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  • Writer's pictureMarcia Edwina Herman-Giddens

A Cow Called Tyttypus and Readings on Maine Islands

The pale mist pierced by gliding seagulls provides a soft wrap around my body as I walk along the edge of the island. It is such a contrast to the bright sunny day of yesterday, which, in comparison, had a certain hardness to it, even a brittleness. The sun brings cheer and sparkling water in a certain clear beauty and sometimes blinding light. It seems as though nature knows we need the contrast, a quieting down, a forcing of moments to reflect.

The color of the flowers stands out, time stands still in the swirls of fog. The smell of salt spray prickles the air. One's mind can get lost looking into the wildflowers abounding on the sides of the roads. Yellows, oranges, pinks, whites, and the grayish-green fuzzy-leaved mulleins. For the first time, I'm struck at the myriads of brooks and brooklets winding their way down the sloping sides of the island creating their gentle rippling sound as they seek the ocean. How many years did it take me to notice? There must be so many springs on this island.

Back in the house the phone rings. Yes, things on this bridgeless island are modern here now with Internet and local phone service. I learn I have another reading- this one at the library on the island! It is a nice ending to a wonderful week. With only a day’s notice, it is amazing that a goodly baker’s dozen attended, albeit that six were relatives. Of course, I read what I had written about the two Maine islands I know so well along with the usual sections that address my experiences researching and reckoning with descending from enslavers and growing up in Jim Crow Birmingham.

The island has a wonderful cozy little library, Revere Memorial, with a long history and that weighty smell of books mixed with very old wood. Years ago my husband, while exploring an island attic, found a book that had been checked out about 70 years ago. When we returned it, the librarian didn’t bat an eye. What is 70 years on an island where people have hauled lobster traps and the seagulls have cried their haunting cries for centuries?

My reading the week before in the Emerson Chase Library on Deer Isle was a magical event bringing together a group large enough to fill the reading area which including several with an Alabama history and others I had gotten to know online but had never met in person. Remarkably, one of the attendees, who has summered on Deer Isle for many years, not only knew my eighth grade best friend but her grandfather had practiced law with my friend’s father. In addition, her ancestral history is like mine only it is on both sides of her family. She has known some of her African American cousins since the 1980s and is also doing work to reckon with her past and be of service. Her stories are remarkable. An online author friend from southern New England was able to get there as her route on a trip north took her close enough to come.

Now, if you are wondering what a cow named Tyttypus has to do with all this, the truth is that it started a few days ago with the quirks of computerdom which spit out a will written in 1572 by my ninth great-grandmother. She gave her cow named Tyttytpus to her granddaughter Mary, ordering that "it be in the keeping of a man named Robert Manlye for the use and profit of Mary." She also gave a cow named Culver to Mary’s father, her son William. There is an amazing amount of information on these people from manorial records but I resisted getting caught up in it. I will relate this much at least: my ninth great-grandmother was Joan Alvyn, whose first husband, was a Gaylord (my line). She is buried in the churchyard at Pitminster, Somerset, England.

How could I not become engaged by this story as, like Joan, I will leave my grandchildren something, including my book Unloose My Heart which they already have. I hope that it will be of help to them although any help from a book cannot compare to the practicality of that from a cow. Joan's will sent me off thinking about what life was like then and what was going on in the world. Joan was alive when Bruegel created his masterful paintings such as the Shrine of Dreams into which we can insert ourselves in an attempt to feel her long-ago life at least a bit.

I ponder what she might have known about the events going on around her. In 1503, her father was a toddler when the first kidnapped Africans were enslaved by the Spanish in the Americas. Mona Lisa was painted the next year. When Joan was young, Henry VIII was busy executing two of his six wives. Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation in 1517 and much violence has followed. My ninth-great-grandmother died just days after thousands of Huguenots were murdered during the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre in Paris on August 24 and 25, 1572, violence masterminded by a woman. Due to that persecution, I descend from a number of Huguenots who fled to our country.

So much violence, prejudice, and persecution. Has much changed socially and culturally? Even so, when we look for beauty and kindness and love we can still find and share aplenty.

... < :> ...

A few more scenes from the island-- an inland trail, the pie auction with children displaying the pies (raising funds for the one-room schoolhouse, and Head Harbor.


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Candace Giddens
Candace Giddens
25 aug. 2023


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