Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Losing Love...Creating Mystery (Part 7 The Other Side)

A temperate day in October, sun shining, slight breeze. The daughters of Edwin A. Coyle and Eva Adele Coley, meet for the first time at the grave side of Napoleon Bonaparte Caraccioli, their great-grandfather. No television cameras hover over them, but through the lens of the eye it is no different than the shows that record a first meeting. “I used to pass by here all the time,” Edwin's daughter, Deborah says, amazed that she had been unaware of her great-grandfather’s grave location. “I grew up just down the road.” Gentle embraces followed by pictures taken around Napoleon's grave after the two cousins quickly and subtly examine eyes, nose, and other facial features for evidence of family genetics. It is not about good looks as much as…do you have the same high forehead as I do? Or how about the one ear that has a thin rim on the outer ear…the one that matches the ear shown in the photo of our great-great-grandfather Cipriano from Corsica. Do you have that too? A few stories of comparison are exchanged and then off to lunch at Mulberry Street Restaurant. “This used to be an Italian restaurant,” Deb says as we enter. Ironically, she frequented the very restaurant (still Italian) that I randomly chose to reserve for our mini family reunion. Deb pulls out a photo album that is bulging with photos from yesteryear.

As we pore over the pages we are joined by John and Sue. John is the genealogy partner mentioned in earlier blogs. Sue, another cousin and an accomplished writer and author, was found through LegacyRoots.com. She has become the head writer for the historical fiction novel based on our ancestor Captain Cipriano Caraccioli, a French Patriot and Corsican Privateer who sailed to New York City after Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo. Everyone present is related through Cipriano’s son Napoleon Bonaparte Caraccioli. John and Sue have the same great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Gilman, Napoleon's first wife. My mother Joan, Deb, and I are connected through Napoleon’s second wife, Myra Marshall. Although this is the first time we have met, our interaction is similar to friends who gather together for their weekly or monthly lunch. It is what we desire family to be like. Inquiries, stories, laughter…comfortable...warm.

And so, after all the introductions and picture sharing we come to the question that has brought us together on this day, what really happened to Edwin B. Caraccioli, Lulu Gonder and their son? What version of the story had Deb been told? And so the story is told…

Edwin A. Coley had been born prematurely. To add to the distress of the day, he was sickly as well, though it is not known what his specific illness was. Lulu's sister, Eva, took the motherless infant into her heart and her home. What was going through Eva’s mind as she spent long days and nights, walking the floor with little Edwin, nursing him back to health while grieving the loss of her sister? Exhaustion. Anguish. Confusion? Her sister had just died and in her arms, not her own child…the child she had longed for, but an infant boy she never expected to receive this way.  She prayed that he would make it through his illness. Did she try with every fiber of her being to refrain from getting too attached? She had just lost her sister. Was there any reason not to believe she might lose Edwin A. as well?

Edwin A.’s father, lost in grief for his young wife, must have welcomed Eva’s care for his son.  He was indebted to her. But to what extent? Did he feel that he couldn’t handle an infant on his own? Was his son better off where there was the stability of two parents? Was it too painful to see his son while lamenting the loss of his beloved wife? It was difficult enough to find answers that made sense of the unanswerable questions surrounding death. Now Edwin B. was faced with questions about his son's life he may not have been capable of answering. 

Eva’s husband, James Coyle, was being transferred to South Carolina. What were they to do? No matter how much she had wanted a son, Edwin A. was not their own. But he had become part of their family; how could they leave him behind? Her heart ached to keep Edwin A. and after she overcame the initial shock of knowing they would have to leave their home and family behind, realized there was only one solution. Edwin A. had to go with them. But would his father relinquish him into their care so far away from home, his sister, his family? Did James intimidate Edwin B. into releasing his son? Were there arguments, fights, cutting words? Or was the discussion of Edwin A.’s future logical, peaceful, though heart wrenching? No doubt the Coyles felt better qualified to care for him and, without a doubt, could give him the intact family unit he needed. His father was most likely still suffering his loss, trying to carry on with work and dealing with his four-year-old daughter, Adele. Perhaps little Edwin was used to being with the Coyles and they all agreed that it would be confusing and damaging to place him in an environment where he would never see the family that he had come to understand as his own.

Edwin A. Coley/Coyle (right) with friends
South Carolina c. 1921
Discussions of whatever kind, whether hostile or peaceful, concluded with Eva and James begging little Edwin’s father to allow them to care for him as their own. Regardless of the whys and wherefores, a lot of heart wrenching anguish went along with the request and the final conclusion. There are no stories to tell how long Edwin B. debated with himself about this or who influenced his decision, but once he released his son, Eva and James fell to the floor and cried with thankfulness. Did Edwin B. feel it was for the best? Did he fight long and hard about his son becoming a part of the Coyle family, moving down to South Carolina, and being brought up by Eva and James? Possibly, but the decision was made. By January 1920, four year old Edwin was living with the Coyle family on Cypress Street in Charleston, South Carolina listed as Edwin Coyle in the census. In 1930 at age fourteen he is still listed as the “son” of Eva and James Coyle.  Did he ever see his dad? Not likely. A new woman had entered his father’s life. It is unclear if she was in favor of keeping little Edwin or not, but not long after the Coyles departed she gave birth to their daughter, Claudia. And so began a new family for both Edwin B., in Bayonne, and his son, Edwin A. in South Carolina

Eva (Gonder) Coyle
with Edwin A. Coley/Coyle
Though his father would not allow the Coyles to adopt his son, in 1937, less than six months after turning 21 years old, Edwin A. Coley officially changed his name to Coyle. As we recount the story it really isn’t much of a surprise. His mother died the day after his birth and his father had not been in his life since he was a toddler. The Coyles were the only family he ever knew, he loved them and was grateful for all they had done for him. Oddly enough Edwin A. Coyle returned to New Jersey the same year his father moved with most of the Marshall branch of the Caracciolis down to Florida in 1950. How ironic is life?

And so we pick up where sorrow began and lives separated. Nearly a hundred years after her father’s birth and Lulu’s death, Deborah Coyle Weigel and her husband, Steve, join distant cousins in a small Italian restaurant near where she was born on an October day. We plan to keep in touch via email, Facebook, texting and phone. These are avenues that were not available a hundred years ago. We finish lunch and each of us goes our separate ways. Life is busy and there is not even enough time to visit the place that became the final resting spot of Lulu Coley. But there is no doubt that it will be a trip this family will take together on another day.

{Pictures and details of Lulu, Edwin, and their children can be viewed by following links from Lulu’s genealogical profile at: www.legacyroots.com/GONDER/lulu.html }

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Losing Love...Creating Mystery (Part 6 - The Pain of Losing Love)

With most of the pieces in place I feel myself being pulled into the lives of my ancestors on that first day of January in 1916. Spirited back nearly a hundred years into the past, the weather is icy cold. A blanket of snow lies on the ground. An epidemic of the grippe and pneumonia fill nearby hospitals to capacity. While The New York Times heralds record breaking crowds in Times Square with celebrants having paraded up and down Broadway to bring in the New Year, hundreds of poor children receiving gifts, pastors praying that the war would end by the close of the year, Lulu Caraccioli lies in her bed at 383 Avenue E in Bayonne, New Jersey sick with the grippe and waiting to give birth. Her family hovers nervously, concerned that she has little strength to bring this child into the world and survive. No doubt her sister, Eva, whom Lulu’s first child was named after, is present to assist. Was this second child to be a son…a son to carry on Edwin’s name and legacy? A daughter, a son, a beautiful wife whom he loved to share all of life with…what more could he ask for? But as he looks upon Lulu’s pale face, drained from the hours of coughing, the reality of that storybook life comes into question.

Little Edwin A. Coley enters the world on New Year’s Day, but Lulu only knows her son for a few hours…or is it only a few moments? Exhausted from incessant coughing, her last breath is acknowledged and confirmed by her doctor as “acute cardiac dilatation following grippe” before noon the following morning. He scrawls the words almost without having to look.  One could only imagine that this wasn’t the first grippe death he has witnessed recently. With Edwin by her side, Lulu struggles to breathe as her throat constricts and chokes out the ability to take another, fulfilling the definition of the sickness noted on her certificate. The story passed down was that she died of pneumonia, but at this moment, deciphering pneumonia or influenza doesn’t matter, Lulu is gone…her exhausted body finally at rest.

I hold a gold locket in my hand that has been given me nearly a century later. On the back the ornately engraved initials of Lulu and Edwin speak of love. Was she wearing this when she died? Most likely a gift from Edwin, I have not seen a photo of her without it hanging on a delicate chain for all to see.  I clutch it as my mind returns to Avenue E. Not far from Lulu’s peaceful body, only hours old and tucked in his bassinette, Edwin A. lies sleeping…or crying for the mother no longer able to  bring him comfort. An eerie stillness hangs in the air amidst the perfume of birth and the stench of death. In an instant a husband, turned widower, sits exhausted from hours and hours of worry, now distraught and in shock. Was it then that the past raced through his mind? Was it then that he recollected hundreds of happy moments that could no longer be considered endless? Was it then that he felt dreadfully alone? I recalled my mother describing the tears that welled up in his eyes fifty years after Lulu’s death. No doubt on that day…and days following, he drained every tear from his eyes; the anguish squeezing his body until he doubled over in pain, his heaving chest giving way to a hollow silence.     

There is something the loss of love does to a person…a breaking of the spirit…that transforms the sufferer to a level of quasi-existence. It is an impassioned ache that only exists because of the intensity of the love once in its place. The world takes on a different hue and life appears empty and pointless…at least for a time. When does one recover?...never, really. Life goes on, the memory fades a bit, but there is no replacement. To whatever extent healing can take place, the putting away of reminders that well up pain are tucked away. Was that how Edwin felt when he decided to release his newborn son into another’s hands? There is no way to know. Edwin A. disappeared from the lives of his father and sister, that chapter closed like a secured vault…the pain locked away.

Over ninety years pass. I search for my great-uncle, via internet and letter writing, to no avail. Whatever happened to the small infant that was passed into the hands of another family? More years pass. Then one day I receive an email. It is from Debbie Coyle. She has found me through my website, LegacyRoots.com. She is the daughter of Edwin A. I am shocked, amazed, thrilled. We exchange  photos and brief snippets of stories. We talk on the phone. It is amazing to hear the voice of a cousin long lost. Where does she live? Is her father still alive? Does she have brothers and sisters? What does she know about her father’s upbringing? Does she know why he was kept a secret? Did she know about her Aunt Adele? The questions are legion, but many will be answered soon. This Friday, October 8th, several cousins from South Carolina, New York and New Jersey will congregate at the gravesite of a mutual ancestor, Napoleon Bonaparte Caraccioli. Ninety plus years of disconnect from a single moment in time of love, loss and pain…reunited nearly a century later. (To be continued…)