From My WindowIssue Date: June 24, 2020
By Jane Thibodeau Martin,
I am preparing to visit my paternal grandmother next month for the first time. I never knew her, since she died at age 34 when my father was only seven. Now that I am retired, I am doing some of the things I always thought about doing, but never had the time to do. Finding and visiting my grandmother's grave, which is in Iron Mountain, MI, is one of them.
My mother told me that my father and she had visited the grave a few times, but the last time they tried, they were unable to locate it. Amazingly the answer to this challenge was a few clicks away - there is a remarkable on-line site called "Find a Grave" which popped up the exact location "in the middle of the upper north Omaway on Lot 93" in seconds. And the entry for Marion Genevieve Mogan Thibodeau even included a helpful picture of her headstone.
The family lore is that the young mother of three died from a strep throat, and her obituary said "she died in the general hospital following an illness of 19 days." I was a bit surprised she died in a hospital, and an illness of such length seems suspiciously like something more than a strep throat. But since the miracle drug penicillin wasn't in general use until 1942, and given the primitive state of medicine at the time, it is possible this illness, which is a mere nuisance now for those with health insurance, took her life.
Reading a bit more about grandma in a family genealogy book written by her sister, I understood for the first time that my grandmother had two stillborn children - her first child and second, both girls, died at or shortly after birth in 1918 and 1919. This was both sad and common in those days, and a search in "Find a Grave" for their burials turned up nothing. One of the stillborn's names, Eldonna Thibodeau, is so unusual that if it were listed I am sure I could find it. It was not uncommon in those times for an infant who failed to survive birth to be buried on family property, outside a formal cemetery or family plot. Part of this may have been a practicality and some may have been due to cost. I know this because many years ago I found a metal plaque, with two nail holes for attachment to a wooden cross, on my parent's property in rural Marinette. It was made of some soft metal with a silver plate coating, and engraved "At Rest." I found it shuffling through the fall leaves at the woods line, in the very back of their property. After I wrote a column about the find, several people who are students of local history told me this would be a typical burial for a stillborn.
My plan is to clean up grandma's gravestone, and leave some flowers. I suspect it has been years since she had a visit from a family member. Such a pilgrimage is a gesture of respect for me - and an act confirming my belief that the visit will be noticed and appreciated by Grandma Marion. I also believe it will be noticed and appreciated by my father, who, while stoic, was clearly still in some ways the small boy who had lost his mother so young even in old age. And it is telling that when I was born, my parents gave me her name, Marion, as my middle name.
The family was uprooted by the death, and went to live with grandparents for a period of time. This was during "The Great Depression," and on top of the loss of his wife, Grandpa Lawrence Thibodeau lost his job at the Kissel Motor Company. He eventually was able to secure employment at Badger Paper Company, and the family moved to Peshtigo where Grandpa remarried. Family lore said he was hired in part for his superior baseball playing skills, because Badger had a team and competition between local hardball teams was keen and important entertainment. Either way, the job changed the life and fortunes of the family, and Badger has always had a warm spot in the family heart.
My preparation for the visit to the cemetery got me thinking about the hard times my Dad's family went through. During this pandemic, my husband and I continue to live "safer at home," avoiding restaurant dining, bars, crowds, and sharply curtailing visits with friends and family members. We watch Mass on television. When a visit to a grocery store or hardware store is necessary, and for the small family wedding ceremony we recently attended, we wear masks. Sometimes I get tempted to "whine" a bit about how difficult and stressful all of this is after almost four months. It is good for me to learn about my family history and get some reality therapy about what real hardships look like. Taking responsibility for my own health, and protecting others in my community, is not hardship. And that reminder is a benefit of finding Marion also.
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.
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