Upon the Waves of the World

Dennis’ 400 sea captains earned their living upon the waves of the world. Their journeys took them to faraway lands inhabited by exotic peoples. Years, sometimes a good part of a decade would go by before they returned home to see family and friends. Yet this is the life they chose. Perhaps the spray and smell and salt of the ocean was in their blood, calling them from the rooted land to journey upon the rising and falling waves of the sea.
~ Jack Sheedy
(Dennis Journal)

My grandmother loved telling me stories about her own grandfather and often reminded me that the sea was in my blood. I’m pretty sure it was this sea captain who took his second wife with him on a few of his voyages and bought her a “monkey” in some foreign land. Apparently the creature was a “holy terror” on the ship but she adored him.

My 2nd-great-grandfather, Capt. Martin Edward Thompson, firstborn son of Martin and Ann Isabella (Hughs) Thompson, was born 4 August 1850 in Dennis (Barnstable) Massachusetts, and died in 1928. He married (as his first wife) 5 July 1874 in Harwich (Barnstable) Massachusetts, Elisabeth Emma “Lizzie” Freeman, who was born 4 September 1851 in Harwich, and died there 4 October 1876, daughter of Warren and Elisabeth (Weekes) Freeman.

Martin was named after his father, a Norwegian immigrant, and followed in his footsteps, becoming a Master Mariner and captain of the schooner Nellie Lamphear. He also served on coasting vessels, tug boats, and was licensed to enter any port in the world. In 1910 he was elected port warden of Boston by the Boston Marine Society, the oldest association of sea captains in the world.

Elisabeth died of a “stoppage” when she was 25 years old and her baby son was only 18 months old. Her gravestone is inscribed:

Fled O forever from our view
A dear daughter, wife and mother, too:
She was a treasure lent, not given:
To be called away from Earth to Heaven.
Life to her looked bright and joyous
And her home was very dear:
To the summons of her Savior,
She gently yielded without fear.

1880 Captain Martin E. Thompson House, Dennis Port

The 1880 census indicates that, now a widower, Martin was living with his parents and his young son. Five years after Lizzie’s death, Martin married (as his second wife) her younger sister, Rosilla Ida “Rosie” Freeman, 23 February 1882 in Dennis. Rosie was born 6 March 1856 in Harwich, and died 18 March 1923, without children. In 1900, Martin and Rosilla were living as lodgers in the house of Nancy H. Merrill in Lynn, Massachusetts.

Beverly, Barbara and our cousin Matthew with Nellie’s carriage

Martin owned a beloved horse named Nellie (named after his schooner or vice versa?) who lived in the barn at 114 Depot St. in Dennis. He gave his granddaughter, my grandmother, her first three cars. According to my grandfather, Martin and his granddaughter Thommie worshiped each other. The first car was a Model T that had to have the carbon scraped every week. The next was a 2-door sedan Model T. Martin lies buried with his second wife, Rosilla, in Swan Lake Cemetery in Dennis, and Emma, his first wife, is buried in the same cemetery but in another lot with his parents and other members of his family.

Elisabeth & Martin were the parents of one son:

1. Capt. Martin Freeman Thompson (my great-grandfather), born 29 March 1875 in Harwich, died 13 July 1965 in Dennis. He married 1 February 1900 in Dennis, Amanda Eliza Hamblin, who was born there 2 August 1879 and died 6 July 1966 in Taunton (Bristol) Massachusetts, daughter of Capt. William Nelson and Anna Eliza (Baker) Hamblin. Martin & Amanda were the parents of one daughter.

In 1964 my grandparents inherited and moved into Martin’s house at 114 Depot Street, along with my great-grandparents, who they were caring for. Some of our happiest family memories were made there. My dear cousin Matthew bought the house in 2001 after our grandfather died. He renovated the place, keeping its historical integrity and was awarded a certificate of appreciation from the Dennis Historical Commission in 2005. Sadly, the house had to be sold in 2009.

new adventures

6.18.17 ~ Durham, North Carolina

Katherine still loves music. So, after dropping off her papa at the airport for a 2-week business trip to Ireland, her mama and I took her to a cool place in Durham called Notasium, a music-based indoor play space. The heat and humidity outside was unbearable the first week of my visit.

6.18.17 ~ Durham, North Carolina

Katherine ran and danced with joy. She loved pressing the buttons to hear music from different cultures (Mexico was her favorite) and then running over to the bouncy house to jump with her mom and look out the screen window. Then back to the Touch Notes and repeat.

6.18.17 ~ Durham, North Carolina

Katherine had agreed to the rule to wear socks in the play space, but after a while, since she prefers going barefoot, she decided to remove her socks. Her mother gently reminded her of the rule.

6.18.17 ~ Durham, North Carolina ~ waiting for mom to come out of the bouncy house

Then on to a giant slide. One is supposed to climb a giant guitar fret-board to get to the top of the slide!

6.18.17 ~ Durham, North Carolina
6.18.17 ~ Durham, North Carolina

Later, when we were looking over these pictures Katherine exclaimed, “My beautiful dress!” It is her favorite and she wore it quite often while I was visiting. 🙂 These were the only pictures I got during my two week stay. On the days when I had Katherine, while Larisa was at work, there was no way to pause and take pictures.

But they were delightfully happy hours. My heart melted when Katherine finally started calling me Grammy. And when she loved my (grass-fed beef, gluten-free) meatloaf and roasted baby potatoes and roasted Brussels sprouts. (So I made it again the second week!) Most days we sported matching pony tails. 🙂

I also had a chance to visit with friends from high school living in the area, and family. Tim’s brother and his wife recently moved back from Germany to a place about an hour and a half away from Larisa & Dima. Fran and I had a good day taking Katherine to the Museum of Life & Science. It was a very busy, exhausting, but super lovely visit!

deep in the woods

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum

On Saturday afternoon my sister and I did some hiking in the uncultivated part of the Connecticut College Arboretum. It was like being in the woods we played in and rambled through as children. We encountered a doe along our path, she stopped short when she spotted us and then darted off sideways into the woods.

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum

Nature — sometimes sears a Sapling —
Sometimes — scalps a Tree —
Her Green People recollect it
When they do not die —
~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #457)

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ gypsy moth caterpillar, an invasive forest pest from Europe

When I was at the doctor for a check-up last week he said it seemed like he was treating nothing but rashes from these little villains. Why do people even touch them, I wondered? But they can dangle from invisible threads and I was startled when I walked right into one. No rash, so far…

Death is like the insect
Menacing the tree
Competent to kill it,
But decoyed may be.

Bait it with the balsam
Seek it with the saw,
Baffle, it cost you
Everything you are.

Then, if it have burrowed
Out of reach of skill —
Wring the tree and leave it.
‘Tis the vermin’s will.

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #1783)

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum

For some reason I am drawn to trees that seem dead, but sculptural, and yet still have a few green leaves up near the crown. Sometimes dying is a very gradual process.

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ this feels like a carefully composed still life to me

And this, our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.
~ William Shakespeare
(As You Like It)

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ roots

One will see roots while looking down (photo above), of course, but also when looking up (photo below). The tree below decided it could grow sticking out of a rock face, high above the ground. There must have been just enough soil between the layers of rock for it to sustain itself. Maybe it is strong enough to move the rock some to give the roots more space.

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ tree growing out from between two layers of rock

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.
~ William Wordsworth
(The Tables Turned)

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ ferns and mosses on the rock face

Ferns (above) with visible roots growing on the rock face. Plenty of moss to soften the surface, too.

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum

A tree (above) seems to have been blown over in a storm and left with a large cavity between its roots and the rock below. Stones and boulders, dumped by receding glaciers eons ago, are so ubiquitous in Connecticut and it seems the trees have no choice but to grow above, below, around and between them.

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ two more of Emily’s “scalped” trees
6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ a stone benchmark?

I wondered if someone might have set this stone deliberately pointing up as a benchmark for future hiking adventures. It’s amazing to contemplate that these stone walls deep in the woods once surrounded fields and pastures in colonial days. Farmers used the stones cluttering their land to build the walls but in the end, growing crops was difficult. Many eventually abandoned their homes and headed west for better farmland. The woods slowly came back and claimed the landscape once again.

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)

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. ❤