Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A Return to Childhood Part III

I love history, not the history they teach you at school, but real history with real people and their personal stories. I always want to know what happened to people who lived in such and such houses. Everyone has a story and an interesting life. Where are they now and what are they doing? Who’s still alive?

Who’s going to write or tell their stories? Who’s going to write our stories? When our time here is over, will there only be a few old photos to show we were here? Will we just become a name on some family tree, and no one will ever really know who we were?

Years ago, my oldest son worked on family genealogy. It was interesting, but with names only, there was the lack of personal story of these people. Who were they? What did they do? What happened to them? How/when did family lose connection? I want to know story!

The other day, I found a typewritten family genealogy in the back of my uncle’s old photo album done by a distant aunt of theirs (my great-aunt then?) with many unfamiliar names. Does this mean I have cousins I never knew of?

The question runs through my mind: How much do I really want to delve into this? Would I be interested in reaching out to someone? It would be a time-consuming endeavor, for sure. And what would I do with any new information?

Just before my mum passed, I wanted to write hers and other family stories, but never made the time. Now it’s too late and I struggle (with some sorrow) to fit pieces together. Why didn’t I pay attention when I should have? But I didn’t and now the universe is driving me to look back now.

And so, I continue the story of the recent trip to the coast with my childhood friend/sister, Gail, to visit old family properties and reconnect to the land and waters:

June 4 unfolded in steps starting with the early morning beach walk then the visit to my uncle’s old property on Rings Island, Salisbury, Mass. This next segment was to go back to where their (uncle, mum, and aunt) early years were spent.

This was my grandparents house at Black Rocks, Salisbury, Mass.
A little family history:
My grandparents early house was at Black Rocks in what is now called Salisbury Beach State Reservation in Salisbury, Mass. My mum used to tell stories of growing up down there on the Merrimac River near where Black Water Creek meets the river at Butler’s Toothpick.

She talked about eminent domain and how the government came and made the families move. I found information where the state took over the land in 1931 (one site said it was in 1935), and the military took it in 1941 to set up defenses in fear of a Pearl Harbor on the east coast. It was also a watch place for German U-boats.

But I can’t find any official written info on moving the families off the land, or even how many properties were involved. I have one old photo that shows at least five or six houses around my grandparents’ house … and their house was right on the beach (river side, not ocean).

My mum often told a story that during the big flood of 1936, she remembered her mum carrying her in one arm, twin sister Margaret in the other, and older brother Ray clinging to their mother’s skirt as she waded through almost waist-deep water to get to high ground. They had rabbits and chickens in the bottom portion of their house and the poor creatures … And mum had said this was when the government made them move.

Flanders store and boat livery service, Salisbury, Mass.
But that was her memory and she was a small child, then. She had to be younger than 10 when they moved. She also told stories of the CCC Boys (what she called the Civilian Conservation Corps.) Their camp was on another street just down from where my grandparents’ house had been moved to on Beach Road.

The original road to the beach was built of planks laid across the marshes and in 1866, Beach Road was laid over the top. I would like to be able to find out when my grandparents moved there … had to be after the 1920s.

I’m not even sure how much my mum knew about that time. She remembered kid incidences like when one kid almost drowned in the creek and Margaret jumped in and save him. How they used to jump on big ice cakes in the winter and float down the creek. (Yikes, the thought of ever catching my kids doing something like that …) And how her dad made a lot of money selling liquor thrown overboard by boat crews when they were caught by the authorities during prohibition.

Gail and I headed to the beach from Rings Island and pulled onto the road to the reservation. I made a quick stop to take photos of a gnarly tree and the winding creek beside it to use in my next pastel painting. I usually try to plan my visit here before Memorial Day when parking doesn’t cost and was surprised and pleased to find this day there wasn’t a fee to visit the reservation. I turned towards the boat ramp.

Scene I will do as a pastel painting
Soon we were making our way down a soft sand path towards Butler’s Toothpick (erected years ago as a navigational landmark on the river.) After my mum passed away, she came to me in a vision demanding to go home and I knew this is where she wanted to be. The remaining family, Gail, and I brought Mum and Aunt Margaret home in a dedication ceremony in 2014 on their birthday, April 18.

On this trip to pay honor to them, the beautiful spring blossoms were gone, but the rain clouds moving in made for a spectacular sky. My weight sunk into the sand then gave a little more when I moved into the next step jarring my back reawakening an old injury. It was a little easier walking on the edge near the fence, but every jounce added to the pain. By the time we reached the Toothpick, which wasn’t far, I wasn’t sure I could walk much farther.

Path to Butler's Toothpick, Black Rocks
Cold wind whipped hair into our faces making it uncomfortable along the water. I hid my disappointment. I didn’t feel the connection I usually feel at this spot. Where was my mother? Why couldn’t I feel her? My thoughts were stripped away in the gusts like pieces of ribbon torn from its knot.

I wanted to walk farther down the beach, but a large crowd of people picnicking near the camping area deterred me. Gail gets colder easier than I and I could tell she was eager to move on. I followed her along the path back to the parking lot stopping often to take photos of the dunes and rest my back.

My mind was numb. Once again, that which I was hoping to discover didn’t happen. The journey to rediscover my roots and hopefully fill the hole in my heart wasn’t to be with this visit. I know this is a process. It’s been many years and just as with a real archeological dig, layers need to be explored before the treasure can be found.

Perhaps the afternoon visit to my actual childhood home will be the trigger. Stay tuned.

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