Florence after Bertha

 I wonder if Florence blamed Bertha, at least a little, for the years she spent alone, caring for their parents, if she ever resented Bertha’s escape from all of life’s duties and responsibilities.  If Bertha had finished college, if she had gone out into the world to work, if she had married and raised a family, if she had fulfilled nothing more than the most basic of her obligations—merely to survive until their parents had passed contentedly to the grave–then those years of silence and sorrow would have been avoided.  By accident or design, Bertha had left it all to Florence; how could she not be angry?

Florence had eighteen years to fill between her mother’s death and her own, and I don’t like to think of those years as unremittingly bleak. If I had searched the Dayville column of the Windham Country Transcript, I’m sure I would have found Florence’s name among those attending book club teas, or as a guest of this or that family for Thanksgiving dinner. The good people of Dayville and its neighboring villages were kind-hearted (in his open letter of gratitude published in 1898, John Mellish thanked them for the “liberal package of money” they raised on his family’s behalf, and a week before his death in 1909, he and his wife and daughter received a beautiful and well-filled May basket) and I don’t believe they would have abandoned Miss Florence Mellish to pass her days alone.

I hope that she found some measure of consolation in her friendships, and I like to think that one of her particular friends was Agnes Jacobs, the woman named—by Florence herself, I assume—to serve as administrator of Florence’s non-existent estate. Agnes Jacobs, a 1910 graduate of Killingly High School, was some thirty-five years Florence’s junior, nearly forty when Florence died at the age of seventy-five. Agnes left Danielson after high school, but returned in 1916, to spend her next thirty-nine years as a teacher in the local schools. She never married.

Perhaps they met at a social function or church event, perhaps their families had earlier acquaintance, these two spinster schoolteachers, one old enough to be the other’s grandmother. I like to believe that Agnes Jacobs offered Florence something she had lost with Bertha—the energy and promise of youth, a conduit to the wider world. I hope that Agnes visited Florence often, took her places, made her laugh. Agnes seems to have been a convivial woman with a full and happy life; she was, at one time or another, member of a club that brought cheer to the residents of the Killingly poor farm, president of the Danielson girls’ club, treasurer of the Killingly-Brooklyn Education Association, secretary of the local PTA, superintendent of the primary department of the Westfield Congregational church school, and a member of the Killingly Woman’s Club. In a photograph taken at a dinner to honor her retirement in 1955, Miss Jacobs has a warm smile on her lantern-jawed face, and her eyes look bright, even through her glasses.


Windham County Transcript, January 8, 1931

Boatman Beckons Florence Mellish; Beloved Poetess Dies at the Haven on New Year’s Day

The boatman pierced the shrouding mist

    That hides the farther shore,

And pushed across the dark, still stream

  With strong and silent oar.

A gaunt, gray form, he stood erect

  And raised a beckoning hand.

They answered one by one, the boat

  Was gliding from the strand.


I reached lame arms, my eyes were wet,

  For I was left behind.

Beneath his stern and shaggy brows,

  The boatmen’s eyes were kind.


Again he crossed the stream. His course

  Was neither slow nor swift,

But arrow-straight through those gray mists

  And clouds that never lift.


I linger on the sunlit side

  With eyes no longer wet;

The boatman tarries for a while.

  But he will not forget.

The boatman returned last Thursday morning and ferried the author of these beautiful lines, Miss Florence Mellish, to the Great Beyond where there is no longer pain or suffering. Miss Mellish was a woman of kindly and generous disposition who made many lasting friendships among the people of the community. She possessed a fine sense of artistic value and, with the inspiration of a noble soul, frequently wrote verses displaying more than ordinary talent. She had been an invalid for many years but was ever patient in her affliction and continually making sacrifices for others in a truly Christian spirit. She leaves no relatives nearer than cousins.