Thankful Thursday: A Stranger Gives Thanks

Aspen Art Museum 24-Hour Grand Opening, 6:00 am Sunday August 10, 2014Never does a stranger in a strange land feel more strange than when the locals celebrate their various holidays. I say “their” holidays for what have I to make of Thanksgiving?  Having but a tenuous link with the annual feast day, as with most national holidays, it makes little sense to the uninitiated.

Those of us born upon foreign shores certainly go along with it all as best we can, but in our defense – aside from the strange juxtaposition of an extra huge Christmas dinner plonked down on a seemingly random Thursday afternoon in November… nobody quite seems sure just what to make of it all, given the extent of hand-wringing taking place across the land.

Even born and bred Americans seem a little touchy and awkward around the holiday, outright grouchy even, in a way I do not detect when it comes to say 4th of July, New Year’s Day… Christmas even. With big family meals an increasingly rare event these days and I suspect that much of the awkwardness is simply facing up to the “Aw, mom” moment so familiar to previous generations. People actually have to sit at the same table: eat the same food: switch off their handheld devices: look people in the face – while eating… the same food. Big, huge mounds of it.

Author, Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Expressway. MARTIN COONEYThese observations were largely confirmed when I stumbled upon a radio interview with ‘Miss Manners’ the other day and was saddened to hear that the number one question she receives around this time of year is how to ‘get through’ Thanksgiving while avoiding all-out war between feuding relatives. I kid you not. Equally depressing was the sight of a hashtag: #thanksgetting. Thankfully I have no idea just what that pertains to but I doubt it greatly adds to traditional notions of good old humble thankfulness.

But whatever Thanksgiving is and whatever it is not I always aim to make the best of it for me and my little family, not by preempting our lovely Christmas dinner but by joining into what I gather to be the true spirit of the occasion by summoning and revisiting everything we have to be thankful for.

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I only have to recall  the lovely start in life I received in being raised within such a caring family to see just how fortunate. Not exactly what you might call a silver spoon childhood it was nonetheless a largely enjoyable affair thanks to the strong set of values instilled in me by my parents. They of course themselves owed a debt to their parents, and so on.

I greatly appreciate the core values handed down to me by generations of hardworking and determined men and women.

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Family Album 003

The Preston/Blackburn Cooney Clan

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The Cooney's of Blackburn, Lancashire

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Tough Irishmen and women they were – on my dad’s side. That’s my granddad in the middle

Below the young man is now the granddad I remember from the sixties. My Grandma used to give me a thrupenny bit in return for a formal kiss, and off to the local sweet shop’s penny tray I went. Plenty of sweet shops in them days!

Never, ever, ever ever did my Granddad eat anything remotely ‘foreign’ and only once stepped into an ethnic restaurant (by mistake), vowing never to enter a China Caff again as long as he lived.

They both loved their black puddin’ though, I can tell you. Kind people they were – simple in their tastes, satisfied in their needs. Very uncomplicated folks.

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Granddad and Grandma 'Nanny' Cooney, of Preston, Lancashire

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Ruth Cooney,The Templeman Clan, West Country of England.

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Things were a little different on my mother’s side.

I thought I would encapsulate my Thanksgiving thankfulness this year by giving thanks to the fact that although my parents came from vastly different worlds they not only met but fell in love and had thankfully not one but two children.

I suppose one day my son Joseph will be able to tell a similar tale as his father had over 5,000 miles to cover simply to be in the correct place for the miracle to happen, but that’s another story.

Miraculously my parents found themselves living in my home town of Preston despite being born to parents who had no attachment to the place whatsoever.

On my father’s side his father drove a team of horses for a brewery located in Preston’s arch-nemesis town of Blackburn, but as a teetotaler leaped at the chance to work on the railways instead, even if that did mean moving his family to Preston.

My mother’s family, as we shall see, could not have been more different to the Cooneys if it had have been commanded by a script. Just why and how they met, well, read on.

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The Templeman Clan somewhere in the West Country of England.

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Born to a mother of exotic Channel Island French blood my mum lived out a seemingly idyllic early childhood deep within the folds of a large well educated and polished English family, rooted in the happy town-and-country world so familiar to Downton Abbey fans, spoiled by one-and-all from what I can gather.

There she is, right in the middle of things in the photo above… “A proper little madam” I’ve heard say.

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The Templeman Clan somewhere in the West Country of England.

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The Templeman Clan somewhere in theSalvationists. West Country of England.

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John Templeman, Salvation Army Officer

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Renowned as firebrand preachers the Salvation Army kept their officer corps in constant motion for most of their lives – a year or two here, a year or so there. Not surprisingly perhaps given the many talents my granddad could boast: carpenter, cabinet maker, concertina musician, market gardener extraordinaire, Fire and Brimstone preacher… the Templeman clan certainly got around, quite a bit.

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The Templeman Clan somewhere in the West Country of England.

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Always it seems firmly positioned in the center of things my mother told of a quite charmed young life.

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Ruth Cooney, The Templeman Clan, West Country of England.

She told me she absolutely loved her black dollie and would not lend it to anyone, even to hold.

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The Templeman Clan, West Country of England.

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A look of triumph momentarily passes across the young boy’s face but he was later to pay dearly for parting my mother with her favorite doll (dearly).

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The Templeman Clan, West Country of England.

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My mum was to return to the scene of this Channel Island photo many years later. Everything was still there apparently, save for the glass in the greenhouse.

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There can be no doubt about it – for the times the Templemans certainly got around.

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Ruth M Templeman / Ruth Cooney

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So, no shortage (relatively) of Templeman pictures it would seem.

I remember playing as a very young child with the old Box Brownie with which many of these photos were taken. I used to pretend to take my own pictures and people would pose for them! Alas, never was there any film to load. I often wonder just what sort of world they would have illuminated as precious few photos of my own childhood exist.

I knew of all these photos very well of course. I’d sit and pour over a big uncouth biscuit tin of them with my mum, scrounging for tidbits of information.

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James Parker Cooney

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In keeping with most solidly working class families the Cooney family album leans towards the thin side, with the occasional class photo deemed to suffice. My dad would have been not far short of leaving school in the above photo. Nice impish grin, eh?

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Royal Marine James Parker Cooney, outbreak of WWII

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No sooner had James Parker Cooney and Ruth Marguerite Templeman met then World War Two decided to break out. My dad saw the full stint (six years) serving as a Royal Marine.

Little did the young man know of the horrors he would witness over the coming years. Along with numerous convoys heading to various Russian ports he traveled out to the Far East, as well as many, many Atlantic sorties… too many to mention by far.

His ship, HMS Scilla, was recently recognized along with its crew – my dad being one of them – for the crucial part it played in the war. He always loved that ship, I think he thought it brought him luck.

As with the majority of his generation he never much talked about the war and downplayed his role dramatically. But during the final years of his life he shared with me many vivid accounts of air attacks, locked bulkheads, appalling fires, burn victims, men floundering in the water, hands too frozen to grasp the grappling nets – left to drown as the convoy steamed ahead – way too many U-boats to even slow down.

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Royal Marine James Parker Cooney, outbreak of WWII

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Shoe shop keepers during WWII, Ruth Cooney 2nd right

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My mum got up to a variety of capers during the war – never staying put with any one thing for too long, including working in this shoe shop. Rum bunch, eh? That’s her, second from the right. She never said so outright but would insinuate that the cocky guy on the right was a bit ‘fresh’ apparently. Not quite as gropingly forthright as his pal on the left though, I’d say. I think she may be making a bit of a point with that ever-so-slight lean.

Occasionally she would sheepishly confess that the war years were indeed the best years of her life. I always attributed this to the quite astonishing freedom young girls her age were suddenly and unexpectedly given – once all the men were ushered off into service.

You could say that my mum liked a good laugh and usually, before too long, got those around her going too (the giggles just came naturally to her, it was a gift).

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Railway Carriage Camper, Ruth 1st left

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One of my favorite mum pictures ↑ Quite a pose I must say. They look a happy bunch. Apparently the Templemans would rent this full sized railway carriage as a getaway camper in the countryside on the outskirts of Preston. The rascals.

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Wedding Photo, James Parker Cooney and Ruth Margaritte Cooney

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Shortly after the conclusions of WWII the Cooneys and the Templemans were united by marriage, as this fine wedding photo amply illustrates. Salvation Army tradition dictated a wedding ‘in uniform’ but my mum was having none of it.

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Newlyweds James P and Ruth M Cooney

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James P Cooney leads the Preston Salvation Army Band

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My dad went on to become the proudest bandleader the world has ever seen as he lead the Preston Salvation Army band throughout the 1960, 70s and 80s. Later he was to teach music to children, a role that gave him equal if not greater pleasure.

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James P Cooney leads the Preston Salvation Army Band

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Newlyweds, James and Ruth Cooney, Church Street, Preston, England

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And so it was that I, along with my brother Michael, were brought into the world.

Martin and Michael Cooney

Yep, I was a big bouncing ball of a baby… weighing in at around 11 lbs at birth.

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Thanksgiving would seem to be the ideal time to give thanks for the things over which we have no control whatever.

Long gone they may be but James P. and Ruth M. Cooney’s legacy continues with my own family. If I am able to pass on the trusted values of honor, love and respect they instilled into me… onto my own son Joseph then I will have played my part, as I have no doubt he will in his turn play his.

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Joseph Cooney, Galena Mountain, Two day hikes from Uncle Bud's Hut, Late September, Colorado, 2014

Handsome Young Joseph

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Kris, Roaring Fork River, Headwaters, Lost Man Trail.

Lovely, Kind, Funny, Sincere Kris

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So very much to be thankful for.

Author, Owl Creek Road Trail, Aspen/Snowmass Village Express. MARTIN COONEY

Lucky, Lucky Boy !

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Until next time, count your lucky stars

thanks for stopping by…

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