Her Majesty, Queen Medb (aka Catherine Frances Morry)
There is a streak of the unusual, not quite madness, but certainly eccentricity, that infects many of the women of the Morry clan. Aunt Catherine, or Kate, or Queen Medb in her alternate persona, was a living example of this phenomenon. I used to think that it was passed down from our Scottish grandmother, Fredris Minty, but then I came to realise that it is a common condition amongst the female descendants of my great Uncle John too. And since his wife, Liz Sesk, was also of Celtic (Irish) roots, I have now come to believe that it is gene which is common in many women of that tribe.
Unfortunately, stories do not abound of the antics of the female children of Howard and Fredris Morry in their youth so I cannot say if this was something that was manifested from the earliest days, even in a somewhat conservative, but equally superstitious community on the Southern Shore. I suspect that it was. Stories do abound of the second sight demonstrated by Mom Morry. She was widely believed to be fey or possessed of some mysterious powers to see things unseen by the senses and foretell events that could not be anticipated based on fact and present events. She was known to set an extra place at table and when asked why she was doing so, she would say so-and-so is coming and, almost invariably that person would arrive though there was no reason to believe that they were in fact due for arrival.
Whether Aunt Catherine inherited these abilities or adopted behaviour consistent with it because of her mother’s nurturing is hard to say, but she was certainly one of the most flamboyant of the Morry women and capitalised on her heritage at every opportunity.
The Early Years
Catherine was the fourth and second last of the daughters of Howard and Fredris Morry. In characteristic manner, she refused to admit this and insisted that she was born after her younger sister, Priscilla, who died of pneumonia at two years of age. And typically, no amount of evidence to the contrary would persuade her to admit the fact. Of course, nearly all women lie about their age from time to time, but with Aunt Catherine this had nothing to do with vanity. It was simply one of those things she chose to believe and wanted everyone else to accept on her say so.
Priscilla Anne Morry (17 Sep 1930 – 5 Dec 1932)
If one exists, unfortunately I have not been able to find a baby picture of Aunt Kate. The earliest photos available are of her when she was older, always in family photographs. That is her in the middle of the front row below in the only family portrait (albeit a blurred one) which includes her younger sister Priscilla in her mother’s arms.
And here she is with sisters Jean and Elsie in 1934.
In the photo below she is seen taking her little brother, Howard Junior, for a sled ride on the ice over the marsh while sister Phyllis, dressed in their grandfather’s uniform from the Canadian Milita looks on from the fence. That is their grandfather, Thomas Graham Morry’s house in the background.
And that is her below with Dad Morry and her sisters Elsie and Jean and their young brother Howard Junior, (known as Junior or Slim in those days) beside a huge glacial “erratic” left up on the Gaze by the last glaciation.
As we can gather from these photos, the three sisters who were closest in age formed an inseparable trio in those days and got up a certain amount of mischief. In one of his many anecdotes that I have recently committed to paper in hope of having his memoirs published, my father recounts this story about the three of them:
After Sunday Mass, there were usually a number of men who came to our house for an hour or so to talk before going home for their dinner. Dinner was always in the middle of the day, especially on Sunday. They generally sat in the kitchen, particularly in Fall and Winter, as it was the warmest room in the house, and while they talked the women prepared our meal. The top of the old wood stove was covered with pots and pans with vegetables and other food in them.
Above the kitchen was one of our bedrooms where the girls used to sleep and there was a hatch in the floor to let the heat go upstairs, as there was no heating in the rest of the house. The hatch was usually closed by a sliding door during the day, especially when the bedroom was being cleaned and the beds made up.
This particular Sunday, one of my sisters was “making up” the bed and, as it was quite cool in the room, she opened the hatch to let some heat enter from the kitchen. As she spread the sheet on the bed, one of the others was chasing her around and she inadvertently hit the chamber pot with her foot and upset it. Unfortunately, she had not followed my mother’s instructions that before any work was done in a bedroom, the pot was to be emptied, which was the general rule. This sound rule undoubtedly resulted from previous misadventures of the kind.
The liquid contents of the pot flowed across the floor and through the hatch onto a red-hot stove and the four or five big pots which covered it. The roast was in the oven with the boiled pudding getting ready and the vegetables in the pot were doing well up to that point. As the stove hissed and the steam rose, nobody said a word, then the company stood as one, suddenly deciding they had somewhere to go, and bolted from the room in such a hurry that the last two got jammed in the doorway. None of them said a thing and they were too polite to laugh – until they got outside. The sound of distant laughter could be heard above the angry voice of my mother and the uncontrolled laughter of my father, who never believed in “crying over spilt milk”, or spilt urine for that matter.
Needless to say, it was necessary to throw out the food and the pots had to be scoured and boiled many times before they could be used again. The acrid smell persisted in the kitchen for several days and my mother insisted that it be repainted. After the event it was easy to laugh, but at the time of the incident, only the escaped neighbours and my father laughed.
Dad was diplomatic enough not to reveal which of his sisters was responsible for this little disaster!
Adolescence and the wild War Years
Catherine on a blustery day in Ferryland (are there any others?)
In addition to being somewhat eccentric, the Morry women were also known for their good looks and Catherine was no exception. Being younger than her nearest sisters, Elsie and Jean, she was not immediately able to take advantage of this advantage when war broke out, in terms of attracting the attention of all the servicemen from the Empire and the US stationed in Newfoundland, being only eleven at the time. But before the war was over she had matured into a beautiful and, we may imagine, carefree young woman. Here she is with her elder sister and protector, Aunt Phyllis, and Aunt Elsie on the left at Phyl’s house on Springdale St., where the girls stayed when attending business school in St. John’s
Here we see Catherine beside Jack Funkhouser, Mom Morry Jack’s friend, an American sailor named Rutz who frequently came with him to Ferryland, Junior, Elsie and Dad Morry. Would it be unfair to suggest there was a little sibling rivalry going on here?
Here is Catherine with an English sailor named Ken Buby and her ever-protective older sister Phyllis keeping an eye on her.
After the war
Unlike her two closest sisters, Catherine did not marry a serviceman from away. Details are fuzzy on the next phase of her life but it is known that she travelled to Ontario where she married Keith George Belton on September 17, 1950. Their only child, Catherine Margaret Belton, was born there two years later.
Keith Belton with daughter Maggie, 1952
Catherine with daughter Maggie, 1952
According to the very little that Aunt Cate would tell about this part of her life, the marriage was not a happy one and she chose then to move to California with her young daughter. But I also think that, knowing her as I did, the bright lights of Hollywood were a huge draw for her. In any event, she landed on her feet in Hollywood and managed to get a good job in the titles department of Universal Studios where she worked until her retirement.
This glamorous head shot was a publicity photo from her early days with Universal. One wonders if she might not have harboured aspirations for a career before the camera rather than off camera. She certainly had the looks for it.
Here she is at her desk at the Studio.
Aunt Catherine did eventually remarry, to Seymour kay, a restauranteur in Los Angeles but, alas, that marriage did not work out either.
It was during her years working in Hollywood and living in nearby Burbank that Catherine was transformed into Queen Medb. There was a large Celtic community in Los Angeles at the time and they met not only for St. Patrick’s Day parades and parties but also for Ceilidhs, many of which were held at the house in Burbank. Aunt Catherine was convinced that she was of Irish ancestry, or at least told the world that she was. Not surprisingly, the dour Scottish tradition was not to her liking and she disavowed that part of her heritage but was very proud of her Newfoundland roots, associating that as do most people, with the Irish tradition.
Aunt Catherine kept her ravishing good looks and her ebullient manner for the rest of her days, though she despaired somewhat when Barack Obama failed to live up to her expectations and asked me to help her recover her Canadian citizenship so she could move back to Canada. But in the end, I suspect the reality of the cold Canadian winters was too much for her to bear.
Catherine Frances Morry
Born 1 Sep 1928, Ferryland, NL; Died 1 Mar 2011.