blank'/> Mirth, Melancholy, and the Mundane: October 2010

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Edith Cady

This is not a new piece, but it's one not everyone has heard -- or seen with the italics intact.  The italics are phrases that were lifted directly from the newspaper accounts of the event told therein.  Enjoy...

It was May, 1940 and with the coming of warmer weather, Mrs. Cady had returned to her upstairs bedroom.  She had been accustomed to sleep in the lower floor when the weather was cold, but spring was in full bloom the night that he drove from his cabin…lifted his carefully-tended 12 gauge semi-automatic shotgun and went to her home.  I do not know how deeply she slept, or what dreams she had, but it would seem she did not hear any sound as Morris picked his way up the stairs.  He had already unlatched a screen door and gained entrance to the first floor… 

Earlier that week, Morris visited Mrs. Cady and was warned by her to stay away.  But this night, the boarding house was quiet, and it seemed she had no reason to fear for her life.  Her boarders were sleeping in their rooms, two old-age pensioners who made their home with Mrs. Cady.  It is true that they lived in the sparsely settled Fox Hill section, but she was a native of Batchellerville.  She had always known the town and had lived there all her life.  On this night, however, that life would find its end…

Mrs. Edith Cady is Slain in Home.  The headlines sound cold, even now.  She was 61 years old and I can find no other records of her life or death.  Three yellowed newspaper articles pulled from an envelope in the attic of a house where my grandfather lived.  Mrs. Edith Cady was my second great grand aunt, the daughter of the late Stephen and Sarah Blodgett Cady.  Her sister, Sarah Cady, would marry my great great grandfather and continue the family tree through their daughter Blanche, who married my great grandfather.  They bore a son, who bore a son, who bore me. 

It is no doubt that family trees are webs of fascination and mystery, and as I build mine from the scraps of names and dates on a century’s worth of scattered pages, my mind keeps returning to Mrs. Edith Cady and what her life and death meant.  I try to imagine what it must have been like for her…

“I was awakened by a shot” one of the boarders told officials, and as he opened his door, Mrs. Cady fell out of her doorway onto the hall floor.  They found her murderer in her room, lying on a mattress on the floor after he turned his death-dealing shotgun upon himself.   There are precious few other details given.  Only dates and times, an incorrect list of Mrs. Cady’s survivors, and a brief comment that her death was the execution of a threat made a year ago, according to Dr. Eaton, the Saratoga County coroner, who heard it from Erwin Conklin of Northville.  Tantalizing details that tug at my imagination until I think I hear the sad voice of a woman who longs for a legacy beyond simply the victim.  Indeed more is told of his life than of hers; he is the lumberjack and World War veteran who creeps into house, shoots her out of jealousy, then wounds self.   I read over and over again that he lived at the boarding house for about two years subsequent to leaving his wife.  Two months prior to this fateful May night, he went to live in a cabin about two miles down the Fox Hill road.  I wonder why…just one question in a series of them that roll through my mind in an unending series of echoes.

I wonder who she was.  I wonder about her story.   Sometimes I imagine that she spurned his advances, uninterested in this day laborer who was sixteen years her junior.   I imagine he loved her, and yet she was aloof from him.  In her strong and willful way, she ejects him from her boarding house for some unknown transgression.  Aye, she is always strong in my mind…a woman of iron will who had no fear about living in the boarding house with just two octogenarians to keep her company.  She casts off his threats and refuses to change her life for his whims.  He is the spurned suitor struggling to control the blind rage of jealous rejection and carefully planning her death and his own.  Sometimes, the story moves from the heart to matters colder and sometimes more powerful.  Perhaps his jealousy was born from watching this fiercely independent woman succeed with no husband at her side.  For, in the manner of the time, she is called Mrs. at every instance, but no detail is given about whom she had once married and she retains her Christian name.  Even has my mind’s pen scrawls stories in the pages of imagination, I am confounded by the mysteries.  Her ghost dances alone, and I wonder if she perhaps never married at all, and only took the honorific to soothe judgmental sensibilities.  For I can also find no other mention of her daughter Mrs. George Edwards, of Gloversville or of the grandson and great grandson who survived her.  Burial was in the Edinburg cemetery, where ten years later, her brother was buried by her and despite the 24-hour vigil at the hospital as her killer lay languishing and the coroner’s plans to carry the investigation further before rendering a verdict, there are no other scraps of paper.  The story just ends.  But it will never end.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

To everything...

Time is interesting to me of late.  Perhaps it’s because I’m finally utilizing a calendar and it’s actually helping me to not forget meetings.  Perhaps it is because I’m more aware of the days and seasons because of events that have unfolded over the last year or so.  Perhaps it is simply because I’ve been so ridiculously busy that I’m more aware of how I’m occupying each of my days and I’m accepting the sacrifices I have to make to keep my head above water for at least long enough to breathe.  All or none of these, it’s just something I’ve been mulling over.

One of the things that I have been thinking about is how, no matter what we do or say, time moves forward at exactly the same pace.  Each second counting out the minutes counting out the hours, the days, the weeks and so on.  I’m no scientist, nor am I a purist, so I’m not going to go into the kinds of anomalies with our clocks and calendars that make us, for instance, add a day every four years just to keep it right.

Rather, what interests me is our linguistic need to control time in ways that are really psychological tricks designed to give us the sense that we have some power over that which plods on, relentless and uncaring.  It does not slow or speed up, it does not stop or wait.  It just moves forward, the steady passing of moments that lead into ages.

We talk of the things that time does, and the language of control relating to time is so prevalent that I imagine few ever stop to think about it.  No matter our words or thoughts, time can only ever move forward, endlessly marking the passing of our lives through our imperfect devices.  We speak of it in words of control, as if to lessen the blow that there is this thing that controls us in every way and we have no power over it.  It is unyielding in its march into eternity.  Our language cannot change the fact that we cannot stop it, change it, manipulate it, or touch any way.

We have it or we do not, as if it were a commodity, the latest fashion that needs our attention so that we can be cool.  We save it as if it were money, as if it were something that could be gathered and set aside for a rainy day.  We spend it, as if it were that same money and we have traded it for some moment dedicated to a task in which we find regret or satisfaction.  We claim to make time – as if we were some grand artisan who could fashion such a thing from the unlikeliest of materials.   We lose track of it, as if it were a small child momentarily slipping out of our sight in a crowded store.   Sometimes, we find it again, easing our lives because we can accomplish that much more by clever manipulation.  We speak of time management, as if we simply need to corral a cadre of workers in need of our guidance to become a well-oiled machine.  We pass time like a quarterback to a wide receiver on a lazy Sunday afternoon in October.   We have down time and leisure time; we have standard times and daylight savings times.  We waste, take, run out of, bide, and ask for more time. 

We even kill it.

Our language even gives time autonomy – breathing life into it so that perhaps we can learn how to bend it to our will, as we bend others to our wills during the course of any given day.  Time flies, time crawls, time will tell, time heals, we can race it and be ahead or behind it,

We measure its value by our own standards, having and finding good times, lamenting the bad times, enjoying quality time, celebrating the perfect time; time can be wrong or right, time can be trivialized to be just a matter.  Time goes by.

The Byrds and the Bible speak of time in much this way, telling us that there is a time to every purpose under the heaven.  This may be true, but it is to the chagrin and pain of mankind that this moment will not be of our choosing, and we are ever the slaves of each tick of the clock, each shift of the sun, each tide of the ocean, each phase of the moon. 

And what really gets us?  The truth was told by an Irish actor and playwright by the name of Dion Boucicault.

“Men talk of killing time, while time quietly kills them”

And with that, my time here has ended...

Be well, gentle readers.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Happy Birthday, MBS

Today is my sister’s birthday.  This is for her.

My sister and I have not always been close.  Because I was a seemingly incurable tomboy, I spent far more time with my brother than with my sister.  This is not the blog about him, however, so suffice it to say that my tastes were much more in line with his than with hers.  In those years, I was more likely to be tagging along with him, picking on her, the middle child.  When I wasn’t the target as the youngest, that is.  One of the lasting memories from this time was when we took her huge stuffed panda and hung it from the ceiling.   I don’t think she was amused; in fact, she still complains about it from time to time.

As we grew older, things didn’t really change that much.  The timeline of our lives was such that we didn’t really cross paths very often.  I have only been half-joking when anyone has heard me say that while she was at the mall, I was climbing trees.  Despite these differences, or perhaps because of them, I know part of me always looked up to her, though I called it jealousy at the time.  My memory is not always the best when it comes to my childhood, but I do remember playing in her room when she was out; the shag orange carpet hiding a bee one afternoon, as I recall.  It was sunny that day and I don’t remember where she was or even what childhood game I was playing – I just know I wanted to be in her room.  It was special and somewhat off-limits, generally.  My big sister’s room.

I think at some level, part of me wanted to be like her because she was, in many ways, quintessentially feminine in ways that I was not and had no conscious desire to be.  I never thought I could live up to her anyway – she was popular and beautiful and socially skilled.  I have no delusions that her life was perfect by any stretch, but it looked a lot more perfect than mine.  Around her, I felt even more awkward and weird.  I enjoyed computers and poetry more than nail polish and make up; I lost myself in books and in melodramatic writing that makes me laugh today at the dire seriousness of my middle-school self.  In short, I was nothing like her; we didn’t really feel like we could be sisters and as I grew older, I found myself wishing more and more often that I was like her.  I was tired of being bookish and clumsy.

So, I slowly became aware of a need to become more outwardly feminine at least some of the time.  It surprised me that I wanted to be a girl, sort of, but what did not surprise me is where I turned for help with that.  I remember afternoons with curling irons mishaps and smeared mascara; I remember trying on her clothes and being told I could keep some of them.  Basically, I remember laughing and tentatively starting the friendship that I’ve come to value more than I can easily express.  I wore her senior prom dress to my junior prom.  I borrowed her make-up and experimented.  In short, I tried to figure out how to be less awkward and a little bit more graceful – and she was one of the best role models around.  I still hung out with my brother, but now there was another facet of myself to explore.

When she left to go to college, part of me was heartbroken.  I was just beginning to find a friend in her, and she went away.  I retreated back into my old loves, but I was not the same tomboy anymore.  When she came home, we would sometimes hang out and it was fun, but still a little awkward.   As my own high school graduation approached, I ended up applying to only one school – the one where she was.  I don’t remember how that came about, but I know that I was excited about having my RA sister close by as I got used to being a college student.  I had her there with me for a year before she graduated and moved on, and in that year we spent time together now and then.  I loved those times.  Though they were somewhat sparse as we moved in different circles, it was often enough to know that if I needed her, she was no longer far away.

From those days onward, her and I have done nothing but grow closer.  She is my best friend above all best friends – and there are so many memories that I cherish.  We’ve gone through heartaches and happiness, laughter and tears, heart-to-hearts and meaningful silences.  I remember reading at her wedding and making everyone cry – including myself.   I remember shopping trips and closet cleanings that felt like shopping.  I remember her with her infant sons and knowing that she was going to be a better mother than I could ever be and that she was doing yet another thing that I don’t think I could do.  But now there was no jealousy, there was just pride and admiration.

One of the most important moments for me over the last few years was my wedding and how I could finally ask her to be my maid of honor.  There were times when that awkward little girl inside me thought I would never find the right someone because there was still so much of that stubborn tomboy around.  So when I did find him, there was no hesitation about who to ask to stand with me.  I never really pointed this out at the time, but having her do my makeup was so beautifully surreal – suddenly I was 14 again and my big sister was helping me look as beautiful as I could for the high school dance.  This, though, was so much more – and what we have, now, is so much more.  I cherish those memories, but the memories I am making with her now, I would not trade for anything.  She is strong and beautiful, kind and funny, smart and accomplished.  It is women like her that inspire women like me to be more than perhaps they would have.

I may be a doctor and a professor, a wife and a daughter, a poet and a thinker…and there are countless whys and ways I have become those things; but, I can honestly say, I am the woman I am because of the woman she is…

Love you.