Do you ever look at gravestones and think about the life contained between the two dates inscribed on stone? This is my whimsical way of weaving a story about the adventures in the dash.
The first Monday of every month, I’ll feature a gravestone (or two) along with a fictional story depicting what a piece of their lives might have looked like.
In the interest of privacy, I’ll give only first or last names, not both. I hope you enjoy this fanciful peek into what might have been.
Previous stories can be found on the Graveyard Tales Archive
James: 1834 – 1892
Eugenia: 1853 – 1939
Background: Based on the gravestone, James served with honor in the Civil War. In 1870, Eugenia would have been 17 and James 36. Recovery from the war was still in full swing. One rarely discussed side effect of the war was the limited availability of single men, particularly in the south, due to the death rate. Although, according to at least one source*, little research was done on this, it appears that many women feared they would be old maids, and accordingly, less than desirable marriages were agreed upon. In addition, while arranged marriages were not as common in the 1800s as previously, I cannot help but believe they still took place, whether or not they were officially classified as “arranged.” Certainly parents still had a say over who their daughter wed, and even if the mean age to marry was early 20s, it was not uncommon to marry younger.
Inspired Fictional Story:
Eugenia lifted her face to the sun, closing her eyes to revel in its warm beams, embracing her, comforting her. A breeze, sharper than it should be for September, rushed by as if to counteract the effects of the sun, raising goosebumps. Eugenia dropped her chin, hugging herself, and staring down at the layers of fabric that made up her bustled skirt. With so much material, one would think the chill the wind brought would have no effect. Then again, perhaps the chill was not from the wind at all.
“Gina, there you are!”
Eugenia turned to attempt a wan smile for her vivacious friend, rushing across the lawn toward her at a very unladylike pace.
Ada reached her and gave her a hug in one smooth motion before stepping back, her eyes widening as she took in Eugenia’s polonaise dress and hat.
“You look magnificent! This fabric—” she gingerly touched the camel-colored silk before reaching up and adjusting the high-crowned hat over Eugenia’s forehead. Finally, she stepped back, shaking her head with admiration before meeting her her friend’s eyes.
“Where on earth did your parents—” she paused. “What in heavens in wrong, Gina?”
“Not a thing, Ada.” Eugenia tried to make her smile reach her eyes, to no avail.
A moment and then understanding softened Ada’s face. “You are still uncertain.”
Eugenia turned away to face the cultivated garden, allowing her eyes to caress the late-blooming golden asters. “I confess I am still—loathe to marry him, Ada.”
Ada touched her friend’s shoulder, but Eugenia refused to turn to face her. Ada left her hand on her shoulder, her voice gentle.
“Gina…he is a good man. He distinguished himself well in the war, and he is well sought after—”
“Then why did he not choose someone else?” Eugenia turned enough to cast an angry eye at her friend, only briefly, before turning away again. “Why someone twenty years his junior? Why me?”
“Because he knows, as do I, that there is none equal to you on this earth,” Eugenia could hear the smile in Ada’s voice. “Because he sees your worth. He can support you, Gina. And at least you, unlike many of us,” a note of bitterness crept in, “will not be at risk for becoming an old maid.”
Eugenia knew she was right, but stayed as she was, her shoulders erect, her chin high, fighting the sinking feeling of despair.
“Gina,” Ada continued, a quiet reminder in her voice. “No one is forcing you to marry him. You can say no.”
“You wouldn’t think so had you been in the room with my parents. They impressed upon me the importance of a match well made. Of his worthiness. His devotion. And made it extremely clear what they expected my decision to be.” A note of uncertainty colored the otherwise angry tone. “And of course they are right. It is the correct decision. Only—” her voice trailed away.
Ada waited patiently until she spoke again.
“Why could I not have the opportunity to even fall in love?” she finally whispered. “I am but seventeen, Ada.”
Ada was silent a moment before answering. “Sometimes, Gina, it is easier not to be in love.”
Guilt pricked Eugenia and she turned and flung her arms about Ada. “I’m sorry, Ada. I wasn’t thinking. I am so sorry.”
Ada let Eugenia hold her for a moment and then pulled back, surreptitiously wiping away tears. “You are right about one thing, though, dearest friend. You are seventeen. Now, let us have no more sorrow and go celebrate your birthday.”
Eugenia finally gave her a real smile, turning and slipping her arm through Ada’s. “You are quite right. I am finished feeling sorry for myself. There are far worse things in life than to be married to a former officer.”
Ada gave her an approving nod and the two traipsed back toward the house. Eugenia faltered as she recognized the tall, imposing figure standing on the back porch, looking out towards them.
“Don’t worry, Gina,” Ada whispered, giving her arm a squeeze. “It’s all around town how madly in love he is with you. You’ll fall in love with him too.”
Eugenia took a deep breath and nodded, glancing up to heaven to seek reassurance before continuing to move forward and give her answer to her future husband.