From The Trenches
I do it for other people all the time, reconnecting descendants with their ancestorsï¿½ pieces. But for myself? A big, fat, honkinï¿½ zero.
So there I was on a random Tuesday night in July, having just wrapped up a research job that had me thinking about how far from their original homes some of our ancestors wound up. They are the people I think of as Thursdayï¿½s children. You probably know the line from the old rhyme: "Thursdayï¿½s child has far to go."
My grandmother Dearing was a Thursdayï¿½s child from birth. Born in the wilds of Montana in 1893, she was left motherless within days and wound up being handed off to strangers at the Chicago Worldï¿½s Fair that year, then taken to Erie County, Pennsylvania, to be raised.
For no other reason than the fact that I was thinking of her, I typed "Clara Patterson Dearing" into a search engine.
And found myself looking straight into her eyes.
There, in a website sale listing, I saw her childhood photo inscribed with her name on the reverse. The photographerï¿½s imprint showed that it was taken in Wattsburg, Pennsylvania, a town in Erie in which she lived when young.
I never met Clara. She died when my mother was in her early teens. And I dearly loved my step-grandmother, who was chicken ï¿½nï¿½ biscuits heaven and had a hug that would warm you to your toes.
But I was always fascinated by the only two photos Iï¿½d seen of Claraï¿½so much so that one is the logo image on my research website. And this image, this beautiful, wide-eyed, serious, old-beyond-her-years child staring back at me on my computer screen, this was a photograph Iï¿½d never seen.
Then, to my distress, I saw that the auction had ended last year in November. I immediately e-mailed the seller, explained my relationship to the girl in the photo, and asked if there was any way to put me in touch with the buyer. She related later that sheï¿½d never been asked that before and she had a momentï¿½s hesitationï¿½and quite understandably so, for itï¿½s coloring outside the usual lines of confidentiality.
Given the situation, though, she kindly opted to give me the buyerï¿½s contact information. Thank you, Cathy Safford of the Etsy shop Glassing. (Cathy sells antique and vintage images, and sheï¿½s got a knack for spot-on descriptions of the content: "Napoleon Wannabe," "Lï¿½il Miss Sunshine," and, for an image in which off-kilter cropping makes the subjects appear as though theyï¿½re all leaning, "Simon Sez Tilt." Perfect.)
Cathy also let me know that she purchased my grandmotherï¿½s photo at an antiques show in Las Vegas, and from there it traveled to her home in Tucson. From there it went to the buyer in Georgia. It seems that not only did Thursdayï¿½s child have far to go, her image did too.
I wrote to the buyer and then I held my breath. What if the current owner didnï¿½t want to part with it? What if it had been sold yet again and its whereabouts were unknown?
It wasnï¿½t long before I heard from the buyer, who still had the image. But she didnï¿½t want to sell it. No.
Current owner Cora Lockhart wanted to just give it to me.
It turns out that Cora bought the image because she was struck by Claraï¿½s haunting eyes and was thinking of using the image as artwork to promote one of her books.
Yes, Cora writes. Cora is also fascinated by the lives of people whoï¿½ve passed on. Cora also collects mourning jewelry.
It quickly evolved that Cora and I have so much in common that we wondered if weï¿½d been separated at birth. But no, the technical considerationï¿½sheï¿½s much younger than Iï¿½made that an impossibility.
Still, the similarities were astonishing, right down to being what some people might consider, er, quirky. (Who? Us? Nah.)
In short order, Claraï¿½s photograph arrived, along with a beautifully inscribed copy of Coraï¿½s new release, The Inheritance of Being, a lyrically written novel Iï¿½m thoroughly enjoying.
When the publisher saw Claraï¿½s photo, he remarked on the resemblance between us in childhood photos. I scoffed. I looked like Iï¿½d cut my hair with pinking shears. Maybe I had. Clara, by contrast, had an aura of elegant and grave grace.
And now Thursdayï¿½s child has, at last, come home. Break out the champagne.
ï¿½Nancy Dearing Rossbacher, editor
Coraï¿½s novels are available at coralockhart.com, and her Etsy site is SaintBetty. The editor thanks Cora and Cathy for their generosity and asisistance in bringing Clara home.
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