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!!

...now it's time to wind my clock. 
because fate awaits.
And I have the key.


  1. Awesome Betsy..I feel like I'm reading a super good book every time you post.

    The best part? There's so many relatives you have to go and wrap in story, I don't have to worry about it ending soon!

    I love the grandfather clock references.."For all time" is how I always thought of them.

    As Always..


    1. Jane!
      I know!! It's so hard to stay focused on the Johnsons after seeing the Richs' rich history on the Cape. But the part that really got to me was the mention of Edmund Rich's profession in the 180 census. When I saw "owns vegetable cart" I got the giggles for days!! Somehow a serious mood took over. Drat! It was supposed to be a humorous story...maybe next time.
      Thanks for reading Jane!

    2. I Agree with you Jane! It's like reading a fine novel; a big fat one that you know you can enjoy for a long long time!

    3. Hey Lori! I have to find out who wrote the post (maybe it was Jane?) about turning your blog into a book...just for my relatives in my case. Isn't that a great idea?
      Thanks, Lori!

    4. Betsy, it was Marcus – something called Antholize or something like that? He could tell you. It was a program he used to create his book.
      Yes, this would be a great idea for you – I love how the stories connect back to other story lines!
      DO it!

  2. Lovely and the Anatole France is a particular favourite of mine :)
    Great to be connected with you.

    1. Thanks Elle! Welcome (I joined up two days ago). See you around!

  3. Replies
    1. Can you move in to my house? I'll give you pom poms and a cute skirt and sweater set and kids that you can teach cheers to (all about me, of course)!!
      Hubby and dog can come, too. And the red phone booth.

  4. Did the clock survive the ordeal of being forgotten?

    1. HAHA! You know what? I STILL haven't wound it! But that's fine with everyone else. They can't stand the "noise".


What do you think? I'd love to know.