Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Of Mothers and Daughters and Dinner Parties — Part I

The 41st edition of the Carnival of Genealogy asks the question: If you could have dinner with four of your ancestors who would they be and why?

I have been blessed in my life to be surrounded by wonderful people. I would like to tell you that it's because I am such a terrific human being that my karma attracts all these great individuals. But what is it they say? Better to be lucky than good. That pretty much sums it up.

Part of my good luck happens to be that I sit in the generational middle ground of two extremely remarkable, gifted and capable women, my mother and my daughter. My mother I have known for 55 years and my daughter for almost 35. (Sorry kiddo, I hope that wasn't any kind of state secret.) Those are a lot of good years, a lot of shared joys, sorrow and laughter, and I am at least wise enough to realize what a rare blessing I have been bestowed.

It is for this reason that my dinners would be with two sets of mother/daughter ancestors. I chose each set precisely because they were denied the blessing I have lived.

Fanny Thacker Cope died at the age of 22 of consumption. Her eldest child, Elizabeth Cope Smathers, would die of the same disease when she was 30, leaving four children under the age of 7. Lizzie, as Elizabeth was called, must have been heartsick when the coughing, and the night sweats signaled to her that she would not be there to raise her children. If anyone would know how difficult the loss of a mother was, it was Lizzie.

Lizzie was all of 5 when Fanny died. The years between her mother's death and 1900 are blank. And I wonder, after her mother's death did she live with her father or did she live with grandparents? Did they give the little girl the love and support that she lost with the death of her mother? When her father remarried, did she and her stepmother get along? Or did she feel like the extra cog in the hub of her father's new family?

There would come a day when Lizzie's fear over leaving her children would seem too large a grief to bear and that is the day I would choose to whisk her away to my little dinner party.

Fanny, who was so young herself, must have also wondered what would happen to her children, Elizabeth and John. There would be a day when she felt that life had played a cruel joke on her, and that would be the day I would bring her to join Lizzie and me for dinner.

The first question I would ask would be what they would wish to eat. I'm confident whatever magic wand allowed me to arrange this meeting would also allow me to fill the dinner table with any foods that would delight the two of them. Being wives of coal miners, in the late 1880s and the early part of the 20th century, there would be novelty in being pampered guests of a dinner party.

After they had accustomed themselves to the oddness of the meeting, and after Fanny and Lizzie had a few private moments to speak, I would ask them my questions.

Can you tell me a story you remember about Lizzie as a little girl?
Tell me about your mother, Clarinda.
What do you remember about your grandparents?
Was your grandfather Nicholas Nimrod Thacker or Nimrod Nicholas Thacker?
What was your grandmother's name?
Tell me a story about your grandparents.
Do you know the names of the parents of your grandmother and grandfather?
Where did they come from in Louisa County, Virginia?

When and why did your branch of the family add an extra “e” to the name Cope?
Would you tell me how you met your husband, Elmer Smathers?
Would you tell me a story about your mother?
Can you tell me what you remember about your mother's parents?
Can you tell me the names of your father's parents?
What do you remember about your paternal grandparents?
Can you tell me a story about your son, Walter?

I would like to ask Fanny if she knows who her father is because I believe Fanny was born on the wrong side of the blanket. But as much as I would like to ask, I won't. It would seem rude and ungracious.

Then during dessert, I would sneak in another guest. I would bring in Lucille, Lizzie's eldest daughter. Lucille was not quite 7 when Lizzie died. She would later tell of being given a locket of her mother's red hair at the funeral. This would be the only momento she would have of her mother's. And many years later when she and her sister had finally been reunited, they would decide to look for their younger brother, Walter. Instead of finding their brother, they would find his eldest son. Lucille would recount the story of the locket of hair to her nephew and his wife.

We would talk about what became of each of their children. I would offer pictures, and tell them they had not been forgotten. I would let the three women have their private moments, and then our time would be over.

Tomorrow, I will post about my second dinner party.

Until Next Time! - Happy Ancestral Digging!

Note this post first published online, January 30, 2008, at Desktop Genealogist Blog at The News-Messenger Online

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