Rosa · Uncategorized

I found you, my Rosa…

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My Dearest Rosa,

Well, it was a sweet search and one that culminated in a wonderful moment for Sue.

I knew where you were buried, in a little cemetery in Duxbury, Vermont, right alongside your husband, Henry and son, Freddie. It took a while to find you and it was such a charm when I did.

You were there, beneath a shady lilac tree, you and Henry and I was so moved.

My Rosa. My great-grandmother.

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And the little white marker besides yours and Henry’s? It’s your son, Freddie’s. You can’t read his name anymore. 100 years have stolen it away. But, if you look close, you can just make out, “Age 4 years.” Freddie didn’t live long enough, did he?

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And see, Rosa- I thought you might like to know I’ve found you’re mom, Elizabeth. She rests close to me, in Burlington.  Your sister, Hattie,  is there, too.

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I found a measure of peace, knowing you were so well cared for. And the lilac tree- I know where it came from- your daughter, my grammy, must’ve planted it.

She had a matching tree in her yard.

It’s  still there you know, grammy’s lilac tree. Just like yours, it continues to thrive and bring a reminder of the changing of the seasons, the passing of time, and the memory of those who’ve come before us.

Rosa

I found them! Well, sort of…

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Elisabeth and Peter Drinkwine

Dear Rosa-

My husband and I went searching in Burlington for your mother’s  marker. I’d seen a picture of the gravestone, so I knew Elizabeth was buried with Peter Drinkwine, her second husband, and their child, Hattie. I knew we were in the right place, but dang it – we just couldn’t seem to find it. While we were there, I thought to search for Elizabeth’s brother, Newell and their father, Louis.

Nope, came up with nothing.

So, I zipped down to the French Canadian Genealogy Society to search their records.  The gentleman in charge was so very  helpful.

“There he is!” I think the man lost some hearing in his right ear. “Louis Blain, my great-great grandfather!”

He smiled and turned the page. “This is his wife’s marker in Burlington.”

“But he’s not there.” My hopes were dashed in an instant.

He looked at me with such knowing eyes. “Was he married twice?”

“Yup, his first wife died. Louis remarried when he was 74.”

“Then he would be buried with his first wife.”

Mystery solved. Louis rests in peace next to Mary Bourdeau, I believe in Massachusetts or New York.

And Newell? His wife, Mathilda, died when she was young and he never remarried. I’ll find him when I find her.

So, Rosa, I come back to your mother. She was too stinking young when she married John Drinkwine (she was barely 16), he was too stinking old  (40 years her senior) and he had too many stinking kids (he had 9 before, then 9 more with her). I wonder- what does it say that Elizabeth is buried with her second husband, Peter?

I say, “Good for you, Elizabeth!”

Rosa

such sweet torture…

Dear Rosa,

The month of March is such sweet torture! Warm weather, followed by cold. Melting snow followed by a fresh foot and all of us just itching to get outside and rake! I thought I’d write a little story, nothing too fancy, just a reflection on what March 10th might have been for you…

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Rosa woke early and shivered. Why were March mornings always so cold? She hurried to dress in the thick robe and slippers, careful not to wake Henry. He needed to rest. She wouldn’t take any chances with this benign cold – too often they turned into pneumonia.

The floor board squeaked nearest the door, so she tip-toed around it, satisfied with her stealth and silent departure. She’d get the fire started downstairs and breakfast cooking, and maybe even a chore or two done before he rose.

Rosa rubbed her hands and moved into the kitchen. Her kitchen, she noted, was poorly lit but always well-organized. She didn’t need to see – she knew where everything was stored.

The song she hummed was old. The origin was long ago forgotten, but it was all she had left of her French grandmother, Mary Bourdeau. Now there was a tough women, Rosa thought as she set the kettle to boiling. Birthing all those babies in Canada, watching her husband, Louis follow the work trail, returning only long enough to baptize the last child, and start the next one.

She smiled as she thought of her mother, Elizabeth, and the stories of her childhood. How they’d wander the family farm and knew where all the good swimming and fishing holes were. It wouldn’t have been easy. The smiled faded. Life in rural Canada had driven the Blains to the United States in search of work. Forget about riches, they sought to survive, to put food in the  mouths of all those babes.

The first ray of sun broke over the mountain, casting Rosa’s kitchen in a warm, golden light. She took a sip of tea and stared out the window. Today, she’d throw open those sashes, beat out the rugs, line the rails with blankets. Today, she’d freshen the air in her house and maybe even let that damned fire go out.

Today, the March breeze would be warm and soft and inviting. Tomorrow, she knew, would probably be just the opposite. No one understood better the capricious nature of March than Rosa.

Rosa

Meet the Blaines, I mean the Blairs, I mean the Blains…

Dear Rosa,

What a twisting, roller coaster of a ride this genealogy process can be. First, you were Blaine, then Blair, and now back to Blain. Never Scottish, but French! And when we go a bit further back, your family was Hablan. Wa-what???!!

So, I thought it might be kinda cool for you to see a few of the official Canadian records, starting with Newell Blair, my great-grandfather. Here he is, as listed on his baptismal certificate in Canada:

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Ah, Newell you are Noel!

And remember the mighty Louis Blair, aka, Enos Louis Blair? Allow you to introduce my Civil War hero and Newell’s father and mother:

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Pretty cool, huh? Even cooler is this next one. Here are his parents. Remember Enos Blair, born 1794 in Canada? No? That’s okay. He’s the one that stumped me from the beginning and now I know why. Check out the name and sound it out (the “g” is silent in French). Ignace Blain… hear it? Ignace – Enos? Yippee!!

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I mean, how very interesting (this is me clearing my throat) and look, there are his parents, Jacques and Pauline.

And so you see, in a perfect world, I would be showing you proof positive that my Blairs originally came from Scotland. Alas, they were never Blair, but Blain and Frenchmen all. I suppose really should learn how to read and write French.

Now just where did I put that blasted dictionary?

(I really have to give a shout out and heartfelt thank you to Lou – my third cousin and partner in all this mayhem. Rosa would be so touched to learn that a descendant of her sister, Sophia, is such a nice man!)

Mary · Rosa

Mary’s time of grief…

Dear Rosa,

I hoped this day would come. That I would know where you and Henry rested, where I could go and pay my respects, maybe introduce myself and let you know that you are remembered. I found you yesterday, buried in a little cemetery in Duxbury, Vermont.

There’s only one left who actually met you. My dad, your grandson, Henry. He was just a kid when you died, but he still remembers his Grammy Blaine. And so, I’ll paint a picture of that day and let the words flow…

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October 16, 1944

It would be Mary’s time of grief, of letting go and so Henry would see to the burial. Rosa, his wife of over fifty years, had finally lost to the silent disease that had racked her body, left her bed-ridden and in pain.

He opened his arms and Mary crawled inside. So tiny, just as his Rosa, he thought and felt her trying to hold back her sorrow so she could continue on with the day ahead. She had five sons still fighting in the Great War. All would need her care and comfort when they returned home.  She would have to be strong for them.

“Where?” She sniffed into his sleeve.

“She’ll rest with Freddie.”

It was Rosa’s final request and one Henry agreed to without hesitation. A mother should be with her child and so he’d purchased a plot in the little cemetery where they’d buried their son, Freddie, over thirty years ago.

“I’ll be there one day, too, Mary,” he pulled back to search her face. “You’ll see to that?”

She nodded.  “As you should, Papa.”

“I’m sorry that she won’t be here with you, in Northfield.”

“She needs to be with Freddie. He shouldn’t be alone.”

Mary wiped her eyes and pulled away. He knew the day she faced, the grief she’d have to hide in order to cook and prepare for family that continued to arrive with the word of Rosa’s death. The Boivans, the Blains, there were too many to count and more would only come throughout the week to pay their final respects.

And the daughter-in-laws, the ones with babies – her grandbabies- they would need her strength to get through the calamity of war. They would need to see her face death with compassion and grace.

There’s just too much weight for those tiny shoulders…

Henry watched Mary leave the room and fought back a flood of grief. Not yet, not till this is over and I can be alone. This pain was for him and no one else to see. Soon, he knew, and not too far in the future, he would take his place beside his wife and son and they would be a family once again.

In death, he could give little Freddie what he could not do in life: he could give him forever.

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Henry and Rosa Blaine are buried in a tiny cemetery next to their beloved child, Freddie Blaine.

Rosa

Elizabeth Blair, my great-great grandmother…

Dear Rosa,

I’ve learned quite a few things this past week. All good. Some startling, most just down right amazing. My heartfelt thanks goes out to Lou, my 3rd cousin re-discovered, a man as generous with his time as his knowledge of French Canadian genealogy.

So, here I am, sitting and typing and trying to process all this new information about you, Rosa, and your wonderful, hard-working emigrant family. I’ve months of stories in the making, some already beginning to percolate. For now though, I thought I’d just share a little about your mum.

Elizabeth Blair Drinkwine. My great-great grandmother.

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It all started with her. She was the one that stumped me, mystified and eluded. I couldn’t find her, no matter how I searched.

Until this fall, when I finally found her death certificate and realized, she’d been there all along. That her father was Newell’s, that his parents were Louis and Mary Blair.

Just a few facts for you now – I don’t wish to overwhelm or bore. Just a few simple numbers that reflect a woman’s life a hundred and fifty years ago.

Ready?

Elizabeth Blair was born in Lacolle, Canada in 1849.

By 1860, she was living in Jericho, Vermont with the Borrowdales as a domestic servant.

She was just 11 years old.

There are laws against this now.

By 1865, Elizabeth is married to a man more than thirty years her senior. John Boivan, a widower, has already sired 11 children. She becomes mother to them, most are her age, some might be even older.

There are laws against this now, too.

By the time John dies of old age, Elizabeth has had 9 children with him. All told, the man has 20 children.

This isn’t a picture of John. None exist that I know of. No, this is Peter Drinkwine. John’s brother? One of his sons? That I don’t know yet either.

I have to hope she found some happiness with this man. God knows she deserved it.

So, there it is and I am tired, but satisfied. You know, like a sleepy cat, resting up? The journey, you see, is only just beginning…

Rosa

A sister for Rosa…

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Dear Rosa,

Well, what an incredible weekend this was. I attended a workshop on tracing French Canadian genealogy, hoping to learn more about the Blairs and where they came from in Canada.   After the workshop, I was approached by a man who was fairly bursting with excitement.

“Did you say John Drinkwine and Elizabeth Blair?” he asked me.

“Sure, those were my great-great-grandparents.  Rosa Drinkwine Blair was their daughter. She was my great-grandmother.”

Oh boy, did he smile.

“Those are my great-great grandparents, too! They had another daughter, Sophia Drinkwine.”

“I’ve seen that name. Rosa had a sister named Sophia.”

Oh yeah, it’s a small damned world. But wait, it gets cooler…

The one story I know about Rosa was she was tiny and smoked 9″ white owl cigars. The one story this man knew about Sophia, his great grandmother, was she worked in a cigar factory.

Yup, now we were both grinning.

He sent me this picture of Sophia (seated) surrounded by her children. It was taken just a few years after my picture of Rosa. See the similarities?

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photo credit: Joel Wheeler

And now onto the really, really small world-part. He was saying how he was related to the Drinkwines that lived in Northfield (my hometown) and through them to some gentleman by the name of Ferry. Henry Ferry.

“That’s my dad,” I answered and just how in hell did I find my voice?

Seems as though this man and I are distant cousins. Think of it – seated in a small workshop, just minding our own business and if I hadn’t queried about the Blair’s and Boivin’s we never would’ve met. And now he’s told me he has a picture of Elizabeth Blair – our great-great-great grandmother?

Someone tie me down, I’m about to float away.