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Monday, July 15, 2013

Finding Mary

         Riding pillion on the iron horse, we have the wind in our faces. The road winds along the Contoocook River. Called so by the Abnakis. Meaning "place of the river near the pines". We are indeed  "near the pines". Things have not changed so much, then in the years. Still we travel along the river, in the pines. The road winds up, ever up, twisting and turning beside the river. The river dashes, gurgling and splashing over the rocks. The coolness of it slips upward and we feel it as we go. The pines shade the road. The ferns are green and they wave in our wake-wind. We see nothing but the road and the river and the trees.  Some of the road is dirt, some paved. At the top we lose the river. Sometimes, there is a clearing, with a breath taking view. All around, stretching the horizon, there are the green New Hampshire hills. They roll away. fading into the distance. until your eyes can't see any more. The sky is blue above them.
          We ride past  a house then, shadowed by trees. An old house, its two identical chimneys visible, the windows catching the sun. I tap his shoulder, because the rumble of the iron horse and the whisper of the wind throw my voice off to the sky, and he can not hear me. He pulls over so we can talk. The silence overwhelms, for a split second. I tell him we need to go back. That house. I can feel it. My skin prickles. I feel I have been here before. I need to find my way back.

             When I am a girl, I am blessed with a love of reading, and a book mobile, that stops within a bicycle ride of home. I was a Lois Lenski fan, and if you were, too, you know what I mean. I hungrily read all of her books, checking out ones I had already read, if there was no new ones. Her drawings were delightful. Her stories spoke to my child heart. ( I still read them, if I happen to find them!) She wrote America, through a childs view. She wrote Ocean Born Mary. That was the first time I met Mary. I was almost as far away from New Hampshire as one could go, but I knew her, as girl, she in colonial New Hampshire, I in Washington State, centuries later, living her life through a book, while the Douglas Fir trees dipped rain drops and the Cascade Mountains thrust up on sunny days.
            Never had I dreamed I would one day live in her neck of the woods! There is a wonderful legend about Mary. And of course, legends are legends. Who can distill the truth from the romance? Who really wants to?
            In the year of our Lord, 1720, The Wolf came sailing across the great Atlantic Ocean to the new world. She came from Ireland, and her passengers had land grants in Londonderry. One young couple were awaiting their first child. The mother giving birth in the small wooden vessel, a girl child was born. But the dreaded had happened. Bold pirates had boarded the ship. A handsome young pirate he was, too, dark and mysterious, pretnding to be Don Pedro, but for real an Englishman, scouring the seas. He has just ordered everyone killed and all goods transfered to the pirate ship. He stops suddenly, listening. The cries of a newly born babe have reached his ears. Bring me the babe, he orders. Trembling the young mother stands before him. He gently pulls the blanket and looks at the child. " If you will name her Mary, then I will spare the ship", he tells her. So Mary she was. The pirates angrily going back, empy handed to their own ship. Don Pedro, too, goes back, into his rooms, and sends over a package to the babe with his first mate. 'Tis to be used for Marys wedding dress, he sends word.
           So those two ships sail away, in different directions. Angry pirates, and thankful settlers. A first hand account from Mary, in later years.."Indeed, I was born neither on this side or that side 'o the water, nor any where else on Gods green earth." So she grew up, in those hard days of the settling of America. She was described as magnificent, over six feet tall, with beautiful red hair, green eyes and a lovely Irish lilt when she spoke.
           Mary married Thomas Wallace, in a silken gown, given her by a pirate so long ago. Teal green brocade, from China, with small teal flowers  and white stripes. It was worn, too by several descendants of Mary, Pieces of it now can be seen in the DAR meuseum in Washington DC. Faded teal green silk, stolen by pirates and coming to raw New Hampshire  to save a small ship load of lilting Irish and gracing America yet today.
           That much we know is true. We also know for truth that her husband died, leaving her with five children.She also came to Henniker New Hampshire, and lived there the rest of her life. I found her again one day. Henniker calls itself "the only Henniker on earth" . So one doean't have any confusion about where she is. Center Cemetery is of course, in the old Henniker center. Its a small place, ringed in by a stone wall, mellow old spruce trees stand gaurd, and the intricate iron gate is rusty, and locked.

         I scramble over the stone wall. Ancient. The trees, the granite markers, crumbling and faded, the moss. the quiet peaceful air that hangs above. Twelve rows back, to the right. Those are my instructions. So I have found you again, Ocean born Mary. Widow Mary, says the stone, with dates. But only the dreamers and the readers know the rest of your story.

           Legend has the bold pirate giving up his life on the high seas, and getting a chunk of land in Henniker. His ships carpenter builds him a house, up a hill with beams  and detailing like a ship. Here he lives as gentleman with servants and books and fine food and clothes. But, he is lonely. When he hears that Mary is left a widow, he sends to ask her if she will come and be his housekeeper. Mary brings her family , then, and keeps his home, and hosts his guests and his parties. Some times. crusty old sailors come, too, and whispered talks, and walks out in the orchard, and angry silences come into the home. One day, the pirate is found dead in the orchard, stabbed by an unknown hand. Indeed, does your past wickedness come back to haunt you?
           Mary lives here the rest of her life, with her son and his family. Sometimes, when the mist hangs in the trees, a shadowy coach and four pulls up the drive, and the tall, beautiful red haired lady alights to walk up the granite step and go into the house with a rustle of silk. I suppose, why not? The house still stands, half hidden in the green trees. The orchard still behind it, the lawns and gardens kept smooth and lovely. The road still quiet and not much used still runs by. Now I can go past. I do, once a year or so. I feel her story, just an ordinary story 'bout an ordinary life. Time doesn't fade it. Dreamers like I can still conjure it. History is what makes today what is , and tomorrow what it will be. Every where you are, there are the old ones behind you. If you can find them, you have a richness that money cannot buy.



  1. Funny, Mom, that she touched both of our lives and we fell in love with her legend so much so that we had to seek it out in living proof. Maybe its 'cause our hearts beat alike?

  2. This is great, mom. I don't recall hearing about Ocean Born Mary before...but even her name is delightful.

  3. This is great, mom. I don't recall hearing about Ocean Born Mary before...but even her name is delightful.

  4. This is beautiful. I'm going to have to go and search her out for myself. I dimly remember reading her story, so I'm going to have to reread it! And then I shall go adventuring!

  5. So you loved Lois Lenski too? why does that not surprise me, it seems we were born on opposite ends of a family but we are truly sisters! However I don't think I ever read the book about Mary! I will be doing a hunt for that asap. Such history where you live, lucky lady! It seems everywhere you go around here the best old places are being torn down:( The westerners don't know how to keep alive history very well. I'm mourning the best building in BG and the best farm house in BP...both gone this year under the wrecking ball.