Saturday, June 07, 2008

Sam Thornton, the "French Balloonist" and my blue Granny

Ancestors' lives, all finished and receding, dangle out there like ornaments on a tree, the fragments of facts about their lives compelling and tantalizing.

Today I found out that my great great grandfather Samuel Thornton once sold an island in his property around Turkeyfoot Lake in Summit County, Ohio to a French balloonist. Actually, if I've got this right, it may have been Frank Purdy Lahm, an aviator and associate of the Wright brothers. He was born in Mansfield, Ohio and educated in France. Or it might have been his father, who also had French connections.

Also, preparing for my visit with my second cousins Anne and Cyrus, I found among my mother's stuff a letter she received in October, 1924, when my mother was 14, from my great-grandmother Matilda Youtz, one of Samuel's many daughters. (It had a 2c stamp on it with a head of Washington) Grannie Youtz writes, among other things, "I get blue and lonesome about dark." An arrow to the heart. I recognize in that simple, plaintive confession a melancholy I know too well, the sadness of dusk. She was about 80 at the time.

She's considering taking in boarders and she writes, "enuf boys here for a room but all these night workers and I will not take use for star boarders." Cyrus tells me there was so much factory work going on in Akron at the time some beds went to one man during the day, and to another at night. The "star boarders," he thinks, might have been so-called because they worked all night, under the stars.

The Here and Now is so much more complicated, the data pouring in from all directions, confusing and fluid. Yet, I find myself still turning back to what I know, what the senses have to offer. I'm still alive, unlike all those others, whom I thank for their idiosyncrasies and struggles, their stories.

Thunder and heavy rain, soothing.

P.S. Cousin Cyrus picked up the tab, very nimble at 91 in extending the courtly gesture. And yes, the gas was WAY more than the lobster.

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