The main reason for last week’s Vermont getaway was to attend the burial of my mother’s cousin Robert Fletcher. The son of my grandmother’s sister Zoa Fletcher (neé Azubah Hathaway Townsend) and her husband Allan of Ludlow, Bobbie was three years younger than my mother and they were not close. I don’t remember ever meeting him. Was it because he was adopted? Was it jealousy because his parents were more affluent than hers? Great Aunt Zoa was a petite, lively Vermonter with hair that never went gray and a deep creative streak. Her niece adored her, and her great niece too. Even now, I live with this ancestor every day in the form of a small landscape painting that ended up with me.
Zoa Fletcher was sophisticated and worldly. Does anyone remember the days when you went to visit someone, and the hostess would show you her new clothes? Well, Great Aunt Zoa had THE best new clothes in the family, on my mother’s side, at least. We thought Uncle Allan was from a wealthy and distinguished background (though Bob’s daughter disputes this) and Great Aunt Zoa was the extended-family fashion plate. We would oooh and ahhh over the chic suits and glamorous cocktails dresses that she took out of her closet and held up, one by one, for all to admire. She and Uncle Allan dined at the White House during the Coolidge administration. For a while there were some flapper-style “pearls” floating around the family that she supposedly wore that night.
There were four Townsend sisters and a brother who died of “camp fever” before World War I. Aunt Maggie and Aunt Zoa lived in Ludlow their whole lives. My grandmother, Mary Townsend Pratt moved a few miles north to Shrewsbury, and the eldest sister, Bessie spent her life in Vancouver, Canada. She had eight children, and the family legend has them delivered in the wilderness by an native midwife. The last time I saw Great Aunt Bessie, she was chopping wood. In her 80s which seemed mighty old then….But not so old now.
Back to Bob. His story was complicated. Later in his life, he discovered siblings that were left behind when he and his sister, Betty were adopted by the Fletchers. By the time we gathered at the Gassetts, VT Grange after the cemetery, my head was spinning with all these relationships. Bob’s daughter, Debbie Fletcher Barry and her husband Patrick came from Michigan, braving formidable health issues to make this pilgrimage. Aunt Bessie’s grandson, Charlie Kenny and his wife Laurie were there as well, with plenty of family tales. Several granite grave markers represented Aunt Maggie’s branch of the family, and I was there on behalf of my grandmother’s side.
On the way from Shoreham to Ludlow, we detoured to West Fair Haven, Vermont, the ancestral home of my paternal grandmother, the Hitchcocks. Family legend has them with Ethan Allan’s team, duking it out against the British at Fort Ticonderoga and Hubbardton. (So far, unverified.)
We paid our respects to the graves of my great grandfather, Orville Oliver Hitchcock and his wife, Harriet Preston, and my great-great grandfather Rollin Carrington Hitchcock and his wife Julia Manville. But I forgot to look for Viola’s grave.
Aunt Viola was the subject of a painting, watercolor I think, that was in my grandmother’s house, then my mother’s and now mine. I never knew if or when Viola really existed. It was said she died very young. In the painting she’s a toddler with curly brown hair and big eyes, wearing a loose white gown, sitting on a cushion with a puppy in her lap. I found Viola Polly Hitchcock on Ancestry.com. She was the daughter of Rollin and Julia, born in 1858 and dying in 1860. One hundred fifty-eight years later, I say hello to her everyday.
Viola Polly Hitchcock, b. 1858 d. 1860