All through my own childhood, the old house down in Paine Hollow that had once been home to my great grandaunt Eva (and her father before her) was chock full of things that had belonged to Eva, things that had been cherished by her. My grandfather inherited the house, and my father, in turn, acquired the house from his father.
The men in my family revered their Eva, and did not change much in the house. Belongings that had been there for many decades remained stored in the attic, and in some cases, in their original locations. Eva had kept the things that mattered to her right out in the open, and one of those things was her very ornate wedding certificate. Even by the time my generation came along, it still hung on the wall in the living room, right over her mahogany pump organ. I was fascinated by the details of the etched certificate. . . the photographs of the bride and groom and the officiating minister. Over the head of the groom, the words were plainly read: It is not good that the man should be alone. Gen. 2:18. And over Eva’s photograph were the words: I will make him an help meet for him. Gen. 2:18. I complained to my mother that the grammar did not make sense to me, and she said it was copied from the old Bible. And there at the bottom of the certificate at the trunk of a sturdy tree was an open Bible resting upon a stand.
The marriage certificate always drew me in with many intricately depicted symbols, and every time I looked at it I saw something new. Tiny details that held me: the two joined hands between the photographs of the bride and groom, the heart-embellished wedding ring below them, a rising sun above the joined hands, and above the sun, a fountain where two doves drank water together. At the top, I studied the details of a romanticized etching which depicted a Victorian couple setting off on a voyage in a fragile but charming wedding vessel , the church that had granted approval and permission left behind on the shore. I took that into my young psyche as the metaphor for marriage as a good Cape Codder would; the couple was setting off on a long sail, as opposed to a long trail.
The tree that firmly holds the photographs in its branches, husband on the left, wife on the right, implies an expected family. Here is the immature family tree upon which the children will hopefully be added to the many boughs and limbs. And on the tree trunk, the minister, the Reverend Moss, has ensured that the marriage is indeed an actuality.
The ink detailing the names and dates was already very faded from the time I could read, and the intricate penmanship difficult to read, but my father filled in the gaps for me: Captain Henry P. Smith was the groom; Eva W. Paine, the bride. They had been married on May 14, the same date in May my father and mother had their last child, their seventh. She is named after Eva because of this date; her name is Evelyn Louise Paine. The written year of Eva and Henry’s marriage I understood to be Eighteen Hundred and Eighty Six. At the bottom of the certificate, which measures 16 x 20, is a tiny engraved note: Copyright 1882, by H.M. Crider, York, Pa
The marriage certificate was just one of the powerful forces that drew me along as I wrote the book about Eva and Henry’s marriage. It is next to me now, and it can immediately cause me to think thoughts that bring me so close to Eva, who died an old woman twenty years before I was born. I have looked at the certificate, true, many times. But how many more times did Eva look at it as it hung on her walls, her eyes seeing what I see now—the ink fresh, the photographs un-faded? How amazing that she would have a nephew who would have a son who would have a daughter who would want to excavate an ill-fated marriage that occurred more than a century ago. But then, that was the whole question for me. . . how could a woman resolve the trauma she endured and go on to live a giving and satisfied life? As I searched out the facts of what indeed did happen to Eva, I believe that she was with me, guiding me along the way and showing me the answers- which have helped me immensely to triumph over the pain in my own life.
Two interesting notes on the marriage certificate: I began to write the book with the initial assumption that Eva and Henry were married in 1886. A restoring process showed that the handwritten date, very ornate in it’s flourishes, was actually May 14, 1885. The book is fiction, of course, and I chose to leave the mistake. And so, dear reader, as you read the book, there is a very large actual occurrence that happened soon after Eva and Henry’s wedding. You now know that the event happened not just one week after the wedding, but a week and a year after the wedding. It was part of the writing process to make a decision here, and I decided to go with my original assumption. Even now, after the book is finished, it is not finished. I continue to receive information and historical perspective as if Eva insists that I do not now forget her life.
The other interesting note, discovered during my trips to the Wellfleet town hall in an attempt to verify facts and conduct historical research: South Wellfleet and Wellfleet were two distinct villages back in the day, and even though the Town Fathers (selectmen) of Wellfleet, as elected by the (male) voters of the town were in charge of South Wellfleet and the citzens there, for some unknown reason, the marriage of Eva Weston Paine and Henry P. Smith was not recorded in the Wellfleet town records. I would never have known about their marriage had it not been for the large, wonderful and full-of-mystery marriage certificate that hung framed on the walls of the old house in Paine Hollow.