Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Poem for Daisy

I knew it was in there—this little scrap of paper with note scrawled in pencil—but I couldn’t bring myself to read it the first time I saw it. I tucked it back away in its hiding place, with all the other papers I’d yet to catalog from the possessions of Agnes Tully Stevens. Something so personal about its makeshift shrine made me hesitate—as if I were an interloper upon the remembrance of a sacred bond.

There is something so unique about the bond between a mother and her firstborn child. To such a mother, there is no child so beautiful, so adorable, so perfect, as the one she is now holding in her own arms.

Such must have been the case with Agnes’ mother Catherine Malloy Tully and her firstborn, Margaret Anna. Born in late 1871, Margaret Anna was promptly dubbed Daisy, and became the center of the new Tully household.

The sense of wonder a new mother has about her baby was something that Catherine needed to capture on paper one day. Without widespread use of cameras in those days, perhaps pencil and paper was the only medium she could use. Torn from the margin of a church bulletin, scrap paper served as the preserving vehicle for her inspiration.

On Seeing Daisy Tully Asleep

As yet dear child
Thou has not trod
The paths of Life
Where grief is met
But Beauty like a
Smile of God
Upon thy little brow
Is set.
And Oh! May heaven
Forever bless thy life
With love and happiness.

Before I first saw that verse, I had thought that the mindset of the nineteenth century parent had surely been one of pragmatic callousness—when it came to one’s children, there would surely be at least one loss, if not more. Disease was rampant in the cities, and life in Chicago provided no haven from that grim reality.

But in finding this tender remembrance of a mother for her firstborn, I see no guarded sense of reality. This was a mom with heart wide open—hoping the best for her beautiful child. Unafraid. Yielding not to the temptation to cloister her innermost feelings for fear they would be dashed down by reality, but absorbing the every joy of new motherhood despite rampant risks.

Unfortunately, though, that is exactly what happened to this precious first life in the Tully family. Yesterday, I mentioned finding two wisps of paper—news clippings of obituaries from undisclosed sources. We saw, yesterday, that one was for a mystery Tully relative, Julia Annie Tully. Today’s is for Daisy.

Succumbing to scarlet fever just before her sixth birthday, Margaret Anna Tully left her parents and her young brother William Patrick Tully to mourn her loss. The only remaining tokens of her life are a blip of a mention in a local newspaper and a headstone at the family plot with one single word in her remembrance: “Daisy.”

And a poem that provided a glimpse into the core of a mother’s heart.

No matter how often it happens, it is always hard to lose a child.

TULLY—At Hyde Park, of scarlet fever, at 2 a.m. Sept. 26, Margaret Ann, daughter of John and Catherine Tully, aged 5 years 10 months and 26 days.
            Funeral Thursday, Sept. 27, by cars to Calvary.
            Detroit (Mich.) and Seaforth (Ont.) papers please copy.


  1. So sad and yet so poignant.

    As yet, dear child, thou hast not trod
    The paths of life where grief is met,
    But beauty, like a smile of God,
    Upon thy little brow is set ;
    And, oh ! may Heaven forever bless
    Thy life with love and happiness.

    A germ of genius, high and good,
    Methinks within thy bosom lies,
    Which, in thy coming womanhood,
    Will bear bright blossoms for the skies
    Aye, bear even in these earthly bovvers
    Eternity s all-glorious flowers.

    -- The poems of George D. Prentice (R. Clarke & Co., 1876)

    1. This brings up an interesting point, Iggy. Actually, several. I may have to write this up in another post...

      Perhaps Catherine heard this poem read during a sermon, was touched, and hurried to scribble it down so she could remember it. After all, the page she wrote it on was torn from what appears to be a church bulletin.

      The date of the poem's publication, and the biographical information regarding the author, however, get me to thinking...

  2. Like you, I often think parents viewed their children as chickens to raise and if they make it, great, and if not, oh well, on to the next one. I was just looking at a census record in which one of my ancestors claimed 8 of 8 children living, but she actually had 10, 2 having died at age 1. So what does that say for her? Had she forgotten? Did she misunderstand the enumerator's question? I wonder if she had scribbled a sweet poem about her girls upon seeing them asleep.

    1. I've seen that sort of thing, too, Wendy. Made me wonder. I suppose it's like anything else: can't lump all people together into one class and assume they are all the same. I suppose it runs the gamut from "chickens to raise" to "that's life" to "oh, my precious" when it comes to parents' feelings for their children--especially considering those eras when life was so difficult.

  3. Lovely post. Poignant and revealing -- it brought up two thoughts here-- first, thank god for poets who sometimes are able to say what we most want to remember.

    the second, the single word "Daisy" on the gravestone, brought to mind my grandmother's picture of her first born, Baby Irene, who died shortly after the picture was taken. Both picture and gravestone are frozen in time, a memory of what might have been.

    1. Yes, Joan, thank God for such poets--although Iggy's observation certainly throws a curve into this equation! :)

      "Frozen in time" does capture that feeling aptly. I can only imagine...

      It does open up a more revealing view of the person for whom that loss had such an impact. It's just a wisp...not something where cold, verifiable facts can be lifted from a document, but an indication of the heart of the being.

  4. Thank you for a lovely post - how special! It brought back the memory of an ancestor I chose to research in depth who had 3 children who died. I tramped all over Cornwall (and later Vermont) to find a grave marker, to no avail. I could understand this given the family's economic situation but what made it so perplexing is that no one had ever heard of these children, even in what came to be a close family. One relative insisted I was mistaken about the existence of a fifth son.

    1. What was amazing about Daisy's case, was that her headstone was prominent in a family plot in which others had apparently sunken or been badly weather-worn. Some of the relatives for whom I have complete documentation had stones barely visible under the sod.

      That makes me wonder, Kathy, whether in your search, something like this may have happened to the grave markers you were seeking. Of course, as you say, there were also economic considerations.

      Interesting to see that some relatives feel the need to deny what documents have recorded of family history...

  5. How sad and sweet all at the same time! Those words express such sweet sentiments from mother to daughter, whether they are her own words or words from a poem.


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