Fourth of July in New England.
Would I like to come to Connecticut for a visit over the holiday?
I sure would!
And I did!
Pictured above: The first festive 4th of July touch I saw when first I entered my hostess's house.
Actually it didn't just happen quite that simply.
First, my hostess, Susan Brosnan had to discover me via my blog.
She was looking for her grandfather's long lost brother Cornelius Brosnan, who turned out to be my great grandfather.
I had blogged a photo of him for a St. Patrick's Day post, he being Irish and all; she had done a google search on the name and up the post popped!
Her family still lived in Wallingford Connecticut where my great grandfather grew up after arriving from Ireland as a very young child around 1860-ish.
Cornelius left for Massachusetts as a young adult, around 1880 and raised a family of his own, including my grandmother (my Dad's mom) in Springfield.
Our family never knew about Cornelius's family in Wallingford.
Sue was soon emailing me, and filling me in on loads of fascinating family details.
We hoped that one day we would meet.
Fate stepped in and last August, by chance, she was scheduled to be in a conference in San Diego the same week that I was to be in San Diego for my 40th class reunion.
Since then Sue has urged me to come to Connecticut for a visit, and to come any time.
Bernie urged me to go for a visit as well.
Sue pointed out lots of fun things we could do over the 4th of July...
I thought the holiday air fare would be prohibitive.
The flight was booked two weeks before I left.
How great to have time with my newly discovered cousin AND have a chance to check off a bucket list item:
To spend an Independence Day in New England.
I flew out of Salt Lake early on July 3rd.
A short layover in Atlanta stretched from an hour to more than four hours with weather delaying flights all over the east coast.
Poor Sue...the Hartford Connecticut airport was about an hour above her home.
She had made plans to pick me up and take me out to dinner with one of her dear friends when I landed.
Instead she wound up knocking on the door of friend who lived closer to the airport, asking if she could hang out there until I might finally arrive; the estimated time of departure kept changing through the evening.
As she later observed, it turned out to be a blessing as she was able to have a good catch up with a friend while she waited.
Her dinner plans for me went out the window; I ate in the Atlanta airport.
(I was drawn to this restaurant because it had a huge picture of shrimp and grits; after waiting in line I was informed the restaurant no longer serves that particular dish...)
I could hardly walk around OR get a seat there for the mob of stranded travelers.
But all is well that ends well...at last my flight was called and I was on my way again to Hartford.
We got back to Wallingford around ten pm.
It didn't take long for us to hit the sack and go fast asleep.
We woke up on the Fourth of July eager to start our holiday day.
We had been asked to a 4th of July breakfast on the porch at Sue's cousins (on her mother's side).
I just poured a quick cup of coffee when I got up and enjoyed sipping it in Sue's beautiful screened in breezeway between her house and garage.
The bear made me smile.
Sue and I may have barely met, but our bloodlines are a match.
We both love to add holiday touches to our homes.
Now it was definitely hot and muggy in Connecticut.
Sue had warned me that that was likely to be that way.
I put the southern living skills learned in Houston to good use.
A walk through her garden was just right in the morning.
By noon...it would have been too hot to enjoy.
Her hydrangea bloomed almost flag blue.
I had never seen such true blue in that flower before.
Later I saw that hydrangea growing is highly successful in Connecticut.
Every front yard seemed to have billows of the flowers flanking the doors and such.
Daisy and coneflowers pushed high in the sunshine.
This is one of my favorite shots from the trip.
What garden magazine wouldn't want to show off such a perfect summer garden scene?
The pinks were in the pink...
Had we not had a breakfast invitation, we might have enjoyed breakfast out in her garden.
Instead Sue drove us not too very far from her house to her cousin's old two story home
with a wonderful deep shady porch where we could sit and enjoy a slight breeze and fun conversation.
The view from where I was seated on the porch.
Sue's cousins Mary and Peter M.
I felt like I was right at home...maybe Bernie is right, I am a New Englander at heart.
Breakfast was simply wonderful, with corn pudding, fried eggs, red white and blue bagels, and a fruit salad with stars cut from a pineapple.
Mary and Peter's adult children arrived with grandchildren in tow.
I think I could of stayed there all day...but the day was scheduled with lots of stops so around 11 we said our good byes and headed up to Springfield Massachusetts.
Sue had identified what area of the cemetery in Springfield that my great grandfather and great grandmother were buried.
It was a fairly large area however and we walked back and forth in the rising heat hoping to see a stone with Brosnan etched somewhere.
Sue "cheated" a bit...she said a prayer to Saint Anthony...and moments later she called out that she had found the headstone.
Earlier in the day we had discussed another saint, the well known St. Christopher.
Or should I say "Mr. Christopher, formerly known as St. Christopher".
(I had not known St. Chris had been demoted...apparently his name meant "Christ Bearer" and he was more of a concept than a real man...whoops!)
With Sue, an actual Brosnan herself.
I was surprised to see my great grandmother listed by her maiden name.
Apparently the sensible New Englanders routinely listed wives in that fashion on gravestones.
Boy would that make genealogy a whole lot easier if every area of the country did that.
I knew that Marvel Brosnan had been killed when a car hopped over a curb and struck him.
Ralph served in World War I.
I was kind of surprised to realize that he was still alive when I was ten years old.
Virginia...I think I might have met her...not sure. I vaguely remember being told she had died.
My own grandmother Madeline died out in Oakland California when I was 20 years old.
She donated her body to science; there will be no such markers for future generations to hunt down.
Nearly buried at the foot of the head stone were markers denoting that a WWI vet was buried here.
Beautiful old cemetery.
I felt quite peaceful there.
Next we went about looking for where the family had lived from about 1880 until 1940.
The address was obtained from census records.
It wasn't too far from the cemetery.
This was the house across the street from Cornelius and Margaret's home.
The view up the street...
Two houses down...
(Love the green, yellow and pink paint job!)
It looked like a fine neighborhood to raise a family of six children.
I could picture my Victorian era grandmother playing there.
Perhaps she had an upstairs bedroom and looked out the window to this view.
Sadly, only one house was missing on the street.
The family home's address is now a vacant lot.
Still...it meant a lot to see what their neighborhood looked like back in the day.
By then it was well past lunchtime and we were wondering where to go to get a bite to eat.
A Friendly's Ice Cream restaurant was on the way to our next stop and happily it was open.
Sue told me the ice cream was famous locally, and the food was great too.
I ordered a fried (not breaded!) fish sandwich, ice tea and their famous milk shake.
And fun to think that since this restaurant began in Springfield while my great grandparents still lived, they might possibly have enjoyed a lunch there themselves a time or two.
Old Sturbridge Village.
By now the heat and humidity was so high that we limited our viewing of the garden to what we could see from the air conditioned gift shop window.
Outside on the green was field of flags.
People were encouraged to buy a pass for a military family to use, and a flag was planted on the green for each pass that did get purchased.
Isn't that great?
And how about that shot for a great Fourth of July photo???
Pretty darn great idea if you ask me...
A quick tour of the gift shop...I liked the Mason jar lanterns.
And got a chuckle out of this book.
Knit your own cat?
(I could of bought a ton of great books there; loads of history books...I am such a sucker for history books! But I showed restraint and for once bought none.)
Our next stop was in Spencer Massachusetts, just about 80 miles from where Sue lives.
Saint Joseph's Abby is where her "dear friend" lives, the one who was to have dined with us the night I flew in.
He was so disappointed that we wouldn't have a chance to met so Sue decided we should go up to the Abby and surprise him.
Yes...Sue's friend is Trappist monk!
I soon learned that Trappist Preserves refers to the fruit preserves that the monks make, and the Holy Rood Guild is another labor at the Abby, making church vestments for many denominations.
From what I have read, there are approximately 2,100 Trappist monks living in about 170 monasteries world wide.
Trappist monks are a branch of the Roman Catholic Cistercians of the Strict Observance.
They live in a cloistered contemplative monastery.
I really had no idea what to expect as Sue drove us up a road..
past beautiful streams...
and wide meadows.
We parked near this bench...decorated with a flag for the holiday.
The buildings were so beautiful.
Sue lead me to the chapel; I wanted a picture of the door hinges and her too...
(she is not one for being photographed much...I was glad to get at least a few shots of her.)
Inside the chapel it was cool and dark.
I would have loved to have been there for a service and heard the monks singing.
I don't think I have ever seen a stain glass window that could be cranked open before.
Sue explained that people are able to stay at the Abby on private spiritual retreat, and rooms are booked up months in advanced. Women can stay during some times of the month too.
Sue's girl cat Murray gets to stay there whenever Sue needs to travel.
It is a special allowance for a special cat.
The grounds...I would love to see them in all seasons.
Sue has Masters degrees in both Library Science and Theology.
I asked her about this tile mosaic's symbolism.
She didn't know this one; we would have to ask her friend, which in the end we forgot to do.
Sue attempted to fill me in on all things monastery while I peppered her with questions springing from what I was seeing.
I should have been taking notes!
She was telling me what each area and room was used for; I was snapping shots of "pretty" and "beautiful" as fast as I could as we walked along.
I knew Bernie would love the architecture...
(See Adam and Eve? Or at least that is who I think I am seeing in the carving...)
The bell tower...and all those arched windows....I couldn't get all of the building in in one shot.
Eventually Sue noted that it was about 5, when "Father" would be on duty.
She knocked on this door.
A man in street clothes answered.
Could we please speak with Father Aquinas, the Abby's guestmaster?
The man told us he was told not to allow anyone in but he would go look for Father for us.
We waited outside the door for a few moments, then the young man returned to say he couldn't find him.
Sue suggested that he look perhaps in the dining hall...that perhaps Father was running late today?
And indeed that was the case for right after that I got to meet Father Aquinas face to face.
Father seated us in cozy comfortable room, brought us glasses of cooling ice water and cookies and began to tell me how much he enjoyed reading my blog and my cats and how upset he was that he thought he wouldn't be meeting me this visit...we had truly surprised him by driving up for a visit!
After we had cooled down a bit from our walk around the grounds, he gave us a tour of the Abby.
The dining hall...were the meals are vegetarian save on the 4th of July when a steak or hot dog is enjoyed in keeping with the American tradition.
He is just so huggable and friendly and interesting to talk with.
Joy radiates from him and I felt so welcomed it was almost like coming home.
He showed me a map of the grounds...
He gave me a very abbreviated explanation of the Cistercian Order which was the beginning of the Trappists order.
We walked the grounds just a bit...
There used to be sheep in the meadows, but in the end they proved less profitable than other projects and so they are now only a memory.
A small chapel had many beautiful elements.
And even the door to the kitchen was quite interesting.
I got to see a monk's room, and various meeting rooms for various purposes.
The visit was altogether too brief...
I understood now why Sue spends Christmas Eve at the monastery each year.
And why she speaks so often and so highly of her friend Father Aquinas.
I wish I had thought to take a video of him so you could have a moment with him too.
I am smiling just remembering his gleeful way of speaking and his enthusiasm and zest for God and life.
We left Father to his evening duties as guestmaster, answering phone calls and such things related to those who come to retreat at the Abby.
Outside a smoke tree was in full bloom; in this case, being planted where it is, it must be more appropriate to refer to it as a "Holy Smoke" tree?
Back at Sue's we had the "must have on July 4" meal of hot dogs and potato salad, with ice cream and apple pie for dessert.
We ate in the breezeway, sitting and rocking back and forth slowly on an old fashioned porch glider while we watched fireworks in the distance through the firefly sparkled trees in her garden.
To be continued....