This specific ISBN edition is currently not available.View all copies of this ISBN edition:
A grieving mother draws on her storied heritage to find her daughter in the afterlife
When Sukey Forbes lost her six-year-old daughter, Charlotte, to a rare genetic disorder, her life felt as if it were shattered forever. Descended from two distinguished New England families, Forbes was raised in a rarefied—if eccentric—life of privilege. Yet, Forbes’s family history is also rich with spiritual seekers, including her great-great-great-grandfather Ralph Waldo Emerson. On the family’s private island enclave off Cape Cod, apparitions have always been as common as the servants who once walked the back halls. But the “afterlife” took on new meaning once Forbes dipped into the world of clairvoyants to reconnect with Charlotte.
With a mission to help others by sharing her own story, Forbes chronicles a world of ghosts that reawakens us to a lost American spiritual tradition. The Angel in My Pocket is a moving and utterly unique tale of one mother’s undying love for her child.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Sukey Forbes and her family split their time between San Francisco and Boston. She writes for The Huffington Post and lectures on resilience, positive grief, and the gifts of loss.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Just across the meadow from Mansion House on Naushon Island, there’s a barn devoted entirely to genealogy. This newly renovated space, bright and spare as a Chelsea art gallery, serves as an archive for the eight generations of Forbeses who have summered here. Ancient maps depict the Elizabeth Islands, the tiny archipelago to which Naushon belongs, and which juts southwest from the underbelly of Cape Cod. Alongside the maps hang old sepia photographs and, as if we family members were racehorses, color-coded bloodlines. Each of us has his or her own card, and the cards are connected by differently colored ribbons. Each color represents a separate line of descent from John Murray Forbes, the young merchant in the China trade who in 1842 bought the entire six-thousand-acre preserve. Nine years earlier he had married Sarah Hathaway, with whom he had seven children. My particular line, marked by a blue ribbon, descends from William Hathaway Forbes, the eldest son, who shifted the family’s enterprises from tea and opium and railroads to telephones. It proved to be a good decision.
From the time my own children could walk I’ve taken them to the barn at least once each year because I’ve always wanted to make them feel a part of this tradition. As they grew older, I tried to explain to them exactly what a “cousin” was, and what having an “uncle” meant, and how far back a “great-great-grandmother” reached in time, and what it meant to have a relative “once removed.” I thought it was important for them to understand this larger backdrop to their lives, and for me to be able to say, “See. There you are. You belong. You’re part of the clan.” A quick glance around the room is all it takes to spy the recent births, marriages, divorces, and deaths. Each is highlighted by the temporary addition of a round colored sticker on the card.
I have three children, though only two of them are still with me physically. The card on the wall representing Charlotte, my middle child, has a red dot in the corner, and the dates December 23, 1997–August 18, 2004.
Whenever I visit the barn now I can still feel six-year-old Charlotte tugging on my shirt, trying to hurry me along, saying, “Come on, Mummy. I want to see my tag.”
Charlotte’s hair was a soft corn silk blond with red highlights, very straight and very shiny, and every time I was with her I wanted to touch it. She had freckles across the bridge of her nose, and a crooked little grin, and her eyes were large and green like her father’s, with exceptionally long lashes. When I think of those eyes I remember how they were always opened wide and absorbing everything, almost as if she knew she did not have much time and she wanted to make the most of it.
I can still hear her commentary on what our ancestors wore in those old photographs, and how it was different from what she was wearing. Charlotte’s fashion sense seemed to have emerged with her from the womb. Once, when I was still nursing her, I was in a meeting choosing fabrics for a project and this infant attached to my breast reached out a tiny hand and started stroking one of the bolts of cloth. Typically, the fabric that attracted Charlotte’s attention was the one we ultimately went with for the sofa.
Charlotte was a girl’s girl who loved to twirl and dance in fabulous fabrics, and after she began to dress herself she was known to wear one pink loafer and one blue one, which usually inspired me to do the same. Whenever she stole into my closet for dress-up, invariably she pulled out only the best cashmere sweaters. She also went straight for the Manolo Blahnik heels. When I hid them she’d come find me, tug on my sleeve, and say “Manolo.” It was one of her first words.
And yet Charlotte was just as much a nature child, someone who fundamentally “got” Naushon. She loved to run through the fields and see shapes in the clouds and catch snakes and turtles out by the lake. But she also loved princesses, and as she began to learn to read and write, most of the stories she composed were about her own variations on Snow White and Cinderella. I remember her, just days before she died, dancing through a neighbor’s garden, hopping about to taste each and every variety of arugula. I also remember her during berry-picking season. She’d just come back from a birthday party and was purple all over from making jam in the kitchen, but on top of the berry stains her face was painted like a tiger’s.
A fairy princess and a critter catcher. A tiger who made jam. A middle child who nonetheless ruled the roost. The mystery that haunted me during my first months without her was: What happened to all these contradictions? All this exuberance? What about all this joy? They say my daughter died, but where exactly did my daughter go?
For me, the place for probing such questions has never been a grand cathedral, or an ashram, or even one of those stark white buildings beneath the steeple in the center of a New England village. The woods and meadows of Naushon have always been my church. And long before I knew anything about my great-great-great-grandfather, the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, and how he helped develop such ideas into the school of thought called Transcendentalism, my approach to finding God was through the direct experience of nature.
I loved Naushon’s forests and meadows because this was the one setting in which Forbes children were allowed to be rambunctious and expressive, even rapturous. For as long as I can remember we rode horses there and we sheared sheep. We drove pony carts, cleared trails with chain saws, put on plays in the forests, skinny-dipped on the beaches, rolled down the hills, and sang at the top of our lungs while tramping along the dirt roads. It was—and remains—a matter of pride among us to never use a flashlight when out walking at night, not even in the woods. If you’re a Forbes, you’re supposed to know the trails well enough that you can sense where you are.
This barefoot, unbuttoned life on Naushon was all the more precious because of the way it contrasted with the puritanical constraints imposed in all other respects by old-line families like the Forbeses—and there was no lightening up on my mother’s side, either. The maternal genealogy reads like a “You Are Here” map at a New England prep school. Saltonstall, Cabot, Palfrey, Winthrop—the names above the entrances to the ivy-covered buildings are my family names.
For kids like us, brought up on formal teas and white-gloved dancing lessons, the wildness of Naushon provided the kind of soul nurturing that Brahmin propriety and reserve seemed to neglect. In me, its elemental beauty also inspired some very un-Brahmin soul searching, begun when I was young but brought to a crisis by my daughter’s death.
To the extent that Naushon could never adequately answer my deepest questions about Charlotte, it could at least make me feel that, wherever she had gone, it was not so very far. Naushon had a way of uniting not only past and present, the spirit world and the natural world, but the living and the dead.
Mansion House etching, 1856.
In the attic of Mansion House, built in 1809, the faces of long-dead ancestors are preserved in a series of plaster “death masks,” which I remember from my childhood as fondly as some other girl might remember a gilt mirror from her mother’s dressing table. And the collection is not nearly so morbid as it might seem—and often does seem to visitors who are brave enough to follow me up the rickety stairs and brush away the dust to see them. Using wax or plaster molds to preserve an image of the dead is a custom that goes well back into the Middle Ages and was still common at the end of the nineteenth century. These casts were often used in funeral ceremonies, as models for subsequent sculpting or engraving, and, before the advent of photography, for purposes of forensic identification. In Egypt, of course, there was a much more ancient tradition of stylized masks, made of gold, which were thought to guard the soul from evil spirits on its way to the afterlife.
On Naushon we didn’t talk about life after death, or about the existence of a spirit world, and yet the references were all around us. Some of my ancestors are buried in a beech forest near the center of the island. Others gaze down from the oil paintings that line the entryway to Mansion House, and, yes, some of these paintings have eyes that seem to follow you around the room. Since 1855 there’s been a sundial out front that carries this inscription:
With warning hand I mark Time’s rapid flight;
From Life’s glad morning to its solemn night,
Yet through the dear God’s love I also show
There’s a flight above me by the shade below.
It’s hard to deny that the place carries a haunted-house vibe, with a soupçon of Miss Havisham and more than a hint of Peabody Essex Museum. In the Chestnut Parlor, elk antlers rest on top of the grand piano. Glass cases contain relics from the days of Hong Kong and clipper ships and the family’s early investment in railroads, the telegraph, and the telephone. We have trinkets left by summer guests who included Daniel Webster, Herman Melville, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Generals Sheridan and Pershing, and U.S. presidents from Grant to Clinton. John Singer Sargent signed the leather-bound guest book when he came to paint portraits of the children, as did Frederick Law Olmsted when he dropped by to help with the gardens.
In the summer of 1811, James Bowdoin III, the man who built the big house and was its first resident, died so suddenly and mysteriously that family, servants, and farmhands all fled, leaving food on the table and in the cupboards. No one came back for seven years.
John Murray Forbes, the family patriarch, gives this account in his privately published Reminiscences:
Mr. James Bowdoin died very suddenly in the north-west upper room, and in the old armchair still kept there. His departure was so sudden that it was thought necessary to remove his remains at once to Boston, closing the doors of the Mansion House and merely turning the key, without clearing the dinner table or otherwise making the rooms habitable; and this is said to have remained exactly the situation here for about seven years. Somehow the story got around that Mr. Bowdoin had ordered this to be done, in the expectation of coming back at the end of seven years. However this may be so, the rumor of his haunting the house grew up. During all the years up to the building of the tower in 1881, I remember the old house as a very open one, not only to friends and shipwrecked guests, but also to wind and rain. All the windows were loose, all the shutters slammed and rattled, as did the doors; and the latches wearing loose permitted the doors, (especially that of the north-west room) to open of a windy night most uncannily. The cellar walls were not chinked up, the floor not plastered below; and, when the wind blew from the north, I have seen the parlor carpet rise up six to twelve inches, lifting with it a common chair . . .
When Secretary Stanton [Edwin Stanton, President Lincoln’s secretary of war] visited us just after the war, he was much over-strained by the excitement of his long service, and a good subject for nerves. He was put into the haunted room, but nothing was said to him, as far as we could find out, about the ghost, and he left us without a word on that tender subject; but about two years ago a friend of his told me that Stanton had confided to him that he had here come nearer the supernatural than ever before.
Many years later, when my mother came for her first visit, she and my father were sitting on the porch and she was so uncomfortable that she had to keep moving around. After they’d gone inside, my father calmly informed her that the ghost of Mr. Bowdoin had been standing behind them the whole time.
The disembodied spirits of deceased family members were said to linger in the hallways, to haunt the bedchambers, and sometimes to join us for dinner. One autumn I received a thank-you note from a cousin who had hosted a large dinner party in our dining room. With it she included two photographs taken while they had all gathered around after dinner to sing at the far end of the table. Very clearly in the middle of the photograph is the white silhouette of a woman seated in profile wearing a shawl over her shoulders and her hair in a topknot. Grandmother Edith had clearly enjoyed the madrigals and seated herself at the head of the table to enjoy them. My cousin thought I would be pleased to have the photograph of her for the guest books.
A ghostly silhouette appears at the head of the table in Mansion House, 2008.
I’d always accepted the presence of ghosts, as well as my family’s very matter-of-fact acceptance of ghosts . . . matter-of-factly. But “ghosts” are as common as mice in creaky old New England houses. Was the idea of ghosts on Naushon just a game, or was there more to it? The question never came up. Then again, I knew the visceral experience. I work at an elaborately carved wooden partner’s desk that was given as a gift to my great-great-uncle from Chiang Kai-shek when he was ambassador to Japan in the 1930s. Often when I sit down to work or to write I will smell cigarette smoke. I have come to consider this smoke as some familial entity who comes to inspire me in my work. I refer to this entity as my smoking muse. My smoking muse arrived with the desk. There is no explanation for its presence and I have just come to accept it and actually smile when it appears.
Great-great-great-grandfathers Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Murray Forbes with their first grandchild, my great-grandfather Ralph Emerson Forbes, 1868.
While my great-great-great-grandfather may have been the progenitor of Transcendentalism, much of the family moved well beyond him on the spectrum of unconventional beliefs, far more pagan than Puritan. And Naushon has always attracted more than its share of spiritual seekers, extending from Emerson himself (known locally as Grandpa Moo Moo) to Aldous Huxley—author of Brave New World and The Doors of Perception, popularizer of Vedanta, mescaline, and LSD.
For 150 years, our “blue” Forbes-Emerson descendants have embraced all manner of spiritual alternatives, ranging from Theosophy to Krishnamurti to mathematical astrology and the attempt to communicate with extraterrestrial beings. Over the decades, one family member or another has always kept the “doors of perception” wide open, sometimes banging in the breeze.
It’s also true that, whether the product of emotional constraint, inbreeding, or simply the luck of the draw, the Forbes clan has always exhibited more than its share of garden-variety madness. There was John Murray Forbes’s daughter Ellen, who flung herself into a gorge when her parents would not let her marry a man they deemed “inappropriate.” Her mother had written to Ellen’s brother William, saying, “I fear she has these bouts of insanity, and very likely you are going to wind up with an angel sister, and we an angel daughter.”
And then there was my grandmother Ire...
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
Book Description Condition: New. Gift Quality Book in Excellent Condition. Seller Inventory # 36SEQU001FOT
Book Description Viking, 2014. Hardcover. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P11067002631X
Book Description U.S.A.: Viking, 2014. Hardcover. Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: New. 1st Edition....... 1st printing, autographed and inscribed Language: eng Language: eng Language: eng Language: eng Language: eng Language: eng Language: eng. Inscribed by Author(s). Seller Inventory # 2d-67c