Mad in Pursuit Publishing

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I fell in love with Kitty’s people that time the two of us sat in her kitchen, when she told me how her sister died.

And when my mother told me about the wicked stepmother and the cast iron frying pan.

And that afternoon on the picnic bench when Ewald told me about the gangsters.

I fell in love with Kitty’s people when I saw the Edwardsville article about her papa’s job.

And the first time I saw a 1910s newspaper ad for Barrett’s Market.

And whenever my mother told the story of that deep scar along her arm and ribs.

Kitty Flanagan was my grandmother, known famously to the world of her grandchildren as Kitty Mom. Kitty’s people and their tales of faithfulness and fortitude grabbed our hearts.

My mother Kathleen adored her Irish-American family and took great pride in her mother’s joie de vivre in the face of hardship. She researched and organized the first set of information, then passed her work on to me.

What a gift.

Family history research became my meditation, its revelations strongest when my mind was quiet. And when the revelations came, I could feel the loving presence of Kitty and her people.

In 2020, my mother died just before her ninety-fifth birthday and just before the pandemic plunged us into isolation, leaving me to grieve with my folders full of notes and photos.

One evening, as I sifted through family documents for the umpteenth time, I stopped at a great-uncle’s death certificate—cause of death: delirium tremens. I’d seen it before—the sad consequence of chronic alcoholism. But times being slow, I meditated on every line of the death certificate and consulted all my family timelines. What chain of events led him to despair and landed him in City Hospital, dying an agonizing death, with no family by his side? Suddenly, I knew. Suddenly, I felt a heartbreaking moment of communion with him. I hadn’t known him before, but now I loved him.

Then came the question: Who can I tell? Who will share my insight and shed a tear with me? The timelines and fact-filled blog posts I’d uploaded over the years felt too bland for what my heart knew.

But I needed to share, not a single moment in time, not a single insight, not a single sorrowful profile, but the whole saga—all the moments, all the epiphanies, all the intertwined fates of Kitty and her people.

So many facts will be forever unknowable, but could I write the legend? Could I say, given what we do know, here’s how the life and times of Kitty and her people probably looked and sounded?

Think of tapestry restoration.

Real people and actual events are the fragments of an ancient tapestry, excavated over time from the vast dig of old archives, and gently laid out on plain linen, waiting for the wise application of storytelling methods to complete the picture. The images and their stories are gradually reconstructed with the sturdy yarns of logic; background, filled in with the shape and movement of history; its figures, made vibrant again with the newly spun fibers of scenes and dialogue.

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Was I up to this epic task?

Then, I had a dream. I sat at the dining room table with my mother and she took my hand in hers, a gesture of love and confidence. I knew she’d stick with me on this project.

For months, I wrote. For months, I checked my research and hunted for more insights. Mapped every address. Checked every weather report. Scanned old newspapers for popular clothing styles, from corsets to fur coats. I was surprised at how often I dug up another original patch of weaving for my tapestry, something that fit in and connected one ragged fragment of the legend with another.

Whether my “restorations” came from a mystical connection to my ancestors or from deep in my own unconscious, I don’t know. Part of me wants to think the experience of my forebears is encoded deep in my DNA, slowly revealed by walking with them through fifty years of history.

Although the restoration storytelling is clearly mine, I tried to push aside any preconceived themes or messages about women, the Irish, the Catholics, big families, or small businesses. In letting Kitty’s people become characters who tell their own stories, some mystery remains, some holes in the saga that neither the data nor the logic can fill in, mysteries that will continue to disturb and raise questions.

But here is the legend. And like many legends, it begins with a chance encounter.


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Books from Mad in Pursuit and Susan Barrett Price: KITTY'S PEOPLE: the Irish Family Saga about the Rise of a Generous Woman (2022)| HEADLONG: Over the Edge in Pakistan and China (2018) | THE SUDDEN SILENCE: A Tale of Suspense and Found Treasure (2015) | TRIBE OF THE BREAKAWAY BEADS: Book of Exits and Fresh Starts (2011) | PASSION AND PERIL ON THE SILK ROAD: A Thriller in Pakistan and China (2008)