Tropical Downpours

7.3.14 ~ Groton, Connecticut

“the calm before the storm” by Barbara Rodgers

Our ancestors spoke to storms with magical words, prayed to them, cursed them, and danced for them, dancing to the very edge of what is alien and powerful – the cold power of ocean currents, chaotic winds beyond control and understanding. We may have lost the dances, but we carry with us a need to approach the power of the universe, if only to touch it and race away.
~ Kathleen Dean Moore
(Holdfast: At Home in the Natural World)

Hurricane Arthur is still to the south of us, and is expected to miss us and head northeast and out to sea. But we are experiencing tropical downpours here in Groton as the outer bands of rain brush by southeastern Connecticut. At 3:00 p.m. we already had 1.9 inches of rain and it is still coming down in torrents.

I often say that I love the excitement of storms, as long as they don’t get too exciting. This one fits the bill. We’ve been keeping a wary eye on this storm since it formed off the coast of Florida and are now relieved that it isn’t going to be too bad. Independence Day parades and fireworks have all been cancelled, but the rest of the weekend promises to be sunny and pleasant.

Will be busy this week getting ready for two big events next weekend, a baby shower for Larisa and a wedding for Tim’s cousin. Before those, a trip to IKEA with Janet. A night out at the Amherst Early Music Festival with Tim. This time we will see “Late Medieval sacred motets and secular love songs performed by award-winning women’s vocal quartet Anonymous 4.” A motet is “a short piece of sacred choral music, typically polyphonic and unaccompanied.” I can’t wait!

John E. White (1905-2001)

Grandfather & Barbara ~ Dennisport, Massachusetts

…photo of Grandfather & me, taken by Larisa…

When we went down to visit Larisa & Dima last month, I was pleasantly surprised to find this picture of my grandfather and me pinned to their wall. Larisa must have taken it on one of our many trips to Cape Cod to see him, sometime between 1996 and 2001, I suspect closer to 1996. In either case, Grandfather was in his 90s when this was taken.

John E. White, my grandfather

Over the years I’ve been writing a biographical sketch about Grandfather on my family history website, which can be read here: John Everett & Emma Freeman (Thompson) White. And I mention him briefly on the Home page of the website.

But I want to tell a story about a very special time Grandfather & I had together, after my grandmother died and he came to visit me.

Grandfather had a mystery in his family history, a well-guarded secret that I discovered while doing some research. His father, Samuel, who married and settled in Abington, Massachusetts, would not answer any questions his sons asked him about where he was born or who his parents were. But, one day, he relented a little and decided to take his sons to meet their grandfather, William White, who lived in Old Mystic, Connecticut.

sextantGrandfather remembered coming to Mystic by train, as a small boy, with his father and his two brothers. From Mystic they took the trolley to Old Mystic and then walked “a great stretch” to his grandfather’s house. The boys slept in the attic and they saw a sextant stored there. The next day they went clam digging. Their grandfather, William, had a wife who was not their grandmother, and they were instructed to call her, “Aunt Martha.” It was the only time they ever went to visit their grandfather.

When Samuel was a child, he was told his mother had died. He did not get along with his stepmother (Martha), so he ran away as a  teenager. But doing some research I discovered the following about his mother, Ellen, in The Stonington Chronology 1649-1949, August 1865:

A scandalous month-while Wm M White of Wolf Neck, Stonington, was on a fishing voyage, his wife eloped with a gay deceiver named Pendleton who is also a deserter from the regular army. She left 2 children, one 6 mos. old, and took with her $500.

Samuel M. White, my great-grandfatherThis was at the end of the Civil War. It seems William & Ellen reconciled for a while after this incident, and had three more sons, but were finally divorced on 26 September 1876, when Samuel, the youngest was three years old.

I also found Ellen four years later, on the 1880 census, age 38, living in the Poor House of Stonington, claiming to be “a widow,” and living there with her were two young illegitimate children, born after she was divorced from William. Their birth records contain statements from William denying paternity.

I often wonder what my 2nd-great-grandparents were like. I don’t feel I can judge Ellen – perhaps William was cold or abusive and she felt driven to find love and comfort elsewhere. Or perhaps she was the irresponsible one, or most likely, they were poorly matched. It’s all very sad and Grandfather was not too pleased to hear about it.

1958 ~ Barbara & GrandfatherWilliam White’s house is just a few miles from where I live now. When Grandfather was visiting me in the summer of 1999, I asked him if he would like to see the house and he was thrilled with my proposal. After we drove down the driveway I decided to knock on the door and ask if the owner would mind if we took some pictures of the house, hoping they might offer to show us the inside, too. No one answered the door but I could hear two women’s voices in a nearby swimming pool. I tentatively found my way over to the pool and did my best not to startle them with my presence.

At first they were puzzled but when I finally managed to explain why we were there they were very excited to come meet my grandfather, who was waiting patiently in the car. They graciously invited us inside and showed us around and explained what changes and additions had been made in recent years. I could tell Grandfather was taking it all in and was deeply moved.

A few days after I drove him home I received a wonderful thank you letter from him. He said his whole being was bubbling with gratitude for the gift I had given him that day. It seemed like a dream to him and he couldn’t believe he had actually been there.

I still miss my grandfather terribly – losing him was one of the hardest things I ever went through. He was the adult who understood me the most, who supported me when I was a passionate, naive and impulsive teenager, and who would listen to my spiritual longings and doubts without judgment. He was a man of quiet strength and wisdom, a gentle spirit.

Happy Birthday, Grandfather!

Aunt Flora’s Rocking Chair

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…Aunt Flora’s rocking chair, newly re-upholstered…

To stir up a bit of family history excitement there is nothing quite like the anticipated arrival of a new twig soon to be grafted onto the family tree. Our new grandchild will be a girl! Larisa has felt her moving and so we are all very excited!

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…Uncle Ed & Aunt Flora…

Aunt Flora was the youngest sister of my 2nd-great-grandmother, Elisabeth Emma (Freeman) Thompson, who died in 1876 at the tender age of 25, of a “stoppage,” when her baby son (my great-grandfather) was only 18 months old.

Susan Flora (Freeman) Swift was born in 1864 and died in 1963 at the age of 99, when I was 7 years old. My grandparents were caring for Uncle Ed, who lived to be 102, and Aunt Flora, at their home in Woods Hole on Cape Cod. I remember these delightful ancient ones very well. They never had children and so doted on my grandmother (the granddaughter of her sister) and her family.

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…Uncle Ed, holding Barbara (me!), sitting in Aunt Flora’s rocking chair…

When I became a mother for the first time my grandmother gave me Aunt Flora’s favorite rocking chair. She had it re-upholstered for me and I spent many happy hours feeding and rocking my babies in it. It’s history meant so much to me. The upholstery eventually wore thin – it was well-used – and my babies grew into adults. I finally stuffed it away in storage.

But it has been brought out of storage and now I am having a taste of the joy my grandmother must have felt when she had it re-upholstered especially for me! It will go to my daughter soon and I’m looking forward to seeing her and her own daughter take their places in the family story. :)

Dragonfly Tidings

10.17.13 ~ Harwich Center, Massachusetts

…dragonfly magic…

On our mother’s birthday, October 17th, my sister Beverly and I went early to the cemetery in Harwich for some time alone with our parents and our memories, bringing along Papa’s ashes in a nature-inspired wooden casket.  After we placed some flowers around the gravestones of our parents and grandparents, a small red dragonfly landed on our parents’ stone.  Its presence was a special gift…

10.17.13 ~ Harwich Center, Massachusetts

…more dragonfly magic…

A little later, as we were remembering our grandparents, the dragonfly flew over to perch on their gravestone, too, just above the “E” in White.  And there was another special moment after the rest of the family started arriving.  A small red dragonfly landed on my brother-in-law’s shoulder and stayed there for a long while.  John was the one who was Papa’s primary caregiver for all these years, and it was good to have him appreciated and acknowledged in this meaningful way.  I like to think it was the same dragonfly, but can’t know for sure…

10.17.13 ~ Harwich Center, Massachusetts

When we had all gathered around in a circle, Tim read my little essay about my father – I knew I couldn’t read it without sobbing – and then my cousin Matthew read messages from his father (my uncle) and his sister (my cousin).  And then everyone began sharing their own memories.  After that, Beverly lowered the casket full of Papa’s ashes deep into the ground, and then most of us took turns shoveling the earth back over him.  It was a beautiful autumn day and our little ceremony felt so natural and intimate.

10.17.13 ~ Harwich Center, Massachusetts

…returned to the earth…

Our parents are together now.  The next thing I knew, everyone – there were 14 of us – wanted to go to another cemetery in Dennis, to see where our great-grandparents and two generations before them lie buried.  (Swan Lake Cemetery)  It was quite something to show my granddaughter the graves of her 5th-great-grandparents, who were immigrants from Norway and Ireland, and tell her how they met here in America and raised their family on Cape Cod, and how he was a sea-captain…

10.17.13 ~ Harwich, Massachusetts

…favorite things, Papa was very fond of this baby lynx picture in his last years,
we kept it hanging on the wall in his bedroom…

After that little expedition we all made our way over to Yarmouth to eat at the Hearth ‘n’ Kettle, a favorite restaurant of the family.  We toasted those who came before us with Cape Codders (vodka, cranberry juice, lime wedge) and enjoyed a delicious leisurely dinner.  And then we returned to our rented house and had my parents’ favorite birthday cakes as we gathered around the spacious dining room table – lemon jello cake in honor of my mother and chocolate butter-cream in honor of my father.

10.17.13 ~ Harwich, Massachusetts

In the evening we piled into the living room and watched a football game while shelling and munching on peanuts, and drinking Papa’s favorite beer.  It was my kids’ idea – they have fond memories of shelling peanuts with their Grandpa while he was watching football on TV.  It was good to be with family - sharing memories together – some of us had not seen each other in a very long time.

Whenever we were at a funeral, for people or pets, ever since I was a little girl, my father always advised us to remember the good times.  And so we did.

Love, Bicycles & Canoes

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These are my maternal grandparents and I had never seen these pictures before Saturday.  While Tim & I were out shopping, getting ready for our daughter’s wedding, my cousin was scanning and sending some pictures he found of our grandparents in their younger years.  Only today did I notice that June 8, Saturday, was their birthday.  Thank you so much, Matthew, for remembering!

EmmaHoneyJohn2

Grandfather was born June 8, 1905, and Grandmother was born June 8, 1906.  They were married 30 November 1929.  I never knew my grandfather smoked a pipe – but I always knew he was a perfect gentleman!  The dog was their beloved pet, Honey.

WhiteFamily

Above are my grandparents and their two children, my mother and my uncle.

JohnBettycanoe2

It’s hard to make them out, but my grandparents and uncle are sitting on the stone wall and my mother is in the canoe.  I see her passion for canoeing started in her childhood. She took us canoeing often when my sister and I were children.  I’m in a very sentimental, wistful, thoughtful mood this week – five days before the wedding!

humble genealogist…

FerdinandGeorgWaldmüller.peasant“Young Peasant Woman with Three Children at the Window”
by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller

I don’t mean to belittle the accomplishments of those whose names we memorize for tests and whose statues we admire.  I just think it’s time to make a little room for the rest of our ancestors – and I’m happy to report that this is already happening.  You never had to be famous, rich, or educated to leave a trace, but unless you were, you tended to be overlooked.  But now, that’s all beginning to change, and at the vanguard of this democratization of history is the humble genealogist.
~ Megan Smolenyak
(Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing)

Mothers Day

HannekeKoop.drawingpaper

…image by Hanneke Koop, used with permission…

I miss thee, my Mother!  Thy image is still
The deepest impress’d on my heart,
And the tablet so faithful in death must be chill
Ere a line of that image depart.
Thou wert torn from my side when I treasured thee most -
When my reason could measure thy worth;
When I knew but too well that the idol I’d lost
Could be never replaced upon earth.
~ Eliza Cook
(Melaia & Other Poems)