Pat and Alice Rooney's seven kids are adults now with families of their own, spread across the United States, from Indiana to Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, with one right here in Warwick. Despite the miles between them, Liz, Susan, Barb, Patrick, Theresa, Michael, and Kevin all stayed connected throughout the early days of the pandemic in 2020.
The youngest, Kevin Rooney says there are two obligatory family gatherings: one is Thanksgiving, and the other, Ocean City on the New Jersey shore every summer, where their grandparents vacationed since time immemorial. The Covid pandemic changed that tradition, but lockdown and Zoom created opportunities for more family gatherings than the Rooney siblings had experienced in years.
Last March Susan Snyder (née Rooney) of Warwick invited her six siblings, four adult children, and their families to participate in online competitions for ten consecutive weeks. Her inspiration was The Getty Museum challenge to re-create famous works of art.
During lockdown, when hours dragged into days and days blended into weeks and weeks blurred into months, family members looked forward to Monday mornings when Susan posted the results on her Facebook page.
Artist by nature and graphic designer by trade, Susan had a captive audience during Covid. For the inaugural competition in March, 2020 the family accepted the Getty Museum challenge to re-create a famous work of art.
"We had no expectations," Susan says, and describes the new versions of the masterpieces as "nothing short of amazing."
Susan's niece, Alena Rooney, appears as The Girl With the Pearl Earring, by Johannes Vermeer, as if someone breathed life into the canvas. Alena's cousin, Shannon Stauffer, portrays the triumphant young girl with a well-earned black eye outside the principal's office in Norman Rockwell's "Shiner."
In another Norman Rockwell interpretation, Liz's husband, Gary Metroka, a retired Indiana State Trooper, shares the lunch counter with a teddy bear in his interpretation of "Runaway."
Perhaps the siblings' great-aunt, Virginia Moore is their muse, whose own Madame Butterfly-esque "The Flapper" image adorns the February 2, 1922 cover of Life Magazine.
Throughout the weeks, the Rooney family trait, a slightly competitive nature, was evident. "We like to 'one-up' each other," Kevin says with a wink.
Week two summoned the siblings' skills in renaming a movie in a Covid vein, a suggestion of The Tonight Show's Jimmy Fallon, who proposed "Love Actually" become "Gloves Actually," and "Fifty Shades of Gray" change to "Fifty Shades of Gray Hair."
The creative juices began flowing. Susan's husband, Morgan Snyder, reduced "The Whole Nine Yards" to "The Whole Six Feet," the actors all donning face masks.
"Stay at Home Alone," niece Karsen Rooney's revised version of "Home Alone," armed the young actor with a roll of toilet paper and a bottle of hand sanitizer. Disney's "101 Dalmatians" was reworked as "101 Vaccinations" by niece Jackie Metroka.
From the film's soundtrack, B. B. King's song of the same name, "Stand By Me" morphed into Kevin Rooney's "Don't Stand By Me," rewriting the lyrics, with apologies to B.B. King. Darlin', don't you stand by me, don't stand by me,oh stand away from me, come on, don't stand by me."
Week three dawned with a new mission: recreate an old family photo. Scouring photo albums, another Kevin, nephew Kevin Stauffer, rediscovered a photograph of himself as a child on the beach, in about an inch of water.
Kevin duplicated the photo, completing his ensemble with safety goggles, and the identical facial expression he wore that day on the beach.
Through the magic of photography, with a dose of Rooney creativity, Liz, who wore her mother Alice Rooney's wedding dress, donned it once again. The two women in pearls, a generation apart and separated by time, appear side by side in the church aisle.
Reaching for a photograph taken at a lake when she was about five years old, Barb re-created her summer outfit down to the detail with her accessory, a paper plate. To complete the vintage look, Barb gathered some jute rope and fashioned it to resemble bangs for her forehead.
As the months of Covid restrictions grew tedious, the Rooney siblings continued to mark each week with a new competition.
Liz, the teacher in the family, created an online family quiz for week four.
During week five the Rooneys re-created a book or album cover. For week six the couples dressed as their significant others, and for week seven, the prom.
By this time it was May, Covid restrictions still in place, when Susan and Morgan's first grandchild was born, whom they met on a Manhattan side street through their car window.
As the weather grew colder, meaning more time spent inside, the siblings reunited again to celebrate their mother Alice's memory on her November birthday with a multicourse birthday dinner. Someone produced the old family recipe book. "My kids don't even know these recipes!" Barb realized.
While the main course, Beef Burgundy Stew, simmered in several ovens for three hours, the families visited via Zoom as they prepared dessert, "Devil's Float," an eggless chocolatey confection made by their grandmother, because their grandfather, Aunt Virginia's brother, was allergic to eggs.
Across time zones, the seven siblings simultaneously took their Beef Burgundies out of their ovens. The familiar, rich aroma that filled the kitchens in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island was just as the brothers and sisters remembered at the family dinner table. As they dined together, apart, they basked in the memories of their parents' presence, and probably Aunt Virginia's, too.