WP DAILY PROMPT:
HELPING HAND: A HANDWRITTEN LETTER
The WordPress daily prompt for today, May 8, 2013 is Tell us about the most surprising helping hand you’ve ever received.
Perhaps it isn’t the most surprising helping hand I’ve ever received. However, it is the first thought that comes to my mind.
The helping hand was one holding a pen, writing a letter, putting it in an envelope, stamping it and mailing it.
The letter dropped on the floor through our old-fashioned mail-slot. My husband Monte picked up the mail that day and handed me several pieces of mail. I sat down on the stairs to open it.
Davis was the name on the return address of one envelope.
Darn, I thought. “I just submitted my article on the Davis’s 50th wedding anniversary. The information in this letter had better be good if I am to recall the article and amend it.”
I slit open the flap and two pieces of paper fell out. This letter didn’t concern the newspaper article. It was from my father’s cousin in Florida and most likely contained something about my family genealogy.
I opened up one sheet. It was a genealogy, but I noticed the more recent section had more names on it than what I already had. What I read changed my perception of who I was and where I lived.
“Monte,” I said. “Bob is playing a trick on me.”
“Oh?” he questioned.
“Yes. Somehow he grafted a branch onto my family tree that makes no sense. It lists Hempfield Township and Blacklick Township.”
Both townships are in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Our home is in the eastern end of Westmoreland County and Hempfield Township is almost an hour west. Blacklick Township is in Indiana County, which abuts Westmoreland County.
This had to be a hoax. After all, I am a New Englander. My American history extends from Newport and Portsmouth (Acquidneck Island), Rhode Island all the way north up the coast to East Lamoine, Maine. Travel on a visit there with me and I can point out all kinds of family landmarks and tell you all kinds of stories.
But having ancestors in Westmoreland and Indiana counties in Pennsylvania? No way.
Furthermore, my genealogical research had produced no one of German extract. The names on this family tree branch were definitely German: Rugh and Mechling.
What did Bob think he was doing?
I called Bob.
“Yes, it’s true,” he said, and told me a story that connected a family which was one of the original settlers of Westmoreland County in 1770 with a family that produced descendents which include Lizzy Borden, Ezra Cornell, and myself.
You’ve heard the saying for want of a nail the shoe was lost?
In this case, for want of a pair of shoes Mary wed Irving. met and wed in San Francisco, California. The story is posted here: YOU MEAN THIS NEW ENGLANDER IS A WESTSYLVANIAN?
The hand that wrote this letter to me, Bob’s hand, changed my perspective of “living on Mars” to being connected with my retirement community; from being a “true” New Englander to being…well, an interrupted New Englander. It also changed my perspective on my heritage.
The information also changed my perception of my ancestry by adding another country to my background. While living in Southwestern Pennsylvania (I’d lived in Fayette County for 8 years before moving to Westmoreland County) I met many residents who are proud of their German ancestry. They tried encouraging me to join different groups that concentrated on that heritage. I refused.
“I’m not German,” I said. “I have no German ancestry.”
I also told them I do not have Scottish, Slavic, or any other ancestry celebrated in Southwestern Pennsylvania—except for a smidgeon of Irish.
And I was wrong—at least about a German heritage.
That was a surprise.
NOTE: I would encourage each of you to become familiar with your family genealogy. Yes, it can reveal skeletons. But it can also reveal pleasant surprises. The reality is that everyone’s family tree has both—skeletons and pleasant surprises