The Nolan family picnic is an annual tradition that has been occurring for nearly 50 years. It all started with Clarence & Mary (Chisholm) Nolan when they wanted to get their six children and growing numbers of grand-children together in one place on one day that wasn't a holiday.
Not everyone makes it every year, but it is always so good to reconnect with aunts and uncles and cousins when you do make it.
Below is a photo from the 90's taken at one of the birthday parties for their Mother... it includes their six children and a close cousin.
Family numbers have grown exponentially to include 25 grand-children and many greats! Of course, Clarence and Mary have long left this earth, but they left an impression... and a few other little know things. Like the collection of Sunbonnet Sue quilt blocks that Mary's mother - Mary (Graf) Chisholm made.
About 20 years ago I had helped our girls make a memory book for their Grandpa Nolan (Hubby Dave's Dad, Paul). They gave it to him for Christmas one year. In the book it asked questions about his childhood, his parents and grandparents.
I reminded them that though they may have all been present at the same "event", the memories and details that each will recall will likely vary.
After receiving the quilt blocks I pulled out Paul's memory book and looked for the page where he would have shared about his Grandmother. He had mis-read the sentence, made a few scribbles on the page, and told what he knew about his Grandfather... turned the page and saw the Grandfather page and wrote "See previous page".
So... the only info I had about Mary Magdalene Graf Chisholm was her date of birth and date of death from a funeral card that was in some family info. I asked for input from the rest of the family. Here is what I got from Aunt Maureen...
Grandma Graf Chisholm and some of my memories of her!
Mary Magdalene Graf.
Born to Mary Elizabeth Cummings & Abagast Graf, April 16, 1877 in Brownsville MN.
While this photo is very blurred (it is actually a still shot grabbed from an old home movie - circa 1950s...) it shows how short she really was.
Grandma was of very small stature about 4 ft-1 in. Give or take a few centimeters. And she was almost as round as she was tall. All of us kids thought it was cool that we were taller than her by the time we were in the 6th grade.
Grandma was very sweet but she could be quite judgmental as well! If she thought we were immorally dressed (in shorts) she would let us know it and she would let mom know too. (Drove mom and dad nuts)!
Whenever she sat down she would curl her right leg under her and sit on it! I never could figure out how she did this considering how she was built!
She was famous for her sweet booties which she was forever making for all the new "greats" as they were born. She taught me how to darn socks and how to embroider! (And the back of your project better look as neat as the front or you heard about it)!
She and Grandpa lived next door to us in Chicago in a house that was a duplicate of ours. My dad and some friends built theirs first then built ours. They lived there until they were 65 then they turned the house to Uncle Joe and moved to Winchester VA. with Aunt Catherine.
After a while (several years) they moved in with our family after Aunt Catherine and uncle Joe Sarandria bought a smaller home. We were quite cramped as we only had 3 bedrooms and 10 people to live there. Five of us kids were in one bedroom, but we made it work!
Every morning she had Tea, a bowl of cereal and a bowl of stewed prunes. Before bed she had tea and toast.
She was very prayerful and prayed several times a day but always in her room.
Every night she would braid her hair and occasionally wind some of the sides in hairpins which made the sides wavy. Then in the morning she would put it in a bun at the nape on her neck and put a really fine hairnet over it.
Her dresses were always down to her ankles. And she always wore black shoes with thick high heels about 1 inch high. She loved playing solitaire and did so almost every evening.
She lived with us for years then eventually moved to Texas with Uncle Alan and Aunt Gladys where she passed away.
I totally loved her with all my heart and she loved all of us.
We got memories shared by Aunt Sheila, as well... And do you remember the thing about remembering details differently? Sheila corrected Maureen and said that while Grandma was short, she wasn't that short. She says she was 4 foot 8 inches... still quite short!
Grandma and her siblings, Austin and Will, lost their father, Arbogast Graf, when she was just a child. He was one of two blacksmiths in Brownsville MN and was one of the town’s founders. Perhaps there wasn’t enough work for two blacksmiths because he left the family behind to look for work in Arkansas. The family received one letter from him and never heard from him again! No one knows what happened to him.
Grandma married Joseph Colin Graf, and they had six children: Joseph, Mary (our mother), William, Catherine, Allen, and Ray (not necessarily in that order. I am only sure of the two oldest and the youngest.) They raised their family in Superior, WI. Mary and Clarence went through school together there. At some point after our mother finished 10th grade and attended secretarial school so that she could get a job and help put her older brother, Joe, through college, the family moved to Chicago. They lived in apartments before moving into the home that Dad built for them.
Maureen gave an excellent accounting of the homes on St. Louis Avenue in her post. I was born four years before we moved from there to our home on Batavia Road in West Chicago. From my earliest memory, Grandpa and Grandma were already living with us. Grandpa died when I was seven in our home on Batavia Road. Grandma continued to live with us there and moved with us to Mountain Street in Aurora when I was 10 until she went to live with Uncle Al and Aunt Gladys when I was 18 – 19 years old, with occasional visits to Aunt Catherine and Uncle Joe Sarandria’s in Winchester VA.
When we moved to a three bedroom home on Forest Ave from the five bedroom home on Mountain Street in Aurora – on the day of my senior prom – I shared a room with Grandma. As Maureen said, she was a prayerful woman. Some of Maureen’s other comments described her well. She was actually 4 feet 8 inches, which was still very short. The house on Forest Avenue was a new ranch style home. One of the new features was a garbage disposal. Grandma could not stand dishes standing for any length of time and, before our busy Mom could get to them, Grandma would do the dishes. However, she put several spoons down that garbage disposal and broke it repeatedly until Dad banned her from using it.
Grandma loved to sing, especially hymns. I loved growing up in a home where she, Mom, Dad, and my siblings all sang. She got on Larry’s case a lot, though he was basically a pretty good boy. Mom used to say that she didn’t get a chance to discipline him because Grandma always got there first!
Maureen mentioned Grandma’s breakfast and night snack, but she had another habit that I never quite got used to. She would put a cracker between to cookies or a cookie between two crackers, I can’t remember which, but I thought it a rather strange snack (either way).
I think growing up in an extended family really influenced my life. I have always greatly respected the elderly, of which I have now joined the ranks. Grandma’s great faith influenced our mother’s, and hers greatly influenced mine. I think that is the greatest testimony I can give to Mary Magdalene Graf Chisholm.
And finally, from Aunt Kathy...
I remember living with Grandma Chisholm at Batavia Rd in West Chicago & Mountain St in Aurora. She darned, mended our clothes, hand sewed with a thimble, etc. I have a thimble of hers which is my treasure!
She drank her tea with milk & sugar. The only way I can drink my tea.
Grandma poured boiling water on her Shredded Wheat cereal, YUCK! In place of mouthwash she rinsed her mouth with Peroxide, GROSS! Her night time snack was tea & toast, toasted with a fork over a gas stove flame. (The beginning of indoor grilling?)
Grandma always wore an apron daily except when we had company or went to church. I remember her praying on a huge black rosary. She would take her wide wedding band off when she was preparing for bed & while she braided her hair I would ask if I could try on her ring. I decided then when I get married I would like a wide wedding band like Grandma wore.
We kids were more behaved around her as Grandma could poke us with that ”Hard-as-Nails” pointed finger faster than we could escape!
All in all, Grandma Chisholm was a huge influence on us kids on how to respect anyone older then ourselves, which is getting harder to meet anyone older then us!
Aunt Kathy was the one that passed on the quilt blocks to me. Her sisters were shocked to learn of them and had no idea that she had ever done any quilting at all. Aunt Kathy shared with me that "Grandma was always sewing something. If she wasn't sewing, she was knitting. I was the only one of the girls that did much sewing and that is why Mother gave them to me, thinking that I may someday do something with them since made dresses and other clothes for my own children. Of course I never did anything like quilts, so I thought they needed to go to you."
How special I feel! And though I have had them in my possession for almost a month I still feel giddy when I look at them. Okay, I confess... I have taken them out a few times to pet them... **Smirk**
I am thrilled to find another quilter in the family! Okay, so technically, I am not related by blood, but still in the family! That's my story and I am stickin' to it.
Oh, and that memory book that was given to my father-in-law? We gave the same kind of book to my Mom's parents as well as my own Mom & Dad. I guess I really should sit and complete one that has some of my own childhood memories... aw, well... I have shared lots of them here on the blog... and I have a scrapbook that goes from birth to high school graduation... Does that count? Yeah, probably not. Sounds like I have a project to complete.
How about you???
Have your documented any childhood memories and family history with your family or children???
I would highly recommend it! If you need a starting place I have a word document that I found several years ago about a conversation with loved ones. Leave a comment with your email address and I would be happy to pass it on.