Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, once again waxing nostalgic. The farm that belonged to my mother’s side of the family has appeared in many of my books, in one guise or another, and I even based my children’s book, Katie’s Way, on Mom’s recollections of growing up there in the 1920s, but until now I haven’t singled out the one person who made time spent at the farm most memorable.
Catherine May Hornbeck was born on January 18, 1886 in Hurleyville, New York, the second child of Myron (known as Miles) Hornbeck. He inherited the family farm from his father, Lawrence. I imagine it was shortly after he married Ella Applebee, whose family ran a small hotel, that they expanded into the business of taking in summer boarders. Farm/boardinghouses were common in the Sullivan County Catskills. Folks from New York City flocked to the area in search of fresh air and cooler temperatures.
Catherine, known as Katie (although not the Katie in my novel) had four younger siblings, two sisters and two brothers. It was Tressa, three years younger, who was actually my grandmother, but since she died giving birth to my mother in 1910, I never knew her. It was Katie, along with her parents, who raised the baby, Marie, since Marie’s father worked for the O&W Railroad and was away much of the time. He lived at the farm when he was home, but he may not have felt all that welcome. His mother-in-law, Ella, blamed him for Tressa’s death. She may have had some cause. In doing genealogical research, I discovered that Leslie Hamilton Coburg and Tressa Estelle Hornbeck married only a few months before my mother was born.
Somewhere along the line. Katie fell in love with her sister’s widower, but her mother forbade them to marry. It wasn’t until after Ella died that they could finally wed. For me, Katie was Grandma Coburg.
Tressa was a portrait on the wall of the living room at the farm.
I have many fond memories of Katie Coburg. She sewed and crocheted and hooked rugs. She regularly listened in on neighbors’ telephone conversations on the party line. She raised chickens for their eggs and we had Sunday dinner at the farm (chicken, of course) every week. I often stayed there during the week, too. By that time the boarders were roomers, cooking their own meals in kitchenettes off the summer dining room. Years later, I learned I wasn’t the only one who loved visiting the farm because of Katie. Some of my Hornbeck cousins did, too. And so did the daughter of my mother’s childhood neighbor and lifelong friend.
After all the others married, Katie was the only sibling still living at the farm. Her father left the property jointly to all five of his surviving children, but he left the furniture to Katie. I always knew she loved the farm and never wanted to leave it. What I didn’t know until much later was that her siblings would have preferred to sell it. I was eight or nine when she and my grandfather briefly looked at houses in the town where I lived with my parents. She was in tears at the thought of uprooting herself from the only home she’d ever known.
The older I get, the more I understand clinging to the familiar. I’ve traveled to many parts of the U.S. and visited several other countries, but I get it—home is where the heart is. Katie never wanted to leave. In the end, she didn’t have to.
I was ten when she died. After the funeral, held at the farm, Mom had me ask Grampa to come live with us. I didn’t understand then that the farm was about to be sold and he had no place else to go. I still don’t know all the details surrounding the sale. I do know there were hard feelings, and that I never saw most of my Hornbeck relatives again. A few years later, the farmhouse burned to the ground.
No place has ever had such an impact on me, and few people have ever held such an important place in my memory. As Thanksgiving approaches, I’m thankful to have had Grandma Coburg in my life.
Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published eight more, including several children’s books. 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. Her most recent publications are The Valentine Veilleux Mysteries (a collection of three short stories and a novella, written as Kaitlyn) and I Kill People for a Living: A Collection of Essays by a Writer of Cozy Mysteries (written as Kathy). She maintains websites at www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com. A third, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, is the gateway to over 2300 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century Englishwomen.