My maternal grandmother, Katherine Calahan Murrison, was born just after the turn of the century in 1902 and lived her life in and around Topeka, Kansas, until the late 1950’s when she and her retired and ailing husband, Earl, picked up their belongings and moved to Washington State. C1 is named after this woman. Legend has it that Calahan is the name of the nurse wife that help to birth my grandmother. The name Katherine is found frequently in our family lineage and is the surname of both my mother and one of her granddaughters..my niece Katie. It is binding to have this common connection in a name like Katherine and Calahan and Katie and Callie.
My grandmother was a big woman with those upper arms that feel like warm bread dough just perfect for putting in the oven. She always brought us store-bought cookies which my mother would never buy for us Hauck kids. Grandma was born into a large family of seven girls and one under achieving boy, Andrew (he aspired to town drunk). The girls were named Flora Ellen, Gertrude Viola, Katherine Calahan, Effie Estella, Leo Francis, Mary Regina and Esther Georgia. These were my crazy and wonderful aunties. Flora died before I was old enough to know her. Gertrude was the wise auntie that lived out in sunny California with her partner in a beautiful Cally style home with a yard full of exotic flowers, lemon trees and hedges of jade. We would visit her during school breaks and go to Disney and take in at least one Hollywood television show like Name that Tune or Hollywood Squares. I wear her platinum and sapphire ring on my right finger. She also passed on to me some of her delicate dishes which I cherish to this day. Aunt Gertrude (never Gertie) lived with her sister (my grandmother) before she moved to California for work and love so my mother and her were quite close. Aunt Gertrude always wore her hair up in a tight bun. Mom told me when she was in her teens she used to help Gertrude with her hair by washing the long braids and combing them out. She said it took several hours of her concentration to do it right. Mom always wondered what happened to the ivory brush and comb set.
Aunt Effie and her husband and children, lived on a tiny farm outside of Topeka and worked the soil day and night. Aunt Effie had been bitten on her face by a mad dog as a small child and that scar always fascinated and scared me at the same time. She was a tiny women and quiet but loved her husband and kids and was a good woman.
Aunt Leo and Aunt Mary on the other hand were free spirits — they both divorced husbands when that was considered unattractive at best. After their divorces, they lived together in a ranch style house out on the outskirts of southeast Topeka. We visited them often in that home particularly at Easter and Memorial Day. When Earl died, this home is where we all gathered to pile into the limos for the ride to the funeral home to the graveside service and then back for the comforting site of a table full of corn casseroles and scratch rolls. The family meals at Mary and Leo’s always included baked ham and homemade pie. Leo and Mary loved animals — in particular cats and parrots. They had a colorful and noisy parrot that lived in a cage in their well-appointed dining room and made crazy talk until one of the aunties covered his cage for the night. He especially liked to squawk out “Leo” repeatedly. When I stayed the night sleeping on their nubby green 1960’s mid-century modern couch, I would wake to the loud bark of the parrot greeting me “Good, Morning,” “Leo, Leo, Leo!” The aunties also had a pet cemetery in their back yard before this idea was as keenly posh as it is now. My mom and I thought it was kind of creepy and giggled together whenever we were requested to visit a recent cat demise and the new quirky headstone. Where did they get these personalized pet headstones back in the 1970’s? They daily fed the birds that lived in their backyard trees high out of reach of the ever-expanding, co-existing cat population.
But every Saturday night when there was a scheduled match, my aunties headed to the Topeka Capitol City Convention Center to watch professional wrestling. They always dressed up like they were prepared to sing in the choir at their church with little pill hats, hose and heels. Leo and Mary loved to shop for new dresses and everything always matched to perfection. Girdles were MANDATORY. My dad thought their infatuation with professional wrestling was hysterical and was always trying to get them irritated by questioning the authenticity of the stage performances. Between matches at the center, they would keep up with the sport on television. When a match was televised, they would demand that all of their house guests watch along with them. My dad would snicker when one of the wrestlers would throw his body on top of an opponent’s face. HH would ask not-so-innocently “if this violence is real how did that act not possibly kill the opponent”? Aunt Leo and Mary would get really defensive and basically just chew dad out for even questioning the professionalism of these aficionados. Dad always said that the aunties “got off” on the wrestling just a bit too much. Looking back, why ruin the fantasy they were living out? — it didn’t hurt anybody. In their older years, when unable to drive to the matches, they hired my oldest brother, Mike, to chauffeur them to the center in their land yacht of an ancient Cadillac. Mike probably has insights about these fight-nights that would curl your hair.
Aunt Esther was the baby of the family and lived a quiet life with her devoted mate, Art Tolbert, in a small town outside of Topeka. She was busy raising her kids and grandkids and always gardening. She and her husband always showed up for family gatherings when my grandmother came back for a visit from her new home in Washington. Below is a picture of the four last surviving aunties taken at my grandmother’s 80th birthday in 1982. From left to right in back: Esther, Leo and Mary. Front and center: Katherine.