Saturday, October 07, 2006

Tales My Mother Told Me

Ken McLintock
a memoir of his mother, Edith Cavannaugh

Savannah-born and Georgia-educated (Wesleyan Female Seminary, Macon), my mother came north to complete her musical education. Some of her musical instruction -- both piano and voice, I think -- was under a Miss Coburn, who was related to the actor Charles Coburn. The Coburns and the Cavanaughs (my mother's family) were good friends, and my mother always referred to Charles as Charlie. (She also had a way of slighting the r in his family's name, so that what I always heard were references to "Miss Cobin" and "Charlie Cobin.") Although he was always "Charlie", she was always "Miss Cobin," so I think she must have been his aunt rather than an elder sister. That he did have a sister I am sure because both of them were in the theater and even appeared on the stage together. As I said, the Coburn and Cavanaugh families were friends, and more than once Mother told me of the time Charlie saved her from drowning when she was caught in an undertow off Tybee Island.

For years, so far as I knew, Charles Coburn -- if he was still living -- was retired and still living in Savannah. But one day (I was probably in high school by then), I was reading aloud some movie advertisements in the newspaper to help my parents and me decide which movie to see. Among the cast listed for one movie was Charles Coburn, which I pronounced carefully "Charles Co-burn", not having the faintest idea who he was. "Oh! Charlie Cobin!" my mother exclaimed, surprised and delighted that her former "beau" was in Hollywood, having taken up a movie career. However, I thought I'd better tell her she was mistaken. "No, Mother, not Cobin -- Coburn." I don't recall what her reply was, but I think she was puzzled. After all, she had been pronouncing Coburn "Cobin" all her life.
P.S. We saw that movie, and nearly every subsequent movie in which Charlie appeared.

P.P.S. Coburn had evidently kept in touch with some of the Savannah people over the years. Mother's sister, Aunt Blanche, who had moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, showed me a Christmas card she had received from him. It showed what had evidently become, over the years, his trademark: a tamoshanter and a monocle -- no face: just the tam and monocle.

Once she was in New York City, Mother studied with Mrs. Eames, mother of the Metropolitan Opera soprano Emma Eames. The Eameses were from Bath, Maine, and Emma was among the first American-born singers to sing at the Met. Needless to say, Mother attended many of Emma Eames's performances, and for years pictures of the singer in her various roles -- Elsa in Lohengrin, Marguerite in Faust, Desdemona in Otello, among others -- hung on the walls of our home.
Mother received excellent training; after all, her teacher had also been the opera singer's teacher. One result of the training was a fine sense of pitch. If she heard a singer on the radio singing flat, she would utter a cry of pretended pain and make upward motions with her hands as if to push the singer back up on key. Thanks to her training also, her pronunciation of German, French, and Italian was excellent. It was, if anything, too good. She once told me that after a recital, a woman who had been in the audience came up to her and began speaking to her in French -- an embarrassing moment. She had learned to sing French words flawlessly but had never learned to converse in French.

Mother's training, though, was not for the opera stage. Instead she sang with New York's Oratorio Society for years, and was soloist in a number of churches in the New York area. She also was a member of at least one church choir and even one synagogue choir (that of the famed Temple Emanu-El). Among the members of one of the choirs was Harry T. Burleigh, composer and arranger of Negro spirituals (as they were then called), including "Deep River". Burleigh was already well on in years when Mother knew him, and as the years went by, he would announce solemnly each year that this would be the last year he would sing "The Palms" at the Palm Sunday service.

Mother knew, directly or indirectly, a number of interesting and prominent (at least in their day) people in the music world. There was Frank Damrosch, brother of Walter. I don't recall what musical group he presided over, but my mother would say that he must have had something against tenors because he would tell the tenors exasperatedly to "sing with your brains as well as your voices." There was Victor Harris, director of the Oratorio Society, whom she admired. There was Kurt Schindler, who not only was choir director somewhere but also was compiler and arranger of a collection of songs by Russian composers (Glinka, Tschaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, et al.). One director (I don't recall who) had a stammer, and to break the stammer he would sweep his hand across his face. And there was Keith McLeod, who directed a male chorus on one of the New York radio stations, WEAF, now WNBC. It was he who got Mother a spot on WEAF for a short time. I recall seeing a note from him to Mother and noticing he had signed it with his initials, K. McL. -- my initials, too!

Most people, I suppose, who are fond of "classical" music rate the celebrated Beethoven Ninth Symphony highly. My mother did not. I think that was mainly because when the Oratorio Society performed that symphony with the New York Symphony Orchestra, the altos were always placed close to the kettledrums, and Beethoven could be unstinting with the use of that percussion instrument, especially in the Ninth, where the kettledrums attack the listener repeatedly with fortissimos. And, according to my mother, you never got enough used to them not to jump.

Besides her concert and church work, my mother did other singing: recitals. Early in this century, musicians were invited to the homes of well-to-do people -- either their New York mansions or their country estates. One such family, the Sooeysmiths (an odd name) had a place in Greens Farms, Connecticut, and my mother had happy memories of that family and that place. (I think they were the people who owned a St. Bernard dog named Clumsy.)

Finally, there were the army hospitals. World War I ended almost two years before I was born, but even as late as the mid-1920s, when I first heard about her singing to the wounded, the sight and voices of the men -- especially the faces of the "shell-shocked" casualties -- still haunted her. What did the men of the men of the hospitals enjoy hearing? I don't know, but I suppose the songs included "There's a Long, Long Trail", "Roses of Picardy", "Over There", and "It's a Long Way to Tipperary". These, particularly the first two, were probably the very first songs I heard (that must have been when I was three or four) and the first I learned to sing. (I was particularly fond of "There's a Long, Long Trail".)

I must not neglect to mention what we in our family called the phonograph, but which others called, perversely, the grammophone, and which still others, yielding to vulgar commercialism, called the Victrola. The one we had usually sat on the floor and usually in the way, though now and then it sat on a large round wicker table, which itself was even more in the way. (A more expensive model featured the standard record player at a convenient height, with record storage space below.) Our phonograph, made by the Victor Recording Company, was, in size, about a two-foot cube. It had a deep lid, with the familiar picture of the fox terrier listening to "his master's voice" inside. The front had two doors that opened out, revealing a slatted sound chamber from which came the music or speaking voices. The steel turntable, 12 inches in diameter and covered with green felt, was nominally one-speed (78 RPM), but the machine was equipped with a speed control that pivoted: "Fast" at one end of the arc, "slow" at the other end. Being a boy, I could not resist the temptation to find out what the music sounded like at either extreme -- an experiment that annoyed my mother exceedingly. Sound was picked up from the record by the old acoustical device, which simply amplified the vibrations produced as the rotating record grooves passed under the "needle" held by the pick-up. (Needles were either steel or "wooden" -- i.e., bamboo. Both wore out after only a few plays, so the phonograph was provided with built-in cups to hold new or discarded needles.) The turntable was powered by a spring-driven motor, and a removable crank was used to wind up the spring when necessary.

Like most of the things in our home during my early years, the phonograph had already been there before I became aware of it, but the reason for its presence was obvious: the many records made by some of the singers of opera's "golden age". Caruso was certainly among them, Alma Gluck was another. I'm not sure of any of the others, though we (that is, Mother) might have had a recording or two of one of the DeReszke brothers, Jean or Eduard.

Mother got memorable glimpses of musical people, which she shared with me. One was the sight of Australian composer Percy Grainger walking up a New York City street one winter day in a snowstorm, coatless, hatless and wild-haired, and carrying a harp. She would have agreed, one guesses, that Harpo Marx could not have looked more bizarre.


Kenneth McLintock

My father, Kenneth McLintock, was born on May 21, 1920, in Mamaroneck, New York, where his family lived through 1925. He was the younger son of Fredrick Seybel McLintock and Edith Cavannaugh. His brother, Thomas McLintock (1912-1996?), worked in the Forest Service. Kenneth graduated from Greenwich (Connecticut) High School in June 1939.

Edith was born in Savannah, Georgia, on November 30, 1880; her parents were Augusta Young and John Henry Cavannaugh. Dad admired his maternal grandfather greatly, and mentioned him often in his memoirs.

Fredrick Seybel McLintock was the son of Sophia Louise Seybel and Archibald (Jr.) McLintock.

There were several Archibalds in the McLintock line; Archibald Sr., my father's great-grandfather, immigrated from Scotland with his wife Hannah Boag McLintock around 1849-1850. Archibald Jr. (Dad's grandfather) also had a son named Archibald, who married Nan Benedict.

Sophia Louise Seybel (b. February 9, 1853) was the daughter of Fredrick Seybel and Sophia Voeltgel. Her two brothers were Frederick William Seybel and Daniel Edward Seybel.

Frederick S. McLintock of New York and Edith E. Cavanaugh of Savannah, Georgia were married on November 6, 1907, according to a marriage license issued by the State of Georgia.

Frederick McLintock died on December 11, 1951; Edith died on November 10, 1953.

Frederick must have been employed at the Stamford (Connecticut) Advocate at the time of his death; a note to his widow from the publisher, dated December 14, 1951, says that "Mr. McLintock was respected and beloved by everyone in this office and will bs sorely missed."

During World War II, my father served in the 146th Field Artillery Battalion, 37th Infantry Division. His memoir from that period may be found at Pacific Memories.

He received his Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from Wesleyan University on June 12, 1960. Towards the completion of this degree, he wrote an essay on Edwin Arlington Robinson titled "Man over Mannerism: Robinson's Challenge to the Genteel Tradition", which he submitted on May 15, 1960 to one Professor Creeger.

He married my mother, Stella Leonard Block, on August 24, 1958. They moved to South Windsor, Connecticut, around 1964, and raised their two children (Leonard, b. 1963, and Stephanie, 1964-1992) there.

Ken McLintock passed away on October 2, 2000.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Stella Leonard Block

My mother was born on October 26, 1929, in Jersey City, New Jersey. She was the younger child of Henry Dietrich Block (1885-1934) and Grace Boynton Leonard (1896-1985).

Henry Block was a pharmacist. A clipping indicates that Henry's brother, John G. Block, also had a business in Jersey City. Their sister, Mina A. Block (1877-1969) was my mother's "Aunt Mina" and her favorite "real" aunt. Mina, who divorced after a brief marriage and a baby, gave the baby son to others to raise so that she could become a nurse. A caption written by my mother next to an "awful" picture of Aunt Mina reads:
She referred to us thrugh future yrs. as her "little family in Maine". She provided us all "the extras" we wouldn't have had.

Their parents were John C. Block (1836-1903) and the elder Mina Block (1841-1894).

Grace Boynton Leonard (Grace Block), my maternal grandmother, was my only grandparent alive during my lifetime. She was born July 18, 1896, and died in August 1985 in Bath, Maine.

My mother and her brother, Frederick W. Block (1927-2005), grew up in Bath, Maine. Their mother had been a schoolteacher prior to her marriage to Henry Block. I believe the family must have moved back to Maine from New Jersey after Henry's death.

The children were raised Baptist. Stella's liflong interest in religion and scripture was passionate and complex, and this must have been apparent even in her childhood. A certificate from the Corliss Street Sunday School, dated May 1939, records that she memorized the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the 23rd Psalm, and the Books of the Bible.

My mother's first marriage (to James J. Cousins, Jr.) lasted from November 1948 through September 1956.

At some time in 1957 she must have joined the Unitarian Church in Hartford, Connecticut, where she met my father. They are pictured together in a color photograph dated December 1957. An undated roster of that church's Young Adult Fellowship (probably from 1956 or '57) gives religious curricula vitae for its members ("belonged to the Baptist church originally"; "attended Baptist, Lutheran, and Christian Science churches"; "started as a Unitarian, got a taste of the Lutheran, Congregational & Episcopal churches and returned to Unitarianism", etc.). Among the names are the following:
Kenneth McLintock, 21 Goffe Street, Meriden, Conn.
"Ken" has been in the Hartford area for about 6 years. He was previously affiliated with Christian Science and became Unitarian last year. His interests include music and reading.

Stella Cousins, YWCA - Hartford.
Stella is originally from Bath, Maine, and has been in Hartford for 5 years. She has had a Baptist background. Her interests include music, books and chocolate ice cream.

They were married on August 24, 1958.


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