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.

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Mary

Grammy’s house

When I began this blog, so many months ago, I never expected the fresh grief or the healing it would bring. Each memory brought both joy and melancholy as I revisited my childhood days. Of hooligans and shenanigans and Uncles that would sit in their rocking chairs and the sweet sound of my grandmother’s whistle as she did her choirs…

Of all these posts, only one hit me so hard I had to recall, and make it private. I thought to share it with you, as I’m ready to move on. It’s called “Grammy’s house.”

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Dear Rosa,

So I’m writing this while the feelings are fresh and please forgive me if its raw and unfinished. Please forgive me if I don’t edit – it’s a bit difficult to see through the tears.

I  sought Gram’s old house on Summer Street today.

What do you think, Pop, there’s a car in the driveway – can I could drop by for a quick visit? Somehow I hoped he say no. It’d been over 30 years since I last stepped into that house…

It would be best if I came with you, Suss, my dad said with such sad and gentle eyes, the new gal knows who I am – I helped her after Hurricane Irene flooded the place.

We walked down the road, moving at a slow pace, although my breathing came hard. Everything in the neighborhood had changed and yet in a strange way, it remained the same. There at the bottom of the hill was Mrs. Cannon’s house – my other great-grandmother. And there, across the street and right next to Gram’s was the Clough’s place.

Scott’s dead now, Dad said.  Hit a tree trying to avoid a deer.

I thought of Scotty, his soft blonde hair and shy smile – frozen forever in my memory as a young boy. No one would’ve guessed from his adventuresome nature and passion for kickball that he had no future…

We turned the corner onto Summer Street. I watched my father climb the front steps and knock on the door.

This is my daughter, he said as way of introduction, she grew up here, this was her Grammy’s place.

The woman seemed to understand right away. Of course, she smiled and welcomed us in.

Damn. Gram would’ve been pissed.

What was I thinking? That it would all be as she left it? That nothing would’ve changed? That 30 years of floods and countless owners would have kept it intact? And just why was I driven to see it today when I’d hadn’t stepped foot in it since she died?

Her beloved cookstove was gone, the pantry too. They’d even moved the stinkin shed that Marty Dyer, her boarder, used to keep all of his stuff. The floods had taken everything too many times to count. 1927, 1978 and 2011 were bad years for Gram’s house. Even the walls were different.

I felt her though, an echo of her presence.

I merely had to close my eyes to picture the countless scenes… of Gram in her rocker near the woodstove and all of us huddled around watching the tiny black and white tv as Richard Nixon resigned from the White House… Gram whistling the weirdest, saddest song while she cleaned her goldfish tank… Gram hauling her old ringer washer out and ramming her sheets through and me giggling when they came out flat as a pancake.

And I watched my dad as he looked around and wondered:  just how in hell did he do it? How did he not sink into despair when he saw how much had changed? This was his home, not mine – his memories of a childhood gone.

I see my father in a different light now. Courage and strength and by the grace of God he continues on and marks the passage of time. Imagine, to be the last of eight kids, carrying the memories of a lifetime that is no more, walking with courage and dignity into a house cherished by his beloved mother…

I rail against time and it’s cold, cruel nature. I hate that I’ve opened these memories and allowed fresh grief to thrive. I miss these people, Clarence, Lilah, Gram and Hiram. I miss the Sunday afternoons, the conversations, smell of fresh coffee from the bubbling percolator and the taste of her chocolate cake. I miss the life I once had and can never have again.

My daughter brought comfort in the form of a hug. It’s good, she said, that the house is cared for, that the person who lives there has made it their own. Your gram would’ve wanted that.

And damned if she isn’t right.

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Two degrees off-center…

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Dear Rosa,

If one were to liken a soul to a gyroscope, then mine was knocked off-center by two degrees some thirty years ago.  The day my grandmother died.

Mary Ferry, “Mrs. Ferry” she was called by all the neighbors. You knew her as daughter. For me she was simply “Grammy.” I’ve written of her, scattered thereabouts, stories of her tough spirit, romantic side and always the pragmatic approach to grand kids.

So why write of her again and why now?

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Because, as I look back over the past six months, I see a pattern and hear a child’s grief of all that is lost to me. No one said the people I grew up with wouldn’t be there forever. All those Uncles and Aunts and cousins – the ones that filled Grammy’s kitchen and brought life, anger, joy and sorrow. These people were supposed to be around for the great “always.”

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Some passed away too soon. Long before they were ready.

Clarence fought. He fought like hell to stay just one more day. Still, it wasn’t enough.

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Others, like Everett – the scrawny lad pictured on the left couldn’t wait to leave.

The bottle took care of that.

And Earle  – the one of the far right? Mean man. Didn’t like him. But he was my father’s brother.

He visited Gram so often that he became a fixture. So, to a small child’s mind, he would always be around, right?

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And the ones that left me later in life? Them I miss the most.

Maybe because I felt they really would be here forever, like Hyrim and his sweet wife, Rae.

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Or Paul and Lilah.

And the last to leave won’t be the last. The gyroscope is wobbling now as I watch my parents age.

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When I see this dashing figure, standing in front of his beloved plane and think –

how can Dad not be here to tell me the stories? No one will be left that remembers.

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And my mom. My sweet and so incredibly lovely mother.

How could I even contemplate my world without her?

And so you see, it won’t take much to send that gyroscope careening again.

I still have my four brothers and I’m going to treasure them always. Aunts and Uncles and cousins to my daughters.

Ones that gather at Christmas to eat and laugh and love.

Were we ever that young?

It’s just – how do I tell my kids that always is not always forever?

Blair Family Fiction

November 1, 1927…

Dear Rosa,

I remember asking your daughter about the ’27 flood when I was just a kid. Too young to understand the devastation, yet I caught the tension in her clipped words. Water rose to the second floor. Took the family cow. Swept away all of the musical instruments we’d just bought for Christmas.

That’s it. That’s all I could get out of her. So, let me fill in the picture, starting a few days before the flood, with my wicked imagination. It’s a good thing I’m married to a well-grounded man or I’d simply float away…

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The Peddlar was to come that day and wasn’t Mary excited. Rosa smiled as she continued sweeping her kitchen. And why shouldn’t she be? Henry, Mary’s husband had taken a job at the mill. She’d scrimped and saved every penny. She’d sacrificed by raising those babies nearly by herself…

Rosa’s brow drew together. At high cost, too. Mary takes after me, with her tiny frame and boundless energy. She’s to watch herself and take better care…

The worrisome thought was interrupted by the front door flying open. A loud, wet brood of children rushed inside.

“Earle, get back here and take those wet shoes off-”

The brow softened, the grin widened. My brood, if only for today.

“Are you sure this is okay, Mum? I know you’ve other things to do…”

“Go now and see to your business. He only comes once a month and with this infernal rain, you’re lucky he made it at all.”

A quick peck and Mary hurried out the door.

Trumpets and guitars, violins and recorders. Rosa knew the treasures that would be hidden beneath the Christmas tree that year. This would be a lavish holiday, one unlike any other now that Henry was working at the woolen mill.

Rosa never entertained children. A hard-working, pragmatic Vermonter would allow them to find and create their own activities. So she didn’t mind when it started with a game of hide and seek. Lord knows there were enough nooks and crannies in that old house – enough to hide far more than the four that were scattered about. She picked up little Clarence and set him to rocking in her lap. The boy did so love to move. She sang for him a melody without words knowing it would soothe and help him to sleep.

Mary returned a few hours later with flushed cheeks and a sparkle in her eyes Rosa hadn’t seen for a very long time.

“Are you all set?’ She asked as Mary reached for Clarence.

“A-yup – Dad’s storing them in the shed for now. Gonna be a surprise.”

Rosa helped gather the other young ones, helped them put on their rain slickers and galoshes. She took a hug from each one with a smile.

As Mary stepped out into the rain, Rosa lost her joy, just for a moment. November 1st and we’ve still more rain. I suppose I should be thankful it’s not snow…

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Fredie

Dear Rosa,

I’ve come full circle, back to my very first letter to you. Back to the photo I treasure so much. And back to your little boy, gone before his time.

Fredie Blair, born January 1898, died October 26, 1902. Dead at the age of 4.

In my sweep through genealogy this summer, I came across him, little Fredie, and just had to know what happened. Any unsure of the power of familysearch.org should now be convinced. Here is his death certificate, fuzzy yet clearly telling. He died of pneumonia.

I understand the family photo now. I get the urgency you must’ve felt. Perhaps it’s a bit indulgent and another flight of fancy, but here is how I envision the scene unfolding…

Gather them Henry, you said, we’re to go to the photographer this very afternoon. I’ll not let another day slip away with nothing but memories to keep me … you broke off as the tears began again. Henry hurried to harness the old mare.

Aunt Hattie?

That’s right, Frankie, you heard right. Now dress in your Sunday clothes and be quick. Your mum’s waiting in the carriage.

Mary wouldn’t need any prodding, Rosa’s sister knew, she’d do anything to please her mum. Anything to lessen that terrible ache.

The ride to the photographer’s was silent, as most outings were just now. Fredie would’ve brought the laughter. Seemed he took it all away when he died. Damn those cold October rains. Henry clicked the horse on faster. Last thing he needed was more sickness, more death and them out and exposed in an open buggy for God’s sake.

Rosa stared ahead with an arm wrapped tightly around each child. She’d hold them close. She’d keep them warm. There could be no more loss in her family.

The photographer nodded his understanding at their unscheduled appearance. Word had spread throughout town about young Fredie’s death.

Sit here, Mrs. Blair, he directed kindly and Mary, love? You’re to her left.

Frankie, he guided him, stand close now. She needs you, see?

Hattie’s to be in the picture, you demanded. Not another damn day without some kind of image. Some way to remember those that pass before their time.

Little Frankie’s hand slipped on top of your’s, Rosa, just in the last second and in an instinctive gesture of love. I’m still here, he seems to say with the innocence of a 7-year-old. I still need you to be okay.

In that moment, that click of a shutter, you lived on Rosa. I see you and your two precious children. I understand now the terrible sorrow and fierce determination in your gaze. Fredie’s missing in the photo, but not in your heart.

And now you live in mine.

Tom-Foolery

Sock-wackers

Dear Rosa,

See now, this I know we got from you – as direct descendants from poverty, my generation learned how to make do, how to craft simple games from scavenged items and find joy with no money involved. Tag was for the weak, the uninspired. And football? Baseball? Kickball? How boring, unless, of course, you combined all three. At the same time.

On long, rainy fall days, my brothers and I would roam restlessly through the house, looking for God knows what and driving our mother to distraction. Our whining knew no limits until she finally lost her remaining thread of patience and kicked us out.

Go, make something up, she said and pointed to the front door.

But mooommmmm…. it’s wet outside, we bleated, and it’s getting darrrkkkk…

Now.

The order was not to be disobeyed.

Wind had arrived with the rain, bringing the leaves down in a carpet of reds and golds. Beautiful, but we were kids, who cared about that stuff.

You know, Jimmy, I said, kicking the leaves with my foot. This could be kinda fun…

Too wet to jump in sis – unless you want to go ahead.

No, I murmured, not jump in…

But wack with, he finished my sentence.

We flew into the house, ignoring my mom’s protests of wet shoes and mud tracking to seek the bottom drawer of the coat closet.

Ah yes, the bottom drawer. A place of wonder and secrets and treasures. Among other things, Dad and David kept their wool hunting socks there… you know the kind- long, grey with a band of orange on top? And just what was with that splash of color – what idiot would tuck their pants into their socks? Oops, they did, apparently.

We secreted our treasure outside…

And packed the ends, just the toes, with the wettest, most smelly decayed leaves we could find. Jim’s grin said it all.

The first wack left a wet smudge just below my knee. My aim was true-er and he took a hit full force on the back.

Peels of laughter now rang out in the dark, a mysterious calling that beckoned the local kids to rouse from their wood stove-induced lethargy and venture outside to see what all the commotion was about.

It didn’t take long for more to join in.

Soon there were a half-dozen screaming, running, wacking kids in our yard.

A moment of peace, that’s all Mom wanted and that’s what we were giving her. Well, at least we were outside…

After countless strikes, the socks lost their elasticity and began to stretch, but we didn’t mind. In fact, we liked it – longer socks gave us room to manuever. One didn’t have to venture as close to the enemy to get in a good hit.

Did we catch holy-hell for this malarky?

Sure we did.

Was it worth it?

You betcha.

Did we do it again?

Countless times, only we used the same socks so they would never know. Please don’t tell them, it’s a secret.

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Little Earle

Dear Rosa,

He was your great-grandson and you never met him. Earle’s son and how did someone so sweet come from someone so arrogant and mean?

Little Earle. Special needs and gifted beyond belief, just in a different way than most would understand.

I spoke with my brother, Dave, about him. Had to, he was the closest to Little Earle, he knew him best. Dave said he’d type something up, I thought for now I’d share a few things about this precious soul using his words. Hope he doesn’t mind.

Little Earle loved heavy equipment. Knew everything about them. What size engine, how much horsepower they had. He was happy just sitting in the car watching a construction site. Hours and he would never get bored.

He could list every one of the 161 cars his father owned. Only bought one new once, the rest he traded. Little Earle, Dave said, could tell you their make, model even their colors. Every one of them.

I didn’t miss the tremble in Dave’s voice.

Little Earle would call, Dave said and ask when he was coming to take him to lunch. Had to be careful, couldn’t disappoint Little Earle. Had to make sure he could come when he said. Took him to Burger King a few times a month. Little Earle loved the toys, said they had the best. Special lunches were at Friendly’s and he’d have the shrimp. Still had to swing by Burger King for that toy after…

He went to the Waterbury Flea Market with Joe every weekend. Lived with Joe. Joe was good for Little Earle, taught him about mechanics and healthy food. Sold organic honey and maple syrup they brought from Canada. He was a fixture at the market for many years. He loved the watches. Loved to take them apart. He had jars of parts, gears and such and nothing gave him greater joy than a gift of a cheap watch.

Dave paused and I pressed for more.

He wished others would just get along.

Now I heard the emotion, the love Dave had for Little Earle.

He’d get anxious when people got angry or upset. Couldn’t understand and hated it.

Little Earle passed three years ago. I can still feel Dave’s sadness.

I found this at the Harvest Market yesterday and pictured Little Earle and the way he’d nod his head when he agreed with something. Yup, yup he’d say.

Thought of Dave and how, even now, he’ll go to Little Earle’s marker and leave him a few cheap watches. Somehow, I know Little Earle appreciates Dave and the gift.

Somehow, he knows he’s missed.