The McCorkell Story Continues………..
Let us begin with something about the family into which Peter O’Donnell, my maternal grandfather was born. His brother, Michael, was one of the prominent citizens of the Township of Mara, of which Brechin rates as the capitol. Like my own father Joseph McCorkell, “Mich O’Donnel was a hidebound Tory in politics though his level of political action did not rise higher than township and county. I can testify that he threw his weight around with some effect at nomination meetings prior to municipal elections. The old town hall on the Centre Road rocked with rustic oratory on one memorable occasion when Mich O’Donnel and Jack McCorkell were nominated for the office of reeve. It was my granduncle against my uncle. Was I excited? I was 9 years old at the time, full of politics, and violently partisan. My uncle emerged as victor.
Peter O’Donnell, my grandfather, had a second brother, Daniel by name, who established a commercial school in Chicago. One of his grandsons became a Franciscan priest in the Middle West. I once talked to this priest on the telephone from St. Paul, but I never met him face to face. And now as to Peter O’Donnell himself. I cannot do more than guess the date of his marriage to Ellen Jordan, but I do know that my Mother, Mary O’Donnell, was their eldest child. The second child Ann (see how these names recur) became Mrs. James Moran and lived in Saginaw, Michigan. She had a daughter Celia, who in turn had 2 children. Only once so far as I know did my Aunt Ann return for a visit to her former home. I remember being impressed by the beauty and charm of her daughter Celia Moran who came with her then.
I saw a great deal of Celia O’Donnell, Ellen Jordan’s next daughter. She was my favourite aunt, who, I understood, came to help my ailing Mother when I was an infant. I barely remember her in that role of assistant to my Mother, but she never forgot me. Years later after I became a priest I used to visit her home on a farm at Price’s Corners, near Orillia. An enlarged picture of me hung in her living room and always she seemed to regard me as her very own. Two children of hers held first place in her heart along with her husband, John Heitzner. Both children were born near Seattle on the West coast, where John at the time of his marriage had a small lumber business. Marriages are said to be made in heaven, and I would not doubt that this marriage was, but it was also made in the Connaught Settlement of Mara, and not in the State of Washington, though they live there happily for some years.
The family of Celia O’Donnell and John Heitzner returned to farming whilst the children were still small. Cyril was in delicate health, a victim of asthma. The West coast would be bad for him. He died in his early twenties, but Alphonse was what is sometimes called an eager beaver, full of energy and vigor, and full also of the drive which he inherited with his American citizenship of which he is understandingly proud. In the meantime he married Nell Laviolette, who belonged to a well-known Catholic family in Virginia, near Sutton, Ont. Their affection however was not blessed with surviving children, and so after Nell’s health began definitely to decline Phonse sold the farm and a good one he and Nell had made it–and built a beautiful home for Nell in Orillia. But God called her to a better one in heaven soon after.
The name of Heitzner will survive. When I in recent years have gone to my old parish in Brechin I usually have an altar boy by the name of Heitzner. He is now a high school boy at Orillia, as I myself once was. He goes by bus daily–for that is possible today. He makes me think of the families of his name in the Brechin parish when I was a boy. They are still there, and always will be. I knew most of them but the one I knew best and respected most was my Uncle by marriage, John Heitzner. I liked to talk to him when I visited the farm at Price’s Corners. He would talk to me like a father to a son, even though I was then a priest. He made me appreciate in fuller degree the worth of my own parents in the way he spoke of them as high-minded and sincerely religious pioneers of the Brechin area.
Now having written about Mary O’Donnell (my mother) in Part 1 and about Ann and Celia, her sisters, in Part 11, I go on to Martin, Kate and Ellen O’Donnell in the same family. First about Martin: He lived on the 9th concession line of Mara, and had the largest orchard in the township except Alex Martin’s across the sideroad from my father’s farm. It required a little daring to steal apples from Alex Martin, as my brother Vince and I found out. Alex was a Protestant and a high minded one indeed, but my grandmother McCorkell had filled me with dread of them. No ecumenisms for her! But it was utterly impossible to steal apples from Martin O’Donnell because he would give them away freely. He was the kindest of men.
Uncle Martin married Bridget Gaughan, daughter of a neighbouring farmer, and with her as a hard working devoted wife he raised a family of 10 boys and 3 girls, setting the record for our family tree in all its branches. I went to the country school with 3 of them, Marty, Vinnie, and Mary. They lived four times as far from school as I did, and so they were often late, earning the scorn of the teacher, Neil Rutherford. On one particular morning their late arrival delayed the start of our reading class, which could not begin until Marty and Vinnie had nosily tramped their way to the front of the room where the big class lined up. That day it was a reading from Scott’s Ivanhoe and began as follows: *Long before sunrise the lists were surrounded by as brave a host of archers as had every assembled.” The chance to vent his scorn was too great at this point to be missed, and the teacher thundered out: “See that. They got up in the morning. They at least were bravemen.” But his withering scorn had no effect. Next day they were late again. The distance was simply too great to expect anything else. Marty was smart enough, but not interested in books. Vinnie was even smarter, and he was interested. It is a great pity that he could not have been sent to high school. There was no bus service as there is now to make it possible.
The Marin O’Donnell family was large, but their farm was a small one of only 65 acres instead of the usual 100. Martin was obliged there-fore to supplement his earnings in some way. His decision was to establish a threshing business, his own farm remaining a sideline. His eldest son Pete took charge of the steam engine and his brother-in-law John became his own chief assistant in the management of the Gaughan enterprise. With general support among the farmers Martin took his threshing outfit to barns all over the township in the late summer and during the entire autumn season. The steam engine, horse-drawn in those days, often struck terror in the horses themselves, and its arrival was a sight to behold. My brothers Pete, Vince and finally Ignatius (passing over me) struggled in turn with the nervous horses. It was an achievement to get the engine in place, a real test for my older brothers as they came of age. The so-called cleaner was a huge fanning mill, painted in fiery red, and equipped with a cylinder of revolving teeth in its mouth to flail the grain from the sheaves with infinite noise and dust. The neighbouring kids flocked to see the show when “the threshers” came to our place. I myself gave much of my attention to the steam engine. I was terrified by its loud, unmusical and explosive whistle with which the closing down of the operation for meals proclaimed. Pete O’Donnell, the engineer, loved to catch me off guard, and split my ears with its raucous sound, and then watch me take to my heels and vanish. Threshing was an event for my older sisters also as they grew to maturity. It was a community project, neighbour helping neighbour in turn. This involved the foregathering of able young men, eligible bachelors for the most part, who came to “give a hand” for the work, and eat the meals prepared by the girls, especially the raspberry pies, which seem to have been their specialty. The farm girls were truly on the spot at threshing time. It was a chance to make good and be talked about , all in a very human and laudable sort of way.
Uncle Martin was moderately successful at the threshing business but an accident pulled him up short. His brother-in-law John Gaughan, in the act of oiling the machinery, was caught in the whirling cylinder of teeth and drawn in to his death. Partly at least as a result of this accident Martin O’Donnell gave up the threshing business, and migrated to North Dakota where another brother-in-law had established himself as a successful farmer. Pete, his eldest son, however chose to go to Western Canada to make his living. It was a simple matter to get a job with a threshing outfit in the West for wheat growing was big business on the prairies. Eventually Pete settled on a farm in Alberta. I met several of his sons years later on their way overseas with units of the Canadian Army. Jack O’Donnell, the 4th son of Martin O’Donnell, shopped around quite a lot. He was at Detroit, and then at Orillia, where I boarded along with him for a year at our Aunt Bridget Ellen’s house (Mrs. Pat Kelly). He worked in a foundry, while of course I was going to high school. We got along very well together as room mates, though once we had an amusing clash. He had opened a can of shoe polish and was sniffing it. The temptation was too strong to resist and I pushed his elbow plunging his nose into the shoe polish. He reacted violently throwing the container at my head. I dodged it, and the beautifully papered wall got the benefit. It was then our problem to straighten out matters with our aunt. Jack later went to Toronto to work. He remained unmarried, and died rather young.
Frank O’Donnell followed his father to Dakota, taking Sarah Murphy of Brechin parish, as his wife. Two of their sons were lost thirty or more years later in the attack on Pearl Harbour, perishing on the same boat as the 5 Sullivan brothers of the American Navy, who got (and deserved) such enormous publicity. This was in World War II. The earlier World War I drew Marty and Vinnie from North Dakota into its spreading net. In the meantime their father and mother returned from Dakota to Toronto with the younger members of the family. Marty and Vinnie likewise made a change when they mustered out of the American Army. The former settled in Minneapolis as a machinist, married a wife Beatric, and was a close friend of my brother Vince. When I stopped over in the Twin cities in that period I used to go with Vince to see Marty and Beatric in their own home. On Vinnie’s return he settled in Toronto where he was blessed with a devoted wife, who bore him 4 very fine boys and girls, and at the end nursed her husband in his lingering illness. I used to go to see Vinnie in those trying days when he could no longer speak. He was one of the nicest fellows I have ever known.
Uncle Martin himself was survived by Aunt Bridget, who reached the age of 100, before God called her to himself. On her centenary she received congratulations from many important people, and was in her glory. In the meantime all the younger members of the family had married and set up their own homes. Mary became Mrs. O’Reilly and went to live in Detroit where she raised a family of one son and five daughters. Two of these are nuns, I am glad to say. The others have their own homes in Detroit. I have been at the home of the youngest, Mrs. Costello. Her husband is a police officer and they have 4 lovely and talented children. In the aftermath of my golden jubilee, my Detroit cousins (children of Mary O’Donnell) got together in the hospitable Costello home. I was surprised at the number who came and I was mixed up trying to identify them as we dispersed. My memory took me back to a generation or even two generations previously to similar events in the Connaught Settlement of the Brechin parish where the O’Donnells seldom failed to take the lead. I could see that the tradition was being kept up in Detroit. At the end of the evening the Schultes drove me back to Assumption College across the river.
I must not forget in this recital of names and faces to include Irene. She is the younger sister of Mary (O’Donnell) O’Reilly, and one of the few surviving members of the Martin O’Donnell family. A widow now for some years, her retirement is enlivened by visits to her numerous relatives in Toronto and Detroit with whom she is popular as “Aunt Irene”. She is still the best looking woman in Toronto. But there remains others in the roll call of the Martin O’Donnell family; Fred, Stephen, Leonard and Cletus were the youngest, but even of these only Cletus is now living. All four had large families. Indeed the O’Donnells, the Kellys and the McCorkells rival each other as the most prolific branches of our spreading family tree. Divine Providence gave us roots deep in the soil of Irish Catholic tradition. It remains for us to pray that on the Day of Judgment our virtues may prove to be as great as our numbers.