A fascinating, mysterious and true story was recently related to Marybelle Beigh, Westfield Historian, by a historian colleague and friend. As it involves nearby communities and currently living people, the personal names have been removed by the teller of the story for privacy. This story is being shared with local readers in the hope they will find it equally enjoyable, and that it will encourage them to write down and document their own histories for the edification and enjoyment of future generations.
A Family Story
“Part of my mother’s funeral arrangements included being cremated. On a Sunday morning in August, my wife and I, along with my sister and her husband, traveled to North East to spread my mother’s ashes in the huge myrtle beds in the woods of 18-Mile Creek as it passes through the family farm where she was raised. After marrying my father in 1937, she left the farm to move to Buffalo, but the farm was always a part of her. She loved the orchards, the vineyards, and the woods, so as children we spent our vacations and many weekends on the farm. As her life unfolded, and despite her own family and business responsibilities, my mother would continue her trips to see her parents and brother until all had passed on before her. Despite being a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother to her own, my mother’s love also encircled my uncle’s family until her passing at the age of 92.
“While our mother had discussed having her ashes spread in the gardens near where she had resided in Michigan since the late 1960s, circumstances prevented that from happening, so my sisters decided we should take her ashes ‘home’ to North East. Our father’s ashes had been spread on the top of the hill overlooking the farm and Lake Erie after his passing in 1991, so it was an easy decision to have our mother’s ashes spread on the farm; a place that both of our parents loved.
“As this idea unfolded, several fascinating incidents happened that made us believe our mother was guiding us along the way. First, my eldest cousin ‘accidentally’ misdialed the phone and called my sister in Michigan. When she told him of our idea of bringing his aunt’s ashes back to North East, he was tearfully joyful. Since his own father’s passing two years ago, my mother was the last of that generation, and the family in North East was very disappointed that circumstances prevented them from attending her funeral back in June. It was no surprise that, when we arrived at the farm at noon on that recent August Sunday, we were met with more than two dozen of our cousins, their children and grandchildren.
“As dark storm clouds gathered over the lake shore, we all made our way down the old gravel path to the creek bed where my cousin had cleared a path to the huge bed of myrtle my mother loved so much. That same myrtle was in her garden in Michigan and is also in the gardens of both of my sisters, as well as in the bed that runs alongside my driveway. Once the group had assembled, one of my cousins read some carefully chosen Bible verses and spoke of his life-long memories of his aunt, after which each person was invited to say a little prayer while I spread the ashes.
“As I finished, the thunder started in earnest and everyone scrambled back up the hill to avoid getting wet from the impending storm. Nary a drop of rain fell on us before we all got into our cars and headed for North East and a lunch my cousins had arranged. As we drove north towards the borough, we all got to experience one of the most incredible lightening shows I have seen in many years. My first inclination was that my mother was unhappy the myrtle bed was near a stand of Sumac trees, which she always disliked. My sister, on the other hand, was convinced that our mother was pleased so many of our family had come to say their good-byes and she was letting us all know it was time to pass over to the other side.
“Either way, it was an extraordinary experience that was not lost on even the youngest of the group on their way to lunch. In all, we were joined by 31 members of my uncle’s family — three generations being represented. It was a wonderful afternoon and I was asked to tell the grandchildren and great-grandchildren about their aunt. It also gave me an opportunity to tell them how important it is to remember and respect their family traditions and heritage; something some of the younger members of families too often forget.
“Another interesting thing happened as we were about to leave the restaurant. I asked my cousin if he had the painting of our great-great grandfather. This was our grandfather’s maternal grandfather, and his painting had hung in our grandparents’ front room for most of our lives. When my grandmother left the family home, the painting had gone to my uncle. When he passed away, I had assumed it would go to his eldest son. However, neither he nor his siblings had any idea what had happened to it. As the unofficial family historian, this was very upsetting to me, but since there was nothing I could do, I simply asked my cousins to try to find it in the hope that I could photograph the painting so everyone on both sides of the family could have a photo of this important ancestor, who was a Civil War doctor and prominent physician in Youngstown, Ohio.
“During lunch, my cousin’s son, who also lives on the farm property, told me of some grape labels he had discovered when he was renovating the old packing house. He asked me to meet him at his parents’ house before heading for home and he would bring some items for me to look at. He not only showed me a 19th century Pierce Brothers Climax basket label in pretty good condition, but he also had an early Keystone shipping hamper top with its original label. Just before we were about to leave, the cell phone rang and it was my other cousin, who said is was very important we stop up at his house before we left North East. When my wife and I drove into the driveway, he and his wife jumped out of their porch chairs and met us before we could even get out of the car. They were very excited and my cousin’s wife related how when she got back from lunch and stood near where we had all started our trek into the woods, she had a vision of the painting and knew exactly where to look. She immediately climbed into the loft of their barn, which is actually a huge two-story garage, and was ‘guided’ to a large box that contained not only the painting, but also the vintage portrait of our great-great grandmother and grandfather, my maternal grandmother’s grandparents. This turn of the 20th century photograph had hung on the side wall of our grandparents’ front room as long as I can remember and I had almost forgotten about it until I saw it sitting there on the table.
“So, my mother’s ashes were spread where they were intended, the family members who could not attend her funeral got to pay their respects, the ‘missing’ painting has been found and another important piece of our family history was discovered. I am sure my mother is pleased.”
Marybelle Beigh is the current Public Historian for the Town and Village of Westfield. Her office is located at 3 East Main Street in Westfield, N.Y, 14787 — inside Parkview Ice Cream Parlor. Her scheduled office hours are Monday through Friday 9 to 11 a.m.; other hours by appointment.
Beigh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 326-2457 (office), 326-6171 (home) or 397-9254 (cell).