Category Archives: Memorials

The Heavyweight Ancestry of Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali
Cassius Marcellus Clay 1941-2016, best known by his adopted name of Muhammad Ali. More popularly known as “The Greatest.”

In the boxing ring, the reach of Muhammad Ali spanned seventy-eight inches, longer at better striking than any of his opponents. In his genetic makeup, the heavyweight ancestry of Muhammad Ali stretched from Roman era enslavement toward Civil War emancipation, For Ali, that never was enfranchisement enough.

Prompted by a conversion from the Baptist faith to the Muslim religion, during which he changed his name, Muhammad Ali seized upon his deliverance. “Why should I keep my white slavemaster’s name visible and my black ancestors invisible, unknown, and unhonored?”

Moved by faith, Ali’s adopted persona infused every corner of his being. In the end, his fight redefined and symbolized his every oddity and eccentricity as authentically American. Ali claimed personal freedom, executed individual accomplishment, spread loving care and humanitarianism, and promoted social justice. Recognized in his time as “The Greatest,” Muhammad Ali became a legend, not too unlike the legendary cousin in his shadowy ancestry whom Ali never knew, America’s favorite outcast Jesse James.


Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay, named for his father who bore the same name. Although his father’s nickname was Cash, Ali’s full name came from a notable emancipationist, Cassius Marcellus Clay, a second cousin of famed Kentucky statesman Henry Clay. Five members of Henry Clay’s family bore the name of Cassius Marcellus Clay.

Henry Clay
Henry Clay Sr. 1777-1852

The Clay family naming practice, although trendy in the period for its classical allusion, derived from the naming practices of ancient Rome. Romans attached a three-part structure to naming. The given name was a praenomen. The family name was the nomen. Finally, the nickname was the cognomen, the common name by which one was recognized.

The family name Cassia was taken from the Latin “cassus,” meaning empty, void, hollow, or vain. In the Roman era, vanity was respected as a positive force by which one might rise in status out of nothing. As a class, the Cassii advanced to the patrician level, the name dating back to the 6th century B.C. Back then, Spurius Cassius Viscellinus vainly addressed land ownership issues between the patrician and plebeian classes. Patricians considered the laws too friendly to plebeians. Cassius was tried. Then he was violently executed. The Cassius name arose from a lack of estimability to transfix itself as a representation of honor. In Roman time, Gaius Cassius Longinus conspired vainly to assassinate the tyrant Julius Caesar. In the Middles Ages, four Saints held the Cassius name, most all were persecuted, martyred and then honored.

Green Clay
Green Clay 1757-1858, Father of Cassius Marcellus Clay

The Clay family vanity is well earned. Green Clay was a patriot of the American Revolution. He served in the Continental Army and the Virginia Legislature. After moving his family from Virginia to Kentucky, Clay served in both houses of the Kentucky Legislature. In his private life, he was a surveyor, retaining half of everything he surveyed. He also operated Clay’s Ferry at Boonesborough. Although a slave owner and planter, his wealth accumulated more via his industry and labor, owning warehouses, distilleries, and taverns. He was not so reliant upon plantation enslavement, common in the era, for building his fortune. Called upon by Gov. Isaac Shelby. Green Clay went the War of 1812 with the rank of General. Those who followed him were militia volunteers. Documents show he expressed concern over the treatment of “friendly Indians.”  Clay County in Kentucky was named for Green Clay, and not for Henry Clay as some may think


White Hall, the ancestral home of Cassius Marcellus Clay

Vanity affixed almost naturally to Green Clay’s son, Cassius Marcellus Clay. As a Major General for the Union in the Civil War, Clay was recognized widely as “The Lion of White Hall.” The family estate is located in Richmond in Kentucky’s Madison County. Twenty years before the Civil War, Cassius freed White Hall’s enslaved people.  He then published an anti-slavery, abolitionist newspaper, The True American. While Cassius recovered from typhoid fever, his printing office was attacked and pillaged. Cassius removed his printing office across the Ohio River to Cincinnati, though he continued to edit from Lexington in Kentucky.

Following the Mexican War in which Clay was imprisoned in Mexico City, Clay returned to run for the office of Kentucky Governor. His anti-slavery platform defeated him. He then provided land and underwriting to found Berea College. The new institution of learning accepted women as well as men, Moreover, it welcomed people of color as students and educators. Cassius furthermore took a role in founding the Republican Party. His anti-slavery sentiments befriended him to Abraham Lincoln.

Cassius Marcellus Clay
Cassius Marcellus Clay 1810-1903, The Lion of White Hall

At the onset of the Civil War, Clay’s Battalion protected Washington D.C. A biographer described the battalion leader in personal terms as conceited and somewhat ridiculous. “With three pistols strapped to his waist, and an elegant sword hanging at his side, he talked to anyone who would listen about his Mexican War exploits and his political battles.” Lincoln thought Clay “had a great deal of conceit and very little sense,” Lincoln “did not know what to do with him, for he could not give him a command—he was not fit for it.” Lincoln appointed Clay Minister to Russia. Upon Emancipation by Lincoln, Cassius Marcellus Clay believed his influence upon the Emancipation Proclamation was “the culminating act of my life’s aspirations.”

While in Russia, Clay’s wife Mary Jane Warfield administered to White Hall flawlessly. However, upon Clay’s returned to White Hall bringing a son she never knew, Mary Jane divorced Cassius Marcellus Clay. He married again to fifteen-year-old Dora Richardson but divorced her quickly, and never remarried again.

Despite the controversy surrounding him, the social contribution of Cassius Marcellus Clay was indelible and genuine. On his death, the comment was made, “Never was a more striking scene witnessed on the way to Richmond, where the funeral services were to be held. From every humble negro cottage along the roadside and at every crossroads, the mothers and large children carrying those who were too little to walk, the negroes were lined up to pay their last respects to the man whom they honored as the Abraham Lincoln of Kentucky.”


  1. Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. aka Muhammad Ali
  2. Cassius Marcellus “Cash” Clay Sr. & Odessa Lee Grady
  3. Herman Heaton Clay & Edith Edelen Greathouse
  4. John Clay & Sallie Ann Fry

History does not record if Muhammad Ali’s great-grandparents, John Clay and Sallie Ann Fry were part of the enslaved family at White Hall. Nor can history confirm if John Clay was an actual descendant of Cassius Marcellus Clay. History may never solve the former, but DNA testing still can resolve the latter.

The possibility also exists that the Clay family of Muhammad Ali may not attach to the family of Cassius Marcellus Clay at all. Ali’s family might connect to some other Clay line of the Henry Clay family.

Regardless, the persistence of genetic behavior, character, and motivations between Muhammad Ali, today recognized as “The Greatest,” and  Cassius Marcellus Clay the Lion of White Hall are compelling, as is Muhammad Ali’s apparent acceptance of his high probability of kinship.  One cannot listen to Muhammad Ali speak about all he found in his world that was white without the Lion of White Hall appearing ghostly behind him. Ali is not an imitation of the former. Ali is an authentic reflection.


If Muhammad Ali’s ancestry on his paternal side is indefinite concerning his kinship to the family of Henry Clay, his mother’s ancestry points decisively to ancestry just as complicated and white but with a clear path to his relationship with America’s iconic outlaw for social justice, Jesse James.

  1. Muhammad Ali, aka Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr.
  2. Odessa Lee Grady & Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr.
  3. John Lewis Grady & Birdie Belle Morehead
  4. Thomas Morehead & Elizabeth “Lizzie” Bibb
  5. Armistead S. Morehead & (1) Adeline R. Perkins & (2) Dinah Unknown, illicit partner, & (3) Henrietta Elizabeth Frances Poor
  6. Drury Woodson Poor & Elizabeth Ellen Britt
  7.    Robert (Cornet) Poor & Elizabeth Woodson Mimms                                                                6. Mary “Polly” Poor & John M. James                                                                      5. Robert Sallee James & Zerelda Elizabeth Cole                                            4. Jesse Woodson James & Zerelda Amanda Mimms

Ireland claims it is the source of Muhammad Ali’s pugilistic genes. Odessa Lee Grady’s grandfather Abe Grady was an immigrant from Ennis, County Clare in Ireland. He immigrated to America in the Civil War era. Abe married an emancipated African-American daughter of Louis and Amanda J. Walker. Abe bought and farmed land on Duck Lick Creek in Logan County, about ten miles from Russellville. Their son, John Lewis Grady found employment with the St. Bernard Mining Company as a coal miner in Earlington. His registration card for World War I lists John as Ethiopian by race.

Odessa Lee Grady
Mohammad Ali and his mother Odessa Lee Grady-Clay

When Odessa Lee Grady married Ali’s father, Cash Clay, the couple removed from Earlington to Louisville. Cash Clay was an abusive husband and an alcoholic. Ali later affirmed of his mother, “She is afraid of him.” The couple separated when Ali was nine. When Ali’s bicycle was stolen when he was twelve, Ali turned to boxing. Odessa supported Ali in the recreation that became his profession.

Mohammad Ali famile
Muhammad Ali’s family with his brother Rahman Ali, his mother OdessaLee Grady-Clay, and his father Cassius Clay Sr. Courtesy of Sports Illustrated

Odessa inherited her Baptist faith from Ali’s great-grandparents Thomas Morehead and Elizabeth Bibb. Baptist tradition in Ali’s family originated in their Old Union Church in Russellville in Logan County. (Old Union is sometimes identified as the New Union or as the First Baptist Church of Russellville. The church is not to be confused with the Old Union Missionary Church of Bowling Green.)

The Old Union Church was founded in the early 1800s when the Russellville region was called Rogue’s Harbor. Migrants with few resources, little financial support, and no military land to claim in Kentucky following the American Revolution populated the area among a scattering of lawless miscreants and ne’er-do-wells. Among the founding members of Old Union Church were Spencer Curd with his father-in-law Col. John Curd. Joined with the Curds was Ali’s fourth great-grandfather Drury Woodson Poor.

Whippoorwill Creek
Dam at Whippoorwill Creek, constructed by William James, either the brother or father of John M. James

Settling at Lickskillet on Whippoorwill Creek among founders of Old Union Church was John M. James who married Drury Woodson Poor’s sister, Mary “Polly” Poor. The couple became the grandparents of Frank and Jesse James. When John and Polly died within months of one another, Drury Woodson Poor was entrusted with the couple’s eight orphans. Col. William Grubbs of Old Union purchased the slaves of John M. James upon his demise. William Perkins acquired land from Spencer Curd’s brother Samuel with a house on Whippoorwill Creek formerly occupied by their father, William Curd. Thereby, Perkins became neighbors with John M. James. Later, Spencer Curd was instrumental in finding Thomas Martin James, one of the James orphans, a teaching position at Bethel College, before T.M. James departed Kentucky to become a millionaire merchant in Kansas City. Spencer Curd also was the father-in-law of Nimrod Long whom the James Gang shot in the robbery of the Russellville Bank much later in 1868.

Baptist Church, Russellvile, Ky.
First Baptist Church Russellville

William Perkins’ daughter Adeline R. Perkins married Muhammad Ali’s third great-grandfather Armistead S. Morehead. Sometime after their third child was born, Armistead had an illicit liaison with a girl named Dinah. She is presumed to be a slave. Sometime between June and December in 1839, Dinah gave birth to Thomas Armistead, Ali’s great-grandfather. Armistead and Adeline had one last child before Adeline died. In Old Union Church, Thomas Armistead married Lizzie Bibb, who bore Ali’s grandmother Birdie Belle Morehead-Grady. Birdie made her home in Louisville.

Some inaccurate history argues that the mother of Thomas Morehead was Armistead’s second wife, Henrietta Elizabeth Frances Poor. Henrietta formerly was married to Armistead’s brother, James Duncan Morehead Sr. With James, Henrietta bore five children. Among them, Elizabeth Ann Morehead was born in April of 1836, followed by the birth of Presley Leland Morehead in February of 1838. These two dates leave an interval in which Thomas Morehead could have been born in July of 1837. More decisively, however, both Armistead S. Morehead and Henrietta were ethnically Anglo and white. The census of 1870 defines Thomas Morehead as being mulatto, confirming that his mother Dinah had to be African-American. Regardless, Henrietta Poor’s marriage to Armistead S. Morehead makes Henrietta a step-great-grandmother of Muhammad Ali. From her Poor family descendants comes Ali’s step-kinship to Jesse Woodson James.


Muhammad Ali had more than one path to his step-kinship with Jesse Woodson James.

  1. Muhammad Ali, aka Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr.
  2. Odessa Lee Grady & Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr.
  3. John Lewis Grady & Birdie Belle Morehead
  4. Thomas Morehead & Elizabeth “Lizzie” Bibb
  5. Armistead S. Morehead & Henrietta Elizabeth Frances Poor
  6. Presley M. Morehead & Mary “Polly” Duncan
  7. James Duncan & Bathsheba Menefee
  8. William Menefee Sr. & Elizabeth “Betsy” Vardeman
  9. Johannes Vardeman, the Immigrant & Elizabeth Taylor Morgan                                 8. Rev. Jeremiah Vardeman & Elizabeth “Betsy” James                             7. John M. James                                                                                                                           6. Robert Sallee James                                                                                                              5. Jesse Woodson James
William Whitley mansion
William Whitley house at Cedar Creek in Lincoln County, Kentucky

The sixth great-grandfather of Muhammad Ali is Johannes Vardeman, father of the eminent Baptist Devine Rev. Jeremiah Vardeman. Johannes is the Vardeman family’s immigrant to America from Sweden. The Vardeman family’s settlement in Kentucky was adjacent to the land of John M. James at Cedar Creek in Lincoln County. Next to them both lived the Kentucky’s famed Indian fight Col. William Whitley. Before their settlement, Johannes Vardeman was an ax man for Daniel Boone, blazing the Wilderness Road, which John M. James patrolled and protected.

Jeremiah Vardeman
Rev. Jeremiah Vardeman 1775-1842

When Jeremiah Vardeman eloped with Elizabeth “Betsy” James, John M. James arranged to bring Jerry into Baptist ministry. In his time, Jeremiah Vardeman baptized over 6,000 converts. He founded, pastored, and preached among many of the Baptist churches in central Kentucky. He also gave Jesse James’ father, Rev. Robert Sallee James, $20,000 and seven enslaved, sending him to Missouri to found William Jewell College, where Vardeman also founded a School of Theology.

Muhammad Ali’s connection to the Vardeman family gives him a confirmation line of kinship with the family of Jesse James.


Extending Muhammad Ali’s relationships further, other relatives appear to contribute to the genes of “The Greatest.” Among them are US Presidents John Tyler and Benjamin Harrison, Confederate President Jefferson Davis; several governors of Kentucky, Virginia, and North Carolina; plus celebrities Glenn Close, Hillary Duff, and Katie Couric. Several ancestors, like Robert (Coronet) Poor, make Ali and his descendants eligible for membership in the Sons or Daughters of the American Revolution as well as numerous other patriotic lineage societies.

Muhammad Ali 1942-2016
Muhammad Ali 1942-2016 “The Greatest”

 “I ain’t draft dodging. I ain’t burning no flag. I ain’t running to Canada. I’m staying right here. You want to send me to jail? Fine, you go right ahead. I’ve been in jail for 400 years. I could be there for 4 or 5 more, but I ain’t going 10,000 miles to help murder and kill other people. If I want to die, I’ll die right here, right now, fighin’ you. You my enemy, not no Chinese, no Vietcong, no Japanese. You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice.” – Muhammad Ali

Kinship alone did not predestine the life of Muhammad Ali. Almost entirely, it can be said, the life of Muhammad Ali was constructed by his choice and direction alone. Whether Ali knew his ancestry or not did not preclude him in his choices. Muhammad Ali, aka Cassius Marcellus Clay, fulfilled the destiny of his genes.

Laila Ali
Laila Ali, Muhammad Ali’s daughter, the next generation

Another Brother of Joan Beamis is Gone

Another brother of Joan Beamis has died. John Crohan “Jack” Malley passed away at the age of 90 on Saturday, March 5, 2016.  Among Joan’s other siblings, her brother Fr. Jim Malley died last June. Her sister Janice died in 2012. Joan was the first of her siblings to pass in 1990.

John Crohan Malley, brother of Joan Beamis
Jack Malley, brother of Joan Beamis & Fr. Jim Malley

In 2009, Jack Malley provided substantial information about his family and their kinship with the family of Frank & Jesse James to Stray Leaves publisher Eric F. James. Much of what Jack provided ended up in James’ first volume of the history of the Jesse James family – Jesse James Soul Liberty, Behind the Family Wall of Stigma & Silence.

About his family, Jack Malley informed Eric F. James, “My mother  (Marguerite Hazel Burns-Malley) was the only one who would not talk about the James brothers. She was somewhat of a Boston socialite in her pre-marital years. We, her children, thought it was terrific, and our grandmother Mary Louise James-Burns was “pumped dry” for stories.” Mary Louise James-Burns, a daughter of Frank and Jesse’s uncle Drury Woodson James, lived with the Malley siblings as they grew up.

Malley Boys Farm, girlhood home of Joan Beamis
The Malley family home, Somersworth, New Hampshire, and childhood home of Fr. James B., John Crohan, Mary Joan, and Janice Ann Malley. Formerly the Malley Boys Home. Now the Sober Sisters Recovery Transitional Home for women.

As Jack Malley stated, “It is ironic that D.W.J. (Jack’s great-grandfather) was a rancher and cattleman. I spent my life in agriculture. First, running a 100 cow dairy herd with my father in New Hampshire and then 30 years as a soil conservationist with the Soil Conservation Service, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture in New Hampshire and Maine, working with farmers.

“Grandmother Mary Louise James-Burns (Jack’s grandmother) lived with our family until her passing. She and I shared a great love of farming and she maintained a great interest in our farm and herd. My Dad provided her a home from the day he married her daughter Marguerite. They were great friends and rabid Democrats! Our Mother was somewhat ashamed of her James cousins and did not care to discuss the subject with anyone – even family!!!”

J. Mark Beamis, son of Joan Beamis
J. Mark Beamis, son of Joan Beamis and nephew of Jack Malley.

News of Jack’s passing was provided to Stray Leaves by his nephew, J. Mark Beamis. Mark informed Eric about Jacks’ final days. “He was getting hospice at home for congestive heart failure since January. On Friday, they moved him to a nursing home and he wasn’t there 24 hours before he left. I think he ‘planned’ it that way.”

An extensive and loving obituary of Jack Malley outlines in detail his personal life and interests, as well as his accomplished career in conservation and preservation. The obituary is well worth reading.

In recent  news, the Malley family farm where Joan and her siblings grew up now will become a women’s recovery center. The Malley family farm is the place where the first discovery was made by Joan Beamis, leading to her researching and writing the first genealogy of the Jesse James family, Background of a Bandit. Following the death of the Malley siblings’ parents, Rep. James Francis Malley and Marguerite Hazel Burns in 1974 and 1983, the Malley home then became the Malley Boys Farm. With Jack’s passing, the family home now enters a new stage, becoming the Sober Sisters Recovery Transitional Home for women.

Siblings of Joan Beamis - Fr. Jim, Janice, and Jack Malley
Siblings of Mary Joan Malley-Bemis – Fr. Jim, Janice, and Jack Malley

Kathleen Laid Down Her Basket & Left a Gift

The Little Girl & Her Basket

By Kathleen Brush-Meccia

There was a little girl whose daddy was in the Navy. “Bell bottom trousers, coat of navy blue – I love a sailor and he loves me too.” Her mommy had her sing this song for everyone quite often. She was a very good little girl, but a terrible pain in the ass!

Kathleen Brush Meccia - The Little Girl & Her Basket
Kathleen & family, post World War II party


Her mommy was awful upset about the war and wondered if the daddy would come back o.k. The little girl wanted to help somehow, so she started filling her basket with her mother’s worries.

There was already some ugly stuff in it, because the little girl thought, or her mother thought, she was born too soon after the marriage, and her mother was only 20 or so and hadn’t spent too much time with her husband before the war had taken him away. I don’t even think the mother thought she wanted to be married. They had come from different backgrounds.

Kathleen Brush Meccia - The Little Girl & Her Basket
Kathleen, her mother Eleanor Marie James-Brush, & her cousin Buddy James

The little girl wanted to help, but she didn’t know how, so she just started taking on her mother’s unhappiness and plopped it into the basket and carried it everywhere. She really thought she was helping.

When her daddy came home, she continued to be this terrible pain in the ass – because she was afraid of so many things – high places, low places, fire, water, bugs, and even merry-go-rounds. She was afraid of doctors and dentists. They got thrown out of many a dentist’s office. Her mother was probably embarrassed. But most of all she was really afraid of being left alone. Also she was very lonely. She even had an imaginary playmate. Boy, did she have an imagination! She even drew her friend on the sheet one time. That made her mother very angry. Her parents had their own problems. But she kept being this pain in the ass and filling her basket.

Kathleen Brush Meccia - The Little Girl & Her Basket
Best cousins – Kathleen & Buddy James

The little girl didn’t know why, but she felt her parents didn’t like her. No matter what they did for her, the girl kept having terrible, terrible nightmares and got hysterical a lot because they tried to shock her out of those fears. They must have thought something was wrong with her, because they took her to a child psychologist when she was about 5, she was told. Then again at 13. When they didn’t know how to handle her anymore, they just didn’t. But they never stopped letting her know what a terrible pain in the ass she was.

Kathleen Brush Meccia - The Little Girl & Her Basket
Kathleen, first communion

She was a very lonely little girl, but her mother made her pretty clothes and made the most wonderful things to eat. They also went a lot of places and saw lots of things. She doesn’t know why but she was frightened very easy. She was anxious all the time and got too excited. She was very unhappy, because she thought her parents didn’t want her. She had nice grandmas and aunties who spoiled her to death. She spent lots of times at their houses – probably because she was such a pain in the ass to her mother. She was a flower girl twice and she really thought weddings were very happy. She was even on TV and won a puppy and dog food. She really loved the puppy. She was in school and did well – she was afraid not to – the nuns were sort of mean. She went to church and she loved God very much. But she asked an awful lot of questions. She continued to be unhappy and kept filling her basket. Her dad wasn’t there a lot of the time and her mother was also unhappy. Her mother liked love songs – she does, too. Her mother must have loved her father very much.

Then one day she came home again from school and her puppy was gone. She thought her heart would break! Her mother had sold her puppy and she walked and walked and walked to visit her puppy until the people moved.

Her father used to come take her on Sundays. He even took her to see his girlfriend Toni. This made her very unhappy and she liked him even less. Her basket was so heavy, and she had to lie to her mother about where they went. This made her feel very “guilty.” Then she told her mother the truth and her mother was very sad and the dad was really angry with her for telling her mother. She also remembers the father beating the little puppy for chewing inside the car.

Her mother knew how to keep busy – she cleaned all the time and she kept making the same wonderful things to eat. The little girl thought it would really help to carry the basket. The little girl became chubby and it was a real pain in the ass to find clothes for her, but she went to the Catholic school and they wore uniforms and it wasn’t so bad.

Kathleen Brush Meccia - The Little Girl & Her Basket
Siblings – Anne Marie, James Robert, Kathleen, Elizabeth Jane, & Robert Charles Brush

Her little sister came when she was 7. She didn’t like her too much. She was sickly and got lots of attention. Then the father came back and they moved to the country. It was real different and another sister was coming. There were other dogs, but they all had to go, too. The little girls weren’t responsible enough to take care of the dogs and the mother got tired of cleaning up dog shit. One puppy was sick, and she remembers warming a brick for him to sleep next to. She thought he was going to die, and when he did she thought it was her fault for not taking good enough care of him. She couldn’t understand that pain comes with living – she thought living was supposed to be all happy.

The little girl liked the girl scouts and riding her bike. She really missed her dogs – she loved dogs! Her mother used to give her money to go to the dog shows in the city. Her dad even took her to some. And she still went to church and loved God. But she was still a pain in the ass. She remembers going lots of places alone, even on busses and trains.

The little girl didn’t know why she was extra sensitive or hurt extra much, or was afraid extra much. She was quite clever, but her mother didn’t like this about her either. She never learned patience or self-discipline and she had a hell of a time getting through life. But just imagine this basket filled with pain, guilt, and shame. She really wanted it to be filled with hopes, dreams, and wishes, even pretty flowers. She never learned how to “enjoy” and she didn’t know any better. She didn’t want to be a burden. Her mother used to tell her she was just like her father and he caused lots of unhappiness. She believed in the buy now (enjoy)-pay later plan. Sometimes she still does.

Kathleen Brush Meccia - The Little Girl & Her Basket
Kathleen with her visiting grandfather, James Francis “Jimmy” Keating

Then, it seemed suddenly, that something happened. She started growing. She had new feelings – sexual feelings, and she didn’t know how to handle them. She began to have crushes on boys – even men! These new feelings felt good – even made her forget her basket sometimes.

Kathleen Brush Meccia - The Little Girl & Her Basket
Kathleen’s most admired sibling, Bobby, from whom she drew inspiration. Bobby was born with down syndrome & met his challenges daily for 52 years.

Another brother came and her father wasn’t there too much. Her mother worked a lot at night, and she took care of her brothers and sister. When her father was there, he was asleep in the green chair. She couldn’t stand all that it had become, and she wanted to get out of there. Her father did and said cruel things to her, and it really hurt her – they fought about her constantly.

She wasn’t so chubby anymore, but she didn’t get to do too many fun things with her friends. Her mother never liked her friends. So she started to ‘sneak” and she got caught. She really felt guilty! Then she was 15 and got herself pregnant. She had committed the most cardinal sin of all. And her heart broke when she realized how much she hurt her parents. She gathered even more pain for her basket, and left with it.

Many sad years followed. She sifted through the contents of the basket quite often to make sure everything was in there.

Kathleen Brush Meccia - The Little Girl & Her Basket
First family – husband John Edwards Jones with twin sons James Mark & John Michael Jones

She became a baby factory. Sometimes she’d sit the basket in the closet on the shelf, but she always knew it was there.

Then she started having silly, stupid crushes again. She wanted someone to love her so badly, but she just kept getting into disasters. She cried many times. “Will someone please help me carry this basket?” But no one heard her. Even all those babies were pains in the ass, too – she never stopped loving them. She just didn’t know what to do. She wanted to dance and have fun but she couldn’t. She was sick and miserable and sorry. Boy! Was she sorry!

Kathleen Brush Meccia - The Little Girl & Her Basket
Jones children – Lisa Marie, Jean Marie Jones & the twins

So she set out back and forth across the country lugging babies and her basket, searching for someone or something that would make her stop hurting. She even took pills and was a hippie, and she had even more babies. There were people to hold her for a while but they always left. A lot of strange people were her friends but they didn’t hurt her. They even helped share the basket sometimes.

She really hated herself for the mess she made of her life and the hurt she brought to her parents and babies. But no matter what she did, she was wrong to her parents. But most of all she wondered why no one could love her. Why is she such a burden to everyone?

Kathleen Brush Meccia - The Little Girl & Her Basket
John Albert Meccia, her third husband

Then she met “HIM.” He was just as unhappy as she. They, of course, would love each other and make each other happy. He was so big, and strong, and handsome and bold. She just knew he would love her and protect her from any more harm. After so long she was finally going to be happy. Boy, was she wrong. He couldn’t even take care of himself – and yet – still – they had more babies. Oh, how she loved him, and he wound up hurting her more than all the others combined.

He’s gone, too, and considers her a pain in the ass! What did she do so wrong? Why is she such a burden to everyone?

Kathleen Brush Meccia - The Little Girl & Her Basket
Proud mother & daughters – Ann Meccia, Mary Cronk-Steele, Cara Crew Meccia with daughter Lauren, & Ellen Cronk-Credi

Now there are four babies left, and guess what? One is helping her carry the basket. Another one torments her and is such a pain in the ass, but at least she understands. I don’t think the little girl’s mother did. One is very bright, and one is a budding pain in the ass. But she still loves them, and would never part from them no matter how many mistakes they made. She would like to be friends with her family again, but they seem to want her to be unhappy. She wishes she knew why.

Kathleen Brush Meccia - The Little Girl & Her Basket
Kathleen, enjoying the little things.

                                                                                      She feels sorry for herself a whole lot of the time – because there is no one else. She still has nightmares and thinks God might have left her side, too. She’s not even sure if she wants to live, but she can’t leave her babies.

She feels sorry for herself a whole lot of the time – because there is no one else. She still has nightmares and thinks God might have left her side, too. She’s not even sure if she wants to live, but she can’t leave her babies.

She feels sorry for herself a whole lot of the time – because there is no one else. She still has nightmares and thinks God might have left her side, too. She’s not even sure if she wants to live, but she can’t leave her babies.

Her heart is so scarred; it never even started to heal. She wants to put down the basket once and for all, but she doesn’t desire to hold it anymore. Besides, the basket itself is frayed and becoming unwoven. Please teach her how to set the basket down, so she can live happily ever after.

Kathleen Brush Meccia - The Little Girl & Her Basket
Kathleen Brush-Meccia, enjoying life with a wicked sense of humor


No one ever teaches us how to live happily ever after.

When my dearest cousin Kathleen gave me this story many years ago, I was so thrilled with it that I told her she had produced a gift. She should write more, I said. Regretfully, she never did. But she did grant me her permission to publish it. I’ve been saving it to publish in a book of stories written by other cousins and family. This unexpected moment, though, seems a more appropriate time.

From childhood, when Kathleen and I were best buds, I always admired Kathleen. I never saw the pain of which she wrote. Had I seen it, we probably would have grown closer than we were. Our lives and our pains were not too much different.

What I did see in Kathleen was a beautiful girl, who grew into an attractive young woman, who took her life and literally ran with it. I was doing the same. Where Kathleen sought her fulfillment in having eight children, I sought mine in a career, just as time consuming, busy, and often thankless.

No one teaches us that our children produce lives of their own, or that our lives might not turn out as expected. That, we teach ourselves.

But time does come eventually to put down our pain, so we can live on the other side, in the joy of what our life created when we took it and ran with it. If we put that legacy in writing, it is left to others for the taking. A story like Kathleen’s story becomes a sustaining legacy, more valued than money or property. Our story is an heirloom, an endowment, and a gift.

Despite a world of ideas, no manual on how to live happily ever after has ever been written. There never will be one. With our very lives, we write our own. The gift of our lives, and what we have learned and what we can teach, will be lost unless we share our story.

Kathleen Ann Brush-Jones-Cronk-Meccia laid down her basket one final time on January 27, 2015. But she left each of you a basket to pick up, holding her gift of this story to you.

Kathleen Brush & Buddy James, aka Eric F. James
Kathleen Brush & Buddy James, aka Eric F. James