Residents and guests often comment on Homeland’s home-like atmosphere, where everyone feels like family.
Now, two residents in facing rooms have taken the family theme one step further, discovering not only that they have roots in the same rural enclave but are first cousins by marriage. What are the odds? Who knows? But it all centers around the tiny village of Reward in Perry County, Pennsylvania.
The residents are Patty McGowan and Loretta Jean McCauley, and their coincidental discovery started with a laundry mix-up. One day, Loretta Jean sent her granddaughter to Patty’s room, right across the hall, with some mismarked laundry. Could these be Patty’s? Yes, indeed. They even included Patty’s favorite blouse.
Patty crossed the hall to thank Loretta Jean for returning the blouse. They got to talking, and Patty asked where Loretta Jean was born. Reward, she said. Patty immediately knew the connection. Her husband’s family came from Reward, and she grew up nearby.
“When she said Reward, I thought, ‘I know who this is. I know how this happened,’” says Patty. “I knew about her. There’s nobody else who could have been born there. Her dad was a brother of my father-in-law’s.”
The pieces fell into place. Loretta Jean was a McGowan by birth, first cousin to Patty’s husband, the late Jim McGowan. Their dads belonged to a clan of 11 siblings, including the brothers who operated farms “that all ran together,” as Patty recalls.
Patty grew up playing with her future husband, his sister, and all the other kids around, so it’s likely she and Loretta Jean crossed paths as children.
“The big times were when the church had something going on because our lives were pretty much church-based,” remembers Patty. “Every little church had their own festival, and each church would go to the other church’s festival.”
Loretta Jean was 9 when her mother died, and she left home to live with relatives. At 15, her father remarried, and she returned to live with him and her stepmother, “who was a very lovely person,” she says. “She couldn’t have treated me more like one of her own.”
As an adult, Loretta Jean lived in Harrisburg’s Camp Hill area. Reconnecting with Patty, who stayed in Perry County and maintained childhood friendships, brought back memories.
“She knew so many of the people in that area where I lived,” she says. “She knew all my dad’s brothers and sisters, which is unusual to know such a big family. It was quite amazing.”
The cousins both enjoy life at Homeland. McCauley likes the food and playing bingo. McGowan, a singer all her life, loves the wide variety of music programs.
“I like it very much here,” McGowan says. “I like the people. I like the place. I like the food. I like everything.”
Finding a relative has enhanced the pleasant times at Homeland, they say.
“I had no idea she knew so much about the people on my side,” says McCauley. “It’s weird that it happened that way.”
And as McGowan says, “It’s a good feeling in your heart to know you’re not alone. There’s still somebody out there who’s a part of you.”