Thursday, October 8, 2009

Who we were, who we are

Benjamin Pearce was a farmer.  So was Abriam Milliman, and Abriam Pearce, and Henry Anguish.  Jacob Anguish was a farmer too, a farmer and a terrorist, who spent time in a refugee camp at Fort Niagara (pictured above), and had a British army surgeon amputate his gangrenous leg.  Philander E. Pearce was a Union soldier, a member of the ill-fated 8th Heavy Artillery, a regiment that was cut to pieces by Rebel minie balls at Cold Harbor, Virginia.  Hiram and Dana Jacobs were religious searchers who lost their faith.

Hugh McMurray carried a rifle in Her Majesty's army, fighting for the crown in northern India.  James McMurray followed in his father's footsteps, serving Queen and Country in Australia, and the Crimea, and in the Canadian wilderness.  James Ocean McMurray was an artilleryman, for a while at least, until he bolted for Canada, and eventually for western New York.  

James Ocean had a cobbler's shop.  Al McMurray ran a coal delivery service.  Peter Litwin ran a speakeasy during Prohibition, and later, a legitimate bar and grill.  For a while, Jerry McMurray had his own construction company, Better Jobs Drywall, but mostly he built buildings for other people.  Tony Siedlecki worked North Tonawanda's lumber yards and factories and took early retirement when Wurlitzer shut down the jukebox plant and moved everything out west someplace.

Jerry wanted to be a ballplayer, and a teacher.  Tony saw himself as a song and dance man.  The others had dreams and hopes and aspirations, too; I just don't know what they were.
Sarah Frances McMurray gave birth to her son James on a military ship in the north Atlantic.  Elizabeth Anguish walked from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania to Montreal to Fort Niagara to Chippawa, Ontario, while her son and her husband and the other Rangers did their savagery.  Anna Rusin was processed at Ellis Island.  Vashti Milliman Pearce sent her son to war, and never saw him again.

Their farms are gone.  The factories and shops and neighborhood bars where they earned their living are gone, too, the uniforms and weapons long ago eaten up by moths and rust, the reasons for the wars they fought evaporated, like mist in the sunrise.  

We are the only lasting legacy these people, our people, have.  My faith teaches me that there must be a welding link between the generations, that "the hearts of the children shall turn to the fathers.  If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted... ."  We cannot connect to people we do not know.  We cannot bring peace without understanding and resolving the past, which -- whether we like it or not -- is our past.

I am a small businessman.  So is, last time I heard, my cousin Jeff.  Before he died, Kerry was a farmer, working ground just a couple of miles from the old Pearce farm.  Three of us are attorneys.  One is a medical researcher.  One is a surgical technician.  We are teachers and musicians and playwrights.  We are deeply committed Catholics, and deeply committed Mormons, and we are not so sure if we believe in anything at all.  We love our families, like they did.  We succeed sometimes and struggle others, like they did.  We do things right, and we make mistakes.

Like they did.

1 comment:

  1. Piotr (Peter) Litwin was also a barber and Margaret Wachowiak Moskal came to North Tonawanda from Dunkirk and needed her hair cut. She didn't know many and stopped at Peter's establishment because they both spoke Polish and asked if he would cut a woman's hair. He did. As it turned out, years later, Margaret's daughter, Louise married Peter Litwin's son, Roman.