Week 19 – Mother’s Day

Due to moving and traveling, I’ve fallen a bit behind in my blogposts, so this one is a couple of weeks late… The prompt for week 18 was “Mother’s Day”. When I hear “Mother’s Day”, there is only one person I can write about. My best friend. My mom. Despite the fact that I normally try to avoid writing about the living, I cannot write about anyone else.

My mother is the strongest, most courageous woman I know. She’s very intelligent and has a quick wit. She’s also a woman of principles. In fact, one of her phrases I remember most from my childhood is, “it’s the principle of the matter.” As an adult, I admire those principles, and often hear myself uttering the same phrase. As a teenager, her principles were a source of embarrassment at times. I remember once when she stopped at a local store to buy mustard. I was in high school, and one of my classmates was the cashier. When he told my mother the amount she owed, she was quick to point out that because the item was food, there should be no sales tax. I don’t remember the outcome of the conversation (I was busy praying the floor would open and swallow me whole), but knowing my mother, I’m pretty sure she left the mustard and bought it somewhere else.

One Mother’s Day when I was a child, I saw my mother sitting on the edge of her bed crying softly. My mother very rarely cried. I asked her why she was crying, and she said it was because it was Mother’s Day. Now I was really confused. It was a day that was all about her. I mean, cards and presents, what was there to cry about? She said she was sad because she no longer had her mother. My grandmother had died when my mother was only 24. I was just a toddler when she passed and had no memory of her. I’ve never forgotten my mother’s sadness that day, and always try to give my mom a wonderful Mother’s Day.

When I was very young, Mom made the very wise decision to divorce my biological father. My father had a propensity for making poor choices, and I’m glad my mom realized we would be better off without him around. I’ve often thought it was the best decision she has ever made. Without her making the decision to divorce my father, I would not have gained an amazing stepfather. This year, he and my mother will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. I never think of him as my stepfather. He’s simply, “Dad”. Their wedding was one of the happiest days of my life.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I always preferred sitting indoors reading, rather than being outside engaging in physical activity. My mother is the one who instilled the love of reading in me, but she also did her best to get me outside and active. She would try to make it fun, and would get me to race her in our backyard. Once, mid-race, I plopped down on the grass next to my dad and remarked, “Look at the old girl go!” My mother was probably in her late 20’s at the time… We would also go to the local community center to play tennis. I enjoyed playing, but was quite terrible. My mother loved to play, and was good, so it must’ve been so frustrating to play against a child who rarely made contact with the ball. I was always glad when my dad could go with us. They would play tennis and I would watch from the swings.

Dad mostly worked second shift when I was growing up, so most nights it was just Mom and I at home. Mom worked full time during the day. Even though many women in the late 70’s worked, it seemed like very few of my friends had working moms. I was so proud to tell my friends that my mother had a job. Despite working full time, she still found time to chaperone field trips and bake cupcakes with me and my friends.

My mother has a great sense of humor. Though as a teenager, I didn’t always appreciate it… As a rule, she is quiet and dignified, but occasionally, she would come out with something outrageous just for shock value. Once, I had a male friend over the house and Mom told him he looked constipated. He later asked me what made him look constipated. I assured him that he didn’t – it was just my mom’s sense of humor. Another time, my mother and I were playing miniature golf at a course within walking distance of our house. About halfway through, I caught her writing “Ellen loves boys” with the scoring pencils on the pedestals at each hole. And you know those little pencils don’t have erasers! Since I was the only Ellen in my school, everyone would know it was written about me. When I complained about it, my mother looked at me with the most innocent expression and said, “What? You don’t like boys?” What were once major sources of embarrassment are now cherished memories. I know that if I had a daughter of my own, she would be tortured in much the same way.

About 15 years ago, Mom and Dad moved from Rhode Island to Maine. I found it difficult at first. Gone were our impulsive coffee dates. No longer could she call me and invite me along for an errand. Thank goodness for free long distance plans. Mom and I talk on the phone nearly every day. The drive is only a few hours, so I see them often. When I became interested in genealogy, Mom became interested as well. I love sharing my discoveries with her, even when they’re from my father’s side of the family. With most of Mom’s ancestors being from Ireland, she had always wanted to visit that country. After my biological father died at age 61, I decided life was too short, and we should take her dream vacation. Dad remained at home as it wasn’t his dream vacation, and someone needed to be around to care for their cat. We had an amazing time. We visited the areas where some of our ancestors were from. It was a magical trip. After that vacation we decided to take a trip together every other year near Mother’s Day. For our next trip we rented a cottage on a beach in Florida. When we thought about where this year’s trip would take us, Mom suggested a return trip to Ireland. I couldn’t say no!

When I started this blogpost, she was sitting beside me 30,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean, as we headed to Dublin. During our last trip to Ireland, we spent most of our time off the beaten path, visiting non-touristy places in search of our roots. This time, we stayed in Dublin. We took a bus trip to Belfast, and another to tour the scenic Ring of Kerry. We also traveled to England, visiting Manchester to see where our Marsden and Whittle ancestors were from. We visited the cemetery where Mom’s third great grandfather is buried and saw the church where her great grandfather was baptized. The hotel we stayed at was comprised of converted 17th century farm buildings and located less than a mile from the church and cemetery. It’s not much of a stretch to think that our ancestors spent at least some time at that property. It was an incredible trip, and I’m glad I was able to share the experience with my mom.

I’m so lucky to have such an amazing mom. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you so very, very much!


Week 17 – Cemetery

The prompt for week 17 is Cemetery. I’ve been looking forward to this week since the April prompts were announced. What genealogist doesn’t like cemeteries?!? Not only are they a delight to wander through, there’s often a lot of information to be found. There are so many different ways to interpret this prompt. Nevermind 52 weeks of ancestors; I think I could write 52 weeks of cemetery posts! For this post, I have chosen to write about my favorite cemetery, Greenwood Cemetery.

I have been going to Greenwood Cemetery in Coventry, Rhode Island for as long as I can remember. When I was young, I spent a lot of time with my father’s parents, Goff and Hazel Hawkins,  and they were of the generation who always put flowers on graves. Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as my grandmother still called it, was the big event. My grandmother would go to the local nursery about a week before Memorial Day to be sure to get the best plants before they were all picked over. She went armed with a list of the graves in need of geraniums and painstakingly picked out a special color for each person. My grandfather was tasked with digging the holes and filling them with a new geranium plant. Decorating the graves was an all day affair. First we went to the small, family cemeteries. They were small, historical cemeteries containing just a few stones. I’m pretty sure my grandparents were the only ones who visited some of these graves, as they were always overgrown. My grandfather was always prepared and brought heavy-duty pruning shears along with his other implements of planting. Then, onto Greenwood Cemetery, where my grandmother’s parents and grandparents are buried. The final stop was the cemetery in Rehoboth, Massachusetts where my grandfather’s father and grandparents were buried. This cemetery was about a half hour’s drive, which to a Rhode Islander requires packing, if not a full lunch, than at least a hearty snack and a cooler of cold drinks.

Greenwood is my favorite of all the cemeteries we would visit. It is big without being too big. The cemetery is still in use, so it has new graves alongside the graves of Revolutionary War heroes. The cemetery is full of dirt tracks leading to different parts of the cemetery. Plenty of places to park the car along the way so you can get out and explore.

When my step-dad’s brother, Stevan Lewonis, died in 1996, he was buried at Greenwood. Uncle Steve is buried near my grandmother’s sister, Adelaide. It’s pretty neat that two completely unrelated sides of my family are neighbors in the same cemetery.

Over the years, more of my family has been laid to rest at Greenwood. Aunt Judy has joined Uncle Steve, and my grandparents Bernard and Nancy Lewonis are in the plot behind Steve and Judy.

A short distance away are Goff and Hazel Hawkins, laid to rest next to their daughter, Judith Marseglia.

After Grandma Hawkins died in 2009, I knew it fell to me to carry on the tradition of planting the flowers for Memorial Day. I have my own list of graves to visit and typically buy begonias instead of geraniums. Once I began researching my family history, I found myself in cemeteries far more often than just on Memorial Day. When I discovered the identity of my father’s birth mother, I was delighted to learn some of his maternal ancestors were buried in Greenwood Cemetery. This is the grave of my father’s great grandmother, Grace Gilkerson (née Johnson). You can read about how she may or may not have helped me solve a genealogical mystery, here.

I visit the cemetery often, and do my best to keep the graves of my ancestors neat and tidy. I’ve even invested in a jug of D2. D2 is a biological cleaner and one of a very few products that is approved by preservation societies for gravestone cleaning. It is used at Arlington National Cemetery.

Not too long ago, the home I was renting sustained some structural damage and I needed to relocate for a short while. My landlord happened to have a vacant property available, and I moved there temporarily. The house abutted my cemetery! I would have been happy living next to any cemetery, but was beyond thrilled to be living next to MY cemetery. I could even see my great great grandmother Grace’s grave from the windows on the back side of the house. Each night when I went to bed, I’d look out my bedroom window, and say, “Goodnight, family.