After a week has passed, I look back on last weekend as one which I will always remember. All my life, whenever I heard the name Cuddeback, my automatic reaction would be to turn around to see who was talking to me or about me. Last week, it was really odd to have a totally different reaction - I wonder which one of us they are talking about?
From the first newsletter and emails to the last new cousin I said goodbye to, Ronda Cuddeback, the experience was (and will continue to be) one which is difficult to describe. I've always felt my family was in sort of a vacuum, meaning that outside the few immediate uncles, aunts, and cousins I knew, that was it. Except for the occasional appearance of a flatbed truck with the words: "We haul away horses-dead or alive-contact Phillip Cuddeback" on the side of the cab - a relative who lived about 30 miles away, who other family members referred to with a good natured chuckle. But, suddenly being in the midst of nearly 200 Cuddeback family members was not only illuminating, but a bit surreal.
When my dad Howard Cuddeback, Pat Larson (my significant other), and I drove about 260 miles from the Middlesex-Canandaigua area south of Rochester to the Port Jervis-Cuddebackville region, none of us had any idea what was going to happen. But, I think all three of us believed we were on our way to some sort of adventure. We weren't disappointed. The only improvement could have been a break from that hot, humid sultry weather. Speaking for myself, from the first moments when we registered that Friday afternoon, I felt, not only at home, but that I was someone who finally had grasped a sense of family history and a greater belonging than ever dreamed of.
Before I go further, let me thank those of you responsible for organizing this marvelous event. The word 'thanks' is too pale to describe my gratitude and pleasure. If I attempted to mention all the names, I'm afraid I would leave out someone, so let me attempt to sum it up with a great symbolic group hug to all of you, over the Internet and beyond.
I'll remember the introductions and conversations fondly, and hopefully the long-term (and long-distance) friendships established during The Weekend. The word belonging seems to stick in my mind in trying to describe the whole experience. I wish we all lived closer to each other, but perhaps the physical distance between us will only serve to draw us closer together in spirit. And, it would sure be fun to visit each other on trips or vacations.
What happened Sunday really stands out for me.. Arriving too late at the Laurel Grove Cemetery to join the wagon train enroute to Jacques gravesite, we tried to find the spot on our own, only to unite with Herbert Simon's group. I think if either party had been by them selves, we would have given up and gone home, just a little bit disappointed. But we seemed to bolster each other to try it one more time. Persistence paid off. Maybe it sounds corny, but the pilgrimage to Jacques Caudebec's resting place seemed like just that, a pilgrimage.
As my dad and I passed the lead car parked at the edge of the field, and were trying to figure out where to go next, I saw a single row of Cuddebacks tromping across the field toward us, blazing a trail for us to follow. The symbolic implications were pretty hard to ignore. We followed in their footsteps and ascended the wooded hill, perhaps along the same path as many ancestors before us. Then, we sighted the first large clump of tombstones!
The prominent feature was a Godeffroy tombstone inside a fenced area. But where's Jacques? We moved carefully from stone to stone, pausing when we saw Abraham Cuddeback's, remembering his feat of strength tying 56-pound weights to his fingers and lifting them to shoulder height. I wandered ahead of the group. Ahead was a smaller group of stones, more ancestors. But, unfortunately the Cuddeback family I'm familiar with had no family historian, so I don't know which Cuddeback, which of Jacques sons I might be looking for as a more direct link to me.
It's hot, I'm sweating like crazy, and pretty tired. But, if I just look a little further, maybe.. A third set of stones comes into view! I practically stumbled onto Jacques gravesite. I felt like crying out something to parallel the famous quote "Lafayette we are here!" But I merely shout silently to myself. There it is, the resting place of out progenitor, the loins from which all of us ultimately had sprung! The pioneer who apparently lived close to the age of 100, who died a mere 10 years before the colonies won their independence from England. All I manage to blurt out is "I found Jacques!"
After a few photographs, we come down the hill. As I cross the field, I feel something welling up inside me. A part of me which had been missing all these years, even though I never realized it was missing, was suddenly added to my being. What a fitting climax to this reunion. And, because finding this spot was so difficult, maybe that's fitting too. Maybe I was able to experience one-tenth of one percent of the sort of hardships and challenges that my ancestors went through, when this country was in its infancy.
But later on the road back home, I also have a strong desire to retrace my roots. To start with my grandfather and great-grandfather and see if I can determine specifically just where I came from. But, records were always getting lost through the years, from fire, floods, etc. So, I may never know the direct route my ancestry took. I'll be disappointed if that is the case, but I will still feel fulfilled, knowing who was the first, and seeing the latest members of my clan. Thanks for a wonderful experience.
Let's all keep in touch.
By Alec Cuddeback, August, 1999
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