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Camera and binoculars bounce on my vest-padded chest as I leave footprints in week old snow. I am headed to the river, to watch the ice floes flow. Here at the bend, where West Pittston says hey to Pittston, the Susqhehanna is open, ice clinging in nooks and crannies. A dozen Buffleheads ride the current toward Wilkes-Barre. Common Merganser and Mallard pairs gather to preen or forage where the river meets beach. A lone Bufflehead floats mid-river, his glossy black-green head turning slowly right and left. Suddenly he tips tail to sky, and plunges beneath the icy water, with barely a ripple. I take slow, deep breaths, and smell what these birds know.
Spring is coming.
We have more mud than snow, more current than ice. Insects are hatching, snails are moving, mussles are available, fish swim closer to the surface. Life is on the move.
The ice is floe-ing on.
May Laura Stevenson lay under covers, listening to eight siblings rustle from bed’s warmth into cold, thick wool layers. Procrastinating would not reduce her chores or delay the walk to school, so up she sat, throwing off her blankets, reaching for her clothes. In quick fluid movements May covered her shivering little body, and joined the familiar morning jostle. Ice had to be broken from animals’ water troughs; pigs had to be slopped, and chickens fed. Stalls needed to be mucked out, and cows milked. Breakfast had to be fixed, the table set.
May’s early life was spent on Gabler’s Knob, a farm that looked out over the bustling river town of Greensboro, on the Monongahela River in Greene County, Pennsylvania. Born in 1874, May was the seventh of nine children born to Ellis and Mary Jones Stevenson.
After a hearty breakfast the school-age Stevensons set off down the hill, past Dr. G. F. Birch’s orchard, and turned left onto the main road of the Old Glass Works*. As William, Presley, Permelia, and May walked up the village street, they were joined by young Kramers, McCoys, Mercers, Blacks, and Gablers. The wind coming off the river hurled the winter damp through their coats, and the would-be scholars hurried past Mr. Neil’s ferry, round the corner, and into the school house. All together they learned to read, to write, to do their figures. At day’s end, the group trudged on home, the Stevensons to return to more chores before settling down for the dinner and a good night’s sleep.
On Sunday, the family traveled into town, to attend services at Greensboro Presbyterian Church, on the corner of Clear and Second streets. The sanctuary was just a block down from the Star Pottery and Tile Works, owned by Frank Hamilton and John Jones, Mary Stevenson’s cousin. After church service, May and her family walked three blocks south on Front Street, to eat Sunday dinner with the Jones’. Uncle David and Aunt Cill ran Greensboro House, a family business handed down from father, John Jones, and the home to the Jones family since the late 1840s. Her double first cousins, Anna and Fannie, would regale May with stories about the latest hotel guests, and the difficulties steamboats had when the river ice grew thick. The girls imagined a day in spring when they would saunter down County Street to the quay, and board the Packet Dean Adams, traveling all the way to Pittsburgh, just to shop for a dress. Laughter and dreams and family.
That is what I imagine for May, my great-grandmother, as I walk down May’s street in my mind. [click on the maps below for enlarged viewing]
Perspective–to look through, to see clearly.
This morning’s snow must be endured, says pup one. Stay within the tracks that someone or something else has laid down. Do your business. Get back inside. sNOw more.
This morning’s snow is meant to be plowed, says pup two. This stuff is head burying, mole sniffing fun! MOM! Watch me gallop through this stuff! Hahahahahahaha!! SNOW MORE!!!!
It’s all in how you see it.
May Laura entered the world and like most babies knew only enough to scream for some food, and maybe a bit of heat. What she didn’t know–wouldn’t realize for some time–was that she was swaddled immediately by family. Six older siblings would plant their first kisses; parents of her parents would come coo a lullaby. Aunts and uncles and cousins would bring gifts and greetings as the the muddy roads permitted. May Laura Stevenson, born April 29, 1874, would grow up along the Monongahela River, just outside the bustling town of Greensboro surrounded by her kin, and by the memories of those who had lived along those banks for decades. Ellis and Mary Jones Stevenson came from settler stock, and among their ancestors were distillers and fullers, iron furnace operators and glass blowers, hotel owners and farmers. Phillips, Gregg, Stevenson, Eberhart, Jones, Rhodes–all families that had shaped the life along the Monongahela since 1800. Baby May would find great comfort in that sense of place, in that network of love. Life would hold some very hard lessons.