Random Musings: Happy 104th birthday to Aunt Jo

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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.