9.3.10 ~ Groton, Connecticut
9.3.10 ~ Groton, Connecticut

Yesterday my heart and mind were out on Cape Cod, watching and waiting to see what Hurricane Earl would do as it passed by. It was also the day my grandmother died, fourteen years ago, at the age of 90. It was a good day for lingering over pleasant memories.

Grandmother was a typical Cape Codder. As far as I know, all of her ancestors lived out their lives on Cape Cod, or were lost at sea, all of them descending from passengers on the Mayflower and other early English settlers on the Cape. Except for her great-grandfather, who came from Norway, and his wife, her great-grandmother, who came from Ireland. Both of her grandfathers and her father were sea captains, like their fathers before them. Grandmother told me all the time that the sea was in my blood.

Thankfully New England was spared Earl’s fury as the storm kept veering off to the east and weakening. We were very happy to make do without any more excitement! We went down to the beach during a break in the rain and there was some minor flooding from a little storm surge. Normally there is about twenty feet between the life guard chair and the water’s edge, but now the breaking waves came right up to the chair. (See photo above.) We were wondering about the line of birds hunkered down on the rocks in the distance. Couldn’t make out what they were. The breakwaters were almost covered with water.

But all in all, Hurricane Earl was a non-event.

Pop & Uncle Ed

I love this picture of my grandmother’s father, Capt. Martin F. Thompson (Pop), and her granduncle, Edward E. Swift (Uncle Ed), who lived to the age of 102. It was taken in Woods Hole in front of the hardware and ship’s chandler’s shop they used to run behind the Swifts’ house.

The sign used to read:  “Edward E. Swift, Dealer in Hardware, Cordage, Paints, Oil, Glass, and Galvanized Nails and Specialty.”

Uncle Ed  used to build and race 13-foot spritsail boats. After Uncle Ed died in 1964, my grandmother donated one of the spritsails he built to Mystic Seaport, a living history museum here in Connecticut, where it is still exhibited.

After spending many years caring for her children and then her parents and Uncle Ed & Aunt Flora, Grandmother spent the rest of her life pursuing her interests in nature photography and entomology. The little picture of me on the beach (in the sidebar on this blog) was taken by my grandmother. My grandparents were founding members of the Cape Cod Viewfinders Camera Club. The subjects of most of Grandmother’s photos were, of course, bugs…

Emma F. Thompson

While she was an artist and I have several of her watercolors hanging on my walls, more than anything she loved capturing perfectly composed photographs of butterfly eggs, caterpillars, chrysalises, and emerging adults. Grandfather was a land surveyor and Grandmother would go out with him on surveys and find the butterfly and moth eggs of various species and bring them home on their leaves and then put them in outdoor aquariums in her back yard. She made sure each one had the right leaves for its diet, and they were free to fly away after they emerged. Each time I visited I got a grand tour of her latest collection.

Mum & Grandmother

Often she would warn us as we sat down to dinner that someone was due to emerge from its cocoon or chrysalis at any moment and that we would have to excuse her if she had to dash away from the table to photograph the event. She was very proper, but also very mischievous. Once when my father was teasing her at the breakfast table, she got him back by impishly buttering the back of his hand. She never lost her sense of wonder and curiosity and I loved her so much for bringing lots of magic into my childhood.

It was so much fun having my grandmother as my first and best pen pal. Even though we made the trip to Cape Cod to see my grandparents about once a month, we’d exchange letters once or twice a week. We both loved reading and writing… I still have her newsy letters, and later was delighted to discover that she had kept all of mine.

The picture to the right is of my great-grandmother, Amanda Eliza Hamblin (Mum) and my grandmother, Emma Freeman “Thommie” Thompson. Amanda’s father was a sea captain, too. Thompson was the surname chosen by my ancestor, Martin Thompson, who was born in Brevik, Norway in 1818. At birth his name was Ingebrigt Martinus Hansen, and he was the son of Hans Tønnesen. He Americanized Tønnesen to Thompson when he arrived in America, a month before his 19th birthday.

My sister illustrated (with little sailboats and seagulls) a poem I wrote at a very early age, which we gave as a gift to our grandmother, who framed it and kept it hanging in her breakfast nook. It went something like this:

I love Cape Cod
Oh yes I do.
The sea, the sand,
Grandmother, too.
I love the Cape
So much, don’t you?

9 thoughts on “Grandmother”

  1. What a wonderful tribute to your grandmother. I loved reading about her mischievousness and passion for nature, and appreciate you sharing this beautiful story.

  2. Lovely black and white images of another age. Which is beautifully reflected in the small and important details: “Edward E. Swift, Dealer in Hardware, Cordage, Paints, Oil, Glass, and Galvanized Nails and Specialty.” That care and attention to the smallest things….wonderful, Barbara!

    1. Thank you, Julian! Grandmother used to tell me I never missed a trick, but while I focus on the small (and important to my sense of curiosity) details, I often miss the larger picture. I see the dots but don’t always connect them. 🙂 Working on it, though!

  3. I enjoyed reading your tribute and memories. My own grandmother (who you know a bit about already) died aged 95. I knew she appreciated art, but only in the past few days did I discover she created it too. Only one of her wood block prints survives – I hadn’t realised she had made any. If I am able, I will post it on my blog at

    Coincidentally the Mayflower is very significant in my neighbourhood. Both a barn and a very old pub are said to be at least partly constructed from timber taken from the Mayflower after it was dismantled. I’ve been inside both and can confirm that I saw… wood. Where it came from, I have no idea.

    1. Thank you, Paul! I’m looking forward to seeing your grandmother’s wood block print! I’ve been amazed over and over again about the things I’ve learned about my loved ones while going through their keepsakes after they’ve died. It’s a journey of discovery. It surprises me, too, what other people tell me about them at their funerals, adventures my relatives have had with them, or how they’ve touched their lives. One comes to realize that our parents and grandparents had full lives before we arrived on the scene, and also had friends and interests that they were busy with between our visits. 🙂

      Now you’ve got me curious about the Mayflower. I know the one in Plymouth is a replica, but I had no idea what became of the original one.

  4. I think the original Mayflower was dismantled back in England. I suppose the timber could have come my way after that. The Penn (as in Pennsylvania) family were very big round here too – perhaps they swung it.
    The pub in question used to be called the Boat – and one inside wooden wall is curved like the stern of a ship.

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