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[Throwback Thursday Note: with so many of us separated from family right now, I was somehow reminded of the importance of family ties. This post was first published seven years back when we were still living in one tower of this castle in the north of England…]

WARNING: This post gets sentimental near the end. (Actually, almost immediately.) If you don’t have tissues, you might want to stop reading right here. You’ve been warned.

What if you’re away on vacation, and you come back to find that a whole bunch of people have been having a party at your house? It’s your own fault, you realize, because you left the lights on and the door open. And there might have been a couple of tweets… But the weird part is that they don’t use your best dishes or drink the good booze or even raid the fridge. They just want to use your bathroom.

That’s how I felt after being gone from this blog for a week. Even though I wasn’t home, several hundred people stopped by. Most of them were lovely, but a surprisingly large contingent were looking through my (virtual) bathroom cupboards.

When I was a teenager, I couldn’t figure out how my mother always knew we’d had a party. Years later, she revealed that she checked on the level of toilet paper left on the rolls. Well, my blog’s ‘toilet paper’ is the scary-extensive list of stats provided by my host, WordPress. For example, they reported that visitors came from 44 different countries last week, and more than a hundred of them were referred by search engines. What were they looking for? Over half were searching for this post on reasons not to get married. The second most popular search was for this post on reasons not to have kids. (Less statistically significant, but perhaps more disturbing, was the person who arrived at my blog using the search term, “old granny Taub.com” – and my blog came up tops on that search…) 

I was thinking about all those readers looking for reasons not to get married or have children as the dog and I did a spring-check walk through St. Brandon’s churchyard next door. Since well before the Normans arrived in 1066, there has been a church on that site. The weathered graves outside aren’t that ancient, but the inscriptions are almost worn off those more than a few hundred years old. The dog ran into a patch of sunlight containing a single marker surrounded by blooming forget-me-nots.

St. Brandon's churchyard, grave of Mary Gantriss

St. Brandon’s churchyard, grave of Mary Gatiss

 The inscription reads:

To The Memory Of Mary Gatiss
Wife Of Luke Gatiss Of Brancepeth Colliery
Who Died On The 14 Sep 1855 In Childbed
Five Hours After Been Delivered 
Of A Still Born Child
Aged 23 Years
Rest Happy Mary With Thy Infant Dear
For Hard Thy Sufferings Were
The Child Thou Left Thou Loved Sincere
Shall Be Her Fathers Care.

I tried to imagine Mary, and what her life and ‘hard sufferings’ might have been before her early death. Church records show a christening a year earlier for Jane Gatiss, infant daughter of Luke and Mary. The gravestone is imposing, clearly a huge expense and a testament to the love and grief of a young husband from the colliery (coal mine), left to raise their little girl. Their names appear on genealogy searches by descendents in Australia and the United States, who were (I assume) pleased that Mary and Luke didn’t look for reasons to avoid marriage or children.

St. Brandon's Churchyard

St. Brandon’s Churchyard

Along with heartbreaking testaments to young lives ended tragically early or in wars, the churchyard is full of family markers showing husbands and wives living to hearty old age, laid to rest among family members. Surrounded by spring blooming buttercups, forget-me-nots, and delicate cow-parsley, their crumbling graves are tended by current parishioners in the much-grumbled but faithfully performed grass cutting rota. The ancient cross-slabs of their many, many-times-great fellow parishioners, the graves of their several-times-greats and the current members of St. Brandon’s Church show centuries of connections that are still foreign to my American self. But they do make me think about what I’ll leave behind.

So I welcome all those who come to this blog looking for reasons not to get married or have kids. Those are tough decisions, and that path isn’t right for everyone. Just don’t look to me for justification. My truth is I’ve been married over thirty years and still haven’t made it past my first husband. But we’ve produced four of the greatest kids ever born.

(Of course, if you’re just stopping by to pharm my bathroom cupboard while I’m out, you’re welcome too, but be warned: there isn’t any vicodin, so you’ll have to be satisfied with Old Granny Taub’s tweezer collection.)