Tag Archives: family history

Helen Heath: It All Unfolds

Lost, in 5.15 tram from Island Bay, yesterday, Purse in small kit, containing money and ring.

The Evening Post, Volume LXXI, Issue 91, 18 April 1906, p.1 http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&d=EP19060418.2.5.3

I found this advert on Papers Past while searching for information about my great-great-grandmother. Using this and information already collected by my father I took an imaginative leap into a possible narrative. It was a Tuesday that she took the tram home from Island Bay presumably to the Wellington Railway station. Would she have noticed the bag was missing when she tried to buy a train ticket home? What would have made her distracted enough to leave her bag on the tram? How did she get the rest of the way home? What was she doing in Island Bay in the first place? Why did she have a ring in her bag? Did anyone return it? Did she get home in time for dinner? What follows is a window into a creative process.

*

First notes:
The bag was on the seat beside me, I’m sure. I retrace my steps from the tram stop to my sister’s house, up the path to her little rental cottage in Island Bay, with white roses on either side of the gate, up to the front door and into the hall, the parlor. I’d been sitting in the small armchair by the coal fire, my bag sitting on the occasional table beside me. She’d offered me a cup of tea and fresh scones after her dance students had left. When she walks from the kitchen she holds a plate our mother gave her with sprays of blue flowers on it. Her back is ramrod straight, her feet turned out, her chin held high, as if looking down her nose at me. The scones had a thin smear of plum jam spread meanly over them, no cream. I asked her for mother’s ring, it was meant for me, after all; she shouldn’t have kept it when she packed up their things.

I would have helped her if I didn’t have my hands full with the children. She had no husband to cook for, no family mending or laundry, no children to take up her time, just her precious dance students. Once more she mentions the Governor-General’s children, heaven help me to bite my tongue! I didn’t want much, just the ring as a special keepsake, not much. She could have chosen anything at all from the estate and she did. I know it was hard packing it all up but soon she’ll be back home on the boat and I’ll never see it again.

I thank her, place it in my purse. Before I leave I place it in my purse. I should have slipped it on my finger, slipped it on my finger. Now they’re gone.
Mother, Father, Sister, Ring.

Heaton family at Hutt River. Private collection of Helen Heath.

After my first notes I draft and redraft a poem from the notes. Then I think it might suit the form of a villanelle, which I then attempt. This is an early draft and may well change.

*

It all unfolds
Helen Heath

After thinking about it my life whole
retrace that ride taken on the wing
my sister, the ring, it all unfolds.

We all know that fortune favours the bold
she knew well mother left me the ring
must me dance around it my life whole?

We’d lowered mother’s body down the hole
listened to a church of people sing
my sister, the ring, it all unfolds.

She gives it to me, turns to stoke the coals
placed in a small purse I’d thought to bring
and snap the clasp shut all my life whole.

leave her parlor, peeling wallpaper mould
head for the tram, a pigeon homing
that’s what past, present and future holds.

It’s not my fate to be favoured and bold
I’ve lost mother, sister, and damn ring
after thinking about it my life whole
my sister, the ring, it all unfolds.

*

HELEN HEATH is a writer and doctoral student at the International Institute of Modern Letters. Her poetry and essays have been published in many New Zealand and overseas journals. Her first book, Graft (Victoria University Press, 2012), was honored as Best First Book — Poetry at the New Zealand Post Book Awards. It was also nominated for the Royal Society Science Book Prize in 2013.

Marly Youmans: The Wish for Roses

Hazel Tuttle

“This is, regrettably, the only picture I have of my great-aunt Hazel Tuttle, who committed suicide in 1919. She is shown trimming the great bush of rambling roses at the hotel her mother operated in Wolf Lake, Indiana.” — Fredric Koeppel

*

The Wish for Roses
Marly Youmans

You were as graceful as a hazel wand —
A kind of magic spell, the arc of arm
Reaching to cut the roses from the wall,
The outward swing of your long, snowy skirt.
You were a hazel wand in that man’s hand;
He would make magic with your heart and bones.
He swept you off your little buttoned boots,
Made promises that love could hardly keep.
And so a world of roses slipped away,
Mother and sisters left to wave and sigh.
Who would have thought his warmth could be a trick,
His prairies as romantic as a plow?
What lies he told — you tied a sack with strings
Around your narrow waist and slowly bent
To enter dark, the soddie rank with fug
Of five unkempt children, their mother dead.
You dreamed of roses, dreamed of mother, too —
And wrote to ask if she would take you in.
But she said no, Hazel, that you must bend
And bend again to serve that family.
Look at the only photograph — the wand
Of you, the rose, the loveliness of hair
Light-kissed, and intricately wound and pinned.
Would it have been a sin to flee away,
To sink into the roses of your home,
Accepting thorn and fragrance equally,
Knowing yourself the briar and the rose —
Forgetting children, fleeing hoax and smoke,
The man so fleet to whisper words of love,
Forgetting crypt (the house made out of sod),
The apron tying you to fire and stone:
Poor child, I hope you dreamed a world of rose
That morning when you drank the lye and died.

    For Fredric Koeppel, in memory
    of his great-aunt, Hazel Tuttle

*

MARLY YOUMANS is a writer. Her recent books are an adventure in blank verse, Thaliad (Montreal: Phoenicia Pubishing, 2012); several collections of poems, including The Foliate Head (UK: Stanza Press, 2012) and The Throne of Psyche (Mercer University Press, 2011); and a novel, A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage (Mercer, 2012 / The Ferrol Sams Award + Silver Award, ForeWord BOTYA.) Forthcoming novels include: Glimmerglass and a reprint of Catherwood in 2014 and Maze of Blood in 2015 (Mercer).

FREDRIC KOEPPEL is a an award-winning wine and food writer. Hazel Tuttle was his great-aunt. Hindsight is grateful to him for the opportunity to share her story and image. In his words: “I had the tale from my mother, who didn’t even know of the existence of her aunt Hazel until she found a photograph when she (my mother) was 16 and asked her mother, Hazel’s sister, about it. What happened was that sometime around the end of WWI, a man from Montana, traveling from the east, came through Wolf Lake, Indiana, and stayed at my great-grandmother’s hotel. He was a larger-than-life Westerner and swept Hazel off her feet and they quickly married. When she got out to the endless emptiness of the high plains, she discovered that her new husband was a widower with five children and that they lived in a sod house out in the middle of nowhere. After a few months of isolation and taking care of five kids, Hazel wrote to her mother asking if she could return to the family fold, and her mother wrote back and said, basically, that she should not even think about disgracing her family that way and she better stay with her husband and his children. So in 1919, Hazel Tuttle drank lye and died, horribly.”