For The One Who Died Young

This sweet piece is one from the archives:

A hundred years ago this week she married her young man Michael. Her name was Carrie and her eyes were that bright, bright blue, even in the old photos, her jawline both strong and delicate.

All my life I have studied her photos wondering if she sensed ever what lay ahead for her: the babies coming so quickly, four in six years, and then the fast approaching darkness. She almost certainly didn’t think she would be mother to someone who would be mother to me, here in this age of instant communication.  We missed each other by almost half a century, Carrie Maloney and I. But she left enough behind so I know some things about her anyway:

I know that as a bride she wore a gown of white silk, trimmed with Irish point lace, and that she and Michael traveled to the church “in carriages,” lingered briefly for an informal reception, then “took the cars” – meaning traveled by rail – to begin their wedding journey. “While the groom is dressing up, I’ll say a few words,” she wrote home during that journey. “Thanks for the account of our wedding as it appeared in the Springfield Republican (but now I fear Irish point lace is cheap, is it not?)”

I know she was warm. She signed every note to her groom, “I am, with love, your Carrie.”

She also loved a laugh. 

In a note to him on the eve of the couple’s seventh anniversary she wrote, “Our town has been rather gay and flighty this week: we had a Temperance lecture!” 

It was that very weekend that she took so suddenly sick  In the long quiet days afterward, Michael wrote about it in his journal: the sudden fever; the seizure;  the race to the hospital by horse-drawn ambulance; the surgery to save both mother and baby, for she was six months pregnant with their fifth child.

The surgery failed.  Death came first for the baby, and when she woke briefly from the anesthesia, she saw it coming for her.

Her third child Caroline, who later became my own mother, was only two years old when this happened. But many times in her long life she told me the tale of this doomed young lady; and so, when our own first daughter was born, my husband David and I decided to call her Carrie too, in the hope that she might live long and full, in memory of that other Carrie buried at 31 with her unborn baby in her arms.

This newest Carrie was married last weekend, 100 years exactly after her namesake.

As it happens, she has the same fair skin as her great-grandmother. The same light eyes. And exactly the same strong yet delicate jaw.

On a sudden impulse, less than an hour before ‘our’ Carrie’s ceremony, I dashed to the attic and found the sealed box holding that first bride’s gown so that our own girl could see it.

It was her first sight of the century-old garment and she gasped at the sight, the white silk and Irish point lace now a dark ivory.  And then in this most familiar and human gesture, she lifted it and inhaled deeply.

I like to think that that first Carrie might have somehow felt this; felt it as an embrace even. I like to think she sent her blessing to this new Carrie, all brave and strong and starting out in life.


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23 thoughts on “For The One Who Died Young

  1. Nicely done, Mrs. M.
    You breathed life into a time long gone. It’s so cool to piece history together using the fragments of diaries, letters, photos and personal remembrance even by a two year old. And if it’s a personal history even better.
    Again, well done. But you know that.

    1. Thanks Mr. M. That ‘girl’ Carrie does not feel gone to me at all. and her letters to Michael his to hers: I have them all and their pictures in my living room. Maybe I will have to tell more of the story…

  2. What warm thoughts you send on this August day, Terry. Quite a resemblance between the two Carries I would say. Someday with great joy someone in the future will be excited finding the words of you and your mother as the link between those two. As usual, your thoughts and writing has made my day.

    1. You are always so kind Art. My sister look exactly like the long-gone lady. Pictures of the two of them a little thin girls of 12 make you realize what a short distance exists between 4 generations !

  3. What a wonderful piece. I too think a lot about my female ancestors, their lives and losses. We are all products of these long-ago lives.

    1. That we are, Jan, that we are.. I have read in family systems literature that a daughter will often make the same exact mistake her mother made at her stage of life EVEN IF THAT MISTAKE HAS BEEN KEEP SECRET. how to account for that I do not know!

  4. Very nice family history. I remember this one. A “Keeper”. I hope I am around to read it again and again many years down the road.

    1. Nic you know why i think that picture sticks in the mind? because in those days women were definitely NOT encouraged to smile in such a way as to let their teeth show. You’ll notice in all the studio portraits they look like humorless and other-worldly saints-in-training whose girdles are too tight!

  5. Hi Terry, congratulations on the wedding of your daughter. It must be quite a feeling to be the conduit of continuance for your family’s story. I’m happy for you. I have something similar in my lineage so I can appreciate your circumstance. Thanks again for what you give freely to us all. CJH

      1. Hi Terry, you are right about the real stuff. It would be nice however to have some concrete reminder, some location of permanence. This is just simply not to be. So, yes, memory HAS to be enough. (Thanks for thinking of me by the way, and I hope your leg feels better.)

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