Last autumn we lost our aunt, who lived to be 101 years old. The various stories behind the above drawing presented a puzzle for us but after comparing memories we finally decided that the sketch was probably drawn on one of Auntie’s cruises. She kept it hanging above her bed for as long as I can remember, flanked on either side with the senior high school pictures of my sister and me.
Following is the obituary I wrote for the newspapers:
Lillian Elizabeth (Chomiak) Rioux, 101, of Storrs, Connecticut, died on October 27, 2016, at Mansfield Center for Nursing & Rehabilitation, after a short illness.
Lillian was born on January 30, 1915 in New York City, the daughter of the late William & Katherine (Fusiak) Chomiak, both immigrants from Ukraine. She married Leo Oscar Rioux on November 30, 1934 at Montville, Connecticut. Her husband died on June 5, 1957, leaving her a widow for 59 years. Lillian was predeceased by their two sons, Leo Adrian Rioux (1936-1984) and Lance William Rioux (1950-1979).
Lillian was also predeceased by six siblings, Mary Riback, Jon Stephen Chomiak, Augustine Chomiak, Augusta Jean Hereth, Olga Chomiak, and Theodore William Chomiak. She is survived by her sister, Ludmila Sabatiuk of West Virginia, her grandchildren, Leo Rioux, Jr. of Montville and Sarah James of Tennessee, seven nieces and nephews, four great-grandchildren, and a great-great-grandson.
Lil was a graduate of Norwich Free Academy and was a seamstress employed at Hendel Manufacturing Company in New London for many years. She was a long time resident of Montville and later moved to Juniper Hill Village in Storrs to live closer to her brother. An avid traveler, beach bum and shell collector, she loved to sew, cook, grow orchids, do jigsaw puzzles and work with her hands.
A memorial gathering will be planned for next spring. Memorial donations can be made to Mansfield Town Senior Center, 303 Maple Rd, Storrs, CT 06268.
We had our memorial gathering for her on May 6, spreading her ashes on the graves of her parents and her husband and two sons, as she had directed. My Aunt Em read to us her memories of Aunt Lil’s earlier years.
Every year on Memorial Day, my father would drive Aunt Lil to these two adjacent cemeteries, so she could plant geraniums in front of the headstones, each one a different shade of red or pink. When my father could no longer drive, my sister and brother-in-law stepped in to take her. As he has been doing for years now, John once again planted the geraniums that meant so much to her, this time with family spreading ashes and telling stories.
The story Auntie told me was that it was not permitted for her to be buried in the Catholic cemetery with her husband and sons because she never converted to Catholicism. But she married a Catholic and had her sons baptized in the church. It was her wish to join them in the cemetery by spreading her ashes on their graves.
At the last grave Tim read a poem my sister Beverly wrote in memory of Auntie for the occasion.
They were worker’s hands, never soft, never still. It took me fifty years to catch them, hold them, keep them safe and warm. A thousand times I watched them go: knit and purl peel and chop turn the pages stir the pot.
If hands could talk what would they say? It took me fifty years to hear them, know them, find out how they spoke. A thousand times I felt their love: show and tell hug and pat acts of kindness pet the cat.
I’d come to love her knobby hands that always showed me what to do. How those hands have touched my life! They’ve one more job before they’re through: stitch and mend my broken heart.
~ Beverly Chomiak
Then we all went to eat at one of her favorite restaurants, Old Tymes in Norwich, finishing the meal with dishes of Auntie’s favorite black raspberry ice cream. ❤
Neadom Rodgers, son of Jacob and Mahala (Bedford) Rogers, was born 11 June 1837 in Guysborough (Guysborough) Nova Scotia, and died 30 June 1897 in Provincetown (Barnstable) Massachusetts. He married 3 April 1866 in Boston (Suffolk) Massachusetts, Hanorah “Nora” O’Brien, who was born 12 December 1846 in Massachusetts, and died 16 January 1921 in Marshfield (Plymouth) Massachusetts, daughter of William and Mary (—) O’Brien.
Neadom was a mariner, and he probably met and married Hanorah, the daughter of Irish immigrants, in Boston after leaving Guysborough and before finally settling in Provincetown. They were married by Rev. Thomas Sheahan, and probably moved to Provincetown between 1867 and 1869, after their daughter Mary Jane was born in Boston. Neadom died of arterial insufficiency, and is buried with Hanorah in Gifford Cemetery in Provincetown.
Hanorah & Neadom were the parents of nine children:
1. Mary Jane “Jenny” Rodgers (Tim’s great-grandmother), born 7 June 1867 in Boston, died 10 July 1916 in Somerville (Middlesex) Massachusetts. She married (as his first wife) on 18 February 1891 in Provincetown, her first cousin, George Lincoln Rodgers, who was born 1 January 1865 in Guysborough, and died 16 July 1939 in Fall River (Bristol) Massachusetts, son of Elijah and Zippora Ann (Horton) Rodgers. Mary & George were the parents of one son. Mary Jane lies buried with her parents in Gifford Cemetery in Provincetown.
2. John Neadom Rodgers, born 14 February 1869 in Provincetown. He married Bessie Bennett, who was born 29 June 1893. John & Bessie were the parents of one son, named for his father, who was born and died the same day, 30 November 1907.
3. George J. Rodgers, born 3 July 1871 in Provincetown, died there 17 March 1872, age 8 months, of “putrefied congestion of the lungs.”
4. Georgianna Rodgers, born 4 May 1875 in Provincetown, died 27 May 1941 in New York City. She married 6 December 1911 in Chelsea (Suffolk) Massachusetts, Edwin Ambrose Webster, who was born 31 January 1869 in Chelsea, and died 23 January 1935 in Provincetown, son of Edwin and Caroline A. (Emerson) Webster. They had no children. Georgianna was a nurse, and would not agree to marry Ambrose until he was financially established as an artist. She was 36 when she and the Provincetown artist were finally married by R. Perry Bush, Clergyman.
Ever a modest person, Webster seems to have pursued his art and his teaching with remarkable talent, intensity, and intellect, but apparently with no bent for self-promotion.
~ Miriam Stubbs
He attended the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School, under Frank Benson and Edmund Tarbell, and Acadamie Julian in Paris studying with Jean Paul Laurens and Jean-Joseph Benjamin Constant. In 1913 he exhibited at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York City, “Old Hut, Jamaica” and “Sunlight, Jamaica”. He started Ambrose Webster’s Summer School of Painting, and was a founding member of the Provincetown Art Association & Museum. After his death, Georgianna lived in New York City with her nephew, Karl Rodgers and his wife, Allegra, while she was in her final illness and while their daughter, Delorma was a small child. Georgianna left the house at 180 Bradford St. in Provincetown, where she and Ambrose had lived, to Karl when she died. The house remained in the family and was enjoyed as a vacation getaway until 2008, when unfortunately it had to be sold. Ambrose & Georgianna lie buried in an unmarked grave in the Webster plot at 2653 Hawthorn Path at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Timothy Webster Rodgers, Karl’s grandson, was given a portrait of Georgianna painted by her husband, E. Ambrose Webster, after whom Tim was named.
The following is from a booklet put out by Babcock Galleries in New York City, which still has many of Webster’s paintings:
Provincetown was already an established art colony in 1914 when the Art Association & Museum was founded with several prominent citizens and artists as its members:… E. Ambrose Webster and Oliver Chaffee, both Fauvist painters and exhibitors in the 1913 Armory Show….The summer art classes initiated by Hawthorne and Webster– painting outdoors on the beach with the model posed against the sun to teach the students to establish broad tone values and modeling with palette-knifed color– attracted serious students by the hundreds, taught them the fundamentals and gave the town new color….The beginning of the collection was five paintings donated in 1914 by Charles Hawthorne, Ambrose Webster, William Halsall, Oscar Giebrich and Gerrit Beneker.
The following is from the Provincetown Art Association & Museum, 460 Commercial St, Provincetown, Massachusetts:
If ever an American painter reveled in light and color it was E. Ambrose Webster. He was among our first and most forceful modern painters. After initial studies under Edmund Tarbell and Frank Benson in Boston, he spent nearly three years in Europe absorbing the latest developments in the Post-Impressionist art world. By 1900 he returned to the United States and, having developed his own original idiom, became a prominent member of the progressive art community. Over the years he traveled widely in France, Spain, Italy, Jamaica and Bermuda, seeking the sunlight heightened color which inspired him. In 1906 while painting in the Caribbean he exhibited a work which secured the Musgrave Silver Medal from the Institute of Jamaica. By 1913 he was exhibiting in Boston and Cleveland with Charles Hovey Pepper, Carl C Cutler and Maurice Prendergast. Webster also exhibited at least two pictures at the 1913 ‘International Exhibition of Modern Art (Armory Show).’ He later worked with Albert Gleize and exhibited with Demuth, Zorach, Spencer and Tworkov. Babcock Galleries’ first exhibition of Webster’s work occurred in 1965 and since then his paintings have been included in many shows including The High Museum of Art’s ‘The Advent of Modernism.’ Webster devoted his extensive travels to finding light enshrined color. When he found it, he painted with a force and vigor that even today is astonishing. RED HOUSE, PROVINCETOWN demonstrates the vitality and exceptionally modern vision Webster possessed. His work and its influence rank him along with Alice Schille, Alfred Maurer, Oscar Bluemner and John Marin among the important painters of his generation.
On 24 August 2001, Aunt Delorma, Jon & Jannai, little Ella Grace, Tim & I attended the opening night of an exhibition of Webster paintings at the Provincetown Art Association & Museum. Most of the paintings and drawings were from private collections, and we met the curator, Miriam Stubbs, a relative of Kenneth Stubbs who was one of Webster’s students.
5. Naomi Mahala Rodgers, born about 1876. She married 2 August 1896, Henry Scott Akers. Naomi & Henry were the parents of one son.
6. Elijah Jacob Rodgers, born 1878 in Provincetown, died 1960. He was a baker and married in Provincetown, 27 April 1898, Clara Louise Bangs, who was born there in 1879, daughter of Perez and Julia (Smith) Bangs. Elijah & Clara were the parents of one daughter. They lie buried with Elijah’s parents and his sister in Gifford Cemetery.
7. George Levan Rodgers, born 2 May 1880 in Provincetown, died 13 November 1967. He married Sarah Schneider, who was born in Austria [now Poland]. George lived at 64 Mason St., and worked for the Coes Wrench Co. in Worcester, Massachusetts. There is a picture of George at work with the caption, “I believe this is a pump which was the first engine I ever operated. It was here I was allowed to Blow the factory whistle.” George & Sarah were the parents of two daughters.
George & Sarah’s great-granddaughter, Stephanie Thibault, is Tim’s third cousin. We “met” her on the internet in 2010 and exchanged genealogical information and pictures.
8. Alvin M. Rodgers, born about 1882. He married Anne Kahn and they were the parents of two children.
9. Inez Mitchell Rodgers, born about 1890. She married Alton Phillips Stephens.
This morning I took my last shower in the ugly old harvest gold tub in our bathroom. It will take three to four weeks for our contractor to rip out all the old walls and fixtures and put in new ones.
The only thing I will miss from the old bathroom is the little fish my son Jon painted on the wall right by the mirror. It’s been there for 20 years or so… As I was getting dressed each morning it was nice to see a friendly face as I started my day.
In a few days I will escape the dust and chaos and fly down to North Carolina to visit Katie and her parents for a couple of weeks. Looking forward to some good mother-daughter-granddaughter times. Tim will have to hold down the fort here.
Perhaps soon I will begin posting about all the family history research I’ve been doing for the past couple of months. Change is in the air!
Once upon a time I was as curious as the yearling above, and in possession of a keen sense of wonder. The mysteries of nature and spirit were intertwined in my young mind. One early wordless memory I have is of lying on the cold winter ground in the woods and eyeing a little princess pine peeking through the snow. I was astonished at the connection I felt to the small precious life, and how thrilled I was to be aware of its presence!
My parents and grandparents were nature lovers, but from an early age I was locking horns with my scientifically minded father over the existence of the supernatural. It distressed me to no end that he refused to believe in anything that he could not measure in physical terms.
One afternoon when I was six years old I had a dazzling moment of transcendence when I encountered a stag, although I didn’t know enough to call it that when I later tried to tell my parents about it. As I was walking alone up the heavily wooded road from the school bus stop to my house, I strongly sensed that someone was watching me. When I turned around to look I was at first startled to see a huge stag with magnificent antlers. He was standing in the road, quietly staring at me, as if he recognized me, as if he knew exactly who I was. I was struck with awe. Completely enchanted, I was not at all frightened. In fact, I decided he was my guardian angel. A fatherly figure. Something about his presence was most reassuring. I never forgot him and have often felt his presence in my life, especially when spending time with my maternal grandfather in the years to come.
Forty-five years later, a few years after my grandfather died, I had wonderful encounter with another deer. (Some of my readers may remember me sharing this in November 2008 on my Gaia blog.) I was visiting my father at his house in the woods, where spotting deer, coyotes, wild turkeys and fishers is not at all unusual. We were starting to watch a movie when my brother-in-law glanced out the window and noticed a doe in the yard, quite close to the house. Being so enchanted with deer I jumped at the chance to see one and went over to the window to look at her.
She was so beautiful with her large soft eyes and large ears lined in dark brown. Our eyes met and she stood there transfixed for a very long time. I could not take my eyes off of her. After a while she lay down and continued to stare at me, occasionally looking about to see what a noise might be, but then fixing her gaze back onto me. She seemed so peaceful and I wondered what, if anything, it all meant. It was as if I had lost my child’s sense of inner-knowing for a moment. Then I started to worry that my looking at her so intently might be threatening her in some way. But she was tranquil and serene. At one point a buck appeared and walked right past her and started helping himself to my father’s rhododendron. My brother-in-law was going to go shoo him away but I begged him not to. After the buck had enough to eat he slowly retraced his steps and passed by the doe again, glancing at her but unconcerned with her behavior. She ignored him completely, and kept looking at me.
After another long while she stood up and started nibbling at the ground, looking at me once in a while. She slowly made her way downhill around the corner of the house, so I changed my vantage point to another window on that side of the house. She was now one story below me. But she looked up to the window and saw me again and started looking at me again with the same intensity as before. Her look felt so reassuring in some way and yet I felt the thrill of butterflies in my stomach. It’s hard to put words to it. She definitely seemed to know me. It was getting darker and darker until I could barely see her, and just at the point where I felt I could see her no longer she suddenly darted away. More than an hour had passed. What an amazing gift! Even my father had to acknowledge this was an extraordinary experience.
I did finally understand the doe’s message with some help from my Reiki practitioner a few months later. I’m keeping it safe in my heart for now. I will never forget this special doe and had so often felt her guidance while caring for my father in his declining years, as well as my mother’s presence, very strongly, in my life. And it was after the doe visited the house that my father, the skeptical scientist, started reporting that he had been seeing my mother. Sometimes he would ask where she was because he was certain she had just left the room.
Fifty years after my first encounter with a deer, when I was fifty-six, my father died in his sleep in the early morning hours of September 19, 2013, under a full harvest moon. My sister called me to let me know he was gone so Tim and I left to drive up to Papa’s house to be with our family. As we reached the end of the hour-long drive, we turned onto the same road where I saw my first deer fifty years ago. In about the same spot on the road, standing quietly on the side, in the moonlight, was a lovely doe. Tim slowed the car down and she looked right into our car, into my eyes. My mother was letting me know that she had my father now. What a feeling of relief and release came over me.
Beverly and I have often noted in the months since Papa died that neither of us have felt the presence of either of our parents. But Larisa has felt her grandpa’s presence down in North Carolina. And we all see in her new baby daughter, Katie, a remarkable resemblance to him, especially in her facial expressions and the way she moves her long arms.
As I continue to mourn the loss of my father I feel like I’ve grown to a place where I can embrace being in the elder generation now, a contented crone with my fair share of hard-won wisdom to gently share with my children and grandchildren. It’s a feeling of strength, stepping into the place where my parents and my grandparents once stood.
A couple of weeks I put out a couple of bird feeders and have enjoyed watching the birds who come to eat. My parents and grandparents were avid bird-watchers but I thought identifying birds was a tedious endeavor when I was a child. However, these past few days I’ve been amazed to discover that some of what they taught me got stored in my memory files. It seems like every time a new bird shows up a name pops into my head, so I look it up and find it to be correct! I’ve always loved and could identify chickadees, but when an unfamiliar bird showed up the other day and “junco” popped out of my mouth, well, I’ve fallen in love with another little one.
I almost posted the first parts of my deer story several times since I started this blog, but something kept holding me back. After I saw the doe the night my father died it became clear that the tale had not been finished. Yet something still kept making it seem like it wasn’t the time to share it. After spending three weeks with my darling new granddaughter, though, it feels like the whole picture has now been revealed.
I’m using these photos from the summer solstice at Janet’s to illustrate this post because I didn’t take many usable pictures of the two joyful indoor events we attended this past weekend. It was a welcome change of pace to enjoy the associations and conversations without incessantly taking pictures. (And my indoor pictures never come out very well…)
Larisa & Dima flew up from North Carolina to attend a baby shower I threw for her on Saturday in the clubhouse here at our condo complex. (With a lot of assistance from a few of her very creative friends!) So many of the important women in her life were able to attend, including some who traveled a great distance to get here! Larisa was glowing!
And then on Sunday we drove up to New Hampshire to attend the wedding of Tim’s cousin, Allegra, and her new husband Dan. It was supposed to be outside, but there was a backup plan in case of rain, and it was needed, as thunderstorm after thunderstorm came rumbling through the mountains. We are so happy for the new families being created, and I was thrilled to feel a kick from my new granddaughter as I rested my hand on Larisa’s tummy…
The other day I was reading my spring/summer issue of Mystic Seaport Magazine, anticipation growing with every article read for the upcoming 38th voyage of the Charles W. Morgan on May 17. The last wooden whaleship in the world, newly restored, will be embarking on a voyage to several historic ports on the New England coast, from New London to Boston. It will be a thrill to photograph her as she sails past us here in Groton on her way from Mystic Seaport to the port of New London!!! She hasn’t been sailed in 90 years and she will have no motor.
As I was contemplating this wonder a couple of fuzzy memories started trying to emerge from my stress-weary brain. My father and me on a wooden walkway surrounding a ship which was being restored (was it the Amistad?) in the Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard at Mystic Seaport. A barrel of shavings and chips from the work on the ship. A sign inviting us to take a piece of wood home as a souvenir. I am struggling to remember, what ship, what year, if anyone else was with us…
My father was a son of Ukrainian immigrants who had been peasants in their native land. Owning their own land here in America was extremely important to my grandparents and my father grew up with that same strong conviction. So much so that he was utterly baffled when Tim & I decided to buy a condo near the sea instead of a home on a piece of property.
Yet he honored the deep ties to the sea my mother and her ancestors had, keeping alive an interest in seafaring history even after she died. This is another facet of my father’s legacy which I’m now coming to appreciate. Not long after my mother died he took me over to the Mystic Seaport membership building and requested that I be allowed on his membership in place of my mother, so I could bring my children there. Since my parents had been life-long members, I think they bent the rules a little and allowed him to do this.
I think it must have been in the 1990s when we each took home a piece of that ship’s wood. He was still getting out and about before his fall in 2000. And it was after my mother died in 1991. Oh why can’t I remember more details?
A search through a 1992 photo album renews another vague nautical memory. There is my Papa, taking his grandchildren to tour the replicas of Columbus’ ships, the Nina, Pinta & Santa Maria when they sailed into New London’s harbor on July 24, 1992, honoring the 500th anniversary of the historic voyage. Where is the third grandchild, though? Was he camera-shy or did he have other plans that day?
Well, for what it’s worth, I leave my wisps of memory here for future generations who might find it all of some interest.
On October 18th, the Rodgers branch of the family headed out to Provincetown, at the very end of the Cape Cod peninsula, where we spent many a vacation when our kids were growing up. We thought it would be deserted, since the summer season is well over, but it was Women’s Week, and the streets were crowded with visitors. Exhausted from the emotions and activities of the previous day, we had lunch and did some shopping, but didn’t stay too long. But before we left I kept taking pictures of signs – there were so many creative ones…
An historic fishing port, Provincetown is situated at the tip of Cape Cod in an area of spectacular natural beauty, surrounded by miles of dunes and beaches. Provincetown has a diverse and singular history. The Pilgrims first landed in Provincetown in 1620 and signed the Mayflower Compact, a declaration of self-determination and radical thought that characterizes the history and people of Provincetown, even today. Provincetown has been home to sailors, pirates, fishermen, painters, and authors for centuries. In the nineteenth century, Provincetown, with the largest and safest natural harbor on the New England coast, was one of the greatest and busiest seaports in the country. The rich texture of cultural and social influences has produced a sense of place that is uniquely Provincetown. For over a century, these special qualities have attracted artists, tourists, and bohemians who have then blended with the local population and produced a unique community character. Provincetown is truly like nowhere else.
~ Town of Provincetown website
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…
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…
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.
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…
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.
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.
15 June 2013, Orange, Connecticut
Camp Cedarcrest, by the Wepawaug River
Shea helped me out with a lot of the picture-taking, and Svetlana made all the lovely decorations. Dima & Larisa created an amazing wedding and reception, in a perfect setting, and we could not have asked for better weather. A very special day for all of us to remember forever.
An interesting side note – all of the women in the bridal party and the mothers and grandmothers and grandaunt have names that end with an “a.” Larisa; her attendants, Alyssa, Alicia, Erica and Lisa; the mothers, Barbara and Svetlana; Dima’s grandmothers, Nina and Anna; and Larisa’s grandaunt, Delorma.