Travels With Mom

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here. As reflected by the relationship between Liss MacCrimmon and her mother, Violet, in A View to a Kilt and earlier mysteries in the series, my relationship with my mother was not always smooth, but in August of 1987, not too long after my father died, she wanted to come north from her home in Florida one last time to visit family and old friends and I offered to drive. We spent two weeks on the road and it was a good experience for both of us. I also learned a lot of family history along the way.

My mom in 1987 at age 77

As we drove through parts of New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, we talked a lot about Mom’s childhood on a farm/boardinghouse in Hurleyville, New York. (You can read more about the family and the boardinghouse at http://www.kathylynnemerson/hornbeck.htm) She was born in 1910, when such establishments were everywhere in rural Sullivan County, catering to folks from New York City who wanted to escape the summer heat.

my mother’s aunt, mom, her father, and her grandparents in 1915

I remember asking her about a term I’d always found confusing as it was used in the early twentieth century. Today a casino is associated with gambling, but back in the good old days, it just meant a dance floor. The only gambling my mother remembered from her childhood occurred on the front porch of the family farm, where her uncles played poker. She recalled her grandfather warning them to be sure to hide the money if the local state trooper drove by.

casino at Lake Ophelia, Liberty, NY

When we stopped in Trumbull, Connecticut to visit my father’s brother and his wife, I heard another great story. It seems that when my uncle was born, in January 1904, his father went by sleigh to fetch the doctor. On the way back, the sleigh overturned and the doctor was dumped into a snowbank. Despite this mishap, my uncle was safely delivered, but he was such a tiny baby that the doctor told his father, hopefully in jest, that he “wasn’t worth bringing up.” My uncle referred to this doctor as she, but didn’t know her name. It was only recently that I discovered that she was Dr. Phoebe Champlin Low of Liberty, New York. It turns out she was my grandfather’s second cousin, which may explain her rather cavalier comment—that and the fact that she was in her late sixties at the time.

On a side jaunt by ferry from Connecticut to Long Island, we visited my mother’s cousin in Nesconset and those poker-playing uncles came up again. It seems that the older brother was dating the resident schoolteacher before he joined up to fight in World War I. While he was gone, his younger brother began seeing her. When this situation came to light after the war, it did not go over well with brother number one. The two of them stopped speaking to each other entirely, relaying everything they had to say to each other through a third party, often my mother. Since the brothers shared a room in the family farmhouse (and in the barn during the summer season when the house was full of boarders), this must have been interesting while it lasted.

Mom’s oldest uncle

I also heard a third story concerning my mother’s uncles. It seems the family had a map that supposedly led to an Indian lead mine. In the days when New York was New Netherlands, Indians mined lead and took it to smelters to have bullets made. My mother recalled that the map was kept in “the blue trunk” at the farm while one of her cousins remembered seeing it in a chest in their aunt’s bedroom. Wherever it was stored, no one knows what happened to it, but at one point the uncles, together with their father and two of their brothers-in-law, set off for Sundown, a very rural area some distance north of the farm, in the hope of following the map to the mine. It turned out that a stream had changed course over the centuries, making that impossible, but the trip wasn’t a total waste. The uncles got a huge kick out of the fact that the locals, seeing five men in a big black car on a Sunday, thought they must be gangsters. This was, after all, the era when Murder Inc. made a practice of dumping the bodies of murdered mobsters in Sullivan County.

With the January 2020 publication of A View to a Kilt, Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett will have had sixty-one books traditionally published. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries and the “Deadly Edits” series as Kaitlyn. As Kathy, her most recent book is a collection of short stories, Different Times, Different Crimes but there is a new, standalone historical mystery in the pipeline. She maintains three websites, at www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com and another, comprised of over 2000 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century English women, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women.

 

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