Entry 13: Mother’s Day Mourning
Anxious to learn more about the place Mary Ann first called home in the United States, I again explored Vermont, this time avoiding the whistle-stop depot bearing the name Ely and seeking the mining town of Vershire listed on the birth and death certificates of James Symons. As in Cornwall, I wanted to walk Mary Ann’s paths, breathe her air, and touch her trees.
|Standing amongst the lives of my ancestors|
On the crisp Vermont morning, I stood on the road, peering at the spot where a row of homes once sheltered the people of this community, my people. Today these places are reduced to square holes in the ground. The foundations of these small shanties are now guarded by a century of greenery and hide beneath the hovering branches and amongst the creeping bushes. Looking carefully, I could see the remnants of my ancestors. Beneath the occulting foliage, these apparitions of the past revealed the reality of life. Standing in close procession to one another, privacy was not a luxury of the community. This setting dictated all knew the business of others.
Here in these foundations of hardship, I felt the whispers of my past. I bent to touch the rocks and wondered if “Pa” had once thrown one of these stones. Although this was a world vastly separated in time and distance from my own, I paused in that morning light, awash with the pellucidity of all that had come before. I thought of the busyness and insipidness of adult lives. In contrast, I imagined a fresh-faced Tom Richards playing beside the creek and basking in the green of Vermont’s country. Too young to be aware of the harshness of life in this mining community, his five year-old mind only remembered the good, a likely reason Vermont always held such allure for him. But for the older men, including twelve year-old Charles, this place was a bitter master where heavy loads of stone were lugged up and down the high hills and men spent dark days in the bowels of the earth. Women did not fare well either. At fourteen Pa’s mother was pregnant with her first child. And Mary Ann experienced once again the worst hurt.
In my heart of hearts I was hoping for a tombstone marking the place where James rested. Nothing would have given me greater pleasure than gracing his grave with flowers that Mother’s Day morning. But there was no monument to the baby who, until a few months ago, had not even lived on in memory.
|One of the Vershire cemeteries of the era.|
I no longer feel great despair at the failure of my ancestors to mark the graves of such young children. My feelings have evolved since the days I lamented this lapse in the Cornish churchyards devoid of monuments for Mary Jane and Mary Ann. I have made my personal peace as my growing knowledge has revealed their plight. Today, the absence of such a shrine gives me an even greater understanding of all that happened in the century between my life and theirs. In those years, my people rose from austerity and the obscurity of often-illiterate paupers to professionals with graduate degrees who are teachers, professors, councilors, and scholars. This is the living memorial.
As I have walked this journey, I have learned about myself. Somewhere deep in my DNA is the spirit of their adventure and their tenacity, the drive to change circumstances and overcome hardship. In the remembrance of these intangible inheritances, I have learned what it means to forge ahead toward a goal, despite the tragedies of life. It is in this intersection of genetics and experience that we find ourselves, lessons from the past, awareness in our present, and hope for the future.
Today I use my education and drive to fill in these gaps. In doing so, I can’t shake the feeling that Mary Ann is here, watching over and feeling a bit of pride at how her family tree has survived and branched into the world.
|A young Tom Richards (Pa) a few years after the family moved from Vermont to Ishpeming, MI.|