Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Cemeteries and Sailing Ladies
Over the weekend we got back from our vacation to Cape Cod. It was a fun trip and we did a lot of fun things, some traditional favorites, and some new adventures.
Cyrus is an early riser, often awakening at 5:30 am. So, to let the rest of the family sleep, I started taking him on morning walks, often with one or more of the girls along. We walked along the beach, of course, but also through one of my favorite places, the Brewster Cemetery. It is a huge cemetery full of mostly very old headstones, many of which belong to sailing captains and their families. I love to walk through them and read the names, dates and verses and imagine what they were like.
Last year, Grandpa Tony let me read his copy of "Sail Away Ladies" by Jim Coogan, a book about women who sailed during the great age of sail. It is a fun and fascinating read. A couple of the ladies in the book are laid to rest in the Brewster Cemetery and I was able to find their headstones. One was named Bethia Knowles Mayo Sears.
The daughter of a farmer, at the age of 19, Bethia married Elisha Freeman Sears of Brewster, MA, newly captain of the clipper "Wild Ranger". They set out a month later from Boston for her first sea voyage on a journey to San Francisco and India. The trip held the usual hardships common on sailing vessels at that time: sea sickness, toothaches, sunburn, storms, oppressive heat, frigid cold, hail, water rationing, doldrums (lack of wind)and a sailor going overboard. (He was saved, luckily, as most sailors could not swim.) In spite of the hardships they were a happily married couple and enjoyed pieces of their wedding cake at holiday celebrations, visiting exotic China and India and teaching each other. He taught her to navigate, and she taught him to knit and embroider. She made him molasses candy.
Unfortunately, she became ill as they neared India, and her weakened condition caused her to fall prey to a tropical illness while visiting there, possibly cholera. After languishing for nearly 2 months, she passed away in her husbands arms, just 20 days past their first anniversary. His words are so sad:
"My poor wifey is dead and gone. She laid her head on my shoulder like a child going to sleep and died. Oh, yes, she died. I would not have believed it, no not when they took her away from me cold and stiff in death. Oh, if a mother could have been with her to close her eyes, or a sister to have wept with me- What a comfort it would have been- but no, I was all alone...Oh why did she die- why has she been taken from me-Oh God have mercy."
He transported her body back to Brewster for burial, and he now lays to rest between her and his eventual second wife, with whom he would have 3 children, one of whom would die in infancy.
And we look for and visit her grave.
The idea of sailing on those ships is a romantic one and I've often thought it would have been fun to experience it. But, in reality it was a hard life and I probably wouldn't have liked living it as much as I like reading about it.
(P.S. I now have my own autographed copy of "Sail Away Ladies". Thank you, Tony!)