May 2018

It’s a Small World

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Mary Anne Zak

Attending the fiftieth anniversary in 2009 of John Biggerstaff’s induction with the late William Hinson into Apollo Lodge #59 was an honor. Joining Louise at John’s induction into the West Suffield Congregational Church on April 8, 2018, was also an honor.

The Biggerstaff family has been a constant in life. John’s grandmother was the first visitor to my first home. John’s father installed the pump in a later home; he also opened history on local Polish music gatherings having joined them with his mouth organ. John’s aunt Elizabeth was mentor and department chair when I started teaching in Suffield; aunt Edith, married to John Leahey, was principal at West Suffield School and aunt Mae, substitute teacher, was married to Frank Leahey, first selectman.

John’s sister Betty was secretary to principals at Suffield High School. Teaching sisters Carol Biggerstaff married my colleague Harrison Griffin and Janice Biggerstaff Gowdy specialized in teaching reading skills. Linda Biggerstaff Keyes, John’s daughter, is a skilled medical professional despite hearing disability; daughter Jane married schoolmate Barry Ertl.

An ocean away, in 1991, fellow travelers and I enjoyed coffee in an Irish kitchen. Hostess Maureen Dunne fiddled; daughter, Finnuala played the Irish harp; son Sean, the half-pipe; son Liam, the baughran, and son Fintan, the concertina. Music teacher Maureen, was daughter to a master fiddler for whose funeral fiddlers came from throughout Ireland to play. Maureen’s husband Liam, farmer and zealous historian, had learned that my great-great-grandfather James Cahill had lived there as a tenant farmer. Foundation stones of his cottage rested in the hillside. Liam and his sons escorted us to our ancestral site. Word later spread to Cahill cousins who beat a path to Dunne doors and reciprocated at American doors.

Tea welcomed us back from our respectful walk. “Here we are having this grand time together,” Liam said. “We’re talking away a mile a minute and I haven’t asked you where you’re from!”

“My brother and his wife are from Massachusetts, my cousin’s from California, my friend is from New Jersey and I’m from Connecticut.”

“Connecticut!” Liam exclaimed. “I was there in 1967 on an International Farmers Youth exchange. I stayed in Suffield with a family named Biggerstaff. Do you know the Biggerstaffs?”

Never was “Yes!” more excited! Celebrating, I researched the Biggerstaff surname. Originating in ninth-century England, its many spellings derive from “beekeeper” and “landing place.” Suffield was the Biggerstaffs’ grand landing place.

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