Everyone complains about it, so I know I’m not telling you something you don’t know when I complain about my day getting off course. You try to do one little thing and suddenly the afternoon is totally out of whack. That happened today and was such a shock to me (not getting off course, just where it ended up).
I had started to do some genealogy because this was the first truly free day I had had in a long time. Quickly I realized that I needed to clean the desk off a little in order to get down to business. The second piece of paper I dealt with was a letter I wrote last weekend and couldn’t find the address. The letter was to my cousin Maxine in Littleton (Boston), Massachusetts. I wrote her a long, newsy letter and asked her to please send my uncle Dick a birthday card for his September 6 birthday. When I wrote the letter, I couldn’t find an address for her anywhere so I just put it aside until I could look some more.
I met Maxine in 1990. I had done genealogy all of my life and some of the information I had had come by way of my grandmother, but it was Maxine that had compiled the information. At some point I think she and I may have exchanged a letter or two. But in my days of business travel, I had a trip scheduled for Boston, Massachusetts and decided to take the opportunity to meet her. I called and we set up dinner. She and her daughter Gina arrived looking so sharp and classy. Here we are, circa 1990. It appears to me that somewhere there is a couch without a slipcover, but we’ll argue my fashion sense at another time.
We had a great visit and I was glad to meet this long lost first cousin of my Dad’s. Her father died in a hunting accident when she and her sisters were young. Daddy grew up around them some, but I had never known them. Maxine had joined the WACs or another branch of the military and met her husband while serving and ended up living near his family in Boston.
So now fast-forward 18 years. I don’t know that I talked to her much over the 18 years. Maybe a card occasionally, but I can’t even remember doing that. But last fall, out of the blue, I get a call from a Yankee on my answering machine. I wish I could imitate her voice and accent in print. If you watch the Simpson’s, she sounded like Marge’s sisters. She said she had a cousin for me and needed me to call her. I called her back and we immediately picked right up where we left off last time. She was easy to talk to. She had discovered that one of her cousins that is unrelated to me, is married to a man who IS related to me on my mother’s side. Convoluted, but one of those small world situations where you never know who you might be related to. Of course, he and his wife are not related to each other, they are just both related to connected people. Maxine and I caught up. Soon after she sent me the picture of her great-grandparents that I posted on my family project page that I had never seen. That was quite a gift.
Today I still have that letter needing to be sent, and needing to be sent fast if she’s going to get a card off to Uncle Dick. I hadn’t found her address, but I did have her phone number stored in the phone. I called and it said it was disconnected. That was odd. I went back to the computer, hoping I could find an address or new number online. What I did find was Maxine’s obituary. She died in March.
I have often thought about all of the elderly people that I deal with infrequently on my genealogy projects and worried about just such a thing. Who is going to know I need to be called if someone dies? And I also know from the other side of it how hard it is to think of everyone that needs to be called . . . or to get up the energy to do it. I called one of Dad’s cousins a year after he died and she hadn’t heard and I felt bad about that. Now I was in the same situation.
Another bit of shock in reading her obituary was that her mother wasn’t mentioned as a survivor. Her mother is quite elderly and I knew she had been living in a nursing home in Abilene, but I was afraid maybe she had died and no one told me that, either. The obituary listed Maxine’s sisters names and I knew one of them lived in Abilene. With an unusual last name, she was easy to find in their “phone book” (online) and I called.
Nancy answered the phone herself and knew quickly who I was. She felt bad that I hadn’t been told about Maxine’s death. We talked on the phone a long time (I never looked at a clock) and it seems like every time we would just about to wrap up, another subject would get us started again. Her mother, fortunately, is 97 and doing fine and is still sharp and healthy.
Nancy told me things about Maxine that I did not know. I will share this one story because it is so amazing. Maxine had a little girl, Brenda, in the mid-1970s that had a brain tumor and died at only 3 years old. While the little girl was sick and going through treatments and losing her hair, she loved cardinals and told her family that when she died, she would come back as a cardinal and let them know she was okay. Maxine was at Mass General with the little girl when she was very sick. Her sister Nancy was at their home and so was Maxine’s husband Chick. Maxine called home and told Nancy to tell Chick to get to the hospital immediately. She did not say that Brenda had died, but she had, so Nancy didn’t know this yet. When she and Chick walked out of the house, a neighbor’s house across the street was covered in cardinals…. She said every inch of roof, tree limb, bush, and yard was absolutely covered with cardinals. And no brown female cardinals, these were all bright red male cardinals, hundreds of them. A few days later on the morning of Brenda’s funeral, their own backyard was covered the same way, hundreds of red cardinals giving an unmistakable message.
My day eventually got back on course and few things were accomplished after the shock of hearing about this unexpected death. But, as things happen, I learned it at the perfect time where I was able to call her sister and hear stories about the family and let her cry on my shoulder a bit. I wanted to do genealogy today and I got to do the best kind.