A Little Matter of My Ancestral Heart

My great grandmother sat on top of the piano.   Her piercing ice-blue eyes mesmerized and hypnotized me, and no matter where I stood in my grandmother’s farmhouse parlor, those eyes in that oil painting saw me.  Sitting at the piano bench beside my grandmother as she practiced her hymns for Sunday church, I was in-tranced by the angelic face above me, Clara Olinda Osborne King, watching over us while I sang in ardor as my grandmother played “Bringing in the Sheaves.” My grandmother, who I affectionately called mam-maw, told me many times, when I was as young as six years old, that I reminded her of her own mama, that woman sitting on top of the piano.  

Clara Olinda Osborne King was born October 15, 1885, in Grayson County, Kentucky.  She was an educated woman and I have her Common Schools Diploma to prove it. The diploma confirms that she had completed the prescribed course of studies in Spelling, Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, English Grammar, English Composition, Geography, History of the United States, History of Kentucky, Physiology & Hygiene, Elements of Civil Government, and she had successfully passed the test endorsed by the Kentucky State Board of Examiners. In rural America, where farming was the common way of life, women were primed to be the support of the farmer husband and to do the manual work required on the farm. Completing an education before marriage was often not accomplished. Clara, though, after completing her studies, somehow made her way to Oldham County, Kentucky, 100 miles away from her birth home of Grayson County, where she would live and teach all ages of children in the one-room school house in the rural county countryside.

The photos I have of my dear great-grandmother, Clara, testify that she was more than slightly beautiful. She was breathtaking. Clara’s own mother, my great-great grandmother, Ruth Angeline Jacobs Osborne, was also a stunning and lovely woman; a beauty, who according to family folklore, won a county fair beauty contest, and married a man ten years younger than herself; a cougar, ahead of her time.  Dear Angeline left this earth at a mere forty years young, and soon after, in that exact same year that she died, her husband, Arthur Osborne, remarried. To this day, I cannot find the grave where my great-great grandmother Angeline was laid to rest. It is a mystery.  Clara, her daughter, was only five years old when her mother, Angeline Jacobs, died.

 I imagine that it must have been a very exhilarating time for 20-year-old Clara, venturing out to a new rural county in 1905 to become the community school teacher, marking her independence and womanhood. According to my mam-maw and my aunts, their mother, Clara, was a writer and poet.  I have a poem she wrote for my mam-maw’s class picnic in Clara’s lovely handwriting, and it is my beautiful treasure.  I imagine that Clara spent her free time writing, and singing in the church choir, and that she taught children how to read, and to love and appreciate poetry and art and humanities. I think she may have fancied pretty dresses and smelled of lavender and rose. I see her washing her hair in rain water and using a rock from the creek as a pumice for her slender feet. I see her gathering wild daisies and Queen Anne’s Lace from the fields, just as I gathered flowers when I’d run the hills of my mam-maw’s Kentucky farm. Who wouldn’t love a beautiful bouquet in the sweet summers in Kentucky?  Maybe Clara even wore flowers in her hair at the church social. 

Family folklore has it that my dear great-grandmother Clara met my great-grandfather Leander King at a church picnic on a Sunday afternoon. I wonder who caught whose fancy first. Leander King was very handsome, a striking man, thin and fit, and a farmer. He was also a widower at the time of their acquaintance. It was a coincidence that his dearly departed first wife’s name was also Clara (Clara Hannah Wilhoit) and not so uncommon, Clara Hannah Wilhoit was his cousin.

I like to imagine that the courtship of Leander King and Clara Osborne was a love story fit for the Lifetime Television. I wonder if this meeting was one of sparks at first sight, or if it was a long, lovely courtship. Leander lost his first wife in 1905, the same year that Clara received her diploma and set out for the new landscape of teaching.  I have nothing but my imagination on their puritan romance, but according to established records, Leander King, age 38, and Clara Olinda Osborne, 23 years old, were married on March 4, 1908, and their first child, my mam-maw, Josie Margaret King, was born November 18, 1908.

So begins my great grandmother’s life of motherhood and farmwife life. Upon marriage, Clara had to give up her position as teacher. It was against the law for a married woman to teach children.

In July 1910, Clara gave birth to her second child, Odella. 1913 blessed Leander and Clara with their first and only living son, James, the third child. In April 1914, along came Mary Edna King, their fourth child. One year later, June 1916, Zella Lorena King is born as their fourth daughter and fifth child.

In 1918, my sweet great grandmother, Clara. gave birth to twins, Robert and Louise, who were both stillborn. 1919, Minnie Myrtle King was born as their sixth living child.  In November 1920 Leander and Clara welcomed Aline, their seventh child.  March 1923, Grace, their eighth child arrived. September 1925, Martha, eighth daughter, ninth child.  Myra, born in 1926, was the tenth living child.  In May 1930, Clara gave birth to another stillborn named John Milton King. Family stories say that Myra recalls walking into a room with her oldest sister, Josie, and seeing the dead newborn. Myra was heartbroken because she wanted a baby doll. Clara had given birth to three children stillborn and ten living children, over the span of twenty-two years.  My dear Clara, the beautiful oil painting on the piano, spent most of her adult living life with a baby in her belly.

All while bearing children, Clara was a farmer’s wife.  Some speculate that having children was a strategic move to man the farm. Perhaps that is true. Today we women know the effects of giving birth on our bodies.  I imagine that Clara suffered some negative effects, but kept silent in that puritan way in the early 1900s, as she was birthing a child almost yearly. Childbirth may have taken a toll on her heart. Clara was 54 years young when she passed on in 1940.  Her husband, 15 years older, lived 82 years, and passed on in 1952.

My mam-maw, Josie Margaret, the oldest of the King children, always had such love and adoration in her voice when she spoke of her mama, Clara. I know that books were treasures, and reading was encouraged by Clara.  My mam-maw had her mama’s books at the farmhouse.  I can still smell those wonderful readers with yellowed pages, and feel the cloth covers. My aunt Rena, Zella Lorena, born in 1916, taught me how to write a poem as she said her mama Clara taught her how to write poems.  Aunt Rena said Clara practically sang her poems when she read them aloud. Aunt Rena and I would make rhymes as we did the dishes together at her house when I visited her when I was younger than ten.  It all felt so familiar to me.

I never gave birth to a child. I’ve had children in my life who found me and needed a mother to teach them things.  I’ve taught a few children how to use their voices in writing, and I fed a few of them for well over a decade. I was particularly drawn to a family of thirteen children in my community.  I made my way into their home, and the mother of the family came to call me a guardian of a few of her children.  Nothing legal was ever done.  I just became known as their blonde mom.

I love poetry and creative writing and the performing arts.  I sometimes feel as if I’m from another time, another place other than my own body.  I often have dreams of a farm I’ve never visited. I am very comfortable sitting in the dark as the sun goes down, with only candlelight to read a book or write a few words.  Flowers speak to me as do natural fragrances of herbs, fruits and spices.

I’ve lived in a big city for half my life and yet I am still connected to the farm as if it’s just around the corner from me, as if I can step into it at any time and be totally at home. I make my suburban home a farm house with flowering gardens. I feel so at home digging in the dirt, and singing songs as I dig.

Clara Olinda Osborne King and I are direct descendants of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is our ancestor. We are pilgrims and poets by nature.  This is in our DNA. We can know so much about ourselves if we study our ancestors and know their stories.

Some of us believe in reincarnation, the idea that spirits who leave before they are ready will find a way to return and re-live a life unfinished. I was my mam-maws best friend for many years as I grew up.  I taught her how to drive when she was 72 years old, and my granddad had passed on, when I was barely of driving age. I took my mam-maw to church every Sunday before I moved to New York, and then when I was home for visits.  I’d help her clasp her pearls for church. My aunts would tell me my grandmother called me her angel.  When my aunts would speak with me, they each one looked into my eyes intensely. They recognized something in me, something inquisitively familiar.

My dear great grandmother Clara died as stated on her death certificate of pulmonary tuberculosis and chronic myocardial infarction.  I have a mysterious scar on my lung, and all my life, it has puzzled and alarmed my doctors. I definitely have a fragile heart and I protect it in all I do. Her name was Clara. My name is Carla.

I Am

Written by Jude Oxios, my brilliant nephew

I am a boy

I wonder how fast I am

I hear a car

I see a computer

I want to go to Disney World

I am a boy

I pretend to be a scientist

I feel happy

I touch my blanket

I worry if I am going to be late for the bus

I cry at my house

I am a boy

I understand I must do my homework

I say I want to go on the couch

I dream about angels and rainbows

I try to do my best

I hope you like my poem.

Garden of Love

Written for Carla Hall D’Ambra for Mother’s Day 2020 by Randall Taylor, poet

If flowers were a language
I’d tell you she speaks in daisies,
And sings in daffodils.

She dresses in roses,
And smiles in sunflowers.

Her eyes are oceans of determination
With powerful waves that refuse to let
me drown.

Her light shines like marigolds in the summer.
Her love spreads like the petals from a dandelion making wishes come true
whenever possible.

She dances in cherry blossoms throughout towns and cities
With her beautiful goldenrods
Flowing in the cool spring breeze like she’s in the fields
Of Kentucky all over again.

If flowers were a language
She could only be translated in love.
With thorns of strength,
And roots of hope,
I’m glad I was able to grow in the garden called Mom.

by Randall Taylor

My Mother, Myself

Celebrating my mother today, Scottye Hall. A little bit June Cleaver, a little bit Betty Draper. I love this woman more than I can ever express in words and I’m so thankful that she still gives me her “mom-isms” that keep me on track.  From times when Paris is burning, her “Everything will be alright” answer, to if I’m hurt, cut, bleeding, it’s her classic “Just put some lotion on it.” When my mom sewed my clothes, they were always special pieces that I wore till threads. She respected my love of lace, tulle, floral prints, and twirly dresses. She always made me pretty. When my mom baked a cake, it was the most glorious and delicious creation. Everything was made from scratch and our kitchen always lingered in sugary, caramel aromas. I knew early on she had a direct line to Jesus because she could whip up a fantastic feast with a loaf and some fishes. My mom knew me well. She designed and created my bedroom with pink and white polka dots, a pink and white gingham skirted dressing table with an eyelet lace stool top made out of a pizza tin, and a whisky barrel that made my room smell deliciously oaky and sweet. She is a great designer and very creative. Somehow my mom taught me to be independent without stripping away the traditional values we live by. I love her so much. Things fly out of my mouth that sound just like her. When I bring this to her attention, my mom just rolls her eyes. I think she knows she did her job well. Our running joke that I ask her almost daily, “Am I good daughter?” She says, “YES, you are a WONDERFUL daughter! Am I a good mother?” I say, “YES, you are the BEST mommy, momma, mom, mother in the WORLD!” Then we both crack up laughing! She is my mother. She is me and I am her.

The Rinfret Group, Interior Design

by Carla Hall D’Ambra


Walking into The Rinfret Group design studio late one August afternoon was a breath of fragrant, fresh air. A delicious candle permeated the room, and it was perfect for the late-summer season. Not too much, not too little. Simply, undeniably perfect.

Meeting Denise Rinfret and Missy Rinfret Minicucci, the creative duo of The Rinfret Group was also a breath of fresh air. Denise, beautiful, blonde, sun-kissed tanned, and the mom of this mother/daughter collaboration, greeted me at her office door with a genuine, welcoming warmth and I immediately felt right at home. Missy, her daughter, gorgeous and blonde, wearing a classic shift the color of a yummy orange popsicle, entered the office from another room, glowing with vivacious energy. It is at once apparent that both these ladies have impeccable style, but what is also so evidently striking is their graceful presence.

Denise Rinfret has been designing for twenty-five years. She grew up in Manhattan and attended high school in New York City. Her father took her to art classes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and they toured all the museums together as she was growing up. Her cultured childhood influenced her tastes in art and fashion. As we chatted, Denise spoke fondly and softly of her wonderful relationship with her father. Her dad passed on recently, and like any loving daughter, she is devastated. Denise keeps a beautiful, timeless black and white photograph of herself with her father, sitting on her desk directly beside her computer screen so her dad is always in her eye’s view.

Denise Rinfret describes The Rinfret Group style as an elegant and refined look. The lines are clean, with tailored upholstery and classic furniture pieces.   Denise has been featured in The New York Times, Newsday, and many publications such as House Beautiful, Traditional Home, Better Homes & Gardens, House and Gardens,and Distinction Magazine, winning the Designer of Distinction Award from the latter publication in both 2000 and 2007. Better Homes & Gardens has referred to Denise Rinfret as a “rising star” and as a “designer worth watching.” She has also contributed to design books Decorating On A Dime and Breaking The Rules. Denise has appeared on Good Morning America and her Hamptons Designer Showcase Kitchen was featured on LNBC’s LX New York. Her kitchen in the Inspired Designs Showcase was featured in November 2009, and Traditional Home Magazine has named the The Rinfret Group as notable designers in 2010, 2012, and 2015.

Missy, who could quite possibly be a Lilly Pulitzer muse, or a J. Crew catalog model, and the other half of the Rinfret design team, describes The Rinfret Group style as traditional with a modern twist and a sense of humor. “We love beautiful, traditional lines and classic decor, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” laughs Missy Minicucci.

Missy Rinfret Minicucci spent her childhood immersed in the design world. She spent her weekends at design showcase houses and weekdays with her mom, Denise, in New York City at the D&D Building and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her grandfather was an architect and put a pencil in Missy’s hand, teaching her to draw, so it was assumed that Missy would indeed follow her mom’s path in the interior design world.   While studying at Fairfield, Missy interned in finance, and worked for a hedge fund in Greenwich.   She found herself daydreaming about being in the studio with her mother working on design projects, so she decided to take some time off and help with her mom’s design business. Missy became so passionate about design that she enrolled in New York School of Interior Design and she never looked back. After design school, Missy worked on her own, first with a Manhattan designer, and for the luxury Italian furniture company, B&B Italia, as well as the renowned fabric company, Cowton & Tout. Missy’s influence is Mario Buatta, and after working in the design world on her own, she feels right at home working with her mother and bringing in young, fun New York City clients.


The Rinfret Group has a distinguished list of clientele in Manhattan, Long Island and Connecticut. They have worked with Nancy Shevell, aka Mrs. Paul McCartney, Frank Pellegrino of the famous Manhattan restaurant Rao’s, and they recently did the Manhattan penthouse of shipping executive Doris Ho. Denise and Missy do large-scale projects and they also do design work on studio apartments. Their clients are business executives, notable stars, as well as local neighbors. The Rinfret Group has a modern but classic approach to their work and their rooms are highly identifiable as a Rinfret room.


Denise and Missy are currently working on a design project for the Ronald McDonald House. As we discuss the project, both women are animated and excited. “We love doing projects such as this, said Denise, “and we believe in the mission of the Ronald McDonald House.”   As Missy shows me the idea board for the project, she speaks sweetly of the creative choices they’ve made for the room. And like everything else about The Rinfret Group, it’s not too much, and it’s undeniably perfect.

First published in 25A Magazine, 2015