when your friends come by

“Dear Bird” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Got to keep it together when your friends come by
Always checking the weather but they want to know why
Even birds of a feather find it hard to fly
Aimee Mann
♫ (Goose Snow Cone) ♫

Today is the 26th anniversary of my mother’s death. The pain of loss has dulled somewhat over the years, but this year is a little different because my mom was 59 when she died and I am now 60. It just feels a little unsettling… One thing I still miss terribly is calling her and telling her what was new in my life and what her grandchildren were up to. She would have found this autism thing very interesting.

When I was in nursery school my behavior was different enough to prompt my parents to take me to a child psychologist for evaluation. Autism was not understood or even heard of in the 1960s. The psychologist told them I needed more attention from them. A few years later, when I got a stomach ulcer in elementary school the doctor told them I needed more emotional support from them. How I wish I could tell them now it was not their parenting that was the problem!

Currently I am reading a wonderful book, Writers on the Spectrum: How Autism & Asperger Syndrome Have Influenced Literary Writing by Julie Brown. It’s no secret that Emily Dickinson is my favorite poet and my jaw dropped to learn that she probably had autism and one whole chapter in this book is devoted to her. I found it interesting to learn how autism made so many of her poems indecipherable, although they no doubt made perfect sense to her.

The recurring practice of quoting from someone else’s literature in your own text resembles the echolalia that people with autism are known for. Some repeat words from movies, television, or other people because they are trying to understand the meaning of the words. Sometimes echolalia is an attempt to communicate with others — the words are tools borrowed to build meaning. Some repeat phrases for the sheer joy of it.
~ Julie Brown
(Writers on the Spectrum: How Autism & Asperger Syndrome Have Influenced Literary Writing)

A couple of things struck me in the above paragraph. My autism may be what drives me to collect and share quotations! I’m not sure I completely understand the definition of “echolalia” but my mother did tell me something that I think may be related. She could always tell when I made a new friend at school because I would come home with a different accent and different mannerisms, evidently copied from various classmates. It still happens to me when I spend a lot of time with someone, although I try not to do this.

So many things are making more sense these days…

owl prowl

5.25.17 ~ twilight at Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, Mystic, Connecticut ~ photo by Timothy Rodgers

The pale stars were sliding into their places. The whispering of the leaves was almost hushed. All about them it was still and shadowy and sweet. It was that wonderful moment when, for lack of a visible horizon, the not yet darkened world seems infinitely greater — a moment when anything can happen, anything be believed in.
~ Olivia Howard Dunbar
(The Shell of Sense)

barred owl ~ photo by Mark Musselman, South Carolina

Last night, we took a magical evening walk in the woods, an owl prowl, offered by the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center. And something wonderful did happen! We saw and heard a family of barred owls, a mother and three fledglings!

Before the walk we listened to a lecture about the owls found in Connecticut, some common, like the barred owl, others rare, like the snowy owl. We met a little rescued screech owl who was blind in one eye. And there was a lab where we got to crack open a sterilized owl pellet and find the bones and teeth of swallowed rodents. A very informative and enchanting evening!

Mum & Pop

1957 ~ My great-grandparents, Capt. Martin Freeman Thompson & Amanda Eliza Hamblin, welcoming me to the family.

My great-grandfather, Capt. Martin Freeman Thompson, son and only child of Martin Edward and Elizabeth Emma (Freeman) Thompson, was born 29 March 1875 in Harwich (Barnstable) Massachusetts, and died 13 July 1965 in Dennis (Barnstable) Massachusetts. He married in 1894, his fifth cousin, once removed, Amanda Eliza Hamblin, who was born 2 August 1879 in Dennis, and died 6 July 1966 in Taunton (Bristol) Massachusetts, the daughter of William Nelson and Anna Eliza (Baker) Hamblin.

Martin Thompson and Edward Swift

Martin was for a time the captain of the King Philip, a fishing boat out of Boston. He was a pilot and a sea-captain. In 1906 the couple resided at 69A Whiting Street, in Lynn, Massachusetts and later lived at 13 Wilson Drive in Abington. Probably sometime after his father’s death in 1928 they moved to the family home at 114 Depot Street, in Dennis Port, and were certainly there before 1957. For a time Martin & Amanda resided at 10 School Street in Woods Hole with their daughter and son-in-law, who were caring for his aunt and uncle, Edward and Susan Flora (Freeman) Swift.

Amanda had a very close relationship with Martin’s cousin, Annie (Thompson) Kelley. She cherished unrealized dreams of becoming an actress, but was well-known for the beautiful doilies she crocheted. Many of the doilies were given to her great-granddaughter, my sister Beverly, who seems to have inherited the crocheting genes. Beverly reproduced some of Amanda’s designs and has mounted some of the originals for safekeeping.

Amanda Hamblin (1879-1966)

Amanda suffered from dementia in her final years, and for the year after her husband died, could only accept that he was at sea, and would only be made to rest easier when she was told that he was coming home soon. Amanda was called “Mum” and Martin was called “Pop” by their daughter and grandchildren. Both Mum & Pop died of pneumonia, a year apart, and lie buried together in Swan Lake Cemetery in Dennis Port. Martin’s Namesakes: his father Capt. Martin Edward Thompson and his mother Elisabeth Emma Freeman. Amanda’s Namesakes: both of her grandmothers, Amanda Bearse and Eliza R. Eldridge.

Amanda & Martin were the parents of one daughter:

1. Emma Freeman Thompson (my grandmother), born 8 June 1906 in Lynn (Essex) Massachusetts, died 3 September 1996 in Dennis (Barnstable) Massachusetts. She married 30 November 1929 in Harwich, John Everett White, who was born 8 June 1905 in Rockland (Plymouth) Massachusetts, and died 4 April 2001 in Dennis, son of Samuel Minor and Emma Flora (Atwood) White. Emma & John were the parents of two children.

rapture in the lonely shore

5.25.15.8624
5.25.15 ~ Eidfjord, Hordaland, Norway

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is rapture in the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet can not all conceal.
~ George Gordon Byron
(The Complete Works of Lord Byron)

living by voices we shall never hear

5.19.15.6701
5.19.15 ~ Neu-Anspach, Germany

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.
~ Henry Beston
(The Outermost House)

Farewell, Auntie Lil

Lillian Elizabeth (Chomiak) Rioux (1915-2016)

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.

Grave of Aunt Lil’s parents, William Chomiak (1882-1965) & Katherine Fusiak (1887-1943), Comstock Cemetery, Montville, Connecticut

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.

Grave of Aunt Lil’s older son, Leo Adrian Rioux (1936-1984), St. Patrick Cemetery, Montville, Connecticut.

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.

Grave of Aunt Lil’s husband, Leo Oscar Rioux (1913-1957), and their younger son, Lance William Rioux (1950-1979), St. Patrick Cemetery, Montville, Connecticut.

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
(Her Hands)

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. ❤

The Farm on Keller Hill

Charles & Eliza are Tim’s 2nd-great-grandparents. Years ago we made a research trip to western New York with Tim’s aunt Delorma and were able to see the farm on Keller Hill Road in Hinsdale, and perhaps the cheese factory where their milk was brought. My memory has gotten pretty hazy, we saw so much too fast. We met the Hinsdale town historian and some distant cousins. I’ve never been able to find parents for Eliza, but after this trip was taken I learned that Charles & Eliza buried their 6 year old daughter, Lucy, in Prattsburg, about 75 miles to the east. Lucy died there in 1850 and after that her parents bought the farm in Hinsdale in 1857. So I’m hoping to make a trip to Prattsburg one of these days – perhaps Charles & Eliza were married there and perhaps I can find evidence of Eliza’s parents there.

Charles Munson Hamilton, son of Benjamin J. and Rachel (Gardner) Hamilton, was born 16 August 1815 in New Jersey, and died 12 June 1891. He married (as his first wife) 31 December 1840, Eliza Ann Devoe, who was born 26 January 1819, and died 6 April 1866 in Hinsdale (Cattaraugus) New York.

Charles bought the farm on Keller Hill in Hinsdale, New York on 16 April 1857, when he was 41 years old. Before then Charles & Eliza and their oldest three children lived in Prattsburgh (Steuben) New York. Eliza’s parents remain unknown, but her son was told that she was descended from a French nobleman, a cousin to Louis XVI, and that her ancestry was French, Dutch and Pennsylvania Quaker. I have found many French and Dutch Devoes (with many spelling variations) in New York and Pennsylvania, but cannot thus far establish any connections. [Curiously, Charles’ niece, Eliza Ann VanDeventer married one Elias DeVoe Bryant, who is a great-grandson of a Dutch woman named Lucy Davoe, and Charles and Eliza did name a daughter Lucy.]

Eliza’s obituary in The Cuba True Patriot, Vol IV, No 41, 13, April 1866, was sad and brief:

Sudden death. – A lady named Hamilton, who resided a short distance south of this village, died very suddenly on Friday morning last. She was taken by a fainting fit while sitting at the tea table and died in a short time. She leaves a child three weeks old.

After Eliza died, Charles married (as his second wife) a school teacher, Rachel A. Ferris, 11 March 1868 in Cuba (Allegany) New York, daughter of Cyrus and Miriam (—) Ferris. Rev. William O. Learned performed the ceremony, at the residence of the bride’s father. Rachel was born January 1836 and died 1 April 1875 in Hinsdale.

According to the Cuba Evening Review, twice a widower, Charles and his daughter, Addie, made a trip by train to Chicago in June, 1882. Since 1879 he had been living with Addie and her husband, Joseph D. Witter, who died shortly thereafter. His time spent with Addie must have been a great comfort to him after so many losses in a row. (His 6-year-old daughter Lucy died in 1850, wife Eliza died in 1866, 28-year-old son Elmer died in 1870, newborn daughter Myra died in 1871, wife Rachel died in 1875, and his mother in 1877 and father in 1880.) Charles was a Baptist and a Republican. He died of cystitis and catarrh of the bladder. He and both his wives are buried in Lot #11, Cuba Cemetery, Cuba, New York.

According to his son, Charles A. Hamilton:

My father [Charles Munson] was always kind to me, gave me spending money, took me to the circus, etc., but he was of the stern type, quite hard of hearing, and so much older than I that we were never pals. My memories of father are, on the whole, pleasant. He was stern, puritanical in faith and honest to the half cent. He hated anything low or crooked. I never heard him tell a risqué story, and he never used profanity. His cuss words were limited to “I swanny,” and “By George,” with, on extreme provocation, the expletive reported to have been used by General Cambronne at the Battle of Waterloo. He was hard-working, thrifty and a good manager. While not painfully pious, he was regular in church attendance, always asking the blessing at meals, and conducting family worship during the winter season. Sister Addie and I had a memorial window installed in his memory in the rebuilt Baptist Church at Cuba, which bears this quotation, “The Memory of the Just is Blessed.” His justice and honesty seemed to us his outstanding characteristic. He was afflicted with partial deafness, an affliction which seems hereditary among the descendants of Benjamin Hamilton. We were never close to each other until I became a college student, when he evidently considered me a man, and we discussed at length all sorts of questions. I deeply revere his memory.

The following is from The Patriot, Cuba New York, Thursday, June 18, 1891:

Death of Chas. M. Hamilton

On Friday, June 12, Mr. Charles M. Hamilton, residing south west of the village, departed this life, aged 75 years and 10 months. Mr. Hamilton had been ill for nearly three years, but death, when it came, seemed sudden, as it does under any circumstances.

Deceased was born in New Jersey and came to New York state when a boy, his home being in Chemung county. All his life he followed farming, his highest ambition when young, being to possess a farm of his own. Thirty-eight years ago he located on the place where he died, living there a happy and contented life and bringing into cultivation as fine a farm as can be found in this vicinity. He was twice married, both his companions in life crossing the river before him. Two children mourn the loss of a loved parent, Mrs. C. B. Conklin and Mr. Chas. A. Hamilton. Mr. Hamilton possessed the entire confidence of his neighbors and friends, and his life was one of honest work, uprightness and integrity. The funeral services were held Sunday at the home of his daughter, Rev. Cherryman of Scott’s Corners officiating.

Charles & Eliza were the parents of four children:

1. Elmer Alonzo Hamilton, a farmer, born 12 October 1841, died 20 July 1870 in Hinsdale, when struck by lightning. He is buried in Lot #11 in Cuba Cemetery. The following account of Elmer’s death was written many years later by his little brother, Charles, who was 4 years old at the time:

One of my most vivid recollections of this period is the death by a stroke of lightning on July 20th, 1870, of my only brother, Elmer Alonzo. He was my father’s first born, and had grown up into a strong, lusty farmer. He and father were more like brothers than like father and son. He was very fond of his little brother, and used to romp with me and at times good naturedly teased me. To me, there was no one in the world like Elmer. After dinner, on the day of his death, as he was starting for the hay field, I begged him to take me with him, but, as a thunder storm was looming in the west, he told me I couldn’t go. He went alone to the hay field, cocked hay until the storm came up, and a bolt of lightning ended his activities forever. His body was not discovered until the next forenoon, all covered with hay. His untimely death was a terrible blow to the entire family.

And from the Cuba True Patriot, 22 July 1870, Vol 9, No 4:

Killed by Lightning. On Wednesday last, Mr. Elmer Hamilton, son of Charles Hamilton, residing on Keller Hill, in this town was killed by lightning. The particulars as near as we have been able to learn them, are as follows. Just before the terrible thunder-storm of Wednesday Mr. Hamilton went over to his father’s farm, adjoining his own, and just across the Hinsdale town line, to grind his machine knives and repair his mower. Towards night as he did not return his relatives began to wonder at his long absence, and a search was instituted. They looked in every place where it might be possible he might be found, but failed to find him. A large number of neighbors were informed, who searched diligently for the missing man till about 2 o’clock A. M., when the hunt was given up till morning. Thursday morning the body of Mr. Hamilton was found, partly screened by a haycock. By his side, and protruding from the cock of hay was his pitchfork, with the tine end sticking out. Close by was his hat, which led to his discovery. One side of the head was scorched almost to a crisp, plainly indicating the cause of his death. It is supposed that Mr. Hamilton crept under the hay-cock to protect himself from the severe storm, and that the lightning struck the fork which he held in his hand. Mr. Hamilton was about 21 years of age, and a young man generally esteemed by all who knew him.

2. Lucy D. Hamilton, born 20 January 1844, died 11 November 1850, age 6. Lucy lies buried in the Prattsburgh Old Cemetery, Prattsburgh, New York.

3. Freelove Adelaide “Addie” Hamilton, born 1848, died 9 April 1912. She married (as her first husband) 16 September 1868 in Hinsdale, Joseph D. Witter, who died 6 June 1879. Addie & Joseph were the parents of four children. Addie married (as her second husband) 7 February 1883, Clarence B. Conklin, who was born 1850 and died 30 November 1925. Addie & Clarence had one daughter. Addie died of cancer when she was about 64. She had played quite an important part in her younger brother Charles’ childhood and adolescent period, being both sister and mother to him. Following are Charles’ thoughts about her two husbands:

Joseph Witter was one of the finest men I ever knew. Honest, industrious, a devout Christian, a fine husband and father. He had a wonderful sense of humor, and saw something funny in nearly all situations. My sister told me that, in their eleven years of married life, he never spoke crossly to her but once. He treated me as I had never been treated before. Joe, treated me as a man, made me drive the team, draw the milk to the cheese-factory, and work alone in the fields dragging. He gave me kindly advice and correction when needed.

Clarence was honest and upright, but painfully ‘close’ in money matters. Two months after their marriage, he lost his mind, and was incarcerated for several months in the Buffalo asylum for the insane. His mind was not very clear during his last years.

4. Charles Amos Hamilton (Tim’s great-grandfather), born 19 March 1866 in Hinsdale, died 28 October 1943 in Batavia (Genesee) New York. He married 30 June 1897 in Albion (Orleans) New York, Gertrude Mabel Hubbard, who was born 9 December 1874 in Albion, and died 31 May 1965 in Marlboro (Monmouth) New Jersey, daughter of Delorma Brown and Emma (Pridmore) Hubbard. Charles & Gertrude were the parents of one daughter.

Charles Munson & Rachel were the parents of a daughter:

1. Myra Eliza Hamilton, who lived for only three days in March 1871.

Namesake

5.6.17 ~ Katherine at the grave of her great-great-grandparents

She’s too little to understand just yet but I think she recognized her name, the one she shares with her great-great-grandmother, Katherine. We were at the cemetery to spread some of my aunt’s ashes on her parents’ grave, as she had wished us to do. Will share some things from the memorial we had for my Aunt Lil soon…

impaired executive function

Most people on the spectrum have some level of executive function impairment, but how that impairment impacts our lives can vary greatly from person to person.
~ Cynthia Kim
(Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate)

The most fascinating aspect of autism that I have encountered so far is the idea of impaired executive function. It’s not something that usually gets listed with other features of autism and I had no idea what “executive functioning” could possibly mean.

Executive function is a broad term that refers to the cognitive processes that help us regulate, control, and manage our thoughts and actions. It includes planning, working memory, attention, problem solving, verbal reasoning, inhibition, cognitive flexibility, initiation of actions, and monitoring of actions.
~ Cynthia Kim
(Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate)

I have trouble with all these things! I’ve long considered myself to be inept, clumsy, absent-minded and inflexible — to think how long I’ve desperately tried to force myself to be flexible and easy-going. Even my children tried not to spring things on me, not wanting mom to get hopelessly flustered.

It’s difficult for me to finish a chore if it has too many steps. Sometimes I have to write down each and every step if I want to have any hope of getting the job done. Lists are my friends, I think.

Driving is overwhelming because there are too many things going on to pay attention to. I use my left foot for the brake because the right foot is for the gas pedal. One foot can’t seem to handle two different assignments. When I finally got my driver’s license at the age of 21 the person who tested me decided to pass me if I promised to work on using the one foot for both pedals. He said if I used both feet I would get mixed up and push the wrong pedal sometimes. Now I am glad I didn’t listen to him because I have never gotten the pedals mixed up doing it my way. Now I know why — my brain works a little differently.

I also have many difficulties with problem solving. Often it just doesn’t occur to me that doing something a bit differently would be faster or more effective. And very often I don’t even recognize a problem until someone points it out to me. (I do appreciate the helpful hints, by the way, humble being that I am.) And sometimes when trying to do something familiar in a new setting or at a different time or with different people I simply freeze. In fact freeze is my automatic response when faced with the anxiety of a fight-flight-freeze situation.

When I was a child we often went to visit my widowed aunt who needed my parents’ help with home maintenance and yard work. She always had a stack of gift catalogs — like Harriet Carter, Lillian Vernon, Carol Wright, Miles Kimball — but I called them problem-solving catalogs. My parents never had these fascinating resources! While Auntie was cooking a Sunday dinner I used to study them carefully, amazed at all the clever gadgets people invented to solve problems I never imagined existed!

Something more recent now… I have two tall bookcases with glass doors that I need to move to finish painting the living/dining room. I wanted someone to help me by standing on the floor while I stood on a chair and emptied the top shelf, handing them the items to put on the table. I wanted to do it this way because I didn’t want to have to keep getting up on and down off the chair. That’s pretty much how I always tackled the problem but when I was younger there was always a child available to help me out.

Then one night about a week ago I was sitting on the couch looking at them and it suddenly occurred to me that I could take things off a lower shelf and then move the things off the top shelf onto the lower shelf while still standing on the chair. I was amazed at my sudden and unfamiliar brilliance! Why didn’t I think of this years ago?

What is unusual here is that I figured this one out by myself. To do things my way is usually tedious at best. Most of the shortcuts I’ve learned over the years for doing housework have come from how-to books or from friends and relatives pointing things out to me. I still remember how enlightened I felt when my aunt told me about felt circles I could stick to the bottom of the kitchen chairs to muffle the loud noise they made when moved across the floor. Who knew?

Frustratingly, an executive function deficit is not something you can fix by simply trying harder. Often, other people will look at the symptoms of impaired executive function and assume the autistic person is lazy, spaced out, or disorganized. If only they would make more effort, everything could be fixed. In fact, I think most autistic people — including me — think this of themselves at times.
~ Cynthia Kim
(Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate)