November 1923. Grace Means Letter to My Uncle Bob

My grandmother Harriet’s cousin Grace lived in NYC far from Downeast Maine, never married and had no children of her own. It is obvious that she adored Harriet’s children, Warren  born in Oregon, Robert and my mother Louise born in Machias, Maine. In 1923, Warren was fifteen years old, Robert was five and Louise was almost four. Charles is two, the son of Harriet’s sister Elsie who lived with her parents William and Nellie Means at 24 Broadway after a failed marriage.

That year, Grace was struggling financially but she was sending gifts for the children. She had a story and some fine advice for little Robert.

It reminds me how important “old-fashioned” letters are in a family. And it is a reminder that I need to write letters to my six grandchildren more often. And talk on Skype to the four grands that live in other States and visit once every summer. Time is fleeting…

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I don’t have a photograph of Uncle Bob as a child. But he was a handsome man. Robert Means Johnson, at graduation from Machias High School in 1936.

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The Maine Legislature In Augusta

Circa 1870. My great-great grandfather Otis Witham Means of Machiasport is standing far right, with his hands on the shoulders of the man seated in front of him. This portrait was sent to my grandmother Harriet’s sister Elsie, Christmas of 1924, with a portfolio of ancestors’ photographs by Grace Means in NYC. If anyone can identify the other men in this portrait, I would love to add their names. Perhaps they can be found in this book Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Maine.

On the back of photo, Grace wrote:

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My Great Great Grandmother Elsie Fuller Berry Means

She is the great granddaughter of Westbrook Berry one of the “original 16” to settle Machias, Maine and a direct descendent of the first white child born there. She married Otis Witham Means in 1837. This portrait is part of a collection made my great grandfather’s niece, Grace Adele Means. Her mother, Francis Adele died when Grace was a child and she was raised by Elsie Means, her grandmother. Grace sent this collection of ancestors’ photos to my great grandfather William Means, my grandmother Harriet Means Johnson and my mother Louise Adele Johnson Rier in 1924, when Mom was 4 years old.

The Berry family came from Devonshire England with the Mason colony in 1630, originally settled along the Piscataqua River that later divided the states of Maine and New Hampshire.

They eventually settled in Machiasport, Maine where Benjamin Berry took his land title from the Indians at “Berry Farm.”

“This colony brought the first cattle to New England and were looked upon with contempt by the Mass. Colony, for they came to fish not pray.”

“On this land I was born, land always owned by one of the Berry family.” ~ Grace Means

From Grace to William:

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From Grace to my mother:

“She was the perfect mother. I know for she was a mother to me when God took mine.” – Grace Adele Means

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It’s nice to know that I am not the first to blog about Elsie Fuller Berry Means. After a summer family gathering a few years ago, my son Eric Snowdeal III was “photoblogging” about the ancestors!

My Great Great Grandfather Otis Witham Means

From NYC, Grace Means sent portraits of the ancestors to my great-grandfather William Means, Christmas 1924. She also sent the collection to my grandmother Harriet and my mother, Louise Adele Johnson. On the back of Otis Means’ portrait, Grace wrote to William:

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From Grace to Harriet. She packed in family history all along the margins. Grace wanted to make sure no one forgot the Means family and where they originated!

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Grace entrusted the portrait collection to my mother and passed on a serious responsibility to the four-year-old.

…”Of Scottish (Clan Menzies) of English-Puritan lineage, his personality and bearing ring true….to the Gaelic origin of the name, Mein or bearing “of majestic expression.” See Red and White Book of the Menzies, Library of Congress, Washington DC. 2nd Edition. One look at his face confirms his origin…’

“Make it your duty and your pleasure, dear little girl to preserve your inheritance and pass onto others when you are as old as your grown up cousin of whom you may think all through the years as having much love for you her namesake…”

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Portraits of the Ancestors

Francis Adele Means.

Often in the last years of her life, Mom asked me to retrieve precious items from upstairs that she could no longer reach, the stairs an obstacle for advanced osteoarthritis.

“There is a big, white plastic bag by the nightstand in my bedroom. The contents are valuable. I want to see it.”

I retrieved said plastic bag. Mom delicately pulled the contents onto her lap, one by one.

“These photos can never be lost. They contain your history.”

I helped her sort through the portraits and read the meticulous writing on the back.  I had never seen them before, never  knew that the Means family were descendents of an ancient Scottish clan, the Menzies from county Argyll. The portraits were a gift from my grandmother Harriet’s cousin Grace to family members, Christmas of 1924. She sent these portraits to my great-grandfather William, my grandmother Harriet, and my mother Louise Johnson Rier. Most survived at the ancestors’ home where I grew up.

Mom passed me the portrait of Grace’s mother, Francis Adele. Grace and Mom both shared her middle name. “Look what she wrote to me on the back of her mother’s photo,” Mom said. “I was only four years old.”

“To Louise Adele Johnson from grown up cousin Grace.”

“She was so fond of her little brother, Louise’s granddaddy that Louise must always love her and keep her picture renewed when it may fade after years. So her memory will be held sacred and coming generations may know and reverence her dear face.”

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The same portrait was sent to my great-grandfather William.

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This House Has a Soul

Appalachian Ink ~ Home of Anna Wess (and Granny)

Some folks will tell you that nothing lasts forever. They’ll remind you, without knowing for certain themselves, that everything that is will soon enough be what was. That dead men tell no tales, and ashes to ashes, and all those other warnings of ends. Those folks cannot see beyond the darkness of their finite assumptions.

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I endeavor to know and see that everything lasts forever. Everything. Me, you, those fabled ashes, all fallen down as they may be. And as for the dead not telling more tales? Oh, yes they do. You just have to know how to listen properly, and see with the right eyes.

And beyond such bold notions of everlasting everything, I am here to tell you one more tale too wild to be true, but is: some houses have souls.

Hearts, too. As broken as yours, and thrice as big, capable of entrapping memories…

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The Wedding Clothes of my Great-Grandparents, William and Nellie Means

2016. The wedding attire of my great-grandparents William and Nellie Means are displayed at the Gates House, Machiasport, Maine in an impressive collection of antique wedding clothes.

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William and Nellie were married July 1, 1880. They had 4 children: Otis, Harriet, William, Elsie. Harriet is my grandmother.

William and Nellie celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary July 1st, 1905 reported in the Bangor Daily News on July 5th. “The celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the wedding of Mr. and Mrs. W. G. Means, held at their elegant home on Broadway, Saturday evening, July 1st was an exceedingly enjoyable occasion for all. The house was tastily decorated throughout with roses, ferns, wreaths and Madeira vines hung in arches and along the banisters and alcoves, interwoven with pinks and flowers of varied tint and hue.

Two hundred invitations were responded to and by as many friends, who appeared and heartily greeted the happy couple in a decidedly informal way. The bride and groom of twenty five years ago, received in their wedding suits, which had been meticulously preserved. The silk poplin, pearl colored dress, and white gloves of the bride and conventional black suit of the groom caused much merriment by reason of the antiquated style of the garments.”

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When I was growing up, I loved to explore the attic and open the trunk that held William and Nellie’s wedding clothes. Later in my mother’s life, she would ask me to bring them to her for she could no longer get upstairs, little less the attic.

I laid the precious clothes across her lap. “Why is there a safety pin in the back of Nellie’s dress?” I asked.

Mom smiled, her eyes danced. “Bob and I wore these clothes for an 8th grade play. I had to use a safety pin to keep the dress on. It was the last time the dress was worn.”

Bob is my mother’s brother, born a year before she was. They started school together (Mom was four years old) and both graduated from Machias High School in 1936. Mom was 16 years old.