Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Strangers in the Box

Samhain is a time to honor our Ancestors, to lay out a feast and invite them to dine, to share their presence with us when the veil is thin. 
Strangers in the box.  Up until a few short years ago, that's all they were....strangers. And sadly, because they were strangers, a part of my life had been missing for many years. An only child, my mom, for some reason, had kept me away from my dad's family. All I remember was my dad one day taking me to a big house where two elderly ladies sat on the sofa. I was barely 7 years old at the time, and when my mom found out, she let my dad know in 'no uncertain terms' that he was not to take me there again. I grew up feeling lonely and cheated. Then, one day I saw that Ancestry had one of its trial offers, so I figured 'What the heck!'  Little did I know that I was about to embark in a wonderful journey, a journey deep into my past, and my amazing journey began the day I found my dad and his twin brother in the 1930 census. 

Seeing their names, little boys, triggered unpleasant memories of lying in bed, only a little girl, and  listening to my mom screaming at my dad, "She didn't even raise you.  She left you to be raised by your poor grandmother. She was never a mother to you." Obviously, mom was even doing her best to keep my dad away from his own mother, but children don't know what is going on. And so it was that I realized that the Mary my dad and his twin were living with in 1930 was not my grandma; she had to have been my great grandma.
Constance Mary Hazel.  That was her birth name.  She was born in Stalham, Norfolk, England on 10 December 1880 to Richard Hazel and Harriet Mary Ann Harmer.  Richard was born 2 August 1858 in Barton Turf, Norfolk, England and died of TB on 23 May 1881.  He was 23 years old; Constance Mary was only a few months old.  I remember tears welling in my eyes when I saw that my 2nd great grandfather had died so young. I cried for the man that I never knew, the man who had once had his entire life ahead of him, now gone. But, the truth of the matter is,that he had to die for me to live, for, if he had not died at the exact time that he had, Harriet may never have remarried and accompanied her new husband to the United States.  I would not have been born for it was only through Richard's death that the tables were set for Mary and my great grandfather to eventually meet. Fate?  Destiny? It's not for me to question. The Universe has it reasons.

Mary's life here in the states wasn't and easy one.  Her stepfather died 10 years after their arrival in the states, and after his death, I've lost all track of Harriet.  Mary married my great grandfather, Ralph, and had 5 children by him. Frank, the oldest, died at aged 10.  Ralph died of TB on 30 July 1918. He was 38 years old.  When I discovered Ralph's grave, he didn't have a headstone.  Since that time, I and other family members who I have met online have gotten together, and now, I am pleased to say, he now has a headstone on his grave. No one should be forgotten.

After Ralph's death, Mary met her second husband, Lyndon, and  bore him a child.  Well, truth be told, we don't believe they ever legally married, and when he died in 1938, his family stepped in and took the house right from under Mary.  Mary died March 3, 1956. I know she has been with me.  Several years ago when hubby and I had the house where my magical garden grew, I always knew someone had a hand in it.  It wasn't all me.  Even though I'd been born and raised in the country, I was never known for a green thumb, and somehow this garden just took off.  Watermelon pits took root and grew into fabulous vines of succulent fruits.  Strawberries, sunflowers, lettuce of every imaginable kind, red peppers, green peppers, two pound cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant....the list goes on and on.  There was nothing that didn't grow.  And it was years later, when I was sent a box of pictures, that I realize Mary had been at my side for in that box of pictures, was one of Mary in her garden.I hope you all enjoy the following poem as much as I did.

   Come, look with me inside this drawer,
In this box I've often seen,
At the pictures, black and white,
Faces proud, still, and serene.
I wish I knew the people,
These strangers in the box,
Their names and all their memories,
Are lost among my socks.
I wonder what their lives were like,
How did they spend their days?
What about their special times?
I'll never know their ways.
If only someone had taken time,
To tell, who, what, where, and when,
These faces of my heritage,
Would come to life again.
Could this become the fate,
Of the pictures we take today?
The faces and the memories,
Someday to be passed away?
Take time to save your stories,
Seize the opportunity when it knocks,
Or someday you and yours,
Could be strangers in the box.


  1. How poignant the poem and your glimpse of yesteryear and your ancestors Mary. This is so ironic as I have recently been digging into my Mother's lineage/geneology. Spent a few days last week online for hours...I did learn that at your local library for instance they have online sites they pay for so that you can study your geneology, which I wasn't aware of and so that was a great lead. I had contacted the Library of Congress to see if they did that, but no, however, they did point me in the right direction. is an awesome site if you can afford the dues.
    I'm so happy that you could learn of your Father's is very important we know where we come my humble opinion.
    Many Blessings in Your Continued Searches!

  2. What a wonderful post Mary. I'm always amazed at how much a like we are to our kin even when we have never really "known" them. I feel the same about my great grandmother that I never knew. My mother was pregnant with me when she passed on and my Mom always told me I was a part of her. Being an old soul I feel that to be true. When given a three ring binder full of my family's history on my Dad's side, I realized that some things never change, including names.
    Thank you for sharing and I am sorry that your Mother felt that way. However, being who I am am coming from where I do. I wonder why your father did not press the issue more? Blessed Be my friend:) and Happy Samhain.

  3. This is a wonderful post. Stories are so very important, and it's sad when we don't have a family rich with heritage, and who are open about where they came from. I come from a pretty disfunctional family but I still tell the stories
    to my children - of my (their) "crazy" family.

    Would it be ok to link to this on my Ancestors Ball post?

  4. So many stories those that have gone before us could tell.
    If only old walls, trees and places could talk.

  5. How funny, my name is Constance Marie! Very close. You are so lucky to know something of your family. I tried Ancestry to find my father and didn't find anything beyond my mother and her mother. Well, I did find trouble. My "grandfather's" family found me, but what I know and they don't is that we are not really related! I had to bite my tongue on that one.
    I don't know if you still have a garden, there may be no room in the city. Perhaps you could make a memorial container garden?

  6. Fantastic that you were able to find info on your ancestors. My father had kept me from my mothers family after she died and it was only recent years I found any of them through the magic of the internet. :)

  7. It's nice that your family found a way to connect with you. I also met many of my ancestors through the arrival of previously unknown photos. It is amazing the power that can be in those photos and how strong the connection is once they find us.

  8. Wondrous! I am inspired, some digging into my own past could not hurt!
    Drop by and see me at

  9. Wonderful post, it is lovely to ready your ancestors story and the poem is one to treasure as it really makes one think. All our ancestors are part of ourselves they are what made us both the known and the unknown. I have been tracing my family history for a few years now and I feel it makes me closer to my ancestors and builds the connection between us no matter how many years divide us.