Marie – Autumn 1895
There had been a late night fire that had completely consumed Marie’s family and life in Ohio. Something happened in the night that sparked it. The townspeople speculated it may have been a candle left burning while they slept or a stray ember from the evening fire. As she made her way out of an upstairs window, Marie’s family, her parents and brother were gone. The house was cascading in on itself. Neighbors watched in horror as the house burned, as well as her family, pillars of the community. As she stood, unmoving, in her singed bed clothing, staring at the fire, the heat filling her lungs, she felt oddly reborn. Those around her, watching the fire were in tears, gasping, screaming for buckets and she heard nothing. In her detachment, she could only feel peace, silence, and freedom. In her confusion, she walked away, the darkness greeted her. They found her, staring at the ancient oak she played under as a child. The townspeople had made all of the arrangements for finishing her life in Ohio. After the funeral, she would be moving to Michigan with her father’s sisters family. Her first 16 years of possessions and memories, either burned or buried.
As the sun breaks the horizon, the colors of autumn warm the coolness of the morning air. After arriving under the blackness of night, daybreak reveals surprising beauty in her new home on Jefferson Street. A light knock on the door and Elisa, the daughter of the house cook, breezes in to help dress her for the day. With every lace of her corset that is tightened, she realizes that this is not only a new day but a new beginning. They would never know. But try as she might, her thoughts drifted back to Ohio.
The Civil War had ended in 1865, but 30 years later, sentiments lingered. Marie’s paternal grandfather, Arthur, had perished with his comrades from the 4th Ohio Volunteer Infantry unit on July 3rd, 1863 in the Battle of Gettysburg. Her father, Edward, had been only 5 years old when his father, a successful local businessman in the town of Williamstown, Ohio, died on the battlefield. Her father had no memories of his own father since he was only 3 years old when he marched off to war. Like most families, they were financially and emotionally devastated after the war. Social status became worthless as the war raged on. Edward’s mother, Alice, tired and lonely, joined her husband in death in 1870. Edward, a bright child, forged ahead creating a life of his own. Surviving, he worked hard, paid attention, turned small opportunities and miniscule amounts of money into personal and financial wealth and by 1885 had become a success in his own right. Edward was the proud owner of the Williamstown City Bank. His young wife, Helen had provided him two children, Marie and Henry. He appeared to be a man with a normal life.
Marie realized at a young age that expectations were different for her than her brother Henry. She was to be a lady, proper and appropriate. Her education was to ensure that she had the ability to converse at dinner parties and not embarrass her future husband. With such low expectations, no one considered that she might be smart. She had the freedom of thought and time. She was curious and would see the details most people would overlook.
She was fascinated with her father. He wore the finest suits, his hair and moustache trimmed weekly. But his shoes, they were worn and his fingers looked like he worked in the fields not in an office. At night, the floor creaking was the signal he was leaving the house. In the morning, he would appear for breakfast, restless, dark circles under his eyes.
For weeks, she watched. He would venture out two or three times a week for about 2 hours at a time. She would patiently wait his return, if the moon was full, she would see his shadow in the yard, sometimes only hearing the floor creaking signaling his return to bed. As the circles under her eyes began to darken, she knew there was only one way to get her questions answered, next time he took his late night sojourn, she would follow.
The summer days began early and ended late. There was no escaping the sweltering heat. She would day dream of night time when she was allowed to remove her layers of sweat soaked clothing and replace it with the freedom of a light summer dressing gown. In mid-August she could take it no longer. She slipped away after lunch to the spring fed pond about a mile from their house. She had enjoyed this pond for most of her childhood, early on with her brother looking for frogs or collecting summer berries. In recent years she would bring an old wool blanket and spend hours reading under the ancient oak tree on a hill just above the pond. Besides Henry, she had never seen another living soul at the pond. It was her special place of solitude and how could it possibly be a sin if she were to quench her soul in the cool water. Henry was away for the day with their Father visiting homestead properties. No one would ever know. As she removed and gently folded her clothing, she felt as light at a butterfly ready for flight, free.
Unashamed, she entered the cool water. It was deep enough to submerge herself yet shallow enough that she could touch the hard rock bottom of the pond. She closed her eyes and felt the cool water wash over her. It was everything she hoped it would be, total relief. But short lived, as the heat rushed out of her body, it was replaced instantly by a bone chilling cold. Her heart racing, she could barely catch her breath, she felt as if she was drowning in fear. She had an overwhelming feeling that she was being watched. As fear turned to panic she opened her eyes. Her senses electrified and overwhelmed, she couldn’t focus as she spun around in the water looking in every direction trying to make sense of the situation. She stopped and listened, a faint noise intermingled with the cicadas and other sounds of summer, a faint humming. As she turned in the direction of the noise, she looked up the hill to her favorite oak. As her eyes adjusted to the harsh summer light, she saw him. He was sitting near her clothing, under her oak, his eyes tore into her soul, and then he winked at her and in an instant, was gone.
It was dark when her Father found her, naked, cold, covered in mud. She was huddled by the shore of the pond, motionless. He set his lantern on a large rock by the edge of the shore. Fully clothed, he guided her back into the water, washing away her fears. As the sounds of the summer night played a steady melody, he carefully dressed her as if she were still a small child. In silence, he gathered his lantern and guided her up the hill and toward their home. The house was dark and quiet. Her father, never saying a word, climbed the stairs to bed. Marie, exhausted, went into her room and fell into a deep sleep. She woke in the morning, wondering if the entire event had been a dream.
“Miss Marie?” Elisa asked. “Miss Marie, can you hear me? Breakfast has been prepared and they are waiting for you to begin.”
Marie, who had been lost in thought, realized she must move on. “I will be down in a moment.”