The Book: Witherbee Road, Introduction

Photo credit: Pabló.

These chapters are still being edited. It's a work in progress, and I'm enjoying the journey!

*A very happy birthday to Pearl’s husband, Michael Kelly (May 7, 1895-1958)!

This book is dedicated to my great-grandmother, Pearl Elizabeth Gauthier Kelly (Lizzie), who gave her life so that I could live mine. Because of you, I will never be silenced or beholden. I will never let myself become too sheltered or over-protected. I will swim in the lakes, climb the mountains, dig in the dirt, and I promise to appreciate and love so fiercely all the things that were taken from you.

Introduction

Witherbee Road is a path between the hamlets of Port Henry and Witherbee, New York. It winds and climbs away from Lake Champlain until it splits into two roads, West Street and Wasson Street.

The houses lining West and Wasson were built in the early 1900s for miners and their families. They were built by stacking gray bricks into boxy shapes. In the distance, behind the houses, mountains of tailings grew—piles of gray, rocky waste left over from mining iron ore. From the tailings, the houses were built by mixing the gray rock with concrete to make bricks.

On dark days, there was no variation of color between smoky sky, tailings, and houses. The entire town of Witherbee became a wall.

Inside the wall lived families like Lizzie's, immigrants or first-generation Upstate New Yorkers trying to build a life on miners’ wages. Her father, John, worked 50 hours a week underground and, in the evenings, returned home weary, quick-tempered, skin stained gray.

John and his wife, Mary, had eight children. Selina and Mary Ann were born in the early 1900s and had married and moved away from home by the early 1920s. The next eldest children were Joseph and Alma, who married and had their own homes in Witherbee. In 1921, a son, Lawrence, died at age 14 of pneumonia.

In 1930, the last of the three Gauthier children living with John and Mary were Lizzie, aged 16, and her two younger brothers, George (12) and Francis (10).

I am Lizzie's great-granddaughter. I'm piecing together the story of her life and her untimely death based on investigative research, her daughter's memories, and what Lizzie herself has told me when she visits me in my dreams.

Chapter 1 - 1930

On a cloudy day in April, Lizzie stepped outside in a yellow cotton house dress, through a white door in the gray wall of her father's house on Wasson Street. The wind tossed dark curls around her face as she stepped off the porch and walked south toward the intersection of Wasson Street and Witherbee Road.

Lizzie's sister, Alma, would describe her as pretty, but plain, except for her eyes—they were more extraordinary. They never lost the spark of innocence, magic, and playfulness. They were the color of the sky, shifting between radiant blue and iron gray, depending on her disposition.

More to come!

Gretchen PearlComment