Random Musings: Happy 104th birthday to Aunt Jo

Aunt Jo

Josephine Degan at her older sister’s wedding in the 1920s and celebrating her 100th birthday in 2013.

Today, my Aunt Jo celebrates her 104th birthday.

Aunt Jo (technically, my great aunt) was born in Coatbridge, Scotland (the family had moved there from Ireland a few years earlier in search of work) and emigrated to the U.S. in 1924, with her mother and five of her siblings. She has lived in the same home, which she built, since 1949.

In a 2012 interview I did with her, Aunt Jo, the youngest in the family, said the crossing took seven days.

She had an orange for the first time on that trip.

“That was unusual, to have an orange,” she said.

When she finished school at eighth grade, Aunt Jo, like Grandma, became a comptometer operator in Detroit, starting around age 14. Comptometer school took about eight months, she said.

Later, she and her husband, Clayton, worked at her father-in-law’s business, Mt. Clemens Dairy, which had 23 milk routes, before it went into the production of ice cream when people stopped having milk delivered to their homes.

Aunt Jo, who goes by her middle name, said she did so for practical purposes.

“In Scotland, if you were Irish and Catholic, they didn’t want to employ you,” she said, adding that she went by “Josephine” on her mother’s advice.

She observed that while the “no Irish need apply” mentality existed in some parts of the U.S. in the early 20th century, it didn’t seem to be the case in Michigan.

As for childhood memories, she recalled that when the family lived in Corktown in Detroit, they would have parties on Saturday nights in which someone would play the piano while everyone danced. Sometimes the parties would go on so long, guests were told to just stay the night, go to mass with the family Sunday morning and then go home.

Aunt Jo had a big celebration for her 100th birthday. This year was more low key. When I talked to her this morning, she said she was just going out to dinner.

Probably saving her strength for the big 110th birthday bash.

Again, happy 104th birthday to Aunt Jo.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating.



Random Musings: A look at 12 great episodes of Supernatural



Tonight, Supernatural will begin its 12th season, a rare accomplishment for a TV show, especially these days. In honor of this achievement, I’m revisiting one great episode from each of the first 11 seasons, plus one “bonus” episode. After some thought, I decided the best “bonus” episode would be the pilot.

In 1983, something pins Mary Winchester (Samantha Smith) to the ceiling of her infant son’s bedroom and sets the house on fire, sending her husband, John (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), fleeing for safety with his two boys.


Mary Winchester’s death.

Twenty-two years later, Sam Winchester (Jared Padalecki) receives a surprise visit at college from his brother, Dean (Jensen Ackles), who tells him their father hasn’t returned home from a hunting trip.

John Winchester raised his boys to hunt monsters, but Sam quit to go to college. Now, he’s drawn back in, one last time, as he and Dean follow their father’s trail and find themselves investigating a Woman in White (Sarah Shahi), a ghost who targets unfaithful men.

After defeating her, Sam returns home, expecting to pick up his life, only to find his girlfriend, Jessica (Adrianne Palicki), dead on the ceiling, just like his mother. He sets out with Dean to find answers.

Season one: “Scarecrow.”


Sam meets Meg.

Sam and Dean split up when Sam refuses to follow his father’s orders to investigate the annual disappearances of couples near a small town. He’s determined to go to California to join John in his hunt for the demon who killed both Mary Winchester and Jessica.

While Dean hunts a Norse Vanir accepting sacrifices from the townspeople, Sam meets a young woman named Meg (Nicki Aycox), whose story about her home life reminds him of his own.

When Dean doesn’t answer repeated phone calls, Sam ignores Meg’s suggestions that he write him off and continue to California. Instead, he goes after Dean.

Later in the season, we learn that Meg’s a demon. The boys would later exorcise her, but she’d return in a new “meat suit.” They’d also encounter the vengeful ghost of the woman the demon possessed.

Season two: “Roadkill.”


Greeley and Molly.

Sam and Dean try to help a woman named Molly McNamara (Tricia Helfer) escape from the ghost of a farmer named Jonah Greeley (Winston Rekert), who’d died 15 years earlier.

“Every year, Greeley finds someone to punish for what happened to him,” Sam tells her. “Tonight, that person is you.”

When Molly asks why her, Sam tells her some spirits only see what they want.

She’s also concerned about her missing husband, David, and confused why her car has disappeared.

A little more than half an hour into the episode, the twist comes: Molly is also a ghost. Every year for the past 15 years, she and Greeley have been replaying the night she accidentally hit him and crashed her car.

Sam and Dean bring Molly to see David with his new wife so she can move on.

Season 3: “Mystery Spot.”


Dean electrocuted.

Dean is killed during an investigation of the Broward County Mystery Spot, only for Sam to wake up to find the day starting over again.

Sam relives the day hundreds of times as Dean is hit by a car; killed by a falling desk; chokes on his food; slips in the shower; gets food poisoning; is electrocuted; attacked by a dog, etc.

Behind it all is The Trickster (Richard Speight, Jr.), a creature they thought they’d killed the previous season. He reveals that he’s teaching Sam a lesson: he can’t save Dean.

At the end of season two, Sam was killed and Dean sold his soul to bring him back. He only got one year, so they’re aware of the ticking clock, even as Sam struggles to find a way to get Dean out of his contract.

Season 4: “Lazarus Rising.”


Castiel’s debut.

Four months after Dean’s soul was dragged to Hell, he digs his way out of a grave surrounded by flattened trees. He also discovers the imprint of a hand burned into his shoulder.

Both Bobby (Jim Beaver) and Sam initially don’t believe it’s really Dean, but he proves his identity. The three wonder how Dean is back, his ripped-to-shreds body intact.

An entity named Castiel (Misha Collins) is responsible. Dean and Bobby summon Castiel, who turns out to be an angel. He dragged Dean out of Hell, “because God commanded it.”

Meanwhile, Sam hunts demons in the company of a woman (Genevieve Cortese) he initially pretended had been a one-night stand. It turns out she’s the demon Ruby, who’d allied herself with the boys in the third season, in a new meat suit.

Cortese would later marry Jared Padalecki.

With the introduction of angels, season four opened Supernatural up to new story ideas, especially given that angels weren’t much better than demons in most respects. Castiel would go on to become a major part of the series.

Season five: “Changing Channels.”

Changing Channels

Dean confronts the Trickster.

One of the great things about Supernatural is that the writers, producers and actors aren’t afraid to experiment and play with form. “Changing Channels” begins like an 80s sitcom. There’s even an 80s-style opening credits.

When a violent man’s widow says he was killed by the Incredible Hulk, the brothers figure the Trickster is involved. Dean wants to kill him, but Sam thinks he might be a useful ally in stopping the coming apocalypse.

Their investigations take them to an abandoned warehouse, where they suddenly find themselves having to live out lives as characters in various TV shows, including a hospital soap, the aforementioned sitcom; a procedural cop show and Knight Rider, with Sam as KITT.

The Trickster tells them if they survive “the game” (of being characters in different TV shows) for the next 24 hours, he’ll agree to talk about Sam’s idea.

He also wants them to play their roles as Michael’s and Lucifer’s vessels.

When even Castiel can’t help them, the boys realize the Trickster is an angel. He admits he’s the archangel Gabriel. He’d run away because he couldn’t stand to see his family fighting.

Dean tells Gabriel he’s too afraid to stand up to his family, leading Gabriel to come off the sidelines later in the season.

Season six: “The French Mistake.”


Sam and Dean discover their knives are fake.

After Sam and Dean stopped the apocalypse, a civil war broke out in Heaven. To protect them from Raphael (Lanette Ware), the angel Balthazar (Sebastian Roche) sends them to another universe on Castiel’s instructions. There, Sam and Dean Winchester are just characters in a TV show, played by actors named Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles.

The brothers are surprised at what they learn about these actors who look like them. As I’ve said before, Dean’s reaction at seeing a clip of Jensen Ackles in a soap opera is worth the price of admission; and when he discovers that Jared Padalecki married Genevieve Cortese, he says to Sam, “You married fake Ruby?”

They think everything’s all right when they run into Castiel, only to find that he’s only an actor named Misha Collins.

“Misha? Jensen?” Dean asks at one point. “What’s with the names around here?”

Season seven: “Defending Your Life.”

Defending Your Life

Osiris and Jo.

Sam and Dean discover that people killed by ghosts are being judged by the Egyptian god Osiris (Faran Tahir). What’s more, he’s got Dean on his docket. And the star witness against Dean for the deaths he’s caused over the years? The ghost of Jo Harvelle (Alona Tal), a fellow hunter. Osiris reveals that he summoned Jo because Dean feels responsible for her death (in season five).

Osiris finds Dean guilty in his heart and forces Jo to kill him. In order to stop her, Sam has to find a way to kill Osiris.

Season eight: “Goodbye, Stranger.”

Goodbye Stranger

Sam and Meg vs. Crowley.

Castiel has been programmed by an angel named Naomi (Amanda Tapping) and tells the brothers he’s been killing demons in his search for the other half of the demon tablet that provides instructions on how to close the gates of Hell forever (Sam had begun to undertake a series of trials to do that). He says Crowley (Mark Sheppard), the self-proclaimed King of Hell, has sent demons out to find Lucifer’s crypts.

It turns out he’s lying; he’s really looking for an angel tablet, a fact revealed by the demon Meg (Rachel Miner), who’d been Crowley’s prisoner. Meg, who’d resurfaced in a new meat suit in season five, had long been at odds with Crowley and offers to help Sam and Dean, even after Crowley tells her their plans. She even sacrifices herself so they can escape him.

Season nine: “Slumber Party.”


Charlie and Dorothy.

The boys seek help from their ally Charlie Bradbury (Felicia Day) in bringing the ancient computer equipment in the Men of Letters bunker up to date. They inadvertently release two beings preserved in suspended animation since 1935— Dorothy (Tiio Horn) and the Wicked Witch (Maya Massar).

Yes, in the Supernatural universe, Oz is real; L Frank Baum was a Man of Letters; his daughter, Dorothy, was accidentally trapped in Oz and Baum’s books were actually instructions on how to fight the evil there, a fact Charlie discovers.

After destroying the witch, Charlie, who’s looking for a quest, sets off with Dorothy to save Oz.

Earlier, Dorothy told Charlie she never wore the slippers. “Seems kind of tacky wearing a dead woman’s shoes.”

Bit of a goof with the shoes. They should have been silver , not ruby, since A) Dorothy’s adventures inspired the books, which had silver slippers; and B) she disappeared four years before the movie was made.

Season ten: “Fan Fiction.”


The cast of “Fan Fiction.”

In season four, Sam and Dean discover a series of novels about their adventures, written by a man named Chuck Shurley (Rob Benedict), whom Castiel says is a prophet. He also tells them the books will one day be known as the Winchester Gospels.

In season eleven, viewers would learn that Chuck is actually God, which had been implied in season five.

“Fan Fiction”, Supernatural’s 200th episode, finds Sam and Dean investigating a disappearance and discovering that the case is connected to a high school musical inspired by the Supernatural books.

“There is no singing in Supernatural,” Dean says, adding that any singing would be classic rock.

The brothers discover that Calliope (Hannah Levien) is responsible for the disappearances. Sam says Calliope protects an author until his or her vision is realized and then kills her or him.

To draw out and kill Calliope, Dean realizes the show must go on.

When Sam ask Marie (Katie Sarife), the writer-director, why Chuck isn’t among the characters in the cast, Marie says she “kind of hates the meta stories.”

“Me, too,” Sam and Dean reply.

“Why this story?” Sam asks Calliope. “Why Supernatural?”

Supernatural has everything,” she says. “Life, death, resurrection, redemption. But above all, family.”

Season eleven: “Just My Imagination.”


Dean, Sam and Sully.

Sam is surprised to discover his childhood imaginary friend, Sully (Nate Torrence), is real and needs his help. Sully is a Zanna, a creature who guides and helps children. He comes to Sam because someone or something is killing his fellow Zanna.

When the boys and Sully learn the very human reason for the attacks, Sully is willing to sacrifice himself, but Dean tells the killer revenge won’t make her feel better. He points out the Zanna are Sesame Street Mother Theresas, not monsters.

“But when I wasn’t there for my little brother, Sully was,” he says “…You know there is not a monstrous bone in his body.”

Season 12 brings Supernatural back to the beginning in some ways, as God’s sister, Amara (Emily Swallow), left Dean with a parting gift. She brought back Mary Winchester. This season, Mary will be hunting with her sons.

Copyright 2016 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: A look at Thanksgiving traditions


Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving

Today, millions of Americans will take the day off from school or work, gather with relatives and eat a large turkey in celebration of the holiday of Thanksgiving.

For some, the celebration will also involve watching football on T.V. and/or watching or participating in parades. For my family, Thanksgiving involves gathering with relatives, sometimes (as is the case this year) with ones from out of state. Some years, we have large gatherings; in others, when various cousins spend the day with other relatives, it’s a smaller group. This year, we’ll have a mid-sized gathering, with most of the local relatives being joined by my aunt from Pittsburgh.

And those who don’t make it to a Thanksgiving gathering are there in spirit. Or more accurately, via wires or satellites, thanks to Alexander Graham Bell.

When we were children, Thanksgiving also involved going to the parade in downtown Detroit. We’d sit on a makeshift platform stretched between two ladders, sip hot chocolate, watch the floats and wait for Santa Claus to arrive.

Later, we’d either go home or to whichever relative was hosting Thanksgiving that year for dinner. Us youngsters would play together; and if it were snowing and we were at our house with the front yard on a hill, we’d go sledding.

When we had Thanksgiving (or Christmas, for that matter) at my house, my uncle would tell my cousins that we had heated streets and driveways. By the time they’d arrive in late afternoon, snowplows would have cleared the streets and people in our subdivision would have shoveled their drives.

Those cousins have since had children of their own and when those younger cousins— now in their late teens and early to mid 20s— were little, they would run giggling through whichever house we were at and/or play in the yard. Sometimes the girls would act out elaborate “plays” in the basement.

A few years ago on Thanksgiving, I asked the girls multiple choice questions about their hopes and dreams, plans and schemes. Then I used the information they gave me to write each of them a personalized short story. Which were their Christmas presents.

Another one of my aunts once said Thanksgiving is her favorite holiday, because it’s so much about family.

My own Thanksgiving tradition is to exchange letters with my closest friend. For the past several years, she and I write why we’re thankful to have each other in our lives.

But what is Thanksgiving and where did it all begin? Most people would argue that it began in 1621, with Gov. William Bradford of Plymouth Colony, Mass., declaring a celebration of the colonists’ survival (with more than a little help from Squanto and his fellow Patuxet) during their first year in North America. But celebrations of Thanksgiving go back even further.

Robert Haven Schauffler’s 1907 book Thanksgiving: Its Origin, Celebration and Significance states that Thanksgiving can be traced back to the Canaanites. Later, the Hebrews celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles; while the Greeks held a similar harvest festival known as the Thesmophoria, which was the feast of Demeter, goddess of agriculture and harvests.

Romans celebrated the Cerelia, which honored the goddess Ceres; and in England, the autumnal festival, which could be traced back to Saxon King Egbert, was called “The Harvest Home.”

In the U.S., Thanksgiving evolved into a national holiday with gradually changing meanings. In 1789, President Washington declared Nov. 26 a national day of Thanksgiving, a time of religious reflection.

In 1863, President Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day, persuaded— so the story goes— by letters from Sarah J. Hale, founder and editor of The Ladies Magazine in Boston.

In 1939, President Roosevelt moved the date to the fourth Thursday in November. That day was adopted two years later by a joint resolution of Congress.

In 2009, President Obama issued a proclamation stating, among other things, that “this is a time for us to renew our bonds with one another.”

The president specifically spoke of reaching out to neighbors and fellow citizens in need of a helping hand, a laudable goal. But it can also be an opportunity to strengthen family bonds.

While the turkey dinner and/or football games are what distinguishes Thanksgiving from other holidays, those things don’t make it significant in the final analysis. What makes it significant is the act of bringing families together; and family is more important than any football team or dead bird.

Copyright 2014 Patrick Keating