Memorial Day Weekend brought a trip to the Finger Lakes to visit family on Canandaigua and Keuka Lakes, both lovely and swimming with activity (and both warmer than Lake Champlain, I might add!). Weekend highlights include:
- Shopping with Mom and Sis in a belated Mother’s Day celebration.
- Eating an ice cream cone every day.
- Catching three fish.
- Joyfully watching J and E play with rowdy, fun cousins.
- Laughing at husband and brother-in-law wearing wet suits to help install dock (no pictures…even though they were entertaining).
- Visiting the grave site of one of my main characters in SPITFIRE…
My historical novel SPITFIRE has two main characters – a fictional 12-year-old girl who disguises herself as a boy to fight in a Revolutionary War naval battle on Lake Champlain, and a real 12-year-old boy who was a documented crew member on board one of the vessels in the Battle of Valcour Island. His name is Pascal de Angelis, and after that battle, he went on to do some privateering as the Revolution continued, spent some time in a British prison, and ultimately, settled down to found a village in Oneida County, NY. That village, Holland Patent, is along Route 365 — one of the roads that leads from my house on Lake Champlain to our parents’ homes in the Finger Lakes.
On Saturday, we stopped in Holland Patent to visit Pascal, who is buried in a cemetery not far from his old house. It’s the first time I’ve been there since I spent a day at the Holland Patent Free Library, researching his life as I prepared to write SPITFIRE more than five years ago. It’s also the first time my family has been with me to “meet” Pascal. It was like introducing them to an old friend.
Today, Holland Patent is a pretty community with tree-lined streets and friendly people who are passionate about remembering their past. The village green showcases a memorial to veterans, dating all the way back to the American Revolution.
P.C.J. is our Pascal. (The CJ stands for Charles Joseph. His son shared the same name.)
If you keep driving along Route 365 through town, you come to the house where Pascal de Angelis lived when the village first began. It’s easy for me to imagine the spirited young boy from SPITFIRE growing old here with his wife Elizabeth and their children.
Not far from the house is the cemetery where Pascal and his family are buried. It is truly a lovely resting place, full of tall old trees and creeping vines, and Pascal is surrounded by family and early villagers in this place that he made his home.
This cemetery is beautifully tended, but somehow the flag that marks the graves of veterans had fallen down and blown from Pascal’s grave. I’m not family, but I feel like I know him well enough that it bothered me, so I made sure it was back in the ground, secure, before we left.
It may sound silly, but I told him about his book, too. It seemed like the right thing to do. Here was a boy who had already seen some rough waters at the age of twelve. His father had died on a ship as the family moved from the Caribbean to the Northern Colonies. The captain of that ship married Pascal’s mother almost immediately, and then when he got Benedict Arnold’s call for seamen on Lake Champlain, he took 12-year-old Pascal along with him. The boy marked his 13th birthday on the day the American ships were fleeing up the lake, with the British in hot pursuit. Quite a coming of age.
I wish Pascal had left behind more documents to tell the story of what kind of man he became, but unfortunately a journal from his days on Lake Champlain and a pension document at the end of his military career were all I could find. I would love to know more about the man he became when the guns were quiet. For this Memorial Day, though, it was enough to drop in and say hello, to let him know that children will soon be reading his story, and to honor the boy who grew up too quickly so many years ago on the waters that I now call home.