Francis Nearly Blew Up The Mayflower

BEST ANCESTOR EVER!!!!!

I was surprised several months ago to find an ancestral line that takes my people to the Plymouth Bay Colony. My astonishment continued as I unraveled more and more intertwining lines of colonial Massachusetts genealogy.

I could never find anyone who actually sailed on the Mayflower. Until today.

His name is John Billington. Unlike passengers escaping religious persecution, he remained loyal to the crown, and so earned, with others like him, the friendly moniker, “The Strangers.”

Outcast among the pilgrims, John and his family were further blacklisted upon dropping anchor off the coast, when son Francis – also my direct ancestor – shot a gun near a barrel of gunpowder, nearly sinking the ship and killing everyone on board!

The Billington family is mentioned several times in documents of the day, as the town’s troublemakers. Eleanor was jailed and whipped for slander. One son roamed the woods for days until returned by Native Americans. Finally, John murdered his neighbor and hanged for his crime, making him the first execution in Plymouth Bay!

… My ancestor set fire to the Mayflower! Accident or arson?

****

Wow! I just found another ancestor who came on the Mayflower. His name was John Cooke, and he was a Puritan.

It’s kind of random. I’m clicking mindlessly through every line on Ancestry.com, and continuing until it runs out. That’s thousands of names. It’s numbing.

For no other reason than their faces jumped out at me (Why?), I clicked on both of these gentleman. One gentleman. The other was something of a brigand, and I love him for it.

Honestly, this is one of those times I feel like I’m hearing my ancestors. “I’m here. You’ve been looking.” I felt a hint when I found Mr. Billington. What about that tiny image made him worth a glance?

When I found John Cooke in the same afternoon, it oddly confirmed that they stopped me. I’ve been mindlessly clicking and backtracking arrows for hours. Why them?

If I stop to investigate someone more closely, she’s usually a woman (except for kings. Their genealogy goes on forever, a part of documented history). I find women more relatable. These were just old dudes buried in thousands of names that all start to look and sound the same.

Both on the same day? That’s too coincidental to be random.

Perhaps they found me. Perhaps it was chance. Either way, it was a great day. One ancestor was an asshole; another was judging him.

I make fun, but it really is very exciting to connect myself to this piece of history. To learn that the Mayflower nearly sank off the coast? Wow.

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Nightsong

It’s been a week without my little Cricket. While she was alive, I’d kiss and sweet-talk her during the night – when I could hear the crickets singing – and tell her how she got her name. I met her at 12-hours old, writhing and squeaking with her litter of mostly black sisters (and one gray tabby 😉 ).

I was smitten instantly. There’s something so enchanting about a black cat!

There were two, The Twins, we called them. Then there was Boots, and she was hard to pass up. Pretty little tuxy with 3 white boots and one sloppy stocking falling down her ankle. One day she was standing in the kitchen in the sunlight and her little whiskers were white, glowing in the hot sun! I was close to choosing her that day.

But I knew I wanted my little black kitty cat, and I knew her name was Cricket. I don’t know why, but they just looked and sounded like little bugs writhing in the night when I first saw them, and my kitty’s name was Cricket.

For several weeks, I went to my friend’s house and played with them. One day, one twin jumped up on the bed. I asked her, “Are you Cricket?” and held her to my face. She meowed in reply, the highest, silliest little mew you ever heard!

Right after her, the other twin followed. “Or are you Cricket?” I picked her up.

When she answered, my heart sang! “Rawwwr.”

It couldn’t even be called a meow! It was just a squeak, higher than her sister’s or any kitten call I’d heard before. In my mind, I could see the fine hairs of a cricket’s wings rubbing together to make that scratchy, chirping melody.

We locked eyes, and it was her! She was my Cricket!

I ran to my friend. “I can tell them apart! This is Cricket! This is my Cricket!”

The next week, I went over and my friend asked, “Which one is Cricket again?”

I picked them each up, made eye-contact, and answered. “Her.”

“Good.” He and his girlfriend smiled conspiratorially.

“Why?” I asked.

The girlfriend picked Cricket up and showed me a patch of tiny white hairs that had popped up on her belly that week. Not a white spot, just 3-5 hairs. They considered that a flaw. She wasn’t pure black.

She was perfect!

Even after I claimed her, even after I “met” her, eye to eye, I tried to talk myself out of taking her home. My boyfriend teased me daily. “Just because you’ve gone koo koo kitty crazy doesn’t mean you need two.”

“You’re right. Of course, you’re right. I don’t need two cats! Penny’s happy and so am I.” But my family was incomplete without my baby Cricket.

We were a fine trio.

****

Penny searched for her all day Monday. She looked to me with searching eyes, round like saucers, needing an answer, meowing, meowing, searching, meowing.

“I know, honey. Your sissy’s crossed the bridge. She’s all better now, but we don’t get to see her anymore. You don’t have to worry anymore.”

And she sure was sweet. Penny was always good at affection, but oh, she was gooey Monday night. And every morning we awoke in the old place, she was on me. That’s normal, except that it used to be that I’d wake and pet and kiss her a bit, and she’d jump off. Time for food, and getting my day started. Now, she’d stay on me all day if I let her.

****

This was a busy, wonderful week. I was glad not to put Crick through the stress of moving. In my mind, it was a short one-mile car ride to the new place. Cats hate cars. I thought that would be the only challenge for them. I forgot that before we move, my stuff had to move! It was a lot of banging, cleaning, flux, fear, noise. It was stressful on my Penny. Cricket was too sick for that.

I feel peace in my decision. I’m happy I let her go as soon as she began to suffer.

She was really sick for 4 days, and then she was free.

I miss my kitty.

During those 4 days of illness, I asked her to come to me in the nightsong of crickets. She does! She really does!

You know how you get used to the sounds of your own house and neighborhood, and stop hearing them? Well, that first night without her, last Monday, for some ungodly reason I was cold!

It’s a hundred degrees in July, and 75 at night! I never turn my fan off. It’s attached to my headboard and blows on me in my almost-nothing tank top and no covers, and still I sweat through the night. For heaven’s sake, I was cold!

I put on proper jammies, pulled the covers over me, and still I was cold. At last, I turned off the fan and heard… crickets!

“Hi, fat kitty!”

The next day was Pie ‘n’ Beer Day. (Pioneer Day, if you’re a good Mormon; The rest of us get drunk.) I went to a BBQ at the neighbors across the street of my new place. In his big backyard, with old, established trees and thicket, the crickets were deafening!

The next day, I was bringing boxes over to the new place. Molly, my landlord and friend since 2009, was having dinner and drinks out back with the neighbor, who had brought leftovers. Molly had Pandora pumping through the outdoor speakers. I went inside to fill a plate and heard a cricket! A single, solitary cricket so loud it had to be inside!

“Is there a cricket in here?!” I exclaimed to myself. “Oh my god, Christie, enough!”

I went outside and said nothing of it. I’m losing my mind!

And there it was again and again and again, blasting through the speaker!

“What the hell is that?!” I demanded at last. “I’m haunted! I’m hearing crickets!”

“That’s my phone,” Molly answered. “Chris keeps texting tonight.”

How is it that I’ve never heard Molly’s phone before, and she had it connected to the speaker, of all things! Night after night after night, my sweet Cricket comes to me in a new way. “Mom, I’m here. You asked me to come, and I did.”

I dreamed of her Wednesday! She was only 2 days gone. It was a very physical dream, with weight and body. I could feel her. She bit me, hard. She liked to nibble my arm while I petted her, like she was grooming me for little vermin or something. It never hurt, of course, her little love nips. That’s what she did in this dream, only hard.

It didn’t hurt at all or break the skin, but it was a fantastic, dream-variety bite that I could FEEL. She’s with me. I knew that’s what she wanted me to know from that dream.

And then I was finished moving, sitting alone on my beautiful back patio, illuminated in the dark, listening to the nightsong of my new home. It’s so loud and melodious, the music of crickets here. It’s a beautiful place to sit and reflect on our lives together, to heal from the loss of her physical companionship, and celebrate our spiritual relationship.

She’s with me forever, I can trust that! I guess there was a part of me that feared I wouldn’t feel her or know if I felt her, or give myself permission to feel her.

I couldn’t hide from her if I wanted to!

“Sing our song at night, honey. Make me hear you.”

Boy, does she!

“Thank you, sweet girl. You always were a very good kitty.”

I miss my Cricket.

cricket's memorial

Cricket’s Memorial on the mantel of the fireplace of my new home. She’ll be with me by the fire, after all. Sept. 11, 2004 ~ July 23, 2018

From old, established trees and thicket
Sings the song of my sweet Cricket 

That couplet happened quite accidentally in the prose above. 🙂

Oh, my Cricky. How I love you.

patio

Welcome to Christie’s Corner! (Finally, a place to display my Queen of Hearts caricature from the set of Guys & Dolls, haha!)

Penny explores the new house, luxuriates all over. She’s out-of-place yet, but I think it was wise, quite by accident, to move so quickly after Cricket’s passing. There’s no reason to search for her in our new home. She was never here to be missed.

She is talking more, it seems. Penny was always vocal, but she has a lot to say right now. Out of place? Is she asking about her sissy?

“It’s just the two of us, honey. You don’t even remember when it was the two of us.”

Penny started limping a couple of months ago. It comes and goes, and she’s still jumping to and from tall perches. I hoped it was just an ache. We’ve earned a rheumatism now and then. 2 weeks ago, it became worrisome to watch.

I was prepared for Cricket to go. I didn’t expect to her to live to old age. Her whole life, she was sick with random, bizarro this-n-that. Penny, I never thought as mortal!

I have a sense of panic in the pit of my stomach. I’m trying to release it. It’s okay to be scared. With Cricket’s traumatic illness and passing, of course I’m raw and frightened.

But I never prepared myself for Penny’s mortality. It never even crossed my mind. I’m not ready to face the inevitable: Penny’s advanced elderly.

She sees the doc on Thursday.

“You’re my old kitty now, honey. My Pretty Penny. We’re old women, you and me.”

Mother/Daughter Date

I should be at the Hyrum, Utah, cemetery right now. My mom, grandma, and I had plans to visit the graves of our ancestors, Sarah Ann Haigh and Louis Frederick Miller. Sarah Ann survived the crossing of the Martin Handcart Company.

We had tickets tonight to the Utah Opera Festival’s performance of Pirates of Penzance, one of my favorite musicals. They’re going without me.

This time last year was grandma’s 90th birthday. I drove all the way to Idaho, only to have a nervous breakdown and leave the campground in the middle of the night.

I’ve ruined everything. What’s the point of living a life like this?

All I’m hearing about these days is the total eclipse of the sun passing over my hometown, Rexburg, Idaho. It will be a 91% eclipse here in Salt Lake, but I wanted to go home. I mean, what are the odds? 100%!

I’m so sad.

The thing is, I didn’t ruin it. I had a breakdown, but it was ruined already. I can’t live the lie when my defenses are down. I tell myself they love me. I tell myself they care how I feel, how I’m treated. But when I’m depressed, when I need anything from them, they tell me what I’ve always known. I do not matter to them. Shut up, Christie. Shut up.

On the other hand, my grandmother has nothing to do with this. Am I really just going to let her life play out and never see her again? I was so excited to share this day with her, especially after I ruined last year. And I did ruin it, for myself. They still had a wonderful party, but I’m sure it was painful for her to see me and then have me disappear in the night after being rude and irritable.

I shouldn’t have gone. I almost didn’t. I was so filled with regret, and I thought the drive would be cathartic, windows down, singing at the top of my lungs. I pictured myself joyful for having taken action, feeling immediately better for not depriving myself of the celebration. I’d organized a family outing on the zip line over Heise Canyon. I knew my mood would lift if I just got there. “Go, Christie! You’re punishing yourself because you’re depressed. Just go! You’ll be so glad you did.”

I thought I was doing the right thing, but it absolutely backfired. It was awful.

They forgave me. That’s something. That’s the thing, though. I’m sorry when I screw up. I take responsibility for my mistakes. No one ever apologizes when I’m done wrong, when I hurt. When I ask them to, they double down on the blame. It’s my fault. I caused or aggravated it, so it no longer needs to be accounted for. I deserve it.

Get over it, Christie. Shut up.

It’s maddening. It’s crazy-making. I really can’t survive there.

I’m so sad.

Sweat Lodge

I was so gratified to meet the woman I wrote about last week. I had failed at Thanksgiving not to respond to the hate-mongering chatter that accompanies every family gathering, and I felt it: Failure.

Meeting hostility with anger is useless and stupid, but what the hell am I supposed to do? I asked politely. I teased. I asked again. I got mad.

This woman explained the difference between suffering in complicit silence, and going within to meet hatred with love. I’ve been trying for 15 minutes to capture the epiphany I had in a 2-minute conversation, but it was almost funny how simple it seemed.

Of course, the practice of it will be a different story, marked by many failings, to be sure, but it moved from theoretical and seemingly-impossible to entirely practical and doable. There’s a huge difference between angrily holding one’s tongue, and actively holding a space of “non-duality,” she called it. The silence of love is not the silence of restraint. That’s a game-changer for me!

I talk about energy all the time. Everyone knows what it is to walk in a room and feel it. The silence she described isn’t passive at all. It’s energized! It’s silly now that it seemed such a unattainable concept, when, really, it’s a straight-forward product of choice and action. It can’t be mistaken for tacit approval.

Suddenly, my need to act as standard bearer seemed silly, too. It’s not as if my family doesn’t know me. If any of my nieces or nephews is different, in any way, they know there’s a safe place for them. I don’t need to do that anymore.

I’m ready to graduate!

It does hurt that I don’t matter in my family. At best, I’m a joke. My point of view is the minority, so it’s dismissed. No one cares that that hurts me. They know. They continue.

And I’m strong enough.

“I will love, even here. How can I love, even here?” I trust Spirit to answer, if I truly commit to trying a new way, and I’m ready.

(Whoa! I just got really scared again!)

I AM READY.
non-duality

****

I brought a new, blank drum inside the lodge, which was borrowed by a leader and praised by her for its tone. That felt great! It was plenty soggy and bleak-sounding by the end of 4 long rounds, but bounced right back in the cold night air.

[I also made a killer leftover-turkey casserole for the pot luck following the lodge. It went like gangbusters! Jax is teaching me how to cook. We take Mormon comfort food – primarily based on Cream of Chicken Soup – and turn it out! This dish contained organic, home-grown tomato puree and chili powder. And cheese. Lots of cheese.]

My personal drum stayed out on the altar by the fire, to soak up and sing with our prayers and come home to bless me when I dance and meditate. So far, it’s attended a Love Rally and this prayer for Standing Rock, for water, the earth, and all of us. I love my drum!

Here’s my most recent. (So much detail is missing in this grainy shot!)drum-5
13″ on wood frame with mallet
$200
Nov. 23, 2016

I have a few more color incarnations to realize before I’m finished with this design, and more drums than I can paint right now (including 2 with rawhide lacing).

****

This was the first lodge that I didn’t really go into a trance-like state. Usually, when the heat starts to rise, I’m transported to the plains in a covered wagon. I don’t know that any of my ancestors came across in a covered wagon, but that imagery is powerful for Mormons, and it would be a no-brainer for my ancestors to get my attention in that way, to signal very clearly who it was I was feeling. The first time it happened was one of the most alarming and powerful visions I’ve ever experienced. I saw the faces of the Native people my ancestors would have encountered, and recognized that they were the brown-skinned ancestors of the the people I was praying with! Then, “Oh my god, they call the stones ‘The Ancestors.’ Our ancestors are here!” It was overwhelming.

I try not to expect repeat performances of my experiences. I try to be in the now, and learn what new thing is available from each event. But it was hard not to hope for that impression again when I went to my second lodge. And they came. Again and again and again. It was the same wagon journey into Spirit at every lodge, except this one.

Abigail, my favorite pioneer ancestor, did pop to mind in the 3rd round. I smiled. I love her. I thanked her for being with me since we “met” when I was ten, and then I had a thought of Sarah, who doesn’t come to me often. I don’t feel her strongly, but I have had a sense of her quiet, and it would make sense for me not to get it. What’s quiet? I truly don’t understand quiet. In fact, quiet people scare me. I think they hate me.

But Sarah did come to mind, and I had the thought to pray around her voice. “Please come as a signal for when it’s appropriate to act differently. Help me discern between the time to speak and the time to turn inward and LOVE, even here. Come in when it’s time for me to honor the place of neither right nor wrong, and just love, fiercely, quietly.”

I’m excited to see if I recognize her as I begin to practice non-duality. I think I might. I have recognized her energy. It’s harder, but she has a distinct feeling, and I’m excited to imagine I might a foster a relationship with her. Especially if it leads to healing. Especially for my mother’s family. Sarah is my mother’s family.

not-the-end

Not The End, by Julie Rogers, depicts my ancestor, Sarah Ann, on one of her 32 crossings of the icy North Platte River to carry Saints to safety.

Tell My Story gives a detailed account of this episode of the Martin Handcart Company’s ill-fated journey to Salt Lake City. I’m really proud of Sarah. Scroll down and enjoy!

First Women’s Sweat Lodge

This post is the most recent from my other blog, http://dreamermadwoman.blogspot.com. It documents the shift that brought me to this creative writing space. I will continue to post there, when next I travel the globe!

This post has more to do with the wild, Western journey of this wildwesterngirl, so I wish to share it here as well. I never guessed I would one day be attracted to and adopted by a Native American practice, but it feels right and good and glad.

“Feb. 20, 2012. Of course a sweat lodge was just around the corner. I was feeling all kinds of connected. I had just transferred Wendy’s contact info from last year’s planner to 2012’s when she messaged me Saturday night inviting me to pray. Yesterday was my fourth lodge, my first with only women. They get better and better, but yesterday was some kind of magic! Wendy is an inspired leader and sister.

I feel so blessed and perplexed as to why I get to remain here to continue learning and celebrating. I passed hurdles yesterday I didn’t know I needed to climb. At one point we were instructed to simultaneously unleash our gratitude and call it to the heavens, our guides, ourselves, one another, Creator god, whomever. Without the self-consciousness women experience sometimes in the company of men, who don’t understand and/or fear our emotions, we were unrestrained, unleashing the most raucous, sobbing joy up and OUT! I laughed out loud at how uncomfortable, even frightened, some of the men I know would be at the sound of it, and became conscious of our firekeeper, Brett. When I remembered him, I sent out a blessing of thanks.

It was beautiful. I declared for the first time in my life, ‘I’m glad that I was born.’ It’s what I say to people on their birthdays, but I’ve never said it to myself. It’s quite true, when I celebrate others’ existence. Without birth, they should never have crossed my path. I’ve long felt blessed (and curious) that such extraordinary people should surround me, but I never felt the same for me. Once those words fell, the gratitude (and awe!) for having survived the abuse I heaped on myself for decades at once uplifted and defeated me. I felt sick that I’ve wasted so much time on childishess and ingratitude.

I didn’t beat myself up for long. I have some understanding of my strange journey. So it took me awhile to wise up. I’ve begun. That’s all that matters.

A great lodge. A great blessing. I love women. I love being a woman.”

The Sordid Story of My Book

I’m so glad I have a photocopy of Abigail’s story. Mom sent it to me a couple of years ago, when my co-worker Teresa became excited about Abigail after I shared her story.

Over the last 20 years I created the false memory in which her husband was killed by an anti-Mormon mob, ha! Now, I research my facts and tell the unexaggerated truth. And Mom still flatly refuses to give me the family history in which I found Abigail’s story. I “met” her face first, in a photo-lineage of my people on that side. It was amazing!

Azalia, my paternal grandmother, did the work, compiling the stories, photos, and genealogies, creating a fat book of my family through hers. I’m in it! On my beautiful mother’s lap. My dad’s in his uniform. My sister and brother are the cutest toddler and Kindergartner!

My mom divorced that clan, but she paid $20 for that book, by damn. It’s hers, not the property of Abigail’s rightful heir – ME – her “latest generation,” which holds her “in honorable remembrance,” just as she wished.

She’s mine. I want my book! It’s a button. I pushed it in my last battle of the War with Mother, in November 2011. I hadn’t pushed THE button for 15 years. It went that far. It was the punch in her face from 19-year-old me, and, just like then, I’m out. They’re not speaking to me, for the umpteenth time.

I’m secretly terrifed she’s destroyed the book since then, but I just can’t see Mom doing that. She’s such a good person. That’s something I might do. Instead, I proceed with gratitude that she has my book in her safe keeping. It exists because she holds it for me. It would not have survived my suicidal years, which claimed my scrapbooks and journals. I have that blessed xerox of Abigail’s story, and my book will come, eventually.

I am grateful. My aunt says she might be able to find an extra in the family clutter. It won’t be necessary. Mom’s still caring for mine. She’s a worthy woman, too. She’s holding it ’til I’m ready. It has blessed her life, helping her tell stories of faith and endurance in church, where she feels connected to her personal truth, which I love and celebrate. So I’m glad she continues to enjoy my book. I’ll read it cover to cover, someday.