Sunday, October 4, 2009

Pathos revisited

I just finished writing the story of my second-great-grandfather, William SCOTT. I have been trying to learn about him for years—perhaps not so intensely as his father, but years just the same.

And as I finished, I realized that I knew virtually nothing about his life. The first peg in the board was his marriage at not quite 20 years of age. His first child was born about a year and a half later, a daughter. But then that daughter died at 18 months, a very tender age. (I have a granddaughter who is almost that age now. How could we bear to lose her?) Three months after that, his oldest son was born.

The children came regularly, about every year and a half at first, spacing out a little more toward the end. The other children would live, except for the last. She lived for a month and two days. And that information was chiseled on her tombstone—one gets the impression that every word might have been an attempt to keep her longer, make sure she wasn’t forgotten. And she wasn’t. Because of that one stone in an old cemetery in the middle of an Iowa field watched over by a very humble church building. She was there with her older sisters, although William never knew about that.

But what was it that drove him to California, away from his family? Was Elizabeth feeling deserted, and thus the story that he had died? Surely the mail system worked, even if California was still somewhat primitive. Or, in more kindness and justice to her, was that a later creation by someone else? What motivated it?

And speaking of motivation, why did William continue to work so hard. The estate he left was not insignificant, considering the times. What had he said (and to whom) that conveyed the existence of a family somewhere, even though it was not a detailed report. What did he think about in his last illness. What regrets wove through those last hours?

Well, one day we’ll know all those details. In the meantime, we just keep looking for more pegs on which to hang the events of his life.

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