Ethel May Cuffe was born September 14, 1881, in Olean, New York to Anthony More Cuffe and the former Mary Jane Mc Cleary. She had three sisters, Caroline, Martha and Florence and two brothers George Clayton and Ezra.
She was a natural aristocrat. She had the tastes, manners, dignity and other characteristics of one having been born in to nobility. She knew she was not common and that was reflected in everything she did. She tried to impart that way of thinking to her offspring and encouraged us to uphold certain standards in our activities and in the company we chose to keep.
Ethel was a product of the Victorian Era which required a housewife to keep her home company ready and cheerful , to decorate with taste, to entertain gracefully, to bring prestige to her husband , nurture her children, set moral standards for her family, improve her own knowledge and cultural abilities , shop wisely and economize smartly. She did all of these things and more.
She made her own bread, many loaves at a time. I could smell it baking as I walked home from the bus stop after school. Most of her recipes were from scratch. She made home made donuts which she called "Fried Cakes" which were sometimes sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon. She was famous for her lemon meringue and apple pies. She made beef stew with dumplings, a terrific corned beef hash(always served with applesauce) and some nutmeg flavored cupcake/muffins with a shiny glazed top that haunt my memory till this day. Every night at supper hot tea was served, steeped in an old teapot from loose tea leaves. Ethel would make quite a ritual of "reading" the leaves left in everyones cup and telling our "fortunes".
She was very artistic which was demonstrated in the many lovely pieces of china she hand painted. She was also an avid seamstress and made many beautiful articles. I used to love rummaging through her big round sewing box to find a few brightly wrapped english toffee's she kept squirreled away there. She was well read and was fond of classical music. After she was married she took a trip to California with a wealthy friend of hers, Nell, who showed her a wonderful time. She came home with many stories to tell of her adventure .
Ethel had a good sense of humor and was not above telling a little off color joke from time to time. She loved dressing up on Halloween. One time when I was little she dressed up as a "Mammy" with black face makeup and rag curlers in her hair and scared the pants off me when she came around the corner of the building in the dark.
She made home a good place to be. She gave up a lot for us. She was devoted to her parents as well as the rest of her family.
Every spring she would have large urns overflowing with colorful pansies and geraniums. There were also huge fragrant lilac bushes as well as holly hocks and lily of the valley in her yard.
As a child she would dress her cat up in baby clothes and push it up and down the street in a doll carriage.
As a young woman she dressed in the Gibson Girl style. Soft dark hair piled in a chignon, flowing skirt hiked up just a bit in back with just a hint of bustle, tightly corseted wasp waist, hourglass figure, poised and well bred with a flash of mischief in her brown eyes . Ethel was a true beauty. She needed no make up and used only a regular lead pencil to fill in her eyebrows a little.
She worked as a telephone operator before marrying Clair Blanchard in 1904. She had two children, Mary Florence(Virginia) and Donald Clair (Donn), four grand children and many great and great great grandchildren.
She kept her great style to the end. Always dressing as though she were going to the Country Club even if only going to the grocery store.
She had an innate ability to gravitate to the best areas. She came to live in Winter Park, Florida which is a very upscale community and then moved to Coral Gables, Florida which is also not for anyone financially challenged. She had fine furniture and decorated in the traditional style. Yet she did all her own housework including laundry with the old wringer washer and hung it out on the line.
There is so much more to say about Ethel. She passed away March 16, 1963, less than 3 months after her lifelong sweetheart, Clair. (Their song was "Let Me Call You Sweetheart") She was one of a kind. I am so glad I had the opportunity to know her and learn from her. She was truly the beloved Matriarch of our family.
I love you, Grandma. Now I understand.
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