Port Henry, Trip 4

I've always had a partner on these trips to Port Henry, either a work friend or A, and what I noticed on this trip, traveling by myself, is that I let my intuition guide me. I wandered.

How powerful it is to wander, to just walk where you feel led to walk, with only your inner voice to guide you! I found the best treasures.

The road from Addison, Vermont, to Port Henry, New York, takes you over Lake Champlain and then winds around the lake on the Port Henry side. As you drive through S-curves, heading into town, the road breaks the forest line, and the lake rises to meet the edge of the road that runs parallel to the railroad tracks, that once carried iron out of the neighboring hamlets.

Every time I see that view, when the forest breaks away, and the lake stretches out for miles in front of me, it feels like home.

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There were a few detours on this trip. There always are. My first stop was going to be the Sherman Free Library, but they were closed.

This ended up being a blessing, though, because I got to wander more. It was about lunch time, so I decided to have lunch at Foote's Port Henry Diner, a lunch car built in 1927. I was certain that our Lizzie must have at least known about the diner if not eaten there, but as I learned more about the history of it, I realized that it wasn't brought to Port Henry until 1933, shortly after Lizzie died. Still, it's possible her younger brothers did, and I felt so connected to the time period being there.

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And the food was great, so it didn't disappoint! Above the counter is a collection of different vintage mugs. The waiter picked this one for me. When I was in college, I had a dream about a 1920s pendant design that was gray and gold, and I always connect those two colors to Lizzie, Witherbee, and the future book cover design. So, this felt like a little "Hello" from her:

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I wasn't sure what to do with the rest of my day. I thought I'd look for yard sales in Witherbee. Though it's probably extremely unlikely, I have this feeling that I'll eventually find something that was hers; even a little 1920s knick-knack from Witherbee would be a special find. I had no luck this trip.

I hadn't planned on going to the cemetery to visit Lizzie's grave, but I remembered what A said last time, that we should visit her. It doesn't take long to stop, but that time to reflect is so important and gave me clarity that will last a lifetime.

I pulled into the cemetery and grabbed a towel from the trunk, so I could sit on the ground for awhile. The big, gaudy, pink flower that I had left for her in December was gone. It had long since been blown away by one of the winter storms. The apple blossoms we left last visit had blown away, too, so just a branch was left. I didn't bother looking for something else to leave. I just sat there and pressed my hand against her stone. It was warm from the morning sun, and the heat was comforting, like holding the hot coffee mug at the diner earlier. And I cried. Just a self-pity cry, really. I thought of how messy my life feels lately.

I've felt so lost, not knowing what to focus on, where to begin. I know that, when I have those bottom-of-the-barrel moments, there's always the underlying blessing of a fresh start, the opportunity to rebuild. And I've had three friends tell me, with certainty, that I am not lost. (Side note: what did I do to deserve such good friends?)

And I know that truth, in every fiber of my being--that I have never been lost, in any sense of the word. I've never given up. I always pick a new direction and start over. It's pretty much my superpower.

And I remembered what Pearl's daughter, my Grandma Betty, had told me last time we talked on the phone, about her father, Michael: that he would come here, to Pearl's grave, and cry, long after Pearl was gone.

I thought of all the time that was wasted here, crying at her grave.

I remembered that Grandma Betty said that Michael, when he was stronger, would say, "It's a great life, if you don't weaken." I looked at his grave stone, next to Pearl's.

And, though I had just sat down, I wiped my eyes and looked around me. I noticed that there was a path of debris on one side of the cemetery, blown about from one of the last storms we had, and I got up and started following it. I figured that, while I was there, I would make myself useful. I got to work trying to find the headstone where each item belonged.

There were silk flowers and heart charms, angel statues, and other trinkets. I was only working for about 10 minutes but had wandered a good distance and found myself lost on the south-side of the cemetery, not knowing exactly how to get back to Pearl's grave where I had started. I decided to finish cleanup where I was then make my way back when I noticed a familiar flower peeking out from beside a headstone near the woods. I was sure that there was no way it was Pearl's. After six months of winter and spring storms, it would have been blown across the road or into the forest by now.

But it was her flower. If I had spent the entire day searching the mile-long cemetery, I may never have found it. The chances of stumbling upon it while wandering were slim at best.

And you know me, always looking for meaning in the weird coincidences that life throws my way. I swear I could hear Pearl say, "Quit crying, get to work. Wander, explore, and trust that you will always end up exactly where you need to be."

I put the flower back on Pearl's grave. It had faded a bit. I promised I'd bring her something better next time, something more permanent.

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I also noticed that there was a bed of thyme growing near her grave. Thyme comes from the Greek word "thymus," meaning courage.

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I got in the car and decided to check out the Adirondack History Museum. It wasn't one of my top-priority research locations, because it was in Elizabethtown, which is about 11 miles from Witherbee.

For some reason, even though my cell signal appeared to be fine, I didn't have GPS access throughout the day. I'm not sure if Pearl was sending more "lost" symbolism my way or if my iPhone was just misbehaving. I had to navigate to Elizabethtown the old-fashioned way, by following road signs.

The winding road took me past Lincoln Pond, which is quite possibly the most beautiful little lake I've ever seen in my life. I promised myself I'd camp there soon.

The museum is like most small-town museums, with traveling exhibits and bits of local treasure. My father's side of the family has a rich history of Adirondack explorers, so it was exciting to learn about the history of Adirondack life. I was the only person there for most of my visit, so it was quiet.

The museum rep was a young woman whose family was from Witherbee! I told her about my Gauthier/Kelly family research. She said I had come to the right place, as the Essex County archives had been stored upstairs and can be viewed by appointment. I had no idea.

Once again, my wandering had paid off. I stood in the lobby of what was the old high school and looked up at the ceiling. In the room above me, was almost every piece of paper that could possibly contain information about Pearl. The picture at the top of this post is the room with the archives. I've reached out to the contact who can give me access and will go back as soon as I get a chance.

I spent the rest of my time in the museum happily exploring, knowing that those archives were just sitting there, like a present waiting for me the next time I could visit.

I climbed the fire tower, which is connected to the museum (and have a new-found fear of heights, haha!). I read about women's suffrage, prohibition, and was excited to find some artifacts from iron mining too. All in all, a productive day!

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Iron ore, as would have been mined by Pearl’s husband, Michael Kelly, for Witherbee, Sherman, & Co.

Iron ore, as would have been mined by Pearl’s husband, Michael Kelly, for Witherbee, Sherman, & Co.

Gretchen PearlComment