Posted by: Maryann McCullough | May 31, 2014

Story for June 2014



As the soul is to the body, so was the kitchen to our home at 705 Franklin.
Interestingly it was not where we ate. We ate our family meals at a long captain’s table in the dining room. This was not an attempt at formality, but a question of space. We were a large family and the kitchen was small.

It was definitely mission control. My mother, who turned delegating into a fine art, managed her world from one of three chairs at a small round table in the center of the kitchen. On that table, in front of her there was always a coffee cup. There was always an ashtray. The coffee cup was fascinating. Her coffee was taken with cream and since a busy house provided many interruptions, looking at the cup from above was like standing over as fresh cut tree trunk whose rings gave some hint of its history. The ashtray was utilitarian and usually full. If classified as food groups, cigarettes and coffee would be at the base of our mother’s food pyramid.

My mother was a good cook and from her I learned the importance of having three different color tMhings on the dinner plate. I never did learn how to cook from her which was too bad because she knew her way around a kitchen. Back in the day, her spaghetti sauce took two days and her turkey stuffing took three. Potatoes were a staple and were mashed with a stick of butter for flavor. Once cake mixes came on the scene, there was a fresh cake baked every day. Bacon and eggs started the day and if there are heart problems in her children today, we will nonetheless all agree that those meals were prepared by a loving mother.

My favorite kitchen memory involves cups of cocoa. In Lent I would go to early morning Mass at Saint Luke’s. The mornings were dark and cold and when I arrived home there would be a cup of hot cocoa made with milk and topped with a marshmallow waiting for me along with some private conversation before the rest of the family made an appearance. The conversations were the best part of the kitchen. Sometimes tears were a part of the conversation. Sometimes laughter. But they always seemed to happen in the kitchen.

It is also where laundry was folded and babies were fed. Generally the newest Shanahan was on the countertop with a bottle propped in his mouth. I‘m sure I would remember if one of the babies rolled off the counter so I guess none did.

There were the usual appliances, though I think they worked harder than those in other homes. Groceries were delivered and in such frequency and quantity that Liska’s (a Chicago grocer) found having a River Forest customer profitable. Cabinets were always well stocked and in some interesting bit of logic, bread and cigarettes were kept in the same large kitchen drawer.

Saturday afternoons were an event in the Shanahan kitchen. Newspapers were laid out on the counter and shoes were lined up for their weekly polish with Scuff-Kote. Q-tips invaded everyone’s ears, nails were clipped. The boys got crew cuts and the girls had their bangs trimmed. Any stray neighbor child who happened into the kitchen could get caught up in the fray and return home to a somewhat surprised mother with cleaner ears and freshly polished saddle shoes.

Like all rooms this one had a floor, walls, and a ceiling. As a normal kitchen, there were cabinets and countertops and appliances, large and small. It was a pretty typical. It just felt so special because it was where “home” happened


Posted by: Maryann McCullough | May 1, 2014

Story for May, 2014





        Years before you were even a twinkle in your father’s eye, you and I would talk. Well, in truth, I would talk and you would politely listen, sometimes nodding in agreement, sometimes your face a map of concentration, analyzing and judging the wisdom of my words. I called you Sweet Pea then and (just in case my exit preceded your entrance) put those  words on paper. Do you remember when we talked about

(for a little girl in the making)

         I wonder what you will think about yourself.
        As someone who taught young people for many years, I am aware that one’s own mirror does not always provide a correct reflection. Like some fun-house mirror, it can misshape and distort and miss entirely the truth and beauty that is real.
         In my formative years I concluded I was wonderful and that is such a good thing to think about oneself. And while I cannot attest to this being a valid conclusion, that’s not the point. Certainly no one had ever told me I was not wonderful. Granted many of these hallmarks of wonderfulness were extrinsic to my character. I was a polite, blue-eyed blonde and the world liked that. I was Catholic and we Catholics knew that that was the best religion. And I was Irish, and I’d been informed that Irish was better than anything else you could be. I, of course, was a girl, and that was at least as good as being a boy. So without any deep introspection, I lived a blissful childhood, contentment verging on pride at the circumstances of my life.
        This did not create an obnoxious, arrogant little child; rather one who approached life and her fellowman with openness and confidence. Like some well- tended plant, I smiled out at the world, certain that it would smile back.
        There is a book you may read someday Its title is THE SECRET GARDEN and is about a young girl who grows up hearing only nice things. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful experience! No judging or limiting with words. For those we hear around our name make their way into our head and stay there. If the words surrounding you are “kind”, and “smart”, and “strong” and “beautiful” I think that is how you will grow. So choose carefully those you let inside that secret garden of your mind, and let them speak of the virtues they see. And join that cheering chorus yourself. Let the words you speak in the inside of your head affirm your value, your beauty, your gifts.
         When I was a little very young, I was taught to “examine my conscience.” Compiling that list of those things I had done wrong in a particular day was not a challenge for a scrupulous little girl. But that same little girl certainly did some good acts as well. Those acts just never made it onto a list.
         So I’m going to suggest that you do some examining yourself. As you’re settling into bed and looking back on your day, recall the times when you were shining, when the best in you came forth. When you shared, when you welcomed someone with a smile, when you really studied and got every word on the spelling test correct. Focus on the doughnut. The holes will likely still be there. They’re just not the important part for you to notice.
         I know you will be a loved child for will be planted in a big extended family who will welcome you with hugs and kisses. So your job, Sweet Pea, is just to grow and bloom. So welcome to the world, Miss Keira, Murphy McCullough!



Posted by: Maryann McCullough | April 1, 2014

Story for April, 2014


I began my life as a poem, albeit a short one. I was Maryann Shanahan.

I had been named for our Blessed Mother, as was nearly half the Catholic female population born in 1942. It was a good name. It was not loaded with expectations, like Tiffany or Willow.

During fourth grade, due to the frequency of “Maryann” being heard of the playground at Saint Luke’s School, , I acquired my first real nickname. I was Shanie. When classmate Walter Morrissey heard my new name, he said “That’s not a name. That’s a car rag.” But the name stuck through near sixty years. Since it was my name through those fun years of high school, it has a happy ring to it. Several friends from my youth have made it to Phoenix this winter to escape Chicago, so I have heard it a lot as we reminisce. I find myself longing for a cherry coke and fries.

My next name was given me by Mother Benedicta, O.P. It was her privilege as Mother General of the Sinsinawa Dominicans, to, like Adam in the garden, select a name for each of us as we made the transition from postulant to novice. I had asked for that name (Sister Deidre) after my sister Deidre whom I loved. Also, Dee had named her new puppy after me when I had left home to join the Dominicans so it was appropriate in a turn-about sort of way.

I liked being that person but realized it would not be my forever life or forever name. It was 1967. I slipped out of the habit I had worn for six years and slipped back into once again being Maryann Shanahan.

But not for long.

In 1968, after moving to San Diego, I met a man whose character and face and name I liked. So I chose to make the package my own. On February 14, 1969, I became Maryann McCullough. Good man, as well as nice alliteration and decent assonance, came with that transition

I am still proudly sporting that name but it led to a few more as well. We had sons, three of them and I got to be “Mom.” It’s difficult to top that moniker, especially when those sons turned out so well.

And of course, in a different part – the teacher part – of my life, I was Mrs. McCullough That was another name (and profession) I wore with pride.

Though that formal name originally came with choosing a husband. I really don’t associate that name with Bill. His name for me these past decades has been “Beauty” – a choice that says much more about him that it does about my physical appearance. He is the most loving of men.

There is another newer name in process, due to Kaden Murphy McCullough, born July 14, 2012. His birth allowed me to lay claim to the title of “grandmother.” I chose “Gammy” to be my new name. It has been used by his parents, Casey and Megan, ever since.

But, there was one problem.

Kaden didn’t choose “Gammy.” Despite everybody’s best effort and, while Kaden was able to name just about every animal that exists in the air, on land or in the sea, Gammy didn’t happen. He would excitedly call out “Boppa” when Bill appeared on the Skype screen, but I was the nameless grandmother.

Then, just days ago, when Kaden and I sat eyeball to eyeball in front of our computer screens, he waved, smiled, pointed and said “Gaga.” So, just like Adam in the garden or Mother Benedicta at the Mound, Kaden got to be the decider. This is my newest and most special name.

The history of our names is really a Cliff Notes history of our lives. Kaden’s AHA moment was the impetus for this essay. The process, though, like looking at a scrapbook, has been filled with happy memories. Pretty sure that means I’ve had a happy life.

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