Sometimes it’s a little thing that means the world to its recipient.
After what seemed like endless delays, or problems, we finally got my father into the ground yesterday afternoon. The North Cemetery is plagued with insects – this time of year black flies but instead it rained. I had the yard fogger with me and the bug spray in my pocket just in case.
I’ve gone to many, many funerals. Leading up to this I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to people that they are for the living. I always go to show my support to people I care about in a time of great sadness. Until yesterday I probably never truly realized what an impact the simple act of showing up can have.
This was one of those life flashing before your eyes moments. My best of friends were all there, from kindergarten until now. People that have all held a significant piece of my life, people I truly love.
The service was rendered beautifully by a minister I’ve known since my early teens, one who I consider a good friend as well.
The military honor guard did their part in sending Dad off the way he wanted. Taps being played was the only real request Dad had. The flag was presented to my by a man who had worked with him at Westover.
It’s interesting the variation in rituals there are from place to place. In more urban areas after a funeral everyone goes to a public place for food and drink. Up here everyone goes to a family members home. When I arrived a good friend immediately said what do you need to have done and she and her husband set out he food. People arrived, helped themselves to food set out or found what they needed in the fridge. That’s when you know you have people comfortable in your home – they help themselves.
From arrival to the last person leaving the rest is a blur – as I knew it would be recalling the same situation when my mother died 17 years ago. These are the things you don’t forget.
All in all I did right by my father through the whole mess and the bonus was yesterday felt like a huge community group hug. Thank you all.
Last week my task in learning the power loom was to build the chain that controls the design or pattern in the weave. It’s what makes the harnesses move. It’s a dirty job, greasy, one where a pair of gloves seems to be a necessity.
Peggy informed me that every weaver had to learn to build chain before they learned to run the loom.
It took me a minute after that comment to totally comprehend what she had just said. Every weaver . . .
Wait, that means that my Mimi, my grandmother in her house dresses and aprons with her clean hands and nails was at one time sitting at a bench putting chain together for the looms she hoped to one day run? Without gloves?!?
All of my Canadian relatives had immigrated to the United States in the late 1890’s to early 1900’s to work in the woolen mills. My grandmother, born in 1898 grew up with her mother’s family around her all working in the mill in Charlton, MA. Most of them were weavers. She probably started working in the mill at the age of 15 and continued to work there until she turned 31 and married my grandfather.
I have looked at the census records for these people many, many times but all it takes is one little comment to change the whole perspective on things.
When doing genealogical research we make up stories in our heads about who these people were and how they lived. After awhile we trust them as fact even though we have no reason to. We never really know anything about them. It’s like my daughters thinking they know me, and they do, they know the me from age 29 on. The rest of my history is mine to tell and they don’t know a good lot of it, not that’s it’s particularly bad or good it’s just in the past.
When I originally wanted to learn about the power looms and the mills it was more to do with my father and grandfather. I wasn’t anticipating that this would begin a different understanding of the lives my ancestors lead as young adults. I only remember my grandmother talking about working in the mill with her aunts – they were very close in age. It shows how little we ever really know about anyone really.
We all spin our tales and share bits here and there with those that we love. All the good with some bad sprinkled in but unless you lived in the time when these stories were made you only have a shallow perspective on the events. Delving into the social history helps a little but history is made up of the big things not the mundane minutia of everyday life. Maybe that’s really where the interest I have in learning how to do things that were done a long, long time ago comes from. It helps give me a little more insight into how my ancestors lived. What I have learned is their lives were similar to ours in many ways. Life moves on through the same stages no matter what generation you’re looking at and I will never know the ins and outs of their lives as children or young adults. They did hand down a love of family and a strong work ethic that continues through our children and sometimes knowing that is enough.
This is the road to the North Cemetery this morning. There’s about six inches of snow still on the cemetery as well. Nothing is simple.
We have gone back and forth about where to have my father’s memorial service since yesterday. You see, even if all of this melts the frost is still coming out of the ground and it will all turn into one huge mud hole.
We were going to have the service here at the house, which would have worked but I got a message from my sister-in-law this morning that my brother would not be able to attend. He’s been in Greenland with the Air Force and his plane was broken and wouldn’t be repaired until Sunday at the earliest.
After a couple of “are you freakin’ kidding me” moments I started to take this as a clear sign that rescheduling would be the best plan. I made a couple of phone calls, messaged the players that needed to be here and the day has been moved to May 7th at 2:00.
The funeral home has rescheduled the Air Force honor guard. I’m trying contact as many of those that were planning to go as I can. Funerals are a funny thing in that you never know who is going to show up. I’ll be here for those that miss the message and make the trip up – there will be coffee, tea and cookies as well as good conversation.
My mother died over 25 years ago and talking about death has come easy for us since – there’s nothing worse than not know what a person has imagined as their send off. A couple of days before my dad’s death I was walking by his bed and he said “Remind me to tell you where the million dollars is buried.” I said, “What did you do? Rob a bank?” His reply, “That’s neither here nor there.” I went into the kitchen to get him a little fruit and when I returned he told me it was buried in the cemetery. He was talking about my mom and what she was worth to him. The amount had changed to 10 million at that point. He then went through the funeral plan to the letter – the honor guard, and taps. “That always gets me” he said a little choked up.
As I considered what we were going to have to do as a work around because of mud I realized that it wouldn’t be anything like what he envisioned. I also felt as though I was getting a very clear message from him to just do it another day so it was right.
Our friend Jim, who takes care of the cemeteries and digs all of the graves has talked to me a lot in the past couple of days. Telling me conditions, asking me if I was sure I shouldn’t reschedule, laughing about things he knew my father would have found funny. They were long time friends. When I called to tell him we were rescheduling he told me my dad had spoken to me. I felt that was true. He then reminded me that instead of telling people to wear boots they should be bringing a lot of bug spray. Just the thing I was trying to avoid.
Saturday morning as the sun rose I was sitting by the bedside of my dying father and I had to take this photograph. The scene said so much to me about the state of things at that moment. I had brought him home 9 days earlier and with the help of hospice we were going to send him on his way from the comfort of his own home.
I put his bed in the living room so he would be surrounded with the things he loved and the sunlight could stream in around us all.
There is an African proverb that says, “When and old man dies a library burns to the ground”. These words have gone through my head for the past few weeks knowing the wealth of knowledge we were about to lose.
My father spent his entire life working. He went from high school to the Navy in 1951 during the Korean conflict. He traveled to many different ports, all of which were on the opposite side of the world from Korea.
Once out of the Navy he began working for the power company in Worcester. The building of Yankee Atomic brought his young family to Rowe and he began as one of the original crew. He and my mother bought a ramshackled house on Potter Rd. and he set about improving it. There was no running water, heat or foundation under the house. He’d work by day and every evening would work on improvements. Starting with the basics and moving to comforts.
He began a little menagerie of animals at the time as well. A cat, a couple of goats, a horse. He loved his animals dearly. He moved an old garage from miles away with the help of friends and placed it in the back of the house for their shelter.
All of his hobbies/projects were always on a grand scale. His love of steam came from a childhood spent on his grandfather’s farm that was along the railroad tracks where he watched the train’s daily runs.
He moved his family and animals to Fort Pelham Farm in 1967 and went on a quest to have his own locomotive but ended up with a collection of steam engines and steam-powered equipment that came to him more easily.
He received a grant for using a renewable energy source to power his sawmill with steam and spent a couple of years putting together an amazing network of machinery that allowed him to saw boards while also heating the house with the residual steam from the boiler. It was a sight to behold when running and blowing the whistle when everything was up to steam would let the entire town know what was going on.
While he was working at the plant and at his hobbies he enlisted in the Air Force Reserves out of Westover where he served for many years including active duty for Desert Storm as a loadmaster and in vehicle maintenance.
He retired from Yankee in 1988 and started up his little business making patio furniture keeping him busy into his seventies.
In his later years we talked a lot about weaving and the processes that were used in the woolen mills of his childhood. His parents and grandparents were all part of the weaving community as he grew up. After the flood of 1955 his father bought all of the looms in the weave room at Charlton Woolens for junk and they spent weeks welding pieces of the looms together to make a few running machines out of the many parts that they had. This was the beginning of Alix Woolens, a dream his father had. My father didn’t understand weaving but he knew how the looms worked and as I learned to weave he was right there learning with me, making sure my loom was put together properly and talking about the differences between what they had done and what I was doing.
He talked about weaving until his last few days actually. Partly knowing I was interested but also because I think it brought him back to something he was so fond of. A time when he was working with his father, figuring out how to make a complicated piece of machinery out of so many parts. Firing it up and having it work. He had such pride in that particular accomplishment and I think he was also grateful for his part in helping his father realize a dream. One of my earliest memories is going to my grandfather’s mill and listening to the looms run in the weave room.
So the library burned on Saturday. I have no one to ask about the mechanics of the house. I can only take a guess at where water lines to the barn might be. I have a vague understanding of the septic and sewer or where to buy replacement parts for the cupola on the garage. But I can look around me everywhere and see signs of him (some good, some not so good) and know his presence will be felt here for the rest of my life through the big things and the small.
I’m quite sure there will be many things that I will never understand, those projects begun and walked away from. A universal understanding by anyone who creates anything – sometime things just don’t work out the way you’d planned so they are abandoned. My abandoned projects are quite small in stature compared to the things that make up the amazing collection that is our backyard.
So rest in peace Dad, and thanks for being the crazy, eccentric, brilliant guy that you were. You made our lives interesting and I think you may have taught us to follow our dreams no matter how quirky they might seem.
As I made my first cup of morning coffee today I considered all that I have to be thankful for. A Thanksgiving day ritual for so many.
I put a couple of pieces of wood on the coals from last nights fire to take the chill out of the kitchen. Thought of all of the time and work put into getting that wood in. Thank you.
I pulled a beautiful, local, 20 pound bird from the refrigerator to bring it up to temperature and considered that it was walking this earth until just a few days ago. Thank you.
I turned on the water and washed my hands in its wonderful warmth. Such a convenience taken for granted. Thank you.
I will walk out to the garden and pull up the very last vegetable there this morning. My rutabagas. Tiny seeds placed in the earth 5 months ago turned into amazing purple and yellow orbs by earth and water, amazing when you think about it. Thank you.
Potatoes that were dug two months ago will be peeled and cooked. Carrots that were pulled and pickled will be chilled will be served. Thank you.
The big table, made by the hands of a favorite friend will be moved into the middle of the room and set. Thank you.
Guests will arrive bearing food they have put time into. The conversations and reminiscing will begin along with the laughter that always ensues. Thank you.
Thanksgiving is about the food, family and friends for me. It’s one of those warm, fuzzy holidays and always has been. This year looked like it would only be three of us eating a 20 pound turkey but evolved last week into a party of 10. One of my favorite things to do it to cook for others. It’s a gift of the heart and hands.
I am a fortunate person. I live most of my time in an extraordinary place and know it. I have a loving family and the most amazing husband who works harder than anyone I know to make all of this happen. The newest member of our tribe was born two weeks ago and he will grow up surrounded by the love of so many. The shift in generations has occurred and I can take up my mantle as grandma to help him know how blessed he is and how blessed we all are to have what we have.
There are moments in life, not everyone’s mind you, when things come out of the blue that give you joy and anxiety and a host of other emotions all in one instant. You feel like laughing, crying and vomiting all at the same time. Finding new family members is one of those instances.
At this point most people know of my reunion with a son I gave birth to more than 40 years ago. The instant it happened the emotions were raw and I dare say violent. This has just happened to a dear friend of mine and I was the bearer of the news.
Adoption touches many more people than I realized. When you’re going through it yourself you think you and your immediate family are the only ones, it closes in around you. Finding my friend’s sister gave me a new perspective. I can also feel the weight of the emotions she’s carrying while a possible reunion is imminent.
We weave a tangled web, all of us. I’ve come to believe by the time you are entering old age you can reflect on your life and think “what a mess”. Some of us have opportunities to revisit some of those messes, they come full circle. Some of us are just encountering messes that were left by other family members that have encompassed us without our knowing for our entire lives.
That’s how it feels and your life takes an unexpected turn. That’s how it felt when I typed “I found her” in the subject line of that email this morning. I was so happy to do it and yet I knew she was crossing a line of demarcation in her life. Wow.
When we first started clearing the property here in Rowe the trees were encroaching on the buildings closest to the house. The side field had been maintained but the pasture was all but lost. Our girls were probably in their early teens.
I had been photographing weddings for years before my children were born and they were brought up knowing that the back yard wedding was their only option. They would look at the backyard here and roll their eyes not being able to see the vision Bill and I had. I would tell them that someday they would be married here and it would be beautiful.
This past Sunday my oldest married the love of her life in a very intimate ceremony in one of the gardens. Their being married was something we believed would happen for over 8 years now but being cautious sorts they waited. Amanda is one who hates to be the center of attention in any situation and they told me about 3 months ago that they were just going to city hall in Boston and getting married there. The horror.
With much, much cajoling we convinced them to be married here with parents and siblings only. That was almost too much for them really, the nerves were palpable on Sunday. For what was to be one of the smallest weddings ever we did everything we could to make it a beautiful occasion and it certainly was. From Amanda walking down the “aisle” with her father to the tune of her family humming Pachelbel’s Canon to eating al fresco in the field next to the garden it was as perfect a day as it could be for them. It also allowed all of us to have a very intimate involvement in preparing for those vows to be said.
Bill and I built a rustic arbor out of trees we cut across the field a couple of weeks before the ceremony and set it up at the beginning of a stone path. It was a little wonky but fit the bill with our “rustic chic” theme. I ordered baby’s breath and lemon leaves from my niece’s flower shop to augment the flowers in my garden and picked some at my sister-in-law’s the day before. They were a huge help in the quick planning of this.
Draped and decorated.
I tried to put flowers everywhere and took a lot of photographs. Day lilies are so beautiful and fleeting and I knew once the sun set the flowers would be gone too. Sort of temporary art.
I had also picked some “weeds” along the power line and in the back forty. Queen Anne’s Lace and Joe Pye Weed. Places were set with sprigs of herbs that smelled heavenly – pineapple sage, rosemary, lavender, thistle.
A garden riot of flowers on the table.
Lemon Raspberry cake made with garden fruit. Molly Cantor made a cake stand just for the occasion.
Weddings are monumental occasions in people’s lives. They represent a new chapter for those getting married but also for the parents of the bride and groom. It doesn’t matter how long your child has been out of the house or how old they are when they marry. As monumental as this ceremony is it’s just a fleeting moment. In the span of a few hours my world shifted a little, in a wonderful, beautiful way. I did what I could to make it a beautiful memory in a place where more memories will be made.
Everything is now gone but the undecorated arbor and the flowers from the day. They are taking their time in wilting away, a little gift in a way. A reminder of an occasion but also of how much beauty is constantly around me that can be pulled together and shared.
My life has become one of ritual – more of the slow motion type. These rituals center around the garden and putting food by. For years (and years) I have begun the canning season with rhubarb, always the first vegetable to make an appearance here. I planted my own patch of rhubarb on the property about 5 years ago. My mother always told me she couldn’t grow it here, she had tried for years.
Our real rhubarb ritual was to go to a friend’s house every spring and pick our fill there. Their patches of rhubarb are magnificent. This plant is showy and large. The rhubarb at this house fills large swathes around the back yard of the house as well as over by their vegetable garden. The woman with the gardens was also my mother’s best friend and I dare say picking rhubarb was an excuse to sit around a table with a cup of tea as well.
This ritual has gone on for more or less 55 years. The family became part of who we are. My mother passed away in 1989 but the ritual continued. The rhubarb gave me an excuse to visit, hear the stories of my childhood, catch up with a family I felt was my own.
Once I had picked enough I would go into the house for that cuppa and chat. What should have taken a few minutes often turned into hours but this is what it was all about. Reminiscing and words of wisdom imparted across the kitchen table over a hot beverage. Most of all it was a reminder of how much we all loved each other and our families.
The most difficult part of life I think now is the shifting of generations. I am now of an age when all of our parents are leaving us. This year I will not go to pick rhubarb. The house is empty now and I am coming to terms with the fact that the matriarch is gone, left us a few days ago to join her beloved husband. I picture cups of tea being served all around in that great reunion. Walks around a warm, green verdant yard discussing kids and gardens. That is my vision of heaven really.
The shift is also to my own patch of rhubarb here. On hearing of her death I went out and picked some rhubarb and baked a cake to be eaten with a nice cup of tea while I remember. As I was in the garden I realized it wasn’t about rhubarb not growing on the property at all, it was about the ritual of visiting. Conscious or unconscious these women knew what they were doing.
I grew up and currently live in a town with a population of a little over 300 people. Although many of the faces have changed over the years I still am connected to the people who were a part of my childhood. I remember when I was in the sixth grade there was a total of 32 kids in the entire school. We didn’t have a third grade that year because there weren’t any kids that age. My mother was “the chief cook and bottle washer” (her words) at the school so I remember the number of people she fed daily.
To say we were close with our peers at the time doesn’t really do justice to what our relationships were. Yes, we went to school every week day. We all were involved in 4-H in one way or another. We spent time at each other’s homes, knew their parents, their extended families. It was as though we were all related. I figure there’s about a 15 year span on either side of my age of people I feel a certain closeness to. These are people I always felt I knew better than the people I went to high school with. When we are reunited for one reason or another it’s more than seeing a long ago friend, it’s more like reunion with a family member you haven’t seen in quite some time. We have a tight, collective history.
I always think of my life as a woven piece of fabric. As time goes by weft threads are added that represent the relationships I have. Family, friends, acquaintances are all represented in one way or another. When I lose someone who is part of my life it creates a hole in the fabric itself. Sometimes it ravels a little, sometimes the hole is so large it threatens to undermine the integrity of the fabric itself. In the past few months three people I grew up with have died, all in their early 50’s. It initially comes as a shock and for me it puts a little hole in the fabric. Those holes are also where their threads end. What initially starts as a fine fabric builds into a heavy, substantial cloth and I feel as though by the time it’s done it will be a beautiful lace. With time the holes become less ragged and are transformed by memories into something beautiful.