Saturday, March 13, 2004

The Search for Patrick Cronan continued

The stories about Patrick Cronan so vivid in my mind are amazingly few. To attempt to create a whole man with them is difficult. And they are contradictory and unresolvably so, even among the grandchildren who spent summers with him on the farm, rode with him to Beck’s mill to get flour, or to the tiny store at the crossroads. Maybe if they were good or lucky, they got there a penny candy for a treat.

My mother told me that he had a twin brother that he was separated from in New York or when he was put on the orphan train. She said she had heard once on the radio a plea from a Cronan who was a twin and wanted to find his brother . She wrote them, but when they discovered that the name was spelled Cronin, they decided they couldn’t be the same twins. Who knows what spelling they had been given at Ellis Island, or who knows if either of them were literate. This possibility for this connection is \ long past now.

However, my sister had never heard the twin brother story. She remembers instead that Patrick's mother was dancing on the streets of NY for money. Somehow they were separated and then he was put on the orphan train. Aunt Helen doesn’t remember the twin story or the mother, but said Patrick danced for coins tossed on NY streets.

One Christmas when we were trying to remember all the Patrick Cronan stories and come to some consensus, I called Helen’s cousin who also stayed with Patrick and his wife Eliza, to ask for his story.

“Ah, he said with authority, “it was just like it was yesterday. I remember that big old cook stove and the fireplace. She used to cook biscuits and gravy, the best food in the world. They met on board ship, you know, he said. He was coming to America. It was a shipboard romance and the captain married them. She was a descendant of George Rogers Clark, you know”

“I didn’t know”, I say and give Connie and Helen the eye, “wait’ll you hear this”

“...and then they bought a horse and buggy and came out west and that’s how the ended up in Indiana.”

I hang up and tell his story. Helen snorts, “She never was on a boat in her life! And I told him when we did the history of this county that we had traced relatives to see if she was kin to George Rogers Clark and she wasn’t”

Connie and I are roaring with laughter and our daughters are rolling their eyes.

“Shipboard romance!!”

I guess this is how you create a past worthy of being a lawyer in Washington D.C.

But what thin and fragile thread are we held to our ancestors in this country. We know three things for sure. Ireland, New York, and the orphan train.

I suppose he never spoke of the old country. I suppose the memories were too painful to recall. He had left all that behind. And the conflicting stories? Maybe once when my mother was with him, hanging around while he dug in the garden or riding with him to the store, he thought of his twin brother and told her about him. Then the door to that memory shut tight and no more was ever said. Or perhaps Patrick's mother was with them in New York and couldn’t support them and put them on the train, hoping they would have a better life. All that is possible--and unknowable.

to be continued...

Friday, March 12, 2004

to be continued: The Search for Patrick Cronan

The Search for Patrick Cronan

In honor of St. Patrick Day and in honor of my ancestor---

The Search for Patrick Cronan

I grew up with stories about him. My great grandfather. The orphan. He died before I was born and the old homestead had passed onto other hands, but we still on Sunday drives as a child went past Beck’s Mill and my great grandparent's house--a grey and ghostly place. I stared as if some mystery would be resolved there.

Just this past spring I drove my Aunt Helen there and walked around taking pictures. No one has lived in the old house for years. A woman came out of the trailer house across the driveway to see what we were doing. I called her over to speak to Helen, now 92, and introduced us as relatives of the original owners. People are amazingly friendly about such intrusions. Helen said as we drove away, “I used to go out and stay with them in the summer. I’d sit sometimes on that porch and swing and listen to the whiporwills call and feel like I was the loneliest person in the world.” A young adolescent’s experience I recognize and think, as drive on, that today we have TV or anti- depressants to keep form feeling anything as real as that loneliness.

At Sunday dinners or after, sitting around talking or playing cards, Patrick Cronan stories would emerge. Like how he always tried to grow potatoes on the red clay and rocky soil of his farm and failed year after year. “I told him he couldn’t grow potatoes there” “Not the right soil” “Stubborn” they would say, “Yes, stubborn as could be”

I remember sitting in the company of the men as they smoked and talked and my father telling someone that Patrick had come over to this country in a cracker barrel of a ship. I was at an age where the image of a Zesta Cracker box came into my mind, a man sitting in it, floating and paddling his way across the water. My hero.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Welcome to Grapevine Creek!

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