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Meatball Cookies and Shortbread

Tom MacPherson grew up

in LeRoy in the 1960s. His

mother was Lena O’Geen

and his father was Mickey

MacPherson, so Tom grew up

in two distinct cultures - one

that enjoyed Italian meatball

cookies at Christmas and the

other that savored Scottish

Shortbread. Several years

ago, Tom contacted the

Historical Society, looking

for genealogical information.

He was embarking on a

fascinating project. Tom is on

the faculty at SUNY Geneseo

and is an artist who paints

with egg tempera. For quite

a while he had focused on

portraits of his family. These

are not ordinary portraits,

because they are filled with

symbols and details that

reflect the personality of the

subject. As Tom learned

about his family, he gathered

stories and notes that he has

crafted into a book: “Crossing

Cultures: A Sicilian and

American Family in Western

New York.” It is a very

interesting story, even if you

don’t know the people.

“Christmas at Grandma’s

House - On Christmas Eve,

Grandma would start cooking

for the feast that followed

Midnight Mass. She would

make one of her famous-

Sicilian-style pizzas that had

a thick homemade crust, that

was seasoned just right with

a combination of oreganos,




pepper and her fabulous

sweet tomato sauce topped

with Romano cheese. There

would be homemade pies,

apple and pumpkin, plus all of

the Italian cookies one could

eat, and of course some Asti

for toasts. Sometimes Aunt

Ida from next door would

send over a plate of breaded

veal cutlet or her delectable

cannolis with little bits of

chocolate and almonds in the

custard filling that everyone

would fight over. But the treat

of all treats was Great Uncle

Tony Argana’s Homemade

Italian sausage, both sweet

and hot. He would only make

his special recipe sausage

during the Christmas season,

and he always sent Grandma

her ration.… As soon as Mass

was over, my cousin, my

aunts, relatives and friends

made their way to Grandma’s

house, where a fabulous feast

would take place. When I got

to be a teenager and really

understood the value of good

food, Christmas with all of its

trappings was a real let down.

The presents were nice, but

Christmas Day couldn’t hold

a torch to the good cheer and

feeling of goodwill that was

felt in the house. By 2:00 a.m.

the party would be winding

down and the dishes would

be finished. As people got

old and others past on, the

tradition was abandoned to

the detriment of all. There was

a feeling that the Christmas

season just wasn’t the same

anymore, and it wasn’t.”

Tom’s book is available

at the Jell-O Gallery shop

for $12. It will make a very

good Christmas present.

There will also be copies

available at LeRoy House

during the Candlelight tours

on December 3 and 4 at 4

p.m. and 7 p.m. each day.

Tom will be joining us on

Sunday, December 4 for

both performances and will

be willing to sign copies of

his book. He’ll be sitting

at the 1944 kitchen table

playing cards with the other

men, enjoying a little home-

made wine and some of Aunt

Mananna’s Meatball Cookies.

(The recipe is in Tom’s book.)

We also have some Italian fig

cookies to share with folks on

the tours.

If you are partial to

Scottish shortbread, some of

those treats will be available

in the 1918 parlor where you

will hear the story of Tom’s

Aunt, Kitty MacPherson,

who served with the Queen

Alexandra’s Royal Nursing

Corps and spent eighteen

months with the British

Expeditionary Forces in

Belgium during World War

I. An excerpt from Tom’s

book: “In retrospect, women

like my great- aunt stepped

out of their roles preordained

by society that kept women as

homemakers and second-class

citizens. They blazed the trail

for women to be considered

in a wholly different light.

Women had been nurses in

previous wars. But they were

never part of the military.

This war was different. The

military provided this avenue

for them to break free of

societal gender barriers. They

were responsible for hundreds

of patients and they saw the

grim realities of war. Women

were patriotic and were

encouraged to be tough, and

they broke the stereotype of

a woman as a delicate mother

or housewife.”

For tickets to the Candlelight

tours, call 768-7433, or

stop by the Jell-O Museum

10 to 4 Monday through

Saturday and Sunday 1 -4.

There are 40 tickets for each

performance - $5 for adults

$3.50 for students.

"The Conversion of Great-Aunt Catherine", 2011

Egg tempera on panel by Thomas McPherson

This is a tribute to Kitty McPherson. The background

is a Scottish landscape which represents her proud

Highland heritage. The dove and hands represent,

in Catholic iconography, the Holy Spirit and God

the Father, and were borrowed from a Verrochio

painting, entitled “The Baptism of Christ."