My Beautiful Sister, Keely, Sent the Wedding Pictures and other things I’m grateful for on this first day of 2017

Norah is in thick of finishing her college apps on this day the first day of 2017, so these are my disjointed thoughts of gratitude on January 1, 2017.

A few days ago, I began to write about my parents wedding anniversary on the 27th and then Carrie Fisher died, and so I finished it on the 28th, and then Debbie Reynolds died that same day, what? It was all too sad. I found myself not sleeping that night, crying in the kitchen at three in the morning, watching the Oprah interview.

(This blog by dear friend, Tony, captured so many of the losses this year.)

But how could they be gone like that? I didn’t realize how grateful I was to have this mother/daughter force of nature in the world as touchstones. So we’ve done viewings of “Singing in the Rain,” “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” and “Wishful Drinking” and watched all the interviews. Sigh. I have more to write about them but my sister has since sent a few of the wedding pictures, so I wanted to follow up with them because I love these pictures so much.

wedding 1.JPG

From Left to Right:

Gerald “Jerry” Baker. My mother’s father. He grew up in Leavenworth, Kansas and played for the silent movies in Kansas City until the talkies put him out of business. His first date with the woman (my grandmother, Elizabeth) standing next to him was to see “The Jazz Singer” in 1927. He told her the talkies wouldn’t last, and she advised him to get  a new career other than playing for the silent pictures. So he did a series of jobs from musical theatre and later played the weddings and funerals in Leavenworth, Kansas. He also ran a movie theatre in Mattoon, Illinois. In the 1960s, he created his own company “Rink Reels,” where he recorded organ music for skating rinks. One of his tracks appeared at the end of “Carnal Knowledge” (Jack Nicholson, Ann-Margaret, Candice Bergen, and Art Garfunkel!) which they never saw because they took the “legion of decency” pledge each year. (1901-1991)

Elizabeth Dorethea Whelan. My mother’s mother. She was the youngest of nine children, growing up in Purcell, Kansas on a farm. It seems like we tried to find Purcell once but there wasn’t much there anymore. The post office closed in 1956. Elizabeth’s closest sister in age was Bernadette, and they always went out to dinner at cafeterias because Elizabeth needed her food immediately because of her blood sugar. I remember one time she told her sister, “Put your teeth in! The rest of us have to look at you.” I am working on a novel about these two sisters. People loved Elizabeth, not because she was sweet, but because she was acerbic and funny and honest. When she gave a compliment, which wasn’t often, you knew she meant it. She loved Young & the Restless, As the World Turns, and the Guiding Light. She said the rosary three times a day and kept a home supply of the Eucharist on hand in case of bad weather. She didn’t have much patience for priests who whooped it up too much on the altar but her Catholic faith was unshakable. (1902-1990.) Our Lucy Elizabeth was born ten months later.

Mary Janis Baker Madden. My mother. She’s so pretty. I used to stare at this album as a kid and make up stories about all the people. The whole album was in black and white except for the last picture below as they are getting ready to drive away. My mother taught piano lessons when we were kids and then went on to teach elementary and high school choral music. Now she’s back teaching piano lessons in San Diego and has fifteen students. My favorite quote she used to say from childhood: “If you whine you vacuum. Whiners vacuum!” She treated our dog, Clancy, like one of her own, and he was our brother for fifteen years. She’s passed on her love of dogs to her children and grandchildren. On their wedding night, she made our father stop at Sears to buy pajamas.

Jeanne Frances Baker Luecke. My mom’s big sister, Jeanne. She was a wonderful nurse and she sent me books and a stuffed monkey named Jimmy Monkey. Jeanne looked like my daughter, Lucy, when she was little. She was one of those adults who made kids feel special – like kids belonged in the conversation and had something interesting to say. She was a good listener, and she loved to read books and would sit for hours in a tub reading books until the water grew cold. She escaped the cold Midwest for Florida. Her life is a whole other story. (1928-1976) but she was such a loving presence in my life when I was a little girl. What else I do know? She preferred reading to housekeeping. She had two beautiful boys, Bill and Tim, and married a man named, Benny. She went to nursing school with Benny’s sister. They raised their family in Florida. She owned a hotel called “C’est La Vie by Sea” and the Michigan snowbirds would come and stay. Jeanne was Mom’s maid of honor at her wedding.


And here is Jeanne as a teenager with the family.



Joseph Anthony Madden, Junior. My father. The pictures don’t reveal his bright red hair, but you wouldn’t have even seen it then because he had it cut in a flat-top. It wasn’t until his flat-top grew out, after they were married, that my mother said, “My God, you have red hair!” He said, “That’s what they call me. Red on the head.” He was lucky he married a woman who loved to move and see new places. She said to me  once, “Well, if you grew up in Mexico, Missouri, you’d want to see something different all right too.” He coached for the Father Lopez Green Wave, Mississippi State Bull Dogs, Morehead State Eagles, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas State Wildcats, Pittsburgh Panthers, Tennessee, Volunteers, Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons, and San Diego Chargers. I had to write an essay once called “I am NOT John Madden’s Daughter.”

Joseph Anthony Madden, Senior. My father’s father. He was a first generation Irishman through and through. He went to George Washington Dental School and became the President of the Washington DC Dental Society. He was a hunter and a member of the Christian Brothers. If you startled him he’d spring up and yell, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” He shaved with an electric razor at the breakfast table and read the Washington Post and drank his coffee in his blue dental scrubs. He was a practical joker with a ready supply of fake insects or electric buzzers. He loved beer and Maryland crabs, and I remember my grandmother trying to catch crabs crawling up the curtains to throw into the pot. He was also incredibly generous, and I remember him pressing a wad of bills into my father’s hands for a vacation saying, “Take it, take it.” 1910-1975.

Mary Patricia Morris Madden. My father’s mother. We called her GrandMary and she made everyone better than they were. If you did something okay, she retold it into something wonderful. She took me to the hot shop for a milkshake every time I came to DC. She always had a fresh Sarah Lee poundcake on hand, and I can’t look at them in the store without thinking of GrandMary. She raised four children at 4400 Burlington Place in Washington DC. I wrote an essay about her too for Salon long ago. She learned to drive when she was in her fifties and didn’t get to vote until she was in her sixties, because of living in the District of Columbia. 1914-1999.

And just for fun is here is the trailer for “Carnal Knowledge.”


More pictures! 🙂


As soon her father walked her down the aisle, Jerry Baker, whom we called, “Papa Jerry,” went back to the organ and played the rest of the wedding Mass. Mom only hired an organist to play at the beginning, and then her father took over.


wedding 2.JPG

Bride and groom, Janis and Joe Madden on December 27, 1960 at our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Daytona Beach, Florida. My mother planned and paid for the wedding herself, which I think is amazing. My father’s parents paid for the rehearsal dinner, which was at a little room in the hotel where they were staying because nothing was open on the 27th between Christmas and New Year. My parents chose December 27th because it was between football and basketball season.


wedding-redLook at them! They look like movie stars in this picture. It was the only picture in color in the whole album. I used study it – the white gloves, the beautiful car. Was it their car? I don’t know. I’ll have to ask. Dad’s boutonniere, and Mom’s wedding hat of white velvet. She took off her wedding veil off the hat and voilà! It became a going-away hat to match her white velvet shoes. December 27, 1960 in Daytona Beach, Florida.


And what I’m grateful this very minute.

  1. That Norah is almost-almost finished with her college applications. She and Kiffen are discussing which poems to include.
  2. I’m grateful that we got to see our beautiful daughter, Lucy, and her sweetheart, Trent, and their lovely dog, Uma, and Trent’s whole family this Christmas in Chattanooga where they welcomed us for Christmas Eve dinner, presents, and talks by the fire with all their eight children and getting to hold the new baby in the family, Avery Grace.
  3. I’m grateful that our son, Flannery, is finding his way in music, art, and stories in Los Angeles. Actually, the moment for me at Christmas was when my sister-in-law, Nancy, and my mother-in-law, Frances, sang “Silent Night” to him in a kitchen in Nashville while he stood outside the former Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire, spinning old Hollywood tales.
  4. I’m grateful for this steady rain hitting the tin roof carport.
  5. I’m grateful for the Christmas tree which I will keep up until January 6th because Fiona Copland of the Midlands in England told me the tradition of keeping the tree up until the Feast of the Epiphany for good luck.
  6. We ate 12 grapes in 12 seconds last night at midnight for good luck too.
  7. New movies like Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight, Fences, Jackie, and Lion.
  8. Much more…so much more…
  9. Olive, sweet Olive and of course, Norah Borealis


10. These beautiful children…Before we caught the train to New Orleans from LA.jpg

This was before we caught the train, Sunset Limited from Los Angeles to New Orleans on New Year’s Eve 2010. I had decided I would no longer fly. hahahahahahaha.

Norah read Lord of the Rings the whole way. Flannery and Lucy saw us off. xo



Lucy and Trent at his brother, Houston’s wedding. Houston married Lindsey but there are so many Lindseys (four) in the family that his Lindsey goes by “Aunt Cool” to her nieces. xo


Flannery a long time ago 🙂 He sent this on Christmas Eve. xo

11. This dear husband 🙂Kiffen China.JPG

Kiffen and Sean.JPG

12. Pizza and champagne and a fire all afternoon

13. Reading Miss Jane by Brad Watson

14. Remembering England and Ireland this summer.

15. Knockamany Bens, a new picture book trying to take shape inspired by Cousin Sally Toland.


Finally I am grateful for this little movie that Norah made, which makes me so happy.


I am grateful for this movie that Nancy made of my mother-in-law, Frances.


Other images of this day:

Typewriter and Robert.JPG

Lucy and Trent gave me this gorgeous print of a typewriter, and our nephew, Robert, made beautiful little drawings for each of us at Christmas. Kiffen was “Curious Guru,” Norah was “Smart Thang,” and I’m “Hyper Loving, and Lucy was “Unfettered Soul,” and Flannery was “Stupendous Creature.” Trent was “Swift River.” How did Robert know us better than we knew ourselves? (Robert is Nancy’s son, brother of the twins, Harriet and France.)

Nancy, twins, Robert :).JPG

Nancy, twins – Frances & Harriet, and Robert 🙂


The Maddens.JPG

And in the midst of the wedding pictures, Keely unearthed a picture I drew for my grandparents on the advent of our new dog, Clancy. I can’t even believe this picture still exists with all the moves we did, but I love it so much.



This is the most beautiful letter I’ve ever received. My neighbor, Heidi Alvey, wrote it after reading Nothing Fancy About Kathryn and Charlie, a book I wrote that my daughter, Lucy, illustrated. Heidi’s daughter, Emily, brought it over a few days after her mother unexpectedly passed away. Ever since then, I’ve been reading and listening to Sarah Orne Jewett and Willa Cather stories all fall walking to campus, grateful to Heidi and her loving words that I will treasure always and keep at my writing desk.

Sarah Orne Jewett – A Country Doctor, A White Heron and Other Stories, Old Friends and New

Willa Cather – My Antonia, The Song of the Lark, O Pioneers!



This is a letter from my publisher, Anne Schwartz and Lee Wade, of Schwartz & Wade. To have a book in the pipeline at Schwartz & Wade is a dream come true, and I’m excited to see “Ernestine’s Milky Way” come out into the world with Emily Sutton’s beautiful illustrations in 2019.


flowers-and-father-brownes-donegalFlowers from Kiffen above Father Browne’s Donegal and Grandma Moses.

Happy New Year!


Thank you, Keely, for these pictures and for excavating the family treasures! I love you xo

Keely and Mom and Dad xo.jpg


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