Tag Archives: Etta H. Handy

a tale of … (which two cities)?


I have been corresponding with a second cousin of mine from my mother’s side of the family. My second cousin lives on the West Coast.

We are catching up on genealogy, mostly. But I have shared a few tidbits (stories). We never met before, although I had some correspondence prior to his passing with my second cousin, Margaret’s, father.



August 20, 2020

Dear Margaret,


Aunt Etta [my mother’s aunt; my and Margaret’s great-aunt] used to spend Thanksgivings with us. I always looked forward to it. You might enjoy my blog post about Thanksgiving at


Near the end of her life, Aunt Etta missed a Thanksgiving. She had moved out of her apartment (I think near Copley Square [in Boston]) to an assisted living place that was very nice. I said to my parents after dinner: I miss Aunt Etta. I am going to visit her. My younger brother went with me. We took the family car. Aunt Etta looked frail but otherwise okay. She was very pleased to see us and appreciated the visit. It was the last time I saw Aunt Etta. [I sensed this, had a premonition.]



August 21. 2020

Dear Margaret,


A couple of stories about Aunt Etta.

She used to always say “extry” instead of “extra.” I think my mother was her favorite niece or nephew. She liked my mother, and why not? My mother was gracious and just plain nice to everyone. I talked about this aspect of her in one of my blog posts. May I share it with you?

Some people aren’t interested in people.

My mother was annoyed that Aunt Etta belonged to the DAR because of its anti-Black stance. My mother was very pro civil rights. But they did not come to blows over this. Aunt Etta was justifiably proud of her great-grandfather William Handy and had an interest in genealogy and local history. William Handy’s revolutionary war experience is covered in my post at

my Revolutionary War ancestor

In the 1950’s, Aunt Etta — who was always thoughtful and people-oriented, and who seemed to have values much like my grandfather Ralph, her brother (who died when I was an infant) — invited my older brother and me to spend a weekend at her apartment in Boston. She went out of her way to make it an enjoyable visit.

On a Saturday, she took us skating on the Boston Common. My brother was a good skater, I wasn’t. Aunt Etta did not go skating herself. I remember her lacing up our skates in the freezing cold. Her fingers were numb. She was a very un-self-centered person. It did not seem to be a nuisance to her to have to wait for us in the freezing cold.

When we got back to her warm, cozy apartment, we were watching TV or reading magazines and we somehow mentioned Elvis Presley. My brother and I were Elvis fans. Aunt Etta said she didn’t quite know what she thought about him, but, she said, he sure had long “side whiskers” (her word for sideburns). Little things intrigued her.

Aunt Etta brought out a plate of brownies she had baked. They had pecans in them. I meticulously removed all the nuts before eating my brownie. Aunt Etta thought that was so funny. I spent all morning chopping up those nuts, she said. She wasn’t angry, just highly amused.

I believe this was true of my grandfather Ralph, from what I was always told, it was certainly true of my mother; and also of Aunt Etta, whom I knew well, but not intimately — they were all modest and the opposite of pushy, and just plain decent, as well as nice.



August 27, 2020


Dear Margaret,

A story or two which I just recalled.

The one time I met Uncle Rob [Robert S. Handy, my grandfather’s brother and mother’s uncle; he was a cranberry farmer on Cape Cod], he said one thing to me that I remember distinctly. He told me to buy a house at the first opportunity. He said that that was the best move I could make to ensure financial security.

I was single, probably in my early twenties. I had just graduated from college. The thought of buying a house seemed hard to grasp for me then.

Aunt Etta, as you no doubt know, was frugal and money conscious. She gave me $2,000 on Christmas 1967. It was a bank book with $2,000 in the account. It seemed like a huge gift. She told me — then, or around that time — how she had opened her first bank account when she was young and her father [Henry T. Handy] had advised her to do so and keep her money so it could grow. She wanted to give me helpful advice. I listened but did not pay that much heed then. I was kind of the starving poet type.



September 14, 2020

Dear Margaret,

I thought you would find this memorial tribute to Jill Jillson [daughter of my mother’s cousin Carol (Handy) Jillson] of interest.

Jill and I were about the same age and we would see her and her siblings on visits, usually to the Cape, with my mother’s cousin Carol and her husband Jack.

Somehow it got mentioned to me once that Jack Jillson [Jill Jillson’s father, husband of my mother’s cousin Carol] was a Harvard grad, like my father. I said to my mother, he went to Harvard, really? He was quiet (soft spoken) and self-effacing, and he didn’t seem quite like a “blue blood” (not that my father was) or intellectual.

He hides his candle under a bushel, my mother said.

In my freshman year in high school, the Jillsons were visiting us in Canton [Massachusetts]. My father and Jack were on chaise longues in the back yard. It was a hot day. I was reading Dickens’s “A Tale of Two Cities” for English class. I mentioned this, and either my father or Jack said, what two cities: Baltimore and St. Louis? They both thought this was very funny.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   September 2020


Etta H. Handy (Aunt Etta)

Robert S. Handy (Uncle Rob)



Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays.

One great thing about it is that it comes on a Thursday and that normally means a four day weekend for all, with time to travel to and join families.

Another thing I like is that there are no gifts associated with it, and little commercial hoopla.



In New England, where I grew up, Thanksgiving was done right. It was a truly memorable and wonderful day. My family really knew how to celebrate it.

There was an appropriate sense of solemnity about the day — not so much anything piously enforced — just because people cherished the day and knew how to observe it.

It came at the end of fall (a gorgeous season in New England), when the air was crisp and the trees had become bare.



From when I was about twelve years old, we lived in the suburbs. Schools always had a half day on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (which, as far as I know, is not observed by schools elsewhere in the USA).

On Wednesday night, there would be a bonfire and rally for the Thanksgiving Day football game. High school Thanksgiving football games were a big deal in Massachusetts.

Our high school team in Canton, Massachusetts had some memorable games against our hated arch rivals, Stoughton.

I will never forget the 1959 game, which we won 18-8 in a stunning upset. (The Stoughton team had been nearly undefeated up to that point.) I remember that game and the excitement of the buildup to it vividly. It was one of the most memorable sports events I ever witnessed.



Thanksgiving for us always meant a family gathering, at our home or grandparents’. We always had a big sit down dinner with invited guests: mostly relatives; sometimes a friend or acquaintance who was away from home. My parents liked to reach out to others and include people at the dinner table whom they thought would be interesting company. While the family aspect was important, they were “catholic” — broad minded — when it came to invitees. Before we moved from Cambridge to Canton, my parents rented rooms to Harvard graduate students. They would occasionally invite foreign ones to share holiday dinners with us. They liked to invite people who would appreciate being included and had nowhere else to go. They did something similar with my mother’s aunt Etta, an unmarried relative whom they always made sure to invite.



The dinner was truly marvelous. A whole day was spent, it seemed, preparing it (well, all morning), and it took a long time for a team of volunteer dishwashers to do the dishes. (I was never drafted for this duty.) Establishing when the turkey was done was a source of great concern.

My mother would put it in the oven very early in the morning; she would get up especially to do so. It was huge. It had to be done just right, of course, and it always was. My father always carved. I used to think that carving was a great skill, one that I would never learn or possess.

My mother was the main cook, but others contributed. My father used to make scalloped oysters, a side dish he loved and would labor over with enthusiasm. Guests would invariably bring more stuff, mostly pies; we always had about five or six pies to choose from, always homemade.

The number of side dishes was truly outstanding: stuffing, gravy, mashed and sweet potatoes, squash, all sorts of vegetables (including Brussels sprouts and cranberries, neither of which I particularly cared for), and rolls.  Plus, cider and wine and a variety of nuts for appetizers. The turkey was enormous. The amount of effort lavished on the meal was prodigious. Eating it was sheer pleasure.

In the evening, we would have a light snack from a platter of cold turkey.  The next day, my mother would make turkey soup, which seemed to take her forever. The turkey soup would last for several days. I couldn’t get enough of it, it was so nourishing. I would come home from school and ask my mother what was for dinner. “Turkey soup” was the answer. My mother would ask, “Would you like another bowl?” The answer was always yes.

A truly American holiday. Begun in New England and, originally, celebrated only there.

It makes me miss my parents.




When I was in my twenties, I was working in a hospital in Connecticut and could not get home for Thanksgiving one year. I went with four or five other hospital workers to a restaurant where we had a Thanksgiving dinner. We tried to be festive, but it was a big letdown.

Not long ago, my wife and I decided to do as a Polish family whom she knew was doing and order a turkey cooked for us by a Polish catering service. It was rather expensive. But, we didn’t feel in the mood for cooking and it seemed like a good idea.

The turkey that we got was inexcusably flavored with garlic that had been rubbed into it everywhere — it was cooked totally wrong. I was so angry over this, I couldn’t eat the turkey, which helped to ruin my Thanksgiving. I thought to myself, they can’t even get a turkey right! All you have to do is put it the oven and baste it a few times.


— Roger W. Smith

   November 24, 2016




Re the time of year, I can’t help thinking of the following famous lines of Shakespeare:

That time of year thou may’st in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold;
Bare ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang.

—  Sonnet 73


Alan W. and Elinor Smith with granddaughter

My parents, Alan W. and Elinor Handy Smith, with granddaughter Alison.

Henry Thomas Handy (1845-1916) of Cataumet, MA





Posted below as a downloadable Word document is an article about my mother’s paternal grandfather Henry Thomas Handy (1845-1916).


— posted  by Roger W. Smith

   November 2015