Unfolding the past

This past winter was a bitch. She wasn’t giving up on her reins of terror for nothing. But spring wasn’t giving up and finally managed to kick winter’s ass to the curb.

There’s not one photo of evidence to prove that I’ve ridden my bike over the past two months. In fact, if not for iCloud Photos, I wouldn’t have remembered the one ride I took in late March. But I can’t post these photos because they’re pictures I took on my new iPhone…which now saves as heic (high efficiency image format)…and I can’t convert to jpeg…because I didn’t know how to use the camera properly…and somehow saved the photos on my phone as “live” (whatever that means)…and my computer doesn’t understand how to modify the file…

But now we gotta get serious here. I’ve decided to do the American Cancer Society Bridge to the Beach Bike-a-thon again this year and Old Bessie’s been sleeping in the garage a lot more this winter than last. The planned route is 55 miles – 61 if I ride from home. I am definitely not feeling as prepared as last year. The last two Sundays I rode 20 and 25 miles and felt like I was dragging my body through quicksand…and this week I needed to do 30…ugh…

Looking for a destination 15 miles away that would give me 30 miles round trip, I was at a loss…until my sister Regina called.

Back in the late 1980s, I started exploring my family genealogy. It wasn’t as easy back then – we’re talking when dinosaurs roamed the earth…there was no internet. My only means of research was to either make contacts on the telephone or through letters of correspondence – right, just like the poor old cavemen had to do. And when Al Gore finally invented the internet, it was S…L…O…W…and most services required large fees. Needless to say, my inability to sustain interest and the impending birth of the kid put my kinship on a to-do-much-later-in-life list. Thankfully, my father was looking for something to do in his retirement and happily took over the research. Once dementia kicked in, however, dad was incapable of continuing the task, his death screeching the brakes to a halt on anything more. When mom died two years later, that was it. I and my surviving two sisters would have no parents to ask about our family history – it was all so permanent…until Regina decided to pick it up again.

Up until that point, most of the genealogy consisted of the Doherty line – dad’s side of the family. My mother was not very forthcoming about her past, so we never really knew much about her family. Separately, Kathy, Regina and I had snippets of information we managed to get from mom over the years, but it wasn’t enough to piece together any kind of life story (Meemaw – December 5th).

Having found my mother’s father’s grave back in December, Regina made another recent discovery – my mother’s father’s mother, Sallie, was buried in a cemetery in Burlington County – 15 miles from my house. Guess where I was going?

I was heading to Beverly National Cemetery in Beverly, New Jersey. Looking at a map of the area, it struck me that I had been within blocks of the cemetery at some point last year when I got lost on a ride. This time I knew exactly where I was going and easily made the 15 miles to Beverly.

Locating the cemetery, I couldn’t figure out how to access the grounds, briefly contemplating jumping the iron fence until I noticed the spikes at the tip. I stopped in a parking lot to check with Google.

It’s called The Green Cafe at Whitebriar B&B Inn. Realizing it was an old bank building turned restaurant, I walked around outside to peruse the “library” and discovered some old history. And, thanks to Google Chrome, I figured out how to enter the cemetery without impaling myself.

http://whitebriarbedandbreakfast.com/

Quickly putting two and two together, it dawned on me that it was a cemetery for military veterans. One slice of info mom had given me decades ago was that Sallie had been remarried to a German man named Otto, who we now knew was buried next to her. I realized he must have been a veteran but wasn’t sure what his involvement had been. Riding in circles and making all the wrong turns, I finally found their plots. Otto was in the 3rd Pioneer Infantry, army grunts who were used for engineering and construction tasks during World War I.

IMG_0230

Searching cemetery files, I learned a lot about this family – a history of German immigration, divorces, remarriages, blended families, childless unions. I had so many questions for mom that will never be answered in my lifetime. Why so many secrets? Did she know all these people? Did she know their whereabouts when living? Did she realize so many relatives were living and/or buried within a 20-mile radius of her home? Sallie died when I was 9-years-old – why didn’t I ever meet her? Why did I care?

This was a question Kathy had asked me and Regina last year – why did we care where our family came from? I’m not sure I can respond with a clear answer. On the one hand I’m interested in the people of my past. Who were they? What were they like? Where did they live? How did they make a living? Do I look like any of them? Are there any personality traits passed on through our genetics? On the other hand, why do I care? Many of my relatives are dead and gone, having taken the mysteries of the past to their grave. Any remaining relatives are scattered throughout the planet, most of whom I have had little or no contact with for most of my life.

So maybe that’s it – in a world of nuclear families who themselves split up after children reach adulthood, technology has made it easier for us to find one another but it has also thrust us further apart…there’s a need for reconnection. For now, it’s just me and the hubby, two empty-nest orphans all alone in the world…that’s why I care.

Packing up my pity-party-sorry-assed-self, I walked over to the church cemetery next door, meandering through randomly placed tombstones of families dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries.

I need to find more cheerful places to ride…

As I headed back for the next 15 miles, I stopped along the way to catch some gorgeous views of my perfect blue sky with the puffy clouds.

And I managed to ride 31 miles without too much huffing and puffing.

“Oh, got no reason, got no shame
Got no family I can’t blame
Just don’t let me disappear
I’mma tell you everything”

Secrets – One Republic

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHm9MG9xw1o

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

 

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