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  • Mj Pettengill

Who Was Sarah Abbie Wood? Ancestral Healing: Part 2


The Wood Family, Fall River, MA - 1906

As a child, I remember being afraid of my grandmother. She was a keen observer who rarely spoke. When she did, her words were crisp; she was articulate. There was no doubt or question about the point that she was making.

I did not understand what was behind those brown eyes. I had no way of knowing what her life had been like. We were warned that she was strict and told not to cross her.

She lived with us for a few years. I was about twelve years old. I managed to avoid her as much as possible. We all did. She was in a full, busy home, but she was very much alone. I thought that she wanted it that way. I kept my distance.

Many years later, after my own children were grown and she long dead, I learned about her love of literature and that she was a governess. That information (from my uncle) took me aback.

The only beautiful thing that I knew about her was that when she was younger, she sang all the time. My father and aunt did mention that. They said she had a pretty voice.

I did too. My kids' life had a continuous soundtrack of me singing or playing various musical instruments. I sang so often, I made recordings for my sons for when I went into the hospital to give birth to my daughter. They played my tapes in their Fisher Price recorder. It has always been about the music.

Throughout my life, many people have asked me where the music comes from. I used to hesitate. There is a strong possibility that, on my maternal side, I am related to Schumann. I have not confirmed it.

Music has traveled along many possible DNA strands. But, I now know about a woman who had shut down, a mother who sang to her children and the children of others. Just like me.

I have never stopped singing or playing, not completely. It is the audience that changes. (Ask the plants and animals here in the woods.) I have performed for most of my life. The music is endless. It flowed from her to me, to my children, and many children over the years that I have taught. It carries on through my offspring.

I performed with my children as a family. Our performances included voice, strings, piano, and brass. We also played together in an orchestra, contra-dances, and more.

With confidence, clarity, and a warm heart, I now celebrate knowing about a source of music and poetry that echoes within.

My grandmother, Sarah Abbie Wood, was a beautiful woman who stepped out of what seemed to be somewhat of a refined and respectable world into the wilds of an untamed place where she got lost.

My grandmother, Sarah Abbie Wood, was a beautiful woman who stepped out of what seemed to be somewhat of a refined and respectable world into the wilds of an untamed place where she got lost.

Some may have understood her, but there were more who did not know her true measure. I was one of them, but not anymore. d her spirit, and dimmed her light.

I am grateful that my Uncle Milton, her last surviving child, is not only willing, but he is very good at sharing stories.

To me, this confirms how we can heal the past by finding as much truth as possible. We were not there, but we can and should listen to and honor those who came before us. In many cultures, the awareness of walking amongst our ancestors is universal and vital for future generations.

She was strong, I knew that. I cannot help but believe that in time, her grief and invisibility erased her essence, doused her spirit, and dimmed her light.

I am grateful that my Uncle Milton, her last surviving child, is not only willing, but he is very good at sharing stories. To me, this confirms how we can heal the past by finding as much truth as possible.

We were not there, but we can and should listen to and honor those who came before us. In many cultures, the awareness of walking amongst our ancestors is universal and vital for future generations.

My grandmother, who died in 1979, is more alive and present to me than at any other time.


Photo: The Wood Family, Fall River, MA 1906

Sarah is on the far left. Note: I discovered this photo about a year after The Angels' Lament was published. I could have chosen another mill city for Sarah's story, but I followed my instincts. Fall River continued to emerge in my head. Logistically, it would have been easier for me to go to Lowell or Manchester. The Wood family did not live in Fall River. They lived in Acton, MA. They were not millworkers. There were many high-level events taking place in Fall River at that time, including people enjoying steamship cruises from that port. My uncle, the historian, does not know why they were there for a photo. I may piece it together at some point. Nothing happens by accident.




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