|A picture of Mertie Jones|
Most of us have family stories passed down from our parents and/or grandparents. I’ve heard many, but one in particular has always resonated with me: a tragic story about a great-aunt of mine I never met. I wrote her story when I was a teenager, but I have no idea what happened to that story. Still it remains in my memory.
My great-grandparents, Homer and Ruth Jones, lived to be in their nineties and only had two children – at least to my knowledge that’s all. Maybe some babies died at birth or Great-grandma miscarried some. Those tales were not passed down. My Grandfather Edward was their oldest child, a handsome young man and maybe a little spoiled by his parents. He was known to have the fanciest buggy and the fastest horse around. I’ve seen pictures of him and he was quite attractive with his dark hair. His sister, Mertie, was two years younger than he was. Mertie’s picture hangs at the bottom of my stairs. I see some resemblance to one of my nieces in her face.
Mertie was sixteen years old that spring when the apple trees bloomed and a group of young boys and girls were enjoying the spring weather. The boys were bouncing the girls who sat on a low hanging branch of an apple tree. I can imagine the squeals and laughter that day. However, Mertie fell off and hit her head. I don’t know if she was knocked unconscious or not, I only know that from that day on she suffered from severe headaches. They were so severe that one night she left her family’s farmhouse and was only caught just in time before she leaped over the edge of a cliff to the bottom of a ravine close by.
Mertie was sent to a health facility near Cleveland. This was in the late 1800s so I’m not sure what kind of treatment she would have gotten. She wrote letters to her mother begging to come home. Eventually, they brought her home, but that didn’t end the problems. When she came at her mother with a large knife, she was sent to an insane asylum in Massillon, Ohio. It was some distance from their home so visits from the family weren’t often.
However, my great-grandmother never gave up hope that she would be able to bring Mertie home. When my great-grandfather got too old to drive, my grandfather would take them to visit her at least twice a year. For many of those years Mertie didn’t recognize them. One has to wonder what kind of treatments they were giving her; sedatives of some sort? Shock treatments? I never got to see her, but my brother – the favorite grandchild of my grandfather – went more than once with Grandpa to see her.
After my great-grandpa died at age 96, great-grandma, who always felt her husband kept her from bringing her daughter home, finally faced the fact that she was too old at 92 to bring her daughter home. The week after great-grandpa’s funeral, I spent the night at my great-grandma’s house with one of my cousins. In the morning she opened a trunk to show us everything of Mertie’s she’d kept all those years. There were Mertie’s clothes as well as all the art work Mertie had done and I realized Mertie had artistic talent. I’d never seen her work before.
A few years later my great-grandmother died, too. Eventually, there was an auction, but I was working that day and couldn’t go. I always wondered what had happened to Mertie’s stuff.
I imagine when the house was cleared, only the antiques were brought to my grandparents farm for the auction. Probably her sketches and watercolors weren’t deemed important and tossed. Some of the family members picked a few mementos. My mother must have chosen Mertie’s picture. Otherwise I wouldn’t have it today.
|The Jones family plot dating back to the 1800's|
Great-aunt Mertie lived until she was in her late eighties. A life that would have been different if they knew then what doctors know today on how to treat concussion or whatever else happened to her brain that day. Maybe a blood clot? And one has to wonder if her treatments there made it even worse. She was buried at the graveyard connected to the asylum which is no longer in operation. I wish shed been buried at the family plot where her brother and parents are buried. My parents, an aunt and uncle as well as my son and a granddaughter are buried in this cemetery.
What family stories do you remember?
Do they ever find their way into your work in some way?