Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Childhood Heroes

I wrote this the night Carrie Fisher died. But my heart hurt too much to finish it. When her mother, Debbie Reynolds, died the next day, I couldn’t put my thoughts to words. So I waited until mother and daughter were laid to rest and put to peace. My heart is broken due to the passing of Carrie Fisher. She was only sixty years old.
I remember when George Harrison died in 2001. As soon as I heard the news I called my dad. I knew he would be upset at the passing of one of his heroes. Of course he was. I grew up knowing how the Beatles impacted his young life and shaped his musical tastes. They played the soundtrack of his world. I didn’t feel grief then, but I had sympathy. I knew that someday I would lose a hero.
It’s another type of rite of passage. It’s another moment that changes us. Maybe people think it’s silly that I should grieve for a celebrity. Especially one I never knew and, sadly, never got to meet. I know Carrie was more than a space princess. She was a fierce warrior for mental health awareness and her openness later in her life about her struggles endeared her further to me. She was a strong writer with a quick wit and a sharp tongue- honest to a tooth. She was funny and crass.

My gateway to Carrie Fisher was Star Wars. Princess Leia was my first idol. She’s been with me my whole life. As a child I often faced difficult dilemmas with the question, what would Leia do? But that character was just words on paper until Carrie brought them to life. And she did.
I am an obsessed Star Wars fan who read all of the (now non-canon) books outside of the movies. And every book I read, when Leia spoke, it was Carrie’s voice I heard in my head. It was her eye rolls and eyebrow raises I saw in my visualizations. 

Like a lot of fans, I had all the Princess Leia action figures as a kid and I still have most of them. I played with them liberally, and often all at once. I gave each version of Leia its own personality. Bespin Leia was the most refined and princess-like while Hoth Leia was the tomboy. Endor Leia was the leader/soldier who made all the decisions and Boushh Leia was the I-don’t-follow-orders badass. The original Leia was always my every person, the Dorothy/Alice/Wendy character. In my play they were sisters, navigating the world together.
Early on my favorite was Hoth Leia. I thought her hair was pretty and I liked her outfit. I liked her so much I took her to school for show and tell. My mom told me to keep her in my bag but I didn’t. I lost her in the snow by the mailbox a block away from my house. I was young and foolish enough to wait until the snow melted, assuming I would find her again. I never did, but a decade later, my dad surprised me with a loose version of her he found at a toy show.
I still have her.
My overall favorite by far was Bounty Hunter Leia, dressed as Boushh. I loved her because she was badass. She snuck into Jabba’s Palace and freed Han Solo. For the first time in my young life I watched a Princess save the Rogue Pirate.
It changed my world.

There’s a good book- though no longer canon- called Shadows of the Empire by Steve Perry, which takes place immediately preceding Return of the Jedi, following the lengths Leia and Chewbacca went to in order to find and save Han.
Tattoine Ghost by Troy Denning was another good one for me. It follows Leia as she wrestles with the truth of who her father was as she visits other planets, trying to hold the pieces together after the fall of the Emperor.
There are dozens of books of the saga of Han and Leia (and everyone else) including some massive heartache for both of them, and how they struggle through that… together. When the books were dismissed as non-canon before The Force Awakens was released, it was hard for me. I lived the literary timeline with and through them and it got fairly brutal for our heroes. I was in it with them.
But, I am also a Doctor Who fan and I like all things timey-wimey, so a new storyline where some beloved characters are still alive but other ones never existed… I came to terms with it. I can love both versions. It’s more Star Wars world and what can be bad about that?

Last year, along with millions of others, I watched Carrie Fisher breathe new life into Leia, in a new chapter of Star Wars where we learned what happened after Return of the Jedi. I was with her journey, with her heartache. To revisit with my idol in her later years felt like a homecoming. As someone of middle-age, it felt sadly reassuring to find that they had destroyed two Death Stars and saved the Republic, but not even the Princess was assured a happy ending.
After the movie came out I picked up the book Bloodline by Claudia Gray at the local library. It takes place in the new canon-world, between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. It’s Leia-heavy and layered. A lot of the non-canon books brush Leia off as the Princess, the Senator, the Leader of the Republic… always some kind of figurehead, stuck in her position (although in the New Jedi Order series, she trains to earn her own lightsaber). But Bloodline understands Leia’s place in the Star Wars Universe.
She was the bravery and the heart of the Rebellion.

I know that the death of Carrie Fisher doesn’t mean the end of Princess Leia. But it’s the death of her face and her voice and that matters. Leia’s legacy will outlive us all, for a while anyway. I will spend my days grateful to Carrie for gifting me with Leia. I wish her family space to grieve and peace when they find it.

Carrie Fisher herself said, “I like Princess Leia. I like how she handles things. I like how she treats people. She tells the truth. She, you know, gets what she wants done. I don’t have real problem with Princess Leia. I’ve sort of melded with her over time.” May the force be with them both.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Just Like Harry Potter

Last year I woke Christmas morning in my private rehab room, legs thickly bandaged. My head was laying on a handmade pillowcase decorated with ivy and mistletoe. It was one of a few dozen gifted to the hospital to be gifted out to the long-term patients, of which I counted. I opened my eyes and reached for the cup of water I kept on my hospital table, along with my lotion, my gifted iPad mini, my glasses, Kelley's chapstick that she gave me, and a small notebook and pen... all lined up carefully before sleep, within easy reach.

But on Christmas morning there was also a stack of presents on my table! The first thing that went through my head was, just like Harry Potter! In the first book he wakes to find presents at the end of his bed at Hogwarts. Not having had any family who cared about him, it was an unexpected moment of pure joy.

In the hospital, I recognized that same feeling behind my breastbone. I had been so saddened to have to be there for the holiday. I had not anticipated or expected the hospital to acknowledge it at all. But there were four presents, wrapped in bright paper, waiting for me.

I later learned there was a woman who organized it every year. She came onto the floor with two carts full of games and toys and books the day after Christmas, and put them in storage until next year. I asked her to thank Santa Claus for me and she smiled.

It was a small kindness for her and a huge uplifting moment of childhood wonder and hope. The fact that someone did such a kindness for isolated people in painful recovery, it gave me new courage and strength. People are good. People are kind. Remember that as the love of the holiday season gives way to exhaustion and winter.

People are good. People are kind. Be among them. Where you see moments of possible random acts of kindness, take them. Be the catalyst for joy in the world. Pour that into the world and create one you want to leave behind for your descendants.

I will.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Modraniht, id est matrum nocturum

“the Modraniht, that is, in the night of the mothers[=matrons?]”

I came across this celebration when I was researching the pagan roots of my German ancestors. Early Germanic peoples celebrated the night before Winter Solstice as Mothers Night. The Venerable Bede, a Christian monk from the 8th century wrote about it in his description of the pagan calendar. In Old English they called it Modraniht. More than 1100 votive stones and altars have been found through the centuries, dedicated to the mothers, or matrons, and half of these altar stones were inscribed and dedicated with Germanic names.
The main areas of worship have been uncovered in ancient Germania, northern Italy and eastern Gaul. There are a few larger cult centers with temples found along the Rhine. Many of these altars were found near rivers, wells or springs. The dedicated altars and votives reached as far as present day Scotland, southern Spain, Frisia and Rome. There is reference to the Germanic Mother Cults in the writings of Bede in 725 AD: “And the very night that is sacrosanct to us, these people call modranect, that is, the mothers’ night, a name bestowed, I suspect, on account of the ceremonies which they performed while watching this night through.”
Altars and votive stones, as well as temples, were often carved with images showing three women of matron age and appearance, often holding baskets of fruit and a baby. Based on the inscriptions found, it is thought that these altars were dedicated as offerings of thanks for abundance, gifts and blessings that soldiers and sailors had already received. They believed the Mothers had responded to their prayers and this was their way of acknowledging them, burning incense and leaving sacrificial offerings of food.
Many of these goddesses or spirits were named for the family that was dedicating them, as well as being named for the river or spring that watched over the local town or village, such as the Albiahenae matrons of the town of Elvenich or the Renahenae of the Rhine. Of the 1100 votive stones found, over 360 different ones name the same sets of matrons, the Aufaniae, the Suleviae and the Vacallinehae. Based on the age of the stone inscriptions, it appears that the cult of the Matrons began to die out in continental Germany around the fifth century CE, and Modraniht fell out of favor as Christianity gained foothold.

The Night of the Mothers was the time to honor the familial and tribal “soul” mothers who watched over them. It was intended to honor those who had crossed over, not for those still living. On Mothers Night we honor the sacrifice of life so that the ancestral matrons might become a source of wisdom and strength for those still living.
I begin my celebration by creating a small rock cairn on a temporary altar. I honor first those of my mothers who have crossed over, inscribing their names on stone in chalk. I light a candle for each of them. I remember them and tell what I know of their stories. I do also choose to honor the strength of the mothers still living, that they may become part of that ancestral current when it is their turn to pass through the veil.
I drink a cup of tea and invite them to share my cup. I crochet, something my Great-Grandmother taught me on the front porch over the summer when I was younger, gifting me her hooks when she could no longer use them. One way to honor the mothers is to honor their work and pass on the skills that have been taught to you by your mothers, and their mothers, that they live on through you, and the crafting of your hands.
What was special to them? Before dusk falls on Modraniht, I sit and hand-sew, darning old clothes. With each stitch, I pray. Tonight I stitch runes of rebirth, recovery, and courage into cloth. Each stitch is a small prayer of hope, a way of pushing forward despite the adversity.
This night is the night for daughters and sons to honor the line of birthings that occurred throughout history, that opened the way for their births. That made their presence in the world. It does not matter what current feelings might be complicated around maternal relationships.
You are because they were. Do not rewrite the past. Honor the journey.

A year ago I prayed to my mothers from a hospital bed on the rehabilitation floor. I thanked the spirit women who stood by my bedside on the Burn ICU. I thanked the faces I recognized from photos and the ones I may never identify.
            Again, I pray for them. I thank the ICU nurses who mothered me back to health and back to myself. I thank and pray for everyone who had hands in easing my recovery, brightening my heart, or tended to my body needs in any way. And this year I thank the courses my brain stories took that enabled me to step out of the fire without succumbing to madness.
            In light of that new prayer, I light a candle for the mythological goddess Frigga, who sheltered me in the darkest moments by wrapping what was left of my bones in a cool cloth and tucked me away from the glare of the blinding sunlight. In the next moment, in my ICU bed, I knew a moment of relief.

I am Sarah,
daughter of Margaret,
daughter of Patricia,
daughter of Margaret,
daughter of Eliza,
daughter of Mary of Ireland,
daughter of mother unknown…

Daughters of daughters back to the first mother,
I pray to you in stitches.

The needle between my fingers devolves into metals of various kinds, into bits of bone, until my hands roughen, becoming one with the first hands of my line to stitch skins together. Whoever is unknown to me, whatever countless number of generations of mothers led to my birth, we are joined in this familiar act.

I pray for health for my loved ones.
I pray for my continued healing and recovery.
I pray for happiness for all who walk the earth.
I pray for moments of joy for all who are grieving.
I pray that the echo of the wisdom of the mothers who have come before is remembered.
I pray for the earth, for our Great Mother, whose bones and minerals and animal DNA gave us life.
I pray for all mothers who came before me, all who walk with me and all who will come after... though my line ends with me.
May my life touch others while I am living it.

Grandma Donna MacDonald (m.Riddle)

Grandma Ruth Emma Ruston (m.Eaton)
1xGG Minnie Estelle Wicker (m.Ruston)

1xGG Hattie Eva Smith (m.Eaton0

2xGG Ruth Ireland (m.Ruston), Grandma Ruth Emma Ruston, 2xGG Emma Angeline Whitcher (m.Wicker)

2xGG Hattie Eva Dutcher (m.Smith)
2xGG Theresa Cordelia Tenney (m.Eaton)

2xGG Frances Gillette (m.Riddle) back, far left, & 3xGG Jane Berry (m.Gillette) front, right

3xGG Eliza Marsh Bird (m.Dutcher)

3xGG Sophia Sears (m.Smith)

4xGG Mary Ann Boots (m.Gillette)

4xGG Elizabeth Ann Hill (m.Berry)

[Adapted from an article originally published December 21, 2011.]

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Christmas Orange

In celebrating Christmas, my favorite family tradition involved the mystery of the orange in our stockings. While we waited for my Grandpa to drive over to our house to be with us while we opened presents, we would empty our stockings, filled with little toys and candies… and an orange. The memories are so strong that every time I hold an orange in my hands and smell the citrus fragrance of the rind, I think of Christmas morning, when I would peel it open and gobble the fruit down. There was an orange waiting for us every year.
My mom remembers having one some holidays, but not always. It was my dad who had an orange in his stocking every year. He said it sat on top of his stocking, hiding what was beneath it. And our oranges served the same purpose, to better hide the surprise of what prying eyes peeking around the top of the stairs would soon find inside.
In researching the tradition of the Christmas orange, the only thing that was clear was that its direct origins are still a bit of a mystery. Laura Ingalls Wilder references getting an orange in her stocking as a child in 1880, noting that it was a special treat. According to the Food and Nutrition Encyclopedia by Audrey Ensminger, with the advent of the new rail system, and the abundance of ripe oranges out of Florida and California, there was a fair supply of them available to the public in the 1880s.
What a special gift at a time of year when there isn’t a lot of other fresh fruit available. Lucky for us, winter is the peak of harvest season for citrus. In England, I found that putting oranges in the toes of stockings pre-dates World War II, but became a common tradition during the war. It must have been an especially delicious treat during rationing.
I found correspondences of the orange to the mythology of Bishop Nicholas, better known as Saint Nicholas, but nothing I could cite as factual. Nicholas was a good, wealthy man born in Turkey in the fourth century who spent his life helping the poor. Folklore says that he secreted money into three stockings of three daughters of a man who could not afford a good dowry and feared he would not find them good husbands. In the story, the gold melted inside the stockings where they hung over the fireplace and the young women pulled out three golden balls in the morning. It’s true that statues of Nicholas often show him holding three golden globes, but any claimed similarities to the Christmas orange as a symbol of Saint Nicholas’ generosity have been recently made.
I hold one in my hand and I smell Christmas kindness. I think any Santa or Saint would approve.

Making Decorative Pomanders
Pomander balls go back to the 15th century, used as natural air fresheners. To make them, you need oranges, a lot of whole cloves, and something you can use to pierce the skin like a toothpick, pin, nail, or wooden skewer. You can also use citrus fruits like clementines, lemons, limes, tangerines, or kumquats (kumquats make adorable tree-sized pomanders).
Some people like to make designs with their cloves and others cover it with them like a second skin. For best results, I recommend covering as much of the orange with cloves as you can as the clove oil acts as a preservative. Use your pointy thing of choice to poke in holes before inserting cloves (or your fingers will soon start to hurt). If you need a guideline for your rows, you can wrap a rubber band or masking tape around the center to get you started. Leave room in your pattern to tie ribbons around the orange for hanging and display. I use cotton cording that I can weave around the cloves. Then hang the pomander in a closet for a couple of days to allow drying time, as they can get moldy (one woman on-line said she puts hers in her fridge, but I’ve always shut them away in a closet). Scent-wise, these will last a few weeks.
If you want them to last through the season, you can coat your pomander with powdered orrisroot to help preserve it. For pomanders that both last longer and spice up your home, you can coat your pomander in a mixture of ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground ginger, ground nutmeg, and powdered orrisroot; three tablespoons each.

            If you hang stockings, will an orange wait within it for you? Maybe another festive fruit? Or some tradition unique and special to your family?

Blessings to You and Yours
As part of my spiritual practice I celebrate Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, which falls on December 21. I grew up Catholic, celebrating Christmas with my family on December 25. As an adult, I observe both holidays. I still celebrate Christmas, just a different kind. I love Christmas. I am full to the brim of Christmas Spirit.
Happiness. Peace. Kindness. Compassion. I celebrate Christmas as the holiday of family and humanity. I light candles to honor and revere the goodness inside each and every one of us. I wish for peace on earth, that the good will shine through, that light will win out.
This is the year for compassion.
When someone wishes you a Merry Christmas, say “You, too.” If someone wishes you a Happy Holiday, say “You, too.” If someone wishes you a Happy Kwanzaa, say “You, too.” If someone wishes you a Merry Solstice or a Happy Yule, say “You, too.” It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s something you celebrate.
People are wishing you good tidings in the spirit of brotherhood and joy as dictated by their faith. Return the favor. Don’t be a Scrooge. Who can’t use more joy and light?

[Adapted from a post originally published December 11, 2013.]

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Human Kindness

One of my favorite things about the holiday season is witnessing moments of kindness between strangers as these events occur with more spontaneity at this time of year. Allow me a moment to plug the notion that we can carry Christmas and Solstice with us through the whole year. Human kindness always moves me and makes me misty. The most memorable and heart-warming moment I remember happened during the holidays of 2001.
The day of the attacks on the twin towers happened the September day before I was to start training as a cashier at a local grocery store. We had recently moved to a new city and spent the day of the attacks glued to the television we hadn’t even had hooked before we heard the news. When I clocked in the next morning for training, everyone was in a state of horror and shock.
I hadn’t been there long enough to know any of the regular customers yet, but what I saw were couples and mothers shopping to feed their families, day in and day out. It was their only agenda. They all had different colors of skin and different styles of dress and each of these was widely varied. After the attacks, I saw the majority of my community respond fearfully to the women in their abayas and hijabs.
In their fear they were not kind, and they felt free to make horrid comments to the women shopping that I cannot even write out for you. They literally walked up to unveiled Muslim women shopping, minding their own business, and accused them of killing people in New York City. Of hiding weapons beneath their abayas and demanding to see what was hiding underneath them. And much, much worse. In front of their children.
And what will those children grow up thinking about their place in the world?
I am grateful that my grocery store allowed the cashiers to refuse service to those customers who would not cease in harassing the Muslim families. And I did. Often, at first. I have always believed in kindness. It is always heartbreaking to me how cruel people can be from a place of fear.
What is it that makes us lash out like wounded animals at each other? How does hurting other people make us feel better? I understand being afraid. I understand having fear. We are each allowed to feel the emotions we feel. But we are not allowed to inflict them on others. We are not allowed to wield them like weapons against other people. We are all animals. That is true. But it is supposed to be our human compassion and brains that lift us above our animal nature.
Every day, those interactions were the shadow that fell over my joy of getting to know the community here and its humanity. I saw too much ugly at first- which may have been true wherever I found myself then. One day, on a holiday shift, one man’s generosity renewed my faith in the goodness of people. One small act of kindness was enough to tip the scales.
A Muslim man and his wife came through with their young son, buying healthy grains and vegetables and fresh meat and milk and eggs. It was the healthiest display of food I ever saw anyone bring down my register in all of my time at the store. She wore an abaya and hijab but the old couple before them paid quickly and muttered about letting burkas in the store.  
The electronic benefits line was down, as it often was back then, and their EBT card was denied. They began to count out their cash and put things big extras back, like the asparagus and the turkey. When they took back the only other extra, the box of cereal for their son, he did not cry in complaint. That moment stayed with me. It was obvious they were struggling to decide what else to take away.
An older man behind them asked me how much more they needed, while they sorted through their groceries. They only had twenty dollars and I whispered apologetically to him that they needed another eighty to cover everything, and that our system was down- that it wasn’t their fault. I was so used to customers being impatient and wanted him to understand the technology glitch was no one’s fault.
The Muslim woman started to apologize nervously to everyone in line around the same moment. But the man behind them smiled compassionately and handed me a hundred dollars. All he was buying for himself was bread, lunch meat and milk.
At first the couple would not take it, but he insisted. I will never forget what he said. “You need help, and I am in a place to give it to you. I would like to think that when I need help, someone will be in a place to give it to me.” The family thanked him profusely and gratefully. You could see the surprise wash over them. As they were leaving, the husband turned around and told the man that he would never forget his kindness. And the man shrugged it off, “Just repay the favor some day.”
When they left, the man would not hear me say anything about it, waving my gratitude and tears away. He said it wasn’t a big deal. “It was to them,” I assured him. And it was to me. I have never forgotten it either. I have paid it forward innumerably.

Sometimes kindness comes in the form of a simple smile. Making eye contact with your cashier during your holiday shopping. Taking a moment to saying thank you to all of your cashiers, to the waitress when she brings you a new drink, to anyone working in service for you. There are a lot of people in the world and we don’t know everyone. But at some point in our lives, even our closest friends were strangers to us. And every stranger is someone’s son, daughter, mother, father, friend. We have choices every day in what face we show to the world. Spread compassion and kindness throughout your days. It is the simplest and most beautiful language we can share and it is a language that will shape the world around us into a brighter place.

[Updated from “Human Kindness” published December 4, 2013.]

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Whitcher Monument

Photo by Kerri Kaiser Newman
A few blocks north of the home where I grew up sits Glenwood Cemetery, bordering a public park where we spent many afternoons at play. When I was older I used to walk that cemetery, looking for the oldest tombstones. It was a surprise when my father told me he’d discovered the damaged gravesite of prominent ancestors of ours in that very same place.

The Whitchers
I’ve written previously about Bailey Harrison Whitcher and Ordelia deLozier, my 3x great-grandparents. Ordelia’s father Peter, of Connecticut, was a P.O.W. at the Battle of Tripoli in 1803. After his thirty month-long ordeal and release, he came to own a cabinet-making business in Lockport. Bailey was his apprentice. One of two things happened… either Peter abandoned his family and Bailey took over the business, marrying Ordelia, or Bailey and Ordelia married and Peter took that as his opportunity to leave and return to the sea, but he never returned.

Bailey and Ordelia had thirteen children, seven girls and six boys. Two sons died during childbirth and one drowned in the Erie Canal in 1836. Their remaining three sons were soldiers in the Civil War. I have letters from my 2x great-grandma Emma, written to another soldier in her brother George’s regiment, describing the day the first boy from Lockport died in the war, and the funeral march the city had for him. The Civil War changed everything for the Whitcher family.

George Harrison fought with the Michigan 7th at Gettysburg and died defending Cemetery Ridge. His body was never recovered. The inscription plate from his musket was dug up from the site, and returned to his family in 1889, by the same friend of George that Emma had been writing letters with- there is evidence in her letters that he was corresponding as well. His name was Charles Thompson and he had returned to the site as a personal pilgrimage. He discovered the plate among items being dug up. A monument now stands in Gettysburg to the regiment where the battle took place. George Harrison was 22 when he died.

What a loss this must have been to the family. It wasn’t the last.

Orville Bailey was mustered into the New York 8th regiment, heavy artillery. He was at the Battle of Cold Harbor in VA in May and June of 1864. He was wounded on June 3rd, which also happened to be his birthday. He turned 21. He died June 18, 1864 in Alexandria from his wounds. Ulysses S. Grant said in his memoirs of this last battle, “I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made. ... No advantage whatever was gained to compensate for the heavy loss we sustained.”

The Whitcher Sisters, family archive. Back row, Emma (my ancestress), Mary, and Frances. Front row, Lucy, Ellen, Harriet, and cousin Flora. The photo is of their eldest brother Daniel, in his uniform.
The Union gained no advantage from the loss of their second son. How that must have affected the family, still in fresh grief from George’s death… Emma’s disposition seemed to change greatly. She had seemed to be courting George’s regiment buddy through their exchange of letters, but he also seemed greatly affected by the loss of his brother and friend. A few months after the death of her brother Orville, Emma Whitcher married a young businessman named Hiram King Wicker. They were my 2x great-grandparents.

Back to the Gravesite
The monument my father found in Glenwood Cemetery belonged to Bailey Harrison Whitcher, who died the year after his son Orville. Bailey had grown deaf in his old age and was struck and killed by an oncoming train he could not hear as he had grown deaf in his old age. The monument also included most of his family, including his two sons who died in the Civil War.

It was on a steep slope and the obelisk had toppled over, strewn precariously in pieces down the incline, obscuring two sides and their inscriptions from view. My father began to investigate how we might get it repaired, seeing how important the family had been historically to the city. It took a while.

Photo by Kerri Kaiser Newman
Mark and Dennis Devine brought it to the attention of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 268, who championed its restoration. Family and various local organizations helped raise the $2100 needed to repair it and on November 11, 2016, a ceremony took place revealing the restoration and honoring the fallen Whitcher brothers.

I wasn’t able to be at the rededication ceremony, but my father was, and various other descendants of the family showed up to help mark the occasion. Reenactors from the Colonel John B. Weber Camp, No. 44, the Reynolds Battery NY Light Artillery, the 155th NY Reenactment Regiment, the NY Volunteers 140th, and the Union Volunteers Fife and Drum Corps were all on hand to set the tone for the Veteran’s Day ceremony.


I wish there were words to express how deeply wonderful it is to see other descendants and groups take an interest in honoring the legacy of this Whitcher family. I can’t wait until spring, when they finish polishing the marble and the grave is renewed. It’s a privilege to count these men and women in my ancestral bloodline.

Thanks to my dad, for sharing his passion for genealogy with me, and for wandering old cemeteries and stumbling over graves. Thanks for following up inquiries with letters and e-mails and sharing Whitcher stories, and encouraging interest in seeing this restoration through to completion. I'm glad you were at the ceremony. Uncle Dave would have loved it. I'm sure he did.

A special thanks to Kerri Kaiser Newman, a Whitcher cousin, who was in attendance at the rededication ceremony, for the use of her photos! Both our families descend from Bailey and Ordelia's children. She's one of the closest Whitcher cousins I've discovered yet. If you have Whitcher ancestors, check out the facebook group Whitcher, Whicher, Witcher, Whittier, Welcher Global Family Tree. There are more of us out there.

Other blog posts of Whitcher interest:

A Death at Gettysburg 150 Years Later (July 3, 2013)

A P.O.W. from Tripoli (June 5, 2013)

The Story in the Life (May 2, 2012)

Emma's Letters (February 22, 2012)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Our Silent Supper in Pictures

On Halloween night, we held a Dumb Supper in our home, rearranging furniture to make room for non-corporeal guests. It sounds strange, but the ritual of opening the way for company is important. The first thing I did was light my Ancestor Altar, a beacon I use to guide them to my home.

We set our table festively, with candles, pumpkins, and the last of our marigolds from our garden.

Printed photographs of my ancestors were included on our table.

These are the Wicker brothers and their families. The man and woman in the middle are Hiram King Wicker and Emma Angeline Whitcher, my 2x Great-Grandparents on my father's side of the family.

This is the Riddle clan from my mother's side of the family. The tall man in the light suit in the back row is my Great-Grandpa Harold Riddle, husband to my beloved Great-Grandma Elsie Elizabeth Durant. His parents are in the middle of the front row.

The Spirit Chair was draped in black fabrics, and a black candle placed on the plate. I've been using the same candle every year since my first Dumb Supper in 2005. The black skull head is reverently stored in between suppers.

We set up a sidebar with drinks for various spirits we work with or remember fondly. Spirits for the spirits. And a proper cup of tea.

I also set a cup of tea on the table for all of my grandmothers and grandfathers, in one of my Grandma's old cups. In my family, tea was a thing.

The first course in a Dumb Supper is always the dessert. I set this plate for my Great-Grandma Hattie Eva Smith-Eaton, who helped me from the spirit world while I was in the ICU a year ago. When we were sorting out the menu, someone requested chocolate mousse- not something we would have picked, but we let the Dead weigh in.

Then the main courses came out while we listened to the radio drama of The Halloween Tree in the background. Meatballs and roasted potatoes with the last of our fresh garden herbs. Brussel sprouts, crescent rolls, and bread and butter pickles from the farmer's market.

And lastly the appetizer, spanakopita.

The table looked cozy and festive when the living bellies were full of warm, home-cooked foods. The house felt full of family, and festive energy. It was meditative and rejuvenating.

At the very end of the evening, the spirits showed themselves. It was an honor to dine with them. There were moments and voices and sounds and phrases that I walked away from the Dumb Supper with, more impressions to use in tracking down my family lines. I gratefully honor Those That Came Before Me, hoping to pass on the relationship I have built to Those Who Come After. Ashe.

[All photos were taken by Sarah Lyn and are not to be copied without permission.]
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