Monday, March 19, 2012

Moving Day
"Remember..a family history blog"
is moving to

This site will stay up indefinitely, but all of the posts and comments were exported to that site.

You can subscribe all over again over there.

No new posts will com from this address.

Go check it out and let me know what you think on the "Contact" page.

See you soon!

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"???

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lost in Time in Baltimore: Guest Post by Craig McBreen

Instead of writing about my lineage and the clan on the deliriously crazy, Irish McBreen side, I thought I would focus on my mother's side of the family. 

I would like to drill-down even further and describe a typical Thanksgiving Day spent at my grandmother's Civil War era home.

Yes, I said Civil War era.

We arrived around 11:00 a.m. Smells emanating from the tiny, worn kitchen were quite a mix. The largest bird available, taking up the entire space of the pocket-sized oven was the cause of much fuss. 

The old lady loved to baste, and boss. A four foot eleven octogenarian with less-than-drill-sergeant-like qualities, but possessing an amazing ability to command quiet respect. Orders were obeyed, for there was work to be done. Grandma Walsh was in charge.

This was the house where my mother grew up, as one of nine children. 

A seasoned old house, built to last, and almost bunker-like in solidity. Sturdy construction with substantial walls of large stone, crafted in a bygone era. Imposing and large from the outside, tiny and timeworn inside.

This is also the place where I spent many days, weekends and holidays. We always came here for Thanksgiving. I remember the enclosed porch and the coal shed. The deserted upstairs bedrooms inhabited by ghosts of Baltimore's past, I was convinced of that.

The venerable stone building was on Clipper Road, in an aged part of Baltimore City. It honestly felt like the land that time forgot, with the rows of 120-year-old homes, the stone walls and the old London Fog factory just down the way. A lost world in the middle of the city.

My mother's mom was a woman who grew up poor, never had a driver's license and lost her husband — the grandfather I never knew — when my mother was a young teenager.

I'll always remember her quiet, but sturdy presence.

As my aunts, uncles and cousins arrived the atmosphere became more jovial. The crack of beer tabs, the squeaky oven door, my uncle's jokes and the old boss at the helm.

Before dinner there was much commotion and traffic between the pint-sized kitchen and the living room, where my uncle Jim always used to fall sound asleep beside the age-old coal-fired stove, in a room that often seemed to exceed 80-degrees fahrenheit. We always needed more coal and my job often involved a coal bucket. This was the early 1980s, but it often felt like another place and time.

Dinner would commence at 2:00 p.m. sharp, but the show began shortly after.

My aunt loved to do one thing in particular, I kid you not. Take that old carcass to the back yard, with scraps aplenty. The cats would soon descend upon it. I was often amazed at how many there were. Undomesticated mousers coming out of the woodwork it seemed, tearing the cooked bird to shreds and in the end leaving nothing but a few thin bones. 

This piranha-like crush of felines was a sight to behold, and my mom was always embarrassed. Although for a kid, this was the ultimate spectator sport, an event which happened just one time every November.

With Irish-American traditions of Jameson, more Jameson and plenty of jokes and singing, this soon became a very happy place. More uncles, aunts and cousins arrived after dinner and into the evening.

As a kid I remember my uncle Pat's guitar playing. His baritone, his strumming, and all the singing along.

I think back to being relegated to the kid's table, on the cold, enclosed porch.

I treasure the homemade noodles that eventually became a tradition at my house.

I recall the cats, my sleeping uncle, the coal, and the sauna-like living room.

The haunted upstairs I always had to dare myself to check out.

The squash of family in the tight kitchen, which felt kind of special and overwhelming to an only kid.

But most of all, I'll remember my kind, old grandmother and the house she inhabited. This was her special time and those late November days of the past will forever be etched in my memory.

More from Craig's blog:

Craig McBreen owns and operates McBreen Design, but you can also find him at or Twitter. A student of social media, Craig is originally from Baltimore, Mayland, but now resides in Seattle, Washington with his wife and two sons.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Lucy, Forever In the Sky With Diamonds

I was sitting in church watching my friend and her family, knowing that they were visiting briefly, and still mourning the death of their 22 yr.-old son who'd died the year before. Every old friend they hugged must have made the grief unbearable. We cried and I told her I had an idea for a poem about a shooting star because that's who Devin was to everyone. I have miscarried once and that grief was impossible. But having never lost a child I'd given birth to, I did my best with this poem to express what must be unfathomable pain. Today I dedicate this poem and post to Lucy Lenore Johnson, an ancestor of my husband, and her parents Uphard and Elizabeth, who may have welcomed Devin home.  
When I was young and full of hope, and dreamed how things would be,
Of how you'd brighten up my life, and how much you'd mean to me,
I thought of times still future bound, filling holes I never knew
Existed in this mother's heart, until I witnessed you.

Then I looked up. And much to my surprise I was aglow!
And I believed no one in the world would ever know,
The feelings of one tender heart, stretched to let in blazing light,
Changed forever in one cloudless, starry night.

          Then you were here so suddenly, I'd hardly time to breathe,
To take in all your beauty, all the mystery you'd leave.
But now you're gone, the light grows dim.
Alone I'm left to feel... your presence in my memory
Though far away so real.
Oh, I never knew the emptiness that you would leave for me
Would never leave again, or how hard life now would be.
To live and breathe without you, knowing you're no longer here,
But brightening anothers sky in some far distant sphere.

But I'll look up,
Remembering you crossed my life one night.
And I will wish
For strength to make it through another night.
I'll wish upon five million stars
That you could stay with me,
Knowing that's a wish that for now cannot be.

You are my shooting star for now, although that's hard to bear.
I'll hold onto what I have of you, and with each breath I'll dare
To risk to live another day with a leaking, rusty heart,
Holding everything together while it's falling all apart.
I'll hope a little longer that the day won't last too long.
Because the nighttime waits for me. I've known it all along.
Each tear I shed makes clearer stars that quietly appear.
Your name I'll whisper once again with hope that you are near.

And I'll look up, to trails of glory left as you were passing through.
And I'll believe
In future worlds where all the shooting stars I knew
Will someday stay
And seeing me will start
Passing to me pieces of my broken heart.
Betsy Cross

Does everyone matter to you no matter their age? Seems like an innocent, straightforward question. No? 

This afternoon I looked at the next in line of Uphard and Elizabeth Johnson's nine children when I was completely surprised by two thoughts.

I saw the birth and death dates of Lucy Lenore Johnson, child number eight. There were no records of her life other than those that documented those two universally shared human events. She was born in September of 1860, and died 16 months later. I was shocked that I wanted to skip writing her story.

But I looked at her name for a second time and was bombarded by the chills that warm you from head to toe along with every hair on your body at the same time. And for hours those sensations stayed with me as I concentrated on Lucy.

Lucy matters. Her story matters. The experience I had with her today compels me to tell it.

Her brothers and sister, ages 3 to 19, and her two parents spent time with her, held her, watched her roll over for the first time, and tried to cajole contagious belly laughs out of her. 

Did they laugh as she threw food at them and bathed herself in it before Mom caught on? Was it fun watching her navigate her way up the stairs and tumble back down landing in a heap of pillows? How many times did her chubby fingers grasp one of theirs when she was learning to walk? How many baths and diaper changes did they share?

For almost a year and an half her parents rocked her, walked her, burped and soothed her, never assuming there was a reason not to have another day with her.

Every day her curiosity and joys would reawaken them to a world they'd gotten used to. The swooping and chirping of birds, barking of neighborhood dogs, wind, rain, snow, thunder and lightening, and grass between toes and teeth would all be experienced for the first time through the eyes of their little girl. 

How many cheers were there over milestones like the Army crawl, the first tooth, or the moment she let go of nearby security and stepped precariously on her own for the first time? 

And who would ever forget the slow rise and fall of her chest as she slept angelically with clenched fists resting under layers of chin and rosy cheeks? And those legs? Could they be any fatter? What kind of hilarity did they enjoy trying to dress her as she flipped and squirmed to be free?

But one day she was gone and all they would have were memories.

Why come for so short a stay they must have wondered? A few of them were hit harder than the others because they'd already said goodbye to Edward who had died ten years earlier when he was four. Why another one taken so young?

What could Lucy, barely talking or walking, give to anyone during her brief stay here besides joy? Anything? Is that enough?

I heard and felt the answers to those questions as I asked them. 

While I washed dishes contemplating Lucy, turning periodically to watch my children wrestle, cry, rest, and recoup in the living room behind me I understood better as Lucy's presence seem to radiate through me.

Her gift was to come and to leave suddenly, leaving people to ask those questions and answer them for themselves. Her life was filled to overflowing with meaning and purpose. Bright, pure, innocent, unscathed, and submissive to the flow of Life, willing to be the cord that would bind the dead to the living, her need and desire fulfilled being assigned the blessing of being the messenger. Her life was never in need of time to become more. She came and left embodied in perfection and love.

Some would dig deep and receive her gift. But not everyone. They would struggle to overcome the sadness that took her place at the table. But hope would always be extended as an option.., long as they could be reminded to look back, look up, to remember, and to believe.

I am grateful to Lucy Lenore Johnson who waited 150 years to be thought about by me and to have her name spoken aloud again. To know that she came to give a gift to more than those who lived with her and enjoyed her way back then is something I am sure of now. 

Her present to me today was to let go of the future grief that I will inevitably feel as I say goodbye to those I love or the life I have personally lived, and to know that I mattered. 

How I mattered will depend on who you talk to. But that I was enough, even if I'd lived just a single day, is a miracle and a comfort that I understand for myself now.

Thanks to some time with Lucy.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Surf Meets Turf

"All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another."
~Anatole France~

The grandfather clock that sits across from me has been silent for a while. It's my job to wind it. No one else thinks of it. Maybe I'm the only one who enjoys its chimes. I contemplate getting up to reach for the key, open the glass door, and getting it going again. But I go back to bringing the dead back to life instead.

For more than 200 years generations of the Rich family lived and worked as seamen off the shores of Truro, Massachusetts, just about an hour down the road from me. And one day in the mid 1870's Edmund and Elizabeth left Cape Cod and settled their family in Somerville, Massachusetts. 

Once a thriving community of seaman, the Cape started a slow decline in the  mid 1870's because of technological advances in steam engines and railroads that would decrease the need for trained and experienced captains who were no longer required to travel to foreign ports. And when time stood still for them in those few years they were forced to make serious life changes and do what no ancestor in anyone's memory had to navigate: life away from the sea.

I've made the trip over the Cape Cod Canal many times. Three times it was to say goodbye through grief and tears and a touch of fear of the new adventure. And three times it was to return home to the familiar sights and smells of home. Each move opened new doors. I don't regret any of them even though they brought their share of pain.
But fate is sometimes kind to the courageous. 

Their daughter Elizabeth met George Washington Johnson, seventh child of Uphard and Elizabeth, also living in Somerville, Massachusetts. 

And the clock, a new one, 
starts ticking for the couple

Uphard, the dad

"Your father, Lizzie? What does he do?" 

"He owns a vegetable cart in town. He used to be a seaman. But that dried up. So here we are. Landlubbers, now."

Elizabeth Johnson, George's mom
The two had their first child, Alta, in 1880, two years after they got married, while living with Uphard and Elizabeth in Somerville, Massachusetts. Now that had to be fun. Living with the parents has its challenges and blessings. 

(The first weight of the clock hits bottom.)

Especially when the Riches came to visit. Three Elizabeths under the same roof?

"You be Lizzie and I'll be Elizabeth. Your mum? Maybe she won't mind Liz, or Lizbeth." 

My name's Elizabeth, but I've always been Betsy. I sign my name both ways. My kids think it's time to stick to one of them. HA! Easier said than done! People deciding for me who I am never works for long. Strong people like to make decisions that appear smart, but rarely check in with the heart for its say. And hearts are funny when not listened to. Pay attention to the first sound of a fissure forming and spreading or deal with the consequences forever.

 (The second weight of the clock joins the first.)

"Time to close up George. Go home to the Missus and youngun," announces Mr. Manager. " When's the baby due?"

"Any day now," George answers as he slips his arms into the sleeves of protection over the two shirts and one armadillo-like layer of skin thickened by repeated exposure to nerve endings. 

A few days later, sometime in 1884, Chester is born in the Johnson home. 

( weight number three reaches bottom and time stands still.)

Decision-making time. Either they keep on keepin' on or...

...."Let's be farmers! Come on Honey. I HAVE to get out of here. I love my folks. They've been great. But I need to have a place of my own. I've saved us some money working at the store. But I CAN'T go back there for the rest of my life. I can't! Please don't make me. I want to have cows and maybe some pigs and chickens..."

"But...the children. I'll have nobody to help with the children. And our parents. What about how they'll feel? We can't just take the children so far away. They'll never remember them!"

"New Hampshire isn't THAT far away! We'll build a big enough house for them to come stay at for a good long visit. They'll love the country!"

He did it! He convinced Lizzie to start fresh in New Hampshire with the two kids who would have four more siblings by 1904. They finally had a place of their own. Land, a working dairy farm, and a pond across the way.

Time started fresh. Life had come full circle. Sure, they could have stayed put. People do all the time. But it's okay to try something new, too. Spice things up a bit. 'Cause life is short and only what you make it.

And no matter what, some things will change and others will always stay the same. That's how it was for George and Lizzie.

They left George's parents, melancholy and breaking hearts on all sides, and started a new adventure...

...with Lizzie's parents moving in with them in New Hampshire!! it's time to wind my clock. 
because fate awaits.
And I have the key.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Zoltar! I Need You!

Just the other day my husband said to me, "We just didn't know."  He says that a lot. Probably to comfort me as he watches my eyes when asked for another drink of juice when everyone should be in bed. 

I wonder about that statement. What if I HAD known? Would I have unchosen any of my 9 my children? It's an interesting question. Especially if you're asking a woman who hasn't slept through the night for 25 years. Not that I care about my comfort. Just my sanity and common sense that has leaked out like the transmission fluid of our car that sits unused in the garage. Some things add to the quality of life and the ability to make decisions. Sleep is one of them.

I let this question marinate with the facts that I'd gathered about Edward Everett Johnson, Uphard and Elizabeth's fifth child; facts that were conflicting at best, confusing at worst. I've concluded that I need another pile for difficult people alongside the RTE (Roaming the Earth) pile for people I can't prove died: The FTN (Fortune-Teller Needed) pile. Only he'd have to look back in time, too.

Because I need help!

But don't give me any more help if you're someone who collects Aunt Millie's stories and tells them to all of the relatives at Sunday dinners, and family reunions as if they're true. Or if you're that someone who puts that information on BECAUSE SHE SAID IT WAS TRUE! 

How would you feel if you found out people were saying you died when you were eight and you're still leading a happy and productive life (for a dead person that is) at the age of 80 in the 1910 census?

We don't do that people! That's just bad math, science and social studies. If they're older than 110 I assume they're dead. Otherwise I believe they could be thriving somewhere on the planet, possibly under the Witness Protection Program or partying in the Amazon under the influence of amnesia. THAT'S why there are no records.

Back to Uphard and Elizabeth.

Imagine, if you will, that it's Saint Patrick's Day, March 17th, in Boston, Massachusetts, 1847. You are ready to deliver your fifth child and are nervous because your almost 4 year-old son passed away 8 months earlier and you're not coping well. Your husband decides to distract you with a visit to a fortune teller just because he's nice like that and you agree to go because you're curious like that.                      

The three of you sit down in front of a clear crystal ball sitting on a red velvet-draped table with comfy matching chairs. After asking why you're there and if there's anything you want to know you watch Mr. Man as he transfixes his gaze on the globe and you wait, barely breathing.

"You'll have a boy. And you'll name him after his brother." Yes, he knew your little Edward died last year, two weeks shy of his fourth birthday. 

"He'll marry and support his wife and three children driving a team of horses." You clap your hands and do a jig with your feet under the table.

"Oh, Uphard! I feel so much better! Thank you!" Uphard is disappointed. He hoped he'd have a carpenter's son.

Mr. Fortune-Teller Man reaches across the table to grasp you by the wrist, subduing and scaring you to silence.

"Hush! I must warn you! I see a WOMAN!" Beware!" 

Thoughts of betrayal, infidelity and danger settle like a pall on the room.

"She's wringing her hands and shouting out random, incoherent frustrations. Her children are laughing at her."

"Her facts are all wrong. Your boy and his wife will die on the same night leaving their three children orphans. Albert, your grandson..."

"More grandchildren Uppie!"

"...Albert , she thinks, will be twelve and alone after his two sisters die. He'll sleep in barns every night and continue driving  teams for the same livery company as his father."

"Please tell his father, your son, to tell him to write very legibly on his WWI draft papers because that WOMAN won't wear her glasses and she will let her children melt as they wait for dinner as she peruses records for hours only to realize Gertrude wasn't resurrected or in another Witness Protection Program. She was very dead. But Albert is going to marry a Gertrude. And she's NOT his sister!"

This poor WOMAN gets confused so easily.

"So it's not true? Not a bit of it? How dare she write such untruths?!" you stammer to The Man. "What DO you see?"

At which point my fantasy has become a delusion, and I want to reach through the computer screen, grab The Man by the turban, bending him close to my threatening eyes, and promise to pluck his eyebrows slowly if he doesn't spill the beans.

But he's not talking. So I open a new tab and start piecing together a help wanted add for Craigslist, Cape Cod and surrounding areas. 

"Zoltar (aka fortune-teller) needed ASAP, full-time. Turban optional. Must be a backwards-thinker and immune to all Aunt Millie-like voices. Call for interview. Leave a message. The phone is buried in the couch. Call back. Messages are never returned. Room and board is payment. Extra pay for diaper-changers: brownies. Boarding starts immediately and ends when the WOMAN says so. Must not oppose being tied to a computer and chair for long periods of time."

Cause I need help.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What's in a Name?Act 7:Ulysses

Guest post by Stan Faryna
A gifted writer, Stan has written an inspiring, genealogy-based  historical fiction for you. Sit back and get transported back through time to his ancestral home of Poland. Enjoy!
This is a continuation of the story that I had originally written for Betsy Cross' genealogy writing contest.
Click the linked text to read Act One of What's in a name? Or, if you read Act One, check out Act Two. 


There was another loud knock. It startled Ania. She buttoned her blouse quickly.
Her 50th birthday was just a few days before. But she was still a beautiful woman.  

Ania felt nauseous and dizzy as she moved to the door and opened it.

Contempt and anger was written across the red-flushed face of the landlord's son. Behind him stood two of his friends. Bullies - no more or less.

"Get you, murderous witch, and your murderous family off of my land!" he said between clenched teeth as he waved a paper at her face.

"Be gone in a week. And leave it clean and in good stead that we may feed, hoard, and sleep here at our leisure."

Tomasz, Henry's cousin, helped Ania's father into the room. Her father was 82 but clear and quick of mind. He asked Tomasz to inspect the document.

Tomasz took the paper from the landlord's son and read it.
"It says that Ania has failed to pay the full amount of the lease agreement and therefore she and her family shall evacuate the land within one week," explained Tomasz. "It is signed and stamped by a judge."

"I have the receipt of Henry's payment!" exclaimed Ania. 

"You'll see!"

Ania went to the cupboard and took out a paper registering Henry's payment to the landlord. It was signed by Henry and the landlord and witnessed by two men. It was dated twenty four years before. She showed it to her father and then to Tomasz. Then she defiantly presented it to the landlord's son.

The landlord's son took the receipt and ripped it in half. Without looking at it. Then he handed the torn receipt to one of his friends standing behind him.

"What receipt?!" asked the landlord's son with a broad smirk.
Tomasz leapt past Ania and landed a fist on the smirk of the landlord's son - he staggered back from the blow. One of his friends stepped forward, however, and brought down an iron bar on Tomasz' forehead. Tomasz slumped unconscious to the ground.

Ania's father yelled out for John.

John came running from the barn - carrying an axe.
In a tavern next to the town hall, just a few hours earlier, three older gentlemen were quietly discussing a confidential affair.

A court clerk approached their table with a yellowed and ragged dossier.

"Your excellency. Gracious Sir. Signore Faryna. I'm sorry to keep you waiting. 

I know the Signore must be tired from your long journey, but I have just now collected all the records that you requested in your correspondence. They weren't easy to find. They were misplaced, in fact."

The clerk handed the dossier to Signore Faryna. Satisfied by the contents, Signore Faryna put a purse of coins on the table and the clerk snatched it greedily like a starving rat taking a scrap of cheese that had just fallen to the floor
"I have also arranged your meeting with the Mayor as you requested," he said expectantly.

Signore Faryna put a second purse of coins on the table. And the clerk snatched it up just as greedily.

"The meeting is in an hour."

Signore Faryna glanced at the hands on his silver pocket watch.

"Thank you," Signore Faryna told the clerk. "Come back in an hour and you will shine in good use."

"Your Polish is fantastic, Signore Faryna. Do they speak much Polish in Rome?!"

"The Signore is tired from the long journey. Let us not tire him further. Come back in an hour. 

I will tell you all about the wonders of Rome. After our meeting, I will tell you things that will amaze you" said the Bishop sitting at Signore Faryna's right hand.

"Yes, your Excellency. Forgive me," the clerk replied.

"Only allow me to say that I am surprised by the beautiful blue of Signore Faryna's eyes. I thought this was a Polish treasure. Alas, Rome has everything! And I have nothing here.

"You only having nothing, young man, if you do not give yourself to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield," replied Signore Faryna in perfect Polish.


"No, John!" Ania yelled out to him.

John stopped short of the landlord's son and his friends. 

"History ever wants to repeat itself," laughed the landlord's son. 

"But a good student of history will make friends in high places, and together they outsmart her. For history is a woman and she will be bedded.

That is how destiny is borne and fate negotiated by ambitious sons."

Looking to his friends, the landlord's son spoke:
"I have waited six years to seize upon this land for which my unlucky father was murdered. My mother, ashamed and weak like a woman, failed to press the case against this widow and her son.

The widow, I fear, may be too old to mount. Maybe!

Maybe, if we could turn the clock back five years, I would have followed in my father's pursuit of interest and satisfaction. But, perhaps, my friends, you enjoy a woman like you enjoy good wine.

Every man must judge a wine for himself!

One of the friends of the landlord's son licked his lips. The widow, he thought, was beautiful. Her long silver hair rolled like a river of moonlight. 

More importantly, he thought to himself, a good appetite needs no sauce!

John raised the axe above his head and he meant to bring it down. But two policemen stepped out from behind a tree in the yard and they took John forcefully by each arm. The axe fell to the ground.

"Let my son go," Ania shouted at the policemen. 

"These men, they attacked us, they've destroyed an official document, and they have just now threatened to harm me."

"What receipt?!" asked the landlord's son with a broad smirk and bloody nose.

"Yes, it was a receipt," argued Ania. "I just now said it was a document. You see, he knows what I'm talking about. Arrest him!"

"I will testify against these men," said Ania's father as he stumbled out of the house.

"We will testify against this family," said the friends of the landlord's son. "They have failed to pay the rent for twenty four years and they intend to murder again."

The senior of the two policemen nodded his head in concern and then spoke to all:

"I have seen this strong, young, and violent man raise an axe against these men who came to serve an eviction. We will take him into our custody. Peace and security require this.
His fate belongs now to the Rule of Law and the imprudence of an esteemed judge."

"Nooo!" shouted Ania in tears.

She fell to her knees, tears flowed down her tired face, and she bowed her silver haired head and it swept the earth. Her father stood by her side - shaking in his rage.

"I have lost my husband twenty one years, seven months, and three days ago. And now I will lose my son!

Heaven help me. Lord, hear my prayer. Hear my prayer, help a widow in her affliction!

Give me my husband back. Give me my Henry back! And, Lord, let my son by my side."

"And if not this, pour out the wine of God's fury upon the earth! Unloose the angels at the four corners of the earth. Send forth the horseman. Unlock the gates to the dead lands. Let the trumphets blow and the seven seals be broken. 

For nothing good can be. Or grow. Or fruit. No hope. Nor love. Nor a heart be written upon by the gentle finger of God!" 


Above Ania's sobs, all heard the sound of pounding hooves coming up the country lane.

Three carriages pulled by eight horse teams each and their escort stopped at the yard.

His eminence, Andrzej Stanisław Załuski, the Bishop of Cracow, alighted from the first carriage and asked the policemen what foul scandal was afoot. The mounted Jesuits eyed the policemen suspiciously.

The senior police officer knelt before the Bishop and nervously explained that they had arrested a young man, who was about to commit murder upon the men who had come to serve the papers of eviction. His mother crying on her knees was protesting the arrest.

The Bishop spoke loudly to all:

"Religion, James writes, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction - not to visit affliction upon widows and orphans!"

The mayor alighted from the second carriage with the captain of the police on his heels.

"I declare the eviction a forgery and a fraud," the Mayor shouted at the policemen.

"The judge has sworn that he did not sign and stamp the eviction. I have just come from the courthouse.

Let that man go free!"

Still on her knees, Ania pointed to one of the friends of the landlord's son.

"That man has the receipt of payment which was torn by the other."

The captain of the police nodded to the policemen to check the man Ania had pointed out. The young man ran but was caught quickly by the mounted Jesuits. The two halves of the receipts were found in his pocket.

"Thank you, your excellencies. Thanks be to God!"

Ania and her father wept in joy.

The bishop helped Ania to her feet, he blessed her, and then he whispered to her to thank Signore Faryna in the third carriage.

Ania went to the window of the third carriage and asked for Signore Faryna. One gentleman pointed to another whose face was covered by a hood.

"Thank you, Signore Faryna," she whispered.

Henry pulled the hood back from his face - tears streaming from his blue eyes. He put a finger over his lips.


The other gentleman in the carriage with him, who was known to Henry as Moise, blubbered and snorted uncontrollably. 

My name is Stan Faryna. The name, Faryna, comes from my father's family - Polish immigrants to America. To be sure, Faryna is a most unusual Polish name. This is a story about my family name.

Stan Faryna, Daddy, Author, Servant Heart, Online Strategist, Entrepreneur, Blogger, Mentor, Design Wonk, and- yes, suspected Galafreyian.

Some of my personal favorite posts: 
and Podcasts: