Thursday, May 21, 2009

A trip back home to Corning

As you know, I went "home" to Corning for Aunt Teresa's funeral over the weekend. Of course, I never really lived there, other than a short period when we lived in an apartment somewhere on Pulteney Street when I was in nursery school. But it doesn't matter; Corning is still home. No matter where we lived, we always went back there for visits once or twice a year, and when we did, here's where we went:

That's 321 West First Street in Corning. I'll get to more pictures from last weekend in a moment, but first, bear with me for a bit of family history. The house was built 106 years ago by my great-grandfather Sebastian Frey, who left Barenbach, in Salach, Germany, as a teenager in order to avoid an arranged marriage. (Years later some of my aunts and uncles and cousins went back to Barenbach, where they found Freys who still remember about Sebastian. They are still farmers, and they are still ticked off at Sebastian for leaving Barenbach instead of expanding the Frey family's farm holdings by marrying the neighbor's daughter as he was supposed to. ) He never went back to Germany and never saw his family again. I'm not sure exactly how he got to Corning -- that will have to wait for another post. But when he got there, he and his wife built a house and raised their family at 321 West First Street, where people with the last name Frey have lived ever since.

Sebastian met Mary Doyle, who was born in Ireland in 1865, in Rochester, New York, and married her. They had two daughters, my great-aunts Teresa and Bay (whose real name was Mary - I don't know why she was called Bay, but it suited her), and, I think, three sons. One of the sons was my grandfather Sebastian Justin Frey, born in Corning in 1892.  The younger Sebastian married Catherine McCarthy, known all her life and even afterward (it's on her gravestone) as Rena. She was born in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania in 1895.

Rena McCarthy's parents were Richard McCarthy and Rose Geary McCarthy. Richard's parents, John and Catherine, came from County Cork and County Wexford in Ireland. John McCarthy came over from Ireland with his father in the 1830s to work on the Erie Canal. [Edit: Actually, the Erie Canal had been finished by then, so family history has this wrong. Maybe they came earlier or maybe they worked on some other canal.] Rose was the daughter of Mary Straney and Lawrence Geary, both also born in Ireland. Shortly after Lawrence Geary arrived from Ireland in the 1840s, both he and John McCarthy helped to build the Starrucca Viaduct in Lanesboro, Pennsylvania, an engineering marvel of its time that is still in use today.

The granddaughter of Mary Straney and Lawrence Geary was Rena, who married Sebastian.  They had 10 children: Mary, Jack, Teresa, James, Richard, Marjorie, Rosanne, Thomas, Kathryn, and Geraldine. Sebastian was the only one of his brothers and sisters to marry. The siblings figured that Sebastian needed the house more than they did, so that's where he and my grandmother raised their kids. The house had one small bedroom for the parents, one for the six girls and one for the four boys, each one smaller than the bedrooms in our house. The only bathroom was in the basement until long after all the kids grew up, when one was added on the second floor. (If you look at the picture up above, you can see where it was added, over the front door, on top of what used to be a little front porch.)

Marjorie died as a toddler, and Teresa and Jim never married. The other seven, among them, produced 34 grandchildren for Sebastian and Rena, almost all of whom showed up for Aunt Teresa's funeral last weekend. There are a whole heck of a lot of great-grandchildren now -- Aunt Teresa would have known exactly how many, but I don't -- and one great-great-grandchild. Grandpa died in 1959; I have just one memory of him, sitting in an armchair in the living room at 321 West First Street with a dalmatian at his feet. Grandma died in 1981. Aunt Teresa lived at 321 West First Street for her whole life. Now, it will be sold.

The house is on Irish Hill in Corning, which drops sharply down from a high wooded ridge to the Chemung River. You have to walk down steep wooden steps from the street to get to the front door. The steps used to be painted green, and as my cousin Mary Claire points out, when you arrived for a visit, you could slide down the railing without getting splinters in your rear. You could also roll down the grass onto the sidewalk, or, if it was winter, slide down on the snow.

The hill drops away behind the house even more sharply than in front. Off the kitchen at the back of the house, there's a porch with a view of the river and downtown Corning that I used to think was the most romantic prospect in the world, especially at night. The trees have grown up now, but you used to be able to see a sweeping view of the whole valley, downtown Corning, Painted Post in the distance, lights on the river, cars and trains going by, the lit-up tower at the Glass Works with the silhouetted glassblower. You can still see glimpses of the city and the valley. Here's how it looks now:

I only took one picture inside. Here's the living room, with cousins:
It was always pale green, and it still is. Come to think of it, my other grandmother's living room on the other side of the river in Painted Post was always pale green, too, both when she lived on Water Street and later when she lived on Reservoir Road. Also, they both had the same print in their green living rooms -- the one that's in my bedroom now of the little girl in a green dress communing with a bird. The one I have came from my Grandma Ober's house. The one at Grandma Frey's house is still on the wall, just over Cousin Bill's left shoulder out of sight beyond the right margin of the picture. In every other way, my two grandmothers could not have been more different. Huh.

Here's the little girl in the green dress. It turns out it's called "Spring Song" by a German artist called Simon Glucklich. The girl in the picture listening to the bird is his daughter, who was blind. Apparently the print was popular in the 1920s, which would have been when both my grandmothers were young brides setting up their new homes.

OK, that's probably as much family history as you can bear. Here are some relations. .
That's cousin Bill talking to my Aunt Kay and my uncle Jim Clancy.

Bill has apparently said something off-color, and Aunt Rosanne is telling him to cut it out. It can't have been too bad, though, because Aunt Kay is laughing. Behind them are cousins Ann (she's a librarian, with six sons) and Mary (she's an engineer -- I'm sorry to say I've lost track of how many kids she has.) .
Cousins Jim and Matt (who does theater lighting. His wife is a playwright. They have two kids.) You know who that other guy is.
Another guy you know, with cousins Mary-Claire and Martha (who lives in Michigan.)

All of Aunt Teresa's living siblings (Jack, Dick, Rosanne, Tommy, Kay) made it to her funeral. Here are three of them at the party after the wake: Aunt Rosanne, Grandpa Frey, and Uncle Dick.
Here they are again.
Cousins Caker and Kate.
Uncle Dick and cousin Mary-Claire, studying a picture.
Somebody asked Aunt Kay (Kathryn) how many of her nieces were named Catherine or Kathryn after Grandma Rena (Catherine) Frey and her grandmother Catherine McCarthy and her mother Catherine Fitzgerald, back in Ireland.  She looked around and there were four of us right there in the kitchen. So here's a picture: Caker, Kay, Kate, me (the firstborn female granddaughter -- named and spelled Catherine after those who came before me -- and also, coincidentally, named after my mother from the other side of the river, Anne Catherine Ober, whose Catherine was after HER grandmother Catherine Wickham Lowe), and Caye.


Michele said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michele said...

I never realized that you had this connection to Corning. I enjoyed reading about your family history. So much of it gets lost if it isn't written down.

Anonymous said...

My husband's father, Franz Frey, from Barenbach, used to talk about his uncle Sebastian who lived in Corning and sponsored him to come to the U.S.

Somehow the families lost touch, and we've often wondered about them. It's delightful to read about your branch of the family.

Karen Frey

Mom said...

Karen, how nice to hear from you! There were two Sebastians, father and son -- the one who sponsored Franz was probably the older one who emigrated from Barenbach, but I'm not sure. If you would like, please send an email to me at cfmurphy (at) outlook with a dot-com on the end (I am trying to foil the spambots!) with contact info. I could put you in touch with my aunts and uncle -- descendants of Sebastian -- who know lots of family history and stories and I'm sure would love to hear from you.

Catherine Frey Murphy