My Name

My name is a good one. Names have always been important to me. I think they should have meaning. I prefer that meaning to be tied into history, genealogy, rather than, say, where one was conceived. I am grateful to have that going for me with my name.

Let’s start with my last name, which truth be told, I had no say over. I am also beginning to believe it’s made up. Or stolen. I, in my relentless search for my roots, have not been able to find my dear old great-great-granddad, Timothy McClusk(e)y. He shows up in very northern New York and marries the lovely Mary Davey, and pops out many children. But no hide nor hair of him before that. But it’s Irish. And he was Irish. That I know. Maybe ole Tim was a thief, a gypsy, a murderer. Who knows. I read once that the name means “son of Bhloscaidh,” which translates to “son of a loud noise.” If true, then the name wasn’t stolen.

As for my first and middle names: My mother longed for a daughter. A little girl to dress up, plan weddings, have many girly expectations for. I’m not judging. Anymore. I get it, having a daughter of my own. I have taken a step back from my mother’s girly expectations, but truth be told, when she throws on ripped jeans and the oversized sweatshirts and sweaters she loves so much, I cringe, wonder why she doesn’t put a pretty dress on. A frilly blouse.

Life gave my mother a son first. Perfect. She had no complaints. There was the boy to name after my dad, she did her wifely duty, hoping the next one would be the little Colleen she longed for. More so because the next boy name my dad had picked out was after his father, and his oldest brother, an unusual name, a tough one to saddle a little boy with. While pregnant with number two, she was talking to my dad’s cousin Suzanne about names. Suzanne was three years older than my parents, unmarried. Dying. She told my mother she always liked the name Kathleen. When my mother told me this story, there was another middle name in there my mother could never remember. But considering the first and second generation Irish American McClusky’s had given their daughter’s grandiose French middle names, I am sure it was something out of the ordinary for our peasant ways. Suzanne died about three months before my second brother was born, and he was saddled with the cumbersome name, the middle one I still work on spelling correctly. My mother was so distraught when she woke up and the nuns told her she had another boy, she made them bring the baby to her and take his diaper off, to prove it.

A few months later comes pregnancy number three. The doctor assures my mother it’s a girl. “Joanie, I hear a faint heart beat. Sure sign it’s the little girl you want.” Eight months later (early delivery), and a rush to the hospital to save mother and/or baby, out pops two healthy baby boys. Their names are a whole other story. This is about me.

God, nature, someone, decided my mother’s body needed a rest, four babies in three years. So three years later, anticipation again. My mother got her princess, or Queen B as she liked to call me. My mom at that point considered Colleen a jinx name. My parents talked, and I was named Kathleen, and as a middle name, in memory of my dad’s cousin, Suzanne.

When I was about a month old, my great Aunt Sue, or Sister Mary William, as she was known to the world, and aunt of the Suzanne I was named after, sent me a letter, which I found a few years ago. She welcomed me to the world, as Kathy Sue. I thank the lord every day that name did not stick. And she told me about the first Susan in the family, another nun, a mother superior in the Sisters of the Sacred Heart. An heiress who gave it all  up to become a nun. It’s a lovely legacy. One I am very proud of.

Personal History Journal Prompts

Here is the start of another writing prompt project. It seems to be the best way to keep me writing. I have stories in me. I need the motivation to get them going. One was all about my dysfunctional family, which I have one entry about. I feel a tad guilty now. My brothers have actually been pretty awesome of late. Especially the one I have the most trouble with. So I will focus. I have Minnie. And I have Norah. And so much more in my head, waiting to pop out of my fingertips. Onward ho…


My mom died last fall. It was more unexpected to us than to her, I think. As a nurse, she hid a lot from us. The end came too quickly for me. I needed another thirty, maybe forty years with her.
My dad died twelve years before, almost to the day. Coincidence, for sure. My parents were divorced long before their demise. My dad was wrong. My mom was acrimonious. I just loved them both.
In later years, after my dad passed away, I noticed a lot of snark from my Step and Half, directed at Mom. My mom was re-embraced by her former in-laws, her nieces and nephews, who had abided by my father’s wishes to cut her off when he left my mother. But they didn’t want to. And they didn’t agree with my dad’s choice. They loved my mom. Every last one of them. She was always Aunt. Number 2 never was. Just always called by her first name.

I don’t think it was ever really noticed, until Mom was included in paternal family events after my dad died, which was almost immediate. And she could relate to her former in laws in a way that N2 never could, being younger and not having literally grown up with them. My mom and dad made their First Communion together. My mom went to the same all-girls Catholic school as my paternal aunt. My maternal and paternal uncles went to the same high school. N2 had none of that. She was closer in age to my oldest brother. She was in fact the same age as my oldest cousin’s husband. And my oldest cousin always referred to my mom as Aunt.

Mom being re-embraced reinforced how much of an outsider N2 was. Even before my dad died, N2 reinforced that feeling. Years ago, at a cousin’s wedding, for the seating, the cousin had put Half at a table with her nieces and nephews. Why, because they were the exact same age. N2 pitched a fit and made them move him to a table with a bunch of adults. Why? Because that’s his level in the family. Not his comfort level, but that didn’t matter. It was a status thing.

There was a sibling wedding first, after my dad died, I think. That went fine. N2 couldn’t begrudge my mom being at her own son’s wedding. I don’t think she cared to see Mom in the hotel restaurant with her sisters-in-law, like the best of friends, but what could she do.
But then came the first paternal family reunion. There’s Mom with her former in laws, nieces, and nephews, like she had never been apart. She fell back into a fantastic relationship with everyone. They had warm memories, inside jokes. She loved seeing everyone. The “aunts” were flying. Everyone thought all was good. Until a cousin said to N2, “Isn’t this great, Aunt being here, everyone getting along?” to which N2 responded, “No it isn’t. He is rolling in his grave.”
And then N2 began to really start pulling away from everyone. A brother called me once, concerned for N2. He had been trying to call and text but she wasn’t responding. Meanwhile, I had stopped long ago, when I repeatedly got no response.
It’s funny, I’m kind of the outsider. I’m not included in things. I’ve even purposely not been invited to events, and then told, “We all decided it would be easier.” For my 50th birthday, my mom arranged a surprise gathering in the town I live in. It is 2 hours for most, an hour for Step. I was touched. We all went out to dinner. After dinner, I suggested they, being beer connoisseurs, might enjoy the brewery tap room. “Oh no sis, we have to get home. Long drive.” Ok, I understand. About ninety minutes later, there are pictures on Facebook of everyone enjoying themselves at a brew pub in the town Step lives in. Six months later, at my son’s graduation, one brother griped about not having a beer from the brewery. I told him, “I did invite you after my birthday dinner, but you all had to get home.”
A couple sibs truly felt the connection with Step and Half. A couple realized the reality and pretended, for the sake of family unity. Even though there was theft of property involved with N2 and Step, they still wanted to keep up the pretense.

Me, being far enough away, I just coasted. Until my mom died. A mom is a mom is a mom. And Step and Half couldn’t bother to come to the funeral home. One of the truly connected said I should understand. It would have been awkward for them. I didn’t understand why. They didn’t want to be there to support the siblings they claimed a close connection to? Many of my paternal cousins were there. Supposedly their cousins also. Family. And I had one condolence text from N2.

We buried my mother in the late spring. It wasn’t a large event, mostly due to my siblings poor planning. I think her cousin would have wanted to be there. Her best friend. Some other close family friends. And some of her paternal nieces and nephews. But it’s ok. It was a nice event. We were all together. Well, except for Step and Half. They had other plans. They went camping. Not even a text, a Facebook message, “Thinking about you today.” I guess it’s better. My half and his worse half decided it was fun to make fun of my Mom, whenever they got a chance. So maybe they really didn’t belong there. After all, it was just for family.

Town and Gown

I think I’m a bit of an anomaly for a Hamiltonian. I was “gown” when we first moved here, almost eighteen years ago. We chose to move to this town for the university, and the job opportunity it provided. And because of that, we had the inside track for events. We knew when someone fun was visiting, both officially and unofficially. We got first dibs on great tickets. We got to meet, shake hands, shoot the breeze, with the likes of Adonal, Kevin Spacey, and Patricia Polacco. But somewhere in our years of living here, we became “town.” We became un-associated with the university, just another family living and raising kids here. We’ve lived on both sides of the fence, being part of the “in crowd” for a while, then looking at things from an outsider’s perspective. I’ve never really felt like an outsider though. Maybe I don’t feel that way because I’ve always been the fringe element, not fitting in, but fitting around.  I don’t always hear about all of the events going on up on campus or around town anymore, but maybe that’s in part because I don’t always look.

There is give and take being a part of a college community, especially with a school like this one. We’re lucky to have the opportunities provided in our small town, for both young and old. But that also means we need to deal with the likes of Porsche Guy and Land Rover Girl. We have the Hamilton Eatery, in large part, I believe, because of the university, but it means we also have to put up with hours that accommodate the university, and not always the locals, who would kill for a mac n cheese on a July afternoon. We get fireworks throughout the year, but we also know we will probably be eating at home that weekend because the restaurants will be full. We get a summer concert series, put on by the village, but fueled by the people who choose to live in a college community, whether they are affiliated with the school or not.

I wouldn’t say I have a love/hate relationship with the school; I think it is more of a love/tolerate one. I’m realistic about the opportunities provided because of their presence. I’m grateful for them. My kids wouldn’t have had the opportunity, in their small school, to be introduced to French, Spanish, Chinese, if it weren’t for the students coming down to volunteer their time and knowledge. We wouldn’t have seen Ashton, the Dali Llama, Hillary. There wouldn’t be May Dumpster diving for designer duds, often with tags still on. And for that, I tolerate the crowds on move-in day; the traffic on parents’ weekend; no parking on a Friday evening when I try to get my pizza and wings from NY Pizzeria, not Slices; dodging the “debris”-strewn sidewalks on a Sunday morning walk through downtown. It’s like putting up with winter in Central New York. It is bearable because we look forward to spring, we appreciate the warmer temperatures when they finally come, after the long, cold winter. Like the arrival of spring, we know, come the middle of May, when the wildflowers spring up along the towpath, we get our sleepy town back, with parking and quiet and clean sidewalks. We get a respite from the craziness of the school year.


30-Day Writing Challenge: Day 30

One Thing You’re Excited For

Life has had its ups and downs for me, for my kids. They don’t know all of the downs. I will have to tell them of one soon, but not yet. There’s time. It will mean a huge change. My kids are ingrained to love traditions, the way things are. The irony of that is it all comes from their dad. He never carried out a tradition in his life, but when we did something he enjoyed, he’d announce loudly and proudly that this was a new tradition, and then leave it up to me to fulfill it.

I, too, love traditions, but I also have a flexibility, brought on by years of watching hate and bitterness consume a person and ruin many traditions.

There is a big change coming, within the next year. It will initially be embarrassing, people will talk. But by the end, people will understand, support us, and my life will be far easier than it has been. I won’t have as much to worry about. Life will be simpler for me.

I’m excited for this change. I know it will be overwhelming. I’ll cry throughout the process. We all will. But at the end of the road, their will be laughter, joy, and new traditions and memories to make.

30-Day Writing Challenge: Day 29

The Night of Your 21st Birthday

Was I ever twenty-one? It seems so long ago. It was so long ago, just before I turned eighteen, the state of New York changed the drinking age to nineteen. I remember my nineteenth birthday. The night before my father took me out to dinner. We went to a Chinese restaurant in town. My dad was their lawyer. They served drinks in coconut shells. My dad, stepmother, and I ordered different drinks, with the plan to share them. My dad told the owner, who was waiting on us, that it was my nineteenth birthday. She smiled and nodded, looked at my eight-year-old sister, said, “Happy birthday,” turned to me and said, “ID please.” My favorite car is a 1965 Mustang. My dad, being “funny,” gave me a ’65 Mustang Jim Beam bottle, full of Jim Beam (obviously). I think I still have it, packed in the basement. If I had to guess though, the Jim Beam has been replaced by water, by my ex-husband.

We had a surprise fiftieth birthday party for my mother the night of my nineteenth. It was fun. Friends from all over came. And then several of us went to a bar near my mom’s house, so I could have a drink. We didn’t stay. Having a January birthday, I was the only one who could get into the bar.

The following September, they changed the drinking age to twenty-one. They didn’t grandfather us in. So I think had to wait for my twenty-first birthday. By then, who cared. There’s more to life than drinking.

30-Day Challenge: Day 28

The Word/Phrase You Use Constantly

I actually am not sure what you are talking about. I actually don’t have a word I overuse. I actually hear a lot of people using different phrases–“you know,” “tell me about it,””literally,” “you know what I mean”–but I actually try to keep it fresh, not overusing words or phrases. I’m actually quite proud of myself for this feat. I actually used to say, “You know” all the time, and my dad would actually respond with, “No I don’t know.” It actually drove me nuts. So I’ve actually worked very hard at breaking this habit.

30-Day Writing Challenge: Day 27

What You Wore Today

My clothing style is mostly about comfort. I hate to be restricted, fitted, constricted. And I love skirts and dresses. Today, I chose my long pencil straight black skirt, which goes with everything and I probably wear twice a week at least. I paired it with my black-and-white striped top with the little V-neck. This was an impulse buy at TJ Maxx one day. I went in there looking for new tops to go with my skirts. I had no luck. While walking toward the checkout line, I saw this shirt, grabbed it, thought, oh, cute. Little did  know how cute it would look on, how many compliments I would get, and how black-and-white striped tops were the in item this year. I feel hip.

30-Day Writing Challenge: Day 26

Things You’d Say to an Ex

There’s nothing more to say. I’ve tried, for the kids’ sake. I spent years trying to teach you to be a good father. Then you left. I still tried, at least in the kids’ eyes. When you didn’t show up, I made excuses. When you took them for an hour once a month, I made it fun. It was hard to cover when you showed up drunk, but I made sure they knew you loved them. When you didn’t see them for 6 months, I always came up with positive excuses. When it became a year, it was harder. When you called them as you drove to Florida to tell them you were moving there, the bottom fell out. But I still told them you loved them.

Call me when you are willing to take responsibility, instead of blaming me, and then we’ll talk.

30-Day Writing Challenge: Day 25

Four Weird Traits You Have

On the first of every month, ever since I was in college, I say, “Rabbit rabbit,” first thing in the morning. Well, I try to remember to say, “Rabbit rabbit.” I wasn’t successful this morning. I spoke to my cat first. But I’ll wake each of the kids up with it, so they’ll say it. We’ve determined if one person in the house can remember to say it, we have good luck for the month.

I like to go to bed early and snuggle in bed, not really sleeping, but daydreaming (night dreaming really). I like to have that time to unwind, guide my subconscious to scenarios I want to see, play little movies in my head.

I peak out my windows, especially when I hear noises. Sometimes the habit has me doing it even when I just walk past a window. I’ve been doing it since high school. I don’t know why. It’s like a compulsion, a weird habit.

I like to save the “best” for last. With cake, I eat the frosting last, salads the kalamata olives, fruit salad, it used to be the kiwi, now pineapple, muffins, the tops. A woman said to me once, “You have no sisters, do you?” She had four sisters. If you saved the best for last, you got nothing, because they always took it. I guess in that respect, I was lucky.