Mary was the eldest child of David and Lettice Evans and she was born and baptised in St Mary’s parish of Haverfordwest in Wales. She was my great grandmother and the gateway to my Welsh heritage – a fact that has drawn me down the pathways to discovery about the Welsh Cutting Line – over the last decade.
My mother was Winifred and her maiden name was Cutting and although she herself was English and married to an Englishman, her own mother, Mary Jane, was part of a generation of ancestors whose roots were deeply set in Wales. The name Mary goes back centuries in our clan!
Let me take you back to the 1830’s in Wales and uncover the extraordinary life of Mary Evans – or was it a life of ordinary deeds and ordinary events – I will let you be the judge of that.
The bells of St Mary’s rang out that day in May 1833 when Mary Evans was baptised, and the sky was whitewashed clean. There was a bustling and a jostling as David and Lettice carried their first born towards the altar for the blessing, there were many others doing their duty that day. Little Mary remained still and quiet in the Vicar’s arms, her pale blue eyes focussing on the droplets of water as they fell towards her. ‘She’s bin here b’fore, I can tell!” Said her grandmother as she received the white clad infant from the Vicar. ‘She’ll be right in the world, you mark my words.”
Lettice smiled softly as she watched her daughter’s baptism, glancing to the back of the church where she knew her own mother would be standing! Sudden tears were joyful and sad, all at once, and she looked now upon her auburn haired child, as radiant as any young mother should be.
My own sweet Mary, my Monday child so fair of face, I pray you will be kind, gracious and Safe. One day you will meet your namesake, your gran, Elizabeth Mary and things will indeed be right in the world. Lettice grew thoughtful now and remembered what her mother had sung to her whenever she was sad.
“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”
Lettice had learned that knowing the Way, was her burden, not a gift. The Whirrham Way, her family trait – strong in the maternal line – she also knew would be passed on to Mary.
Lettice and David made their way out of the church, beaming with pride, so pleased to be celebrating this first big event in their first child’s life. There would be many more children they thought but this small bundle had already made a huge impact on their lives.
This child’s safe arrival, long awaited these past five years, renewed her faith in the Way.
“You were both too young! God will grant you a child when the time is right Lettice,” her mother had said. Lettice had miscarried two infants but had taken extra care in this pregnancy! Later she was to lose two more children but this was yet to come! Tears now as she considered what the future might hold for her little changling! Her fairy fae born in May!
When Mary was born she had the caul, and it was said then she would ‘have the gift of second sight’! Elizabeth Mary took this as an omen, of bad things to come and she wanted to keep the caul hidden away. She was afraid for her granddaughter!
May she be granted beauty and yet not
Beauty to make a stranger’s eye distraught,
Or hers before a looking-glass, for such,
Being made beautiful overmuch,
Consider beauty a sufficient end,
Lose natural kindness and maybe
The heart-revealing intimacy
That chooses right, and never find a friend.
David knew his child was an innocent, and destined for great things. Angry words had spoiled that happy birth day, in May. Yet
collusion between the grandmothers enabled Elizabeth Mary to attend the baptism, even though relegated to the small apse at the back of St Mary’s. Lettice was content that both grandmothers were there that day, but vowed to persuade her husband that there was wisdom in her mother’s caution! She had seen first hand how prejudice and fear had made her mother’s life a real struggle in the small community.
Not everyone saw the ‘fae’ as blessed or gifted. A few unenlightened towns folk were suspicious and often would call out “witch” or “devil” to her on the market days, even though Elizabeth Mary tried not to be noticed, covering her head and shoulders with a shawl. This had been so for many years now, and Lettice had learned the wisdom of silence.
Keeping her own gift hidden was her only solution – but that had taken its own toll – and she often regretted her decisions based on fear. Lettice knew the ‘way’ and practiced in secret – the healing, the fortelling and the guiding. She vowed to pass these on to her Mary. She did not regret her love for David and gave thanks every day for her marriage, and now for her first born child.
Mary learned to walk, to talk and began to understand the way as her mother taught her about the world. As young as 12 months Mary could walk for long periods before tiring, and she knew the names of the herbs in the garden, the birds in the trees and could recite these often. Mary would sit for hours in her favourite part of the kitchen garden where the cabbage butterflies fluttered and the fairy dust motes sparkled when she squinted in the sun. She laughed as the tiny insects and bugs crawled over her hands as she played in the dirt.
By the age of two Mary quietly independent and fearless would run to the edge of the woods behind their cottage, looking back over her shoulder and listening for her grandmother’s call. The trees were bigger, gnarlier and greyer in Fountain Wood, and many of the town folk would not enter at twilight fearing the shadows of this ancient forest. Mary held no such fear and would dance among the trunks of the trees, laughing and talking to them. She would run her hands over the knots and ridges of their bark, looking for signs. “Any Signs of fairy activity?” Grandmother Lisbet Mary would ask.
Her favourite things were her scarf from Lisbet Mary, her doll from Dadda, her trinket box from Mumma and strawberries! She now knew the names of the constellations in the sky, the animals on the farm and could count to 10 with ease.
By the time that Mary was three years old two important events had taken place – her brother George had arrived, and she had seen the way.
She loved her baby brother and would often try to cradle him and try to feed him herself! “Take her to the farm today David, she can pick out one of those newborn kittens to bring home. Maybe George and I will get some peace!” Said Lettice smiling.
The day was sharp and crisp and Mary was dressed in layers with her boots, favourite scarf and hat as well. She walked the mile path to Fountain Row alongside her father, her hand in his – and she breathed in all the new smells! The smell of the wind and the crackle of the leaves beneath her boots as she walked, filled her with wonder! “What do you do on the farm Dadda,” she asked? “Well now, littl’n there be the sheep to round up, the cattle to be fed and the sowing of the oats and barley for next season’s crops. But most important of all is to find where that cat has hidden her kittens in the barn! Do you want to help me with that?”
“Yes I would! I think I know where they are!” David smiled down at Mary – that special one he kept for those times when he was most proud of his daughter! Mary headed straight for the big barn at the edge of the farm, pushing through a gap in the open doors and swinging them back with a thud! She headed for the old pig sty at the back wall and crawled over the straw bales to a half broken crate in the corner. Peering into the dark retreat, she saw the kittens and heard the soft purring of the mother cat. One small kitten stopped feeding then to stare at Mary, and Mary reached out with a huge smile on her face!
Mary came home that day with a tiny bundle of ginger fur, the girl kitten that she had chosen! “I will call her Lisbet Mary”, she said to her mother. Then it was Lettice’s turn to smile and look up at David who just nodded. Lettice fetched a small basket from under her bed and handed it to Mary. “Maybe Lisbet Mary could sleep in this basket?” Mary laughed and put her favourite scarf in the basket and then gently lifted the kitten into it. She had all but forgotten about baby George – but not quite! Mary carried the basket with the sleeping kitten into the nursery and tiptoed up to his cradle and whispered, “Lisbet Mary is here now!”
She began to recite softly, the words what her grandmother had taught her, and there was a hush in the room:
” Listen for the song o’ the moon
As she waxes and wanes
Bringing light into darkness
And bathing night with her glow.
You are one with the moon
As you drift into dreams
Guiding you to truth and the Way
And returning the love that you know.
Listen to the song o’ the moon …. “
By the time Mary was seven, her grandmother Elizabeth Mary had been taken down!