Monday, March 19, 2012

Moving Day
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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Wanna Go Spelunking With Me?

Image from Applause for me..I added this picture using the prong of a fork!
I first heard about spelunking, cave exploring, in college. I don't like small spaces, so I never joined my friends on their nightly Saturday outings. But there's something intriguing about the adventure to be had in the dark when there's a possibility of getting lost. When do you turn around? When is enough enough? How deep into the hole do you dare go?

Today we're going to have some fun. I'm going to tell the story of one of Edmund and Elizabeth Rich's daughters, Addie, and later, after the sun comes up and I'm sure most people have eaten their breakfast, I'll make a phone call to see how the story really went. Or better yet, you tell me what you think happened.

You see, I have been researching Addie and her husband Thomas for a while. I got up at 4am today, and now it's 7. And I'm stumped. I have a ton of facts and one huge gaping hole. 

Come into the hole with me. Let's go 'splorin'!

Addie Rich was born down the road from me in Truro, Massachusetts, Cape Cod, in 1865. She was the third girl of three, sandwiched between Lizzie and Mertie. In her mid-teens she left the Cape with her family and moved to Somerville, and in 1883 married Thomas T. Belyea. 

I know very little about Thomas except that he was born in Nova Scotia to Charles and Mary Belyea and became a citizen in 1896.

I also know that in 1900 he took his wife and kids to farm land either with Addie's brother-in-law George Washington Johnson, or next door to him, because they are neighbors on the 1900 census.

Here's where I take out my flashlight and try my darndest to make sense of what I have found and the bulb goes out. 

I found Addie with three of her children ( Ethel moved out) in the 1910 census, still married, with "none" crossed out for the line where you get to see what someone did for a living, and added over the top of that was "own income". None of the children worked even though they're in their late teens. But I can't find Thomas. Well I can, but the facts have holes. Big ones.

He's in Maine with Mary Macgillivary in 1910. And I know it's him because the facts match. But there's no marriage or divorce records for Thomas and Addie. 

Little Helen is in the sitting room playing marbles on the floor when one flies across the room and under the couch. On her belly reaching, the dust bunnies are actively itching her nose and blocking her view. 

"Someone answer the door!" bellows Forest from the back of the house.

"I always get it! You get it!" cries Helen. But the knock repeats itself because now it knows someone's there.

Opening the door cautiously, hoping to return to her game, Helen grips the knob nervously as she wedges her dusty body in the small space she has left between herself and the strange man on the stoop.

"Bless you!" the man says wiping his coat and taking half a step back as he looks down to the next to the last question on his clipboard.

"What?" asks Pencil Man census-taker because he, like me at times, doesn't have a filter between his brain and his mouth, and is perplexed even though it's not his job to be.

"Nobody in the house is working?" Helen shrinks a foot and swallows, trying to save face as she wonders what the real question is. 

"Wait! Wait! Erase that! My mum doesn't have to work. She has money of her own." Pencil Man's eyeballs look up coldly, stopping midstream.

"Money of her own? What does that mean?" Eyebrows furrow and send 12-yr-old Helen into a panic. 

"Tell him it's none of his business!" yells 18-yr-old Forest from the other room. 

Helen, sweating and exhausted with keeping secrets, cracks. "Dad sends her money." Unibrow squints as the story unfolds in his mini brain and he softens a bit, rewrites some information, and leaves with the door just skimming his nose.

"Who was that?" Addie-Mom asks as she swishes through the room, breaking the tension. 

"Census man." admits Helen with a sigh.

"She told him Dad sends money, "complains Forest. 

"Don't worry, Dear," Addie says trying to comfort Helen when 11-yr-old Edwin walks in.

"Worry about what? What's wrong with her? Mom, I'm going to Charlie's," he announces as he pries Helen off the door before he gets an answer.

The remaining three resume life at #7 Avon St. in Somerville. It's Friday. Thank Goodness. The weather has turned mild, even warm, too warm to keep the windows shut. So Addie starts to open them, letting in a refreshing breeze.

Meanwhile, Mary Belyea is answering her door in Maine to find their very own census-taker standing pencil in hand on their stoop, grinning from ear to ear. And Thomas is breaking out in a sweat as he sits in his parlor in front of the open window, hoping and praying that he doesn't have to dig his hole any deeper today...

So what do you think happened? Is Thomas a bigamist? Was the separation mutually agreed upon? Are my facts not facts at all?

To be continued...

Update (Thursday, March 15, 2012, 5:40 pm): I made the call. So far all of my facts up to a certain point are right. But there's no family knowledge of a divorce or a separation. They are making more calls on their end to cousins (old ones!) to see if anyone knows something about Thomas. Addie was buried up in New Hampshire with a lot of other relatives.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

It Matters to This One

The Starfish

An old man was walking down the beach just before dawn. In the distance he saw a young man picking up stranded starfish and throwing them back into the sea. As the old man approached the younh man he asked, "Why do you spend so much energy doing what seems to be a waste of time?" The young man explained that the stranded starfish would die if left in the morning sun. "But there must be thousands of beaches and millions of starfish," exclaimed the old man."How can your efforts make any difference?" The young man looked down at the small starfish in his hand, and as he threw it to safety in the sea he said,

"It makes a difference to this one."
original story by Loren Eisley

When I think of all of the things that I could be doing with my free time, and how I feel compelled to find my ancestors, research their lives, and tell their stories, I think of this story. 

And I think about love.

What greater expression of love is there than to give a voice to the one who has none, and to be a champion of he who seemingly has nothing to give you?

And then to find out that when you serve with no hope of receiving thanks or rewards, you are blessed ten-fold. To wake up every day knowing that my cache of friends is growing larger and larger and calls to me from another realm, is one of those blessings. Connecting heaven and earth for me and everyone else who reads one of their stories is another.

Funny how it matters to "This One", too. It matters to me.

Why would I stop?

How can I help you start?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

You Can't Take It With You

"Mommy? Where's the Chocolate factory? Did we pass it, yet?"

"Look left! Out Kenny's window!There! With the flag on top. See the clock?"

"There it is Madeleine! The Chocolate factory!" I watch the silent dreams oozing through the little ones' eyes as the Schrafft factory, alive and functioning only in a child's hopeful imagination, slips away as we make our way through Boston and head towards Cape Cod. Home. That building is the one bright spot on our trip every time until we reach the Bourne Bridge which signals the last 15 minutes of our journey.

For the next hour and a half some of us daydream about chocolate. How to get it and how to hide it. Me? I freeze it. Nobody else in my house eats frozen chocolate. 

Once upon a time, in the mid 1870's, there were three little girls who were uprooted from their home in Truro on the Cape and forced to put down roots in Somerville, Massachusetts with their parents, Edmund and Elizabeth Rich.  Lizzie, Addie, and Mertie lived on Washington Street, right down the street from the 16 yr-old Scrafft candy factory on Cambridge Street, Boston.

For 200 years there had been Riches on the Cape eking out a living as seamen. But one Rich family left one year and never came back.

I don't know about anyone else, but I've found that moves are hard on children. If you have to move make sure there's at least a candy store down the road. Makes missing the sand and the salt air (or anything that yours have left behind) a bit more bearable.

George West's Market was a frequent stop for any of us kids who managed to find a quarter to exchange for a small brown paper sack of penny candy. That habit fueled my dream to someday own a candy store where all the candy would be free. Every time I pedaled my bike the mile to the store, crossing one bridge and a set of railroad tracks I thought,"Grown ups just don't get it. Candy is important."

The only thing that ranked up there with the frequent trips to the candy store were the 4am wake-up shakes from my dad to go fishing and lobstering in his Boston Whaler. 

"Please Daddy!" Addie Rich would beg her father Edmund. "Just a couple of pennies. Please! I'll share with Mertie even! And I promise to eat your vegetables at dinner tonight!"

"They aren't MY vegetables. I just sell them. And, yes, you will, by golly. You'll eat every bite! You know it wasn't that long ago that you were complaining about all the fish you ate and 'Couldn't I please bring home something else for dinner every once in a while?' Well I gave you your wish. You got vegetables and now all you want is candy!" 

With a sigh and a grin he handed the coins over to his princess. And off she'd run, salivating all the way to town, leaving Edmund to his daydreams of his days on the water, salt air beating on his face.

The first move is the hardest. Roots are strong and deep. After that the heartstrings aren't wound so tight and feet get itchy for new scenery pretty routinely. After about six years selling veggies from a cart on the streets of Somerville, and for reasons only known to Edmund and Elizabeth (I actually think they were bribed), the two packed up and followed their oldest daughter Lizzie to New Hampshire where they'd mingle with cows and vegetables up close and personal, and enjoy watching their grandchildren play on the farm.

I'm feeling their joy and their claustrophobia. Feeling land-locked is hard to shake. Cobbett's pond was across from the farm, and that was something I guess. Maybe it was the house busting at the seams with grandkids, or perhaps they missed being closer to the shore, or the hustle of city life that one needs when they retire to keep their mind active. Whatever their reason, by 1900 Edmund and Elizabeth moved back to Massachusetts and in with their youngest daughter, Mertie, now married to Ralph Smith, in Somerville.

Guess what Ralph did for a living? He wasn't a fisherman, or a vegetable cart pusher. He was a pusher of a different kind. He was a candy man! A confectioner. My dream came true. It was for somebody else, but it still came true. Honestly, I think that's what lured Edmund and Elizabeth away from the farm and into their home.

Edmund was a widower in 1920, Elizabeth waiting for the census to be taken that year before she died. For 14 more years Edmund aged in a childless house without his beloved to help pass the time.

But he had candy.

For a week I haven't been able to shake the image of him sitting in his rocker, eyes half-way closed, right hand pulling a chocolate ever so carefully away from his lips, desperate to catch the stretching band of caramel before it lands on his lap, never noticing his daughter Mertie standing at the corner of the room watching her dad savoring a moment with some chocolate. 

At 97 I'll bet Edmund was wondering about his beloved chocolate and if perhaps there would be an exception to the rule, "You can't take it with you", as he was approaching the bridge to his next life? 

Maybe that's why he lived so long. He realized he couldn't.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

He Reached the End of the Line

Picture by O.R. Cummings' "Street Cars of Boston". Volume 4

"Where am I?" I asked every other night, having awakened suddenly because of a nudge or a cough. A group of fellow travelers watched me collect my thoughts. I guess I was their chosen nightly entertainment because the group got larger every time. I was so disoriented from all of the traveling we'd done that I never knew where we were.

The one thing I did recall was the feeling of being on a train.

"We're in Paris," a friend would offer, hoping to help me out or confuse me more. "Go back to sleep."

"How long have we been here?" More laughing. I didn't get much rest that summer. But I assume nobody else that was with me did either.

I don't know if I'm the best traveler. And what about those who deal with travelers? They pick people up and drop people off day in and day out. Imagine the lessons they could learn as they watch people and how they carry themselves, and interact with family and strangers?  

I often wonder about those people who are in the service industry. My sister use to make me laugh so hard when she said she would often find herself in the bathroom in the middle of the night having scanned toiletries over the sink for an hour. I don't know what woke her up, maybe a roommate who heard the telltale sounds that didn't fit bathroom noises?  She was a checker in a grocery store in college and was one of those who "brought her work home with her"!

Benjamin Franklin Johnson, the last for Uphard and Elizabeth Johnson, the caboose if you will of nine children, worked on a street railway in Massachusetts from 1900 until he died in 1923. Street railways transformed into the bus systems we now use. First he was a brakeman. Years later he was elevated to conductor. 

"Gimme a kiss." he'd say to his little girls Annie and Edith, and finally to his wife Agnes as he would prepare to leave for work. A deep breath of fresh air first thing and a long exhale would ready him physically and mentally to weather the moods of his passengers. Would he be able to strengthen them with his countenance, demeanor, and easy banter as they travelled with him to their destination? Or was he a grump that grunted and barely made eye contact as they stepped on board?

Every day. Routine stops. Scenery and passengers whose lives would become as familiar as his own. The smallest changes would be noticed. 

When Mr. Black Hat didn't show up one day he would wonder and wait for news from him in a few days that he'd been sick, or from a friend of a friend that he'd passed away. The seat he'd sat in would be freed up for someone else from then on.

He looked forward to a personal lift that Mrs. Big Hair gave as she lumbered up the stairs of the railway car. She was a delight. Always cheery with a "Helloooo, Dear! How is the family today?"

Benjamin took on Mr. Red Bulbous nose as a personal mission, distracting him as they approached the stop near the bar downtown on Fridays when he got his paycheck. The stories he would tell were priceless. He was the life of the car. No distraction ever worked. He had a sixth sense of where they were no matter how deep the conversation with Benjamin got.

Oh how he wished he could help Mr. Cigar Man! He smiled and greeted him every morning joyously. But that man never smiled back. Children instinctively knew to steer clear of him. They were anxious to find a spot far from him so as not to get the evil eye if they misbehaved.

Miss Secretary was a looker and was uneasy, not knowing how to handle Mr. Dapper Dandy who was new to the route. Ben tried to help her out by saving her a spot behind him at the front of the car. 

The children were a hoot on a good day, nerve wracking on others. Incorrect change and little legs maneuvering up and down stairs alternately tried his patience or stretched his heart strings.

Every day out he would watch his charges jump on and off, into and out of their busy lives. His job was to show up consistently, rain or shine, and make sure everything went smoothly and on schedule, making conversation and hopefully lightening the burdens of those who passed through his life on their way to wherever.

Did he miss them when he took a vacation? Did he get disoriented or dream of his route while he slept? Did he awaken late thinking he'd let them down only to remember he was on holiday. I'll bet they were like a second family to him and he was like a son, father, and brother to many who would be missed and would miss him during his respites.

Christmas was coming  in 1923 and his brother George Washington Johnson had invited him with his family up to the Johnson farm in Windham, New Hampshire. Now he was going to be a passenger on the train that would drop them off in Salem where family on that end would pick them up. They were going to spend a brief holiday with family and then head back to the routine of their lives after Christmas. 

Goodbyes, See you soons, and Happy Holidays were had on Friday the 22nd, and Benjamin Franklin Johnson walked out of one life in Somerville, Massachusetts and started the transition into his next, unsuspecting.

Doesn't it always happen that something goes wrong before your vacation starts? You get that flu bug or your car breaks down...or if you're Benjamin Franklin Johnson, 59 years-old, you get a head injury at work and are sure that your blasted headache is going to put a damper on the festivities.

Turns out that was an understatement.

On December 23rd, two days before Christmas, Benjamin stepped off the train and dropped dead of a heart embolism. That was the end of the line for him. I can't imagine the shock of his sudden death.

Family in New Hampshire and Massachusetts would slowly get accustomed to him being gone. Agnes and the girls would travel back home to Somerville without husband and Daddy.

So apropos for a man in the service/transportation industry was one of the last pieces of paper to document his travels in this life.

 It was the application for disinterment.

 You heard it right. 

He was buried and was being  dug up and moved! 

Yeah, it appears they moved him within the same cemetery, Cemetery on the Plains. But I don't know why. How fitting! A man whose job was to get people from one place to another was finally resting, but in the wrong place. HA! 

I can hear him the moment he wakes up on the other side of his life. And the scene just cracks me up. 

"Where am I?" Laughing all around. "You kidding me? It's over? I'm done? That's it? No more? Wow. That wasn't on my schedule today!"

"Hey!" says Mr. Black Hat guy. "Been missing our chats. Welcome home!" 

And as he familiarizes himself with his new surroundings and the last stop for his body, he hears, "Hey Ben! Lookie there! Off you go! HA! Guess you got dropped off at the wrong stop!" 

Guess there's always someone 
who provides entertainment for the rest!
 (pun intended)

Wouldn't it be perfect if his epitaph read "The Bus Stops Here", or "He Reached the End of the Line"???