Parental Influences or Destiny?

Meet the McNall Family – Jessie, Lyndon, Kay and Neil –

On the Boardwalk in Ventnor, NJ  – 1957

In honor of this special day, I wanted to share a story or two about my parents, Neil and Kay McNall.  They met in Burlington, Vermont in 1938 at a boarding house where they shared meals.  Neil was a graduate student in American History at the University of Vermont while Kay served as the Chairman of the Music Department for the Burlington School District and directed the high school choir.  They were married in a storybook wedding in 1941 on June 20th – 71 years ago today.  Below is a photo of their 50th wedding anniversary which was celebrated royally in Pleasant Gap, PA at the Pl. Gap United Methodist Church.  They both possessed sterling characteristics and were admired by many people.  Dad began teaching American history at Penn State in 1947.  They bought a comfortable house at the end of Sunset Avenue in Pleasant Gap and nurtured my brother and me to love music, be polite, and to be socially conscious.  Mom was a founding member of The State College Choral Society in 1949 and a beloved elementary music teacher in State College, PA beginning there in 1957 just as the baby boomers were beginning to overcrowd the schools.  They retired in 1979 and had time to enjoy their grandsons and garden which was a masterpiece of color, fragrance, and harmony.  Dad passed in 1994 and Kay in 2009.   Kay lived her last year and a half with my husband and me in our home in Perry, NY.  In March of 2009, she and I spent the night at Highland Farm sleeping in Oscar and Dorothy’s bedroom  – now the South Pacific Suite.  I’m so grateful that we were able to share that wonderful experience there together both as mother and daughter and former music teachers.

Both Kay and Neil respected the R&H musicals and made sure that Lyndon and I listened to the records, attended the movies, and knew our unique connection with Maria Von Trapp (See THE BEGINNING post in Feb. archives).  Of course, as many of you know, our Grandpa McNall was Maria’s mailman in Stowe, VT.  Now as if that wasn’t enough glory, our other family brush with greatness was with none other than Mahatma Gandhi.  Grandpa Heinrich was a missionary in India and he and Gandhi corresponded about Grandpa’s work with the Untouchables.  In fact, Gandhi met the whole family at a train station (I wish I knew where in India) because he wanted to meet Grandfather John Heinrich in person.  My Aunt Marthie liked to mention that Gandhi was wearing a Mickey Mouse watch.  The oldest of four children, my mother who vividly remembered the meeting with Gandhi in their train car, had also worked with Maria and the Trapp Family Singers when they performed in Burlington, VT.

Although I admired my dad very much, we weren’t very close so I chose Oscar Hammerstein as a surrogate mental father for me.  By the age of  7 years old (in the photo above), I already had a close relationship with him.  I knew all the lyrics to Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, and The King and I.  I had already been influenced by the women in the stories and had chosen them to model.  Don’t ask me why.  I just think that I was born (on the fourth of July) to celebrate Oscar and his love of innate goodness.  Fortunately, my parents were the perfect parents for me giving me a sound music background and a socially conscious sense of our universal family.

I’m not the only child who adopted Oscar.  Certainly Stephen Sondheim did as indicated in the previous post interview. And just recently, I was introduced to Cyndi from San Diego who also had a childhood relationship with him.  Only hers was the real McCoy.  I’ll let her share that special story in a future blog post.  Suffice it to say, quoting Sondheim’s song “Children Will Listen”, children are searching for models who listen, teach, and inspire.  Fortunately, these parenting qualities expressed in infinite ways find us as children and guide us towards our destiny.  We only need to be “carefully taught” according to Oscar “before we are six or seven or eight.”  I’m so grateful for my parents – for all parents – who help point out the way.

June 20, 1991

Kay and Neil’s 50th Anniversary musical version of “This Is Your Life” starring family and friends.

What joy!

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3 thoughts on “Parental Influences or Destiny?

  1. This is lovely, Jessie! You and your mom both have the same beautiful smile. I liked seeing you and Lyndon as kids, too.

  2. Thanks, Cyndi. You’re sweet. It is really fun to have these memories recorded like this. My dad used to write a family letter every month to all the relatives. I feel like having a blog is a bit like that. We were alike in many ways. Hope to see you this summer.

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