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.


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.


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…


Two degrees off-center…


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?


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.”


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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?