Saturday, September 11, 2010

Finding Grandfather Emery

Last week I was sitting in an armchair in front of a dormer window in our friends’ two-story home looking over the small, private lake in front of their house. The sun at high noon was reflecting off the water, and the picnic table sat briefly in a spot of bright sun. Lily pads floated silently, a few of their flowers still blooming on that late summer day. Birds flitted from one graceful birch to another. A way out from the shore the raft drifted along; we wouldn’t be using this trip because cool temperatures had suddenly sent the hot summer ones fleeing.

I could live with a peaceful scene like that every day. I can understand why the owners of the home go up there from their city lives every chance they get—-like nearly every weekend.

Two days before, I had located the grave of my great-great-grandfather Emery Moneysmith. He lingered in my thoughts that Sunday morning. I couldn’t help wondering if he had ever enjoyed such an experience. I have no reason to think he did. I know pitifully little about his life, but I have a feeling I know much more than even my father knew about him. Not only did Emery die in another city when my father was six years old, but it appears Emery had cut all connections with family at the time he died and perhaps for years before.

We had been looking for Emery for many years. We knew he was born in Ohio, the oldest of five children, and that when he was nine, his mother died leaving a newborn baby. We knew he married in Ohio and that his first marriage, the one that produced my grandfather Jacob, ended in divorce. We recently learned that in middle age his married a teenage girl but shortly afterwards abandoned her. What was that all about? We thought he might have ended up in southwestern Michigan because that was the next to last home of that first wife, my father’s grandmother. Finally, my genealogist nephew, mostly through census research, tracked him down in Dowagiac, in southwestern Michigan, only a few miles from where we had once looked. We haven’t a clue what he was doing there.

Fortunately, we already had some helpful information from the cemetery. We knew he was on Lot 16, though I had forgotten being told he had no headstone. No headstone? I’ve visited many ancestral graves, including two with headstones almost as tall as I am and one that has no headstone of its own, just his name on someone else’s stone, but I’ve never visited one with no stone at all. With the help of the current sexton, we could tell which of four “bare” plots he was in because the earth sagged on one of them. “1916?” said the sexton. “They were still burying in wooden boxes.” With that, he laid aside the probe he had brought with him.

Yes, I am fully confident that Grandfather Emery never sat in a lovely room like I did with the freedom to stare out at a peaceful scene and be refreshed in his soul. If he ever in his life made any peace with God, we don’t know about it. There’s a good possibility we were the first people ever to visit his grave. That makes me melancholy.

I know it doesn’t do him any good that we found him, but I am glad for me that we did.