I've been thinking about what we, as Americans, can do for their country.  My father also chose this topic for his most recent post at, and commented on the fact that we don't take care of this wonderful planet we have been given...there is too much waste, and disregard for the earth, and because of that things are changing.  Dramatically!  I fear that because tragedies such as the ones in Japan are so far away from our own lives and experiences, the connection will not be made--and this waste will just continue.

Amidst these recent occurrences comes another St. Patrick's of my favorite holidays, of course--a time for my family to get together and celebrate our Irish heritage.  As always, it makes me think of where I came from, and the people from my past that have helped shape my life and the lives of my family.  To some, it may seem trivial to celebrate anything in light of recent events, though I am choosing to look at this another way--I am celebrating life, thankful for the one I have been given and for the people who helped me get here.  I believe it is important to remember those from the past, even the people we have never met...their lives counted for something, and can teach us lessons as we face our own futures.  So as I reevaluate my own life and work hard to make changes for the better, I want to thank those that came before Irish and German ancestors.  I had one grandparent who was German, and all of them deserve to be remembered (even on St. Patrick's Day!)  I would like to share some photos with you now, if I may...and honor those from my past.  Though I have so many relatives, I am showcasing parents, grandparents and great-grandparents...if I were to include aunts, uncles, cousins and so on, I'd have to write a book!  Many of my relatives still live in Ireland, and I hope to someday meet them.  For now, though, let me show you the many photos I have gathered over the years--starting with my Irish great-grandparents on my father's side, Simon Hogan and Elizabeth Brennan-Hogan (Simon's photo is shown above).  Simon and Elizabeth eloped and immigrated to America in the late 1880s.  My father, who is the source of many stories about my ancestors, never met his grandfather because Simon passed away before he was born...he does have memories about his grandmother Elizabeth, and one of the funniest stories he told me was that she used to drink holy water because of an old Irish belief that it made you 'holy inside'...I'm sure it worked for her!

My German great-grandparents, John Hook and Mary Krueglar-Hook, were both born in this country.  They owned the last blacksmith shop in Rensselaer County.  Mary was a housewife, and my father remembers her as being a very gentle, loving and kind person...John was a very soft-spoken man, and pretty small in stature though strong as a bull.  He did, after all, shoe horses for a living--that takes a lot of strength!  Here is one of my favorite pictures I have collected, which is my great-grandparents on their wedding day.  I've been told I look something like Mary!
And of course there's the Irish relatives on my mother's side of the family (and there's a little French Canadian and English thrown in, though no one's sure of the amount...)  First, my great-grandparents, Willard Winchip and Katherine Biggar-Winchip.  Katherine unfortunately passed away when my grandmother was only three years old, so my own mother never knew her...she died during the first flu epidemic in 1918.  My mother remembers her grandfather Willard, and that he used to take her riding in a sled when she was little.  I was able to get a photo of Willard for my collection which is shown below, though the picture I have of Katherine was actually a drawing done by my mother...the whereabouts of the actual photo are unknown.  Did I mention I got my artistic talents from my mom?
Willard may be hard to see, since the photo is so small...he is carrying my grandmother on his back in a basket.  Right below his photo is another small photo I have collected, of my other great-grandparents, Francis Willard and Helen McCarthy-Willard...Helen is second from the left, and Francis is furthest to the right.  My mother never really knew her grandfather Francis, as he passed away when she was only a few months old.  She said that Grandma Helen was one of seven children, and my mother can be found in many photos as a child with her aunts and uncles...her aunts were sometimes known by nicknames, such as Aunt Diddy and Aunt Note, along with Aunt Anna and Cousin Ruth...who was very much like a sister.  My grandmother had no memories of her own mother due to her passing away when she was so young, and so she was raised by the McCarthy's as if she were one of their own.

Onto the grandparents!  I have my own memories about these people, as I was fortunate to meet all of them and grow up with their presence.  My mother's parents, Eugene Willard and Helen Winchip-Willard, I remember as being very quiet.  They lived in a little house at the top of a hill, and when we visited I was fascinated by the tiny arched doorways that led from room to room.  My grandfather didn't talk much to me, though he always called me 'Chrissy' and asked how I was.  From my mother I learned that he worked in the Arsenal during WWII, then after the war ended he worked for Eddy Valve, and made water pipes that were so large, a grown man could stand upright inside of them.  My grandmother was a very small, sweet woman and a very giving person.  My mother said when she was growing up, Grandma would often bake apple pies and take them to friends who were sick, or feeling down because they were housebound...baking pies would be her excuse to knock on their door and provide them with some friendship.  Her favorite pie to eat was lemon meringue, and every year on April 2nd (Grandma's birthday,) my mother gets a lemon meringue pie and has a slice to celebrate Grandma's life.  To the right, you can see a picture of my mother as a child with Grandpa Eugene, and up above is a picture of Grandma Helen as a child...if you look at childhood photos of my mother and my grandmother, you would think they were twins!

My father's parents, Paul Hook and Mary Hogan-Hook, I knew by other names...when I was growing up we always called them Poppy and Bommy.  My sister couldn't pronounce Grandma and Grandpa, and those nicknames were soon adopted.  Bommy was also a very quiet woman from what I remember, though when my father tells me stories about her I am sometimes surprised.  For instance, she worked as a secretary at a cemetery for 22 years...she was so proficient at her job, that she even filled in for the Foreman on days when he was delayed or out sick, and laid out the graves that needed to be dug.  Because of this, she was called 'Cemetery Mary' and at her retirement party, many funeral directors showed up to say goodbye and wish her luck!  Poppy, my grandfather, is the grandparent I remember best out of all of them...we had a very special bond.  I only remember him in a wheelchair, since he had a stroke when I was young.  After Bommy passed away when I was eight years old, he lived in a nursing home...many people in that situation might slow down even more, getting depressed about where they were and their lack of independence.  Not my grandfather!  He became the 'President' of various groups at the home, planning outings and activities...he loved the attention!  What I remember most is our weekly visits to see of the things Poppy liked to do was to have me push him out into the hallway, and we would watch and wait until the resident nurses were away from their desk.  As soon as the coast was clear, he'd yell "GO!!" and I would push him as hard as I could and we would 'run' down the hall and back, until we got caught and yelled at...but would that stop us?  Of course not...after all, Poppy was the President!  

I can't end this post without talking about my parents, J. Neil Hook and Carol Willard-Hook, because they are two of the people who have helped make me the person I am today.  My mother, quiet and giving like her own mother, always knitting and sewing for different groups sponsored by their church...much like those pies Grandma was always baking to bring to someone's doorstep.  My father, as gregarious as his own father, loving the interaction with many people as he teaches classes for the diocese, preaches different masses for their church and stands up on stage, belting out an Irish tune.  You would never know he's sure hasn't slowed him down!  To the right is a photo I have collected, featuring my father and his older brother, my Uncle Paul.  And here is one of my favorite pictures in my mother when she was 18.  Isn't she beautiful?

These photos are very special to me, and I like that I am able to hear stories about people who were once here on this earth, living day to day...facing their own struggles and searching for their own happiness.  At this time of year I tend to reminisce, though whether you are Irish or have a different background, take the time to appreciate those from your own past.  Remember the people who came before you as we face this changing world, and learn from the tragedies of others.  As we search for ways to work against these dramatic changes, and attempt to make our earth a better and healthier place, let us be thankful for the gifts we have been given.  I end this post today with an Irish prayer, for all who came before me...and I say it as well for those people in Japan during their time of struggle.  God bless...I hold you all in my heart!  

May God give you...
For every storm, a rainbow,
For every tear, a smile,
For every care, a promise,
And a blessing in each trial.
For every problem life sends,
A faithful friend to share,
For every sigh, a sweet song,
And an answer for each prayer.



  1. Hi Christine,

    What a neat way for me to get to know your family. You do indeed look a bit like your Great grandmother, Mary.

    It is mind-boggling watching the news about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and feeling helpless to ease their suffering.

    This Irish prayer you quoted is a favorite of mine, as well.

  2. What a beautiful post! I am so grateful to learn all of this about your family. Thank you - this blog is many things and generous chief among them.

  3. Our prayers to the people of Japan, as they struggle to find a sense of self, through this
    tragic disaster they now find themselfs in . For that's what it takes to come though such total devastation, getting through the turmoil , and once again finding one's "self ". It's much like living through combat ....very similiar .
    But with our prayers, the help of many nations , a the loving hand of our Lord , these people shall rise again honor those they have lost , and to rebuid with those they have left .They are a country where "family " means everything .... and keeps them strong .
    And today Christine , you invited us to meet your family . Each new blog you bring us deeper and deeper into who you actually are , as a reader I thank you .
    You are very fortunate to have such a pictorial , and vocal history of all these wonderous people who helped shape the person you are today . Treasure that ! I find that many parents today do not care to sit with their children and avail them of the knowledge , history , pride , and even humor connected to them from their very own heritage . The world is too busy , and needs to stop and take a breath !
    I was born into a 3 generation home , all of us living together . As I grew up , I marveled at the stories told to me of my family back in Germany , and when they came over , and many many more . We are the "Lucky Ones " Christine !
    And thank you again for introducing your family , a few I allready knew , and I'm sure the rest are just as charming .

  4. Thanks again for a great post (and thanks for the plug!). The post appearing on my computer still has "cemetary" instead of "cemetery." Interesting!