She was a poet and our family historian
Elizabeth (Liz) Major was one of ten children of William James Major and Mary Ann O'Neill, a couple who emigrated to the United States from Ireland shortly after they were married in 1865. They settled in Skaneateles Falls, New York.
Liz was the self-appointed family historian. She was proud to be the daughter of an O'Neil and loved to tell the story behind the O'Neil family crest and the Legend of the Red Hand.
Liz kept in touch with other family members into her 80s, sending long, rambling letters that covered current events, reminiscences of childhood events, stories about family members who'd recently married, given birth or died, plus comments about popular culture. Liz kept up with everything. She also loved expressing herself in verse. Her exchanges with my father, Buster Major, were like two poets playing Can You Top This? A poetry slam before its time.
For several years Liz and her sister Sadie, better known as Sate, shared a home in Skaneateles Falls. They were entertainingly eccentric and would have been at home performing "Arsenic and Old Lace."
MY FAVORITE Liz recollection is an incident from the years after Sate's death. True story, though the quote may not be exactly correct.
By then Liz was living by herself. She was alone in her backyard one day when she noticed a young man strolling toward her house. Suspicious, Liz went after the man and shooed him off her property, realizing too late he had been there to read her electric meter.
Recovering quickly, Liz went into her house and called Niagara-Mohawk Power Company.
"I want to apologize for something that happened a few minutes ago," she said. "One of my cousins is visiting; she's old and a bit crazy. A nice young man stopped at my house to read the meter, but before I could stop her, my cousin chased him away."
Among the papers left to me by my mother was an undated article from The Catholic Sun, the official newspaper of the Syracuse Diocese. The article chronicled the Irish influence in Skaneateles, New York, and was largely based on the experience of William James Major and his wife, Mary O'Neil.
The article stated that, at Easter, William Major told his children a special story, "The Easter House," about a little house Irish children made during Holy Week. By looking through it, William Major said, "one could see the sun dance on Easter morning in honor of the Resurrection."
Many years later his daughter Elizabeth put the story into verse which was published by the Catholic Sun. Here is a portion of that verse that accompanied the article my parents saved. This is Liz Major, the poet, at her very best: