5 Feb

Scots Sunday:
Marion Cunningham McMeekin Sellars

Marion's engagement photo

Marion's engagement photo (click for larger images)

Scots Sunday is late today, although it is still Sunday, MST. Yet again, my assumption that it would be easiest to start writing about my most recent ancestors proves a challenge. We tend to focus our research less on them sometimes because they were such integral parts of our lives and their memories are very much alive. We think we’ll remember. By writing this post, I learned more about what I don’t know and have forgotten about my maternal grandmother than I thought possible.

Marion (l), her mother, and little sister Mae

Marion (l), her mother, and little sister Mae

Marion Cunningham McMeekin Sellars was born in Glasgow on the 16th of December 1919. Yes, all of those names are on her birth certificate! It was common Scottish practice to name your firstborn daughter after her maternal grandmother (first and last names) and to include the mother’s maiden name. Marion was the granddaughter of “Marion Wallace” Cunningham and the daughter of Ellen Harper “McMeekin.” There are several good web pages on traditional naming in Scotland, including ScotlandsPeople, the Saban family history site, and others (google “Scottish naming patterns” for oodles more). Marion was born to Ellen (aka Helen) McMeekin and Andrew Sellars at 20 Marquis Street (which no longer exists) in the Bridgeton district. Curiously, her birth certificate also lists her father living at 20 Delburn Street, so I’m not sure if Marquis Street is where a hospital was located, where Helen’s parents lived, or one of many other possibilities. I’ll have to do some more digging around on this. The back of her birth extract indicates that she was baptized by William Sutherland at Dalmarnock United Church in Glasgow on January 11, 1920.

Marion, dancing school days

Marion, dancing school days

My mother and I chatted today for a bit and realized that neither of us knew when my grandmother emigrated to the U.S. with her parents. My mother thinks it was around 2 years old, but I couldn’t quickly locate passenger lists. I’m pretty sure I remember my grandmother telling me they came through Boston, not New York. Marion became a U.S. citizen on March 16, 1939, when she was 20, but her Certificate of Citizenship wasn’t issued until 1971. Perhaps the “original” I have was a replacement or perhaps the government moves that slowly?). Oy…my research agenda is getting longer! The family landed in Kearny, New Jersey, which was known as “Little Paisley” at the time, given the number of Scots who settled there.

Marion, modeling days

I don’t know much about her childhood, although she went to dancing school, and went to Kearny High School, graduating in 1938. I also don’t know much about her life right after graduation. She did some modeling and I was told by my Mom that Marion was a comptometer operator for a while (what’s a comptometer?!). We suspect that there may be more family papers and photos in storage that will be liberated as soon as Mom relocates to Florida…we hope to fill in some of the gaps then.

Marion and Bill, around the time of their marriage

Marion and Bill, around the time of their marriage

Not long after graduation, Marion met Bill Morrison, probably through Bill’s brother, Stewart, who Marion hung around with. Bill was older by six years. At the time they met, Marion was living in the family home at 42 Windsor Street in Kearny. The house is still there (although renovated). I don’t know a lot about their courtship, but Marion and Bill were married on the 28th of June 1941, at Knox Presbyterian Church in Kearny, NJ. I’m hoping some of these photos will come out of storage as well.

I’m not exactly sure where Marion and Bill lived after the wedding; I need to do some more digging. But by the time my mother was about two, they bought the house they would be in for almost the rest of their lives, at 22 Beaver Avenue in North Arlington, the town just north of Kearny. This house is so central to so many of my memories my grandparents, and growing up in general. Crowded holidays…adults at long tables in the small kitchen, kids at a small table at the end, or relegated to the adjacent sitting room when there were too many of us. The holiday food smells are so distinct still…turnip and potatoes (“neeps and tatties”) cooking…pearl onions and sweet pickles. Eating until we were “fou the noo” (full)…

Marion and her first born, my Mom

Marion and her first born, my Mom

Marion and Bill had three living children: my mother Sandy, my Uncle Doug, and my Aunt Gail. They had a fourth child, a daughter named Linda, born in 1948 with a “hole in her heart” who died a short time later. I still have to locate a copy of Linda’s death certificate. Marion stayed in touch with many of her Glaswegian kin over the years, some of whom landed in Canada, the Boston area, and South Africa. She made at least one trip back to Scotland that I can recall. Her letters to and from her Scots cousins have been an invaluable resource in identifying more family across the pond (and which I will publish here at some point), whose descendants I hope to locate.

Marion and Edna

Marion and Edna

When I think of my grandmother, I often remember her dressed to the nines (in gowns that she made) for an Eastern Star meeting or event. The Masons and the Eastern Star were the sum of my grandparent’s social life together and separately, as I remember it. My grandmother’s closest friend for life, Edna Smart, she met through the Star. All of my maternal female relatives were involved in the Star at some point. Marion’s daughters, however, had no interest, and interest in such organizations was dwindling generally by the 1970s. For some reason, which I couldn’t pinpoint now, my grandmother convinced me to be initiated. I remained a member for a couple of years, but couldn’t see myself lasting much longer given the religious overtones and lack of people my own age. But, in retrospect, it was the single best thing I ever did with my grandmother. I got to know her as her friends knew her, and got to know her friends. We got crafty, went to Burns’ suppers, and planned (politically-incorrectly titled) “Chinese auctions.” We went out together at least once a week, gossiped, and I learned she enjoyed a good…er…’suggestive’ joke. She served as Worthy Matron of her chapter more than a few times and complained about it as much as she enjoyed it. I would not have traded this time for anything in the world.

Conversely, I remember my grandmother in her housecoat and slippers at their house “down the shore” (as we say in Jersey), in Ocean Beach #3. Yahtzee, game shows, and her “stories” (soap operas)…knotty pine furniture, the taste of Hawaiian Punch, and the smell and sound of salty bay water always take me back to summer there. As a driver, she had a lead foot. And, she loved to tell folks that she had the same name as John Wayne.

In the last years of her life, after my grandfather passed away, Marion lived in a few separate rooms in my mother’s house. My daughter and I lived in an apartment upstairs, so we got to see her a lot then too. One of my favorite photos is of my grandmother playing Duck Hunt on my daughter’s new Nintendo at Christmas (most of you know I’m in Denver temporarily and this photo is in deep storage in Phoenix). She loved Disney World. She had a great sense of fun. And, she desperately wanted to see Alaska.

I wish this memory weren’t so foregrounded: It seems like yesterday that I went downstairs to see my Gram, and she was having trouble breathing. I called 911, then my mother, and I remember the rest of the day in the hospital with her. She looked pretty good, but over what I remember as a few days, she deteriorated quickly. Most of the family went to see her on Christmas Eve in the hospital. She systematically said goodbye to each of us, although we insisted we would see her the next day. She died on December 25, 1994, just after midnight. Christmas was her favorite holiday. I remember my Mom having to cancel the Alaskan cruise Marion had planned with Edna.

Marion will come up again and again here I am certain, as I locate more documents or remember other stories needing to be told. Her Empire Biscuits are standard Christmas morning breakfast for us; in fact, her recipes are such a big part of our family’s culinary repertoire that they will have to debut at some point! For now, it’s time to get out the voice recorder and compare notes with my mother, my aunt, my uncle…

What do you remember about Marion?

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  • It was a pleasure getting to “meet” your grandmother-with-the-same-name-as-John-Wayne! I found your blog via GeneaBloggers, which featured you last Saturday. I’m looking forward to reading more as you go about unfolding remembrances of your family members and ancestors.

    • Thanks, Jacqi! And I loved your post today about your Dad! Thanks for getting in touch and turning me on to your blog…

  • Well done “cousin” Sharon! What a wonderful tribute to a grandmother so loved by her family! I wish I had memories like that! It is an honor to get to know her through your remembrances!

    • Thanks, Diana! She was a terrific lady, and much missed…

  • I remember the silver Christmas tree with the rotating colored lights and the candy dishes I couldn’t wait to get into, mashed turnips and vegetable soup, the old monoply game down the shore, fish and chips, winning me those big dolls on the boardwalk, Skilo, and the attic in her house we loved to exlpore. I remember she made beaded Christmas ornaments and didn’t she make some rhinestone jewelry?

    • Mom reminded me that Gram belonged to a mail subscription craft club…they’d send her a craft kit every month and she’d make ornaments, or some other funky object…maybe there was some jewelry. I remember the boxes of Charms lollipops that were always in Aunt Gail’s room down the shore…

So, what do you think?

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