A beautiful summer/fall day on Monday, October 10, 2011 with temperatures in the high 70’s greeted the 39 guests plus some young neighborhood boys and several wild turkeys. We gathered in a circle of chairs to celebrate Mary Cory Merritt’s life. Eccleston Brook gurgled past us in the background. Next to us was a colorful tent with displays of maps, photos documenting the restoration of the meadow, and pictures of Merritt family members. Two large tables held food, a large decorative pumpkin from Sue Sutherland’s garden, and flowers from Nobby Williams. Dignitaries included Elissa Wright, State Representative and classmate of Susan Merritt, Andrew Maynard, State Senator and Noank native, and Fernando Rincon, our friend and coordinator for the habitat restoration program.
The event began with a welcome by President Joan Smith followed by a statement by Sidney Van Zandt, Vice-President. Sidney thanked the many individuals who had given of their time and expertise to help make The Merritt Family Forest a lovely piece of open space, and she thanked the Merritt Family for selling the property to the Groton Open Space Association. (Click here to read the full text of Sidney’s remarks))
Susan Merritt opened a memorial ceremony for Mary, beginning with a piano piece of “Amazing Grace.” Her sisters Debra Matroienni and Nancy Treuer read a poem entitled “A Tree Blessing in the Year of the Forest.” This was followed by a beautiful hymn sung with a resonant male voice.
The afternoon then was full of rememberings. Nelson Merritt and his sister Marion “Mimi” Merritt Orkney sat together the whole time and each elaborated on their lives together. Nelson regaled us with his story of a horse taking off and racing around the field “like a roman arena” when his plow hit a hornet’s nest. Some cousins met for the first time, and daughters wanted to know more about their family as they brought chairs close around. Name tags helped us all to learn the relationship with many of the various family members. Whitney Adams and Charlie Boos lead tours into the upper trails. We were still enjoying the day and lingered as long as we could in the warmth of friendship and the late afternoon sun.
Sarah Holmes, a University of Connecticut history professor was there with one of her students, Anne Meher, who had toured the site a few weeks before. Anne brought the large piece of pottery that she had found off the upper green trail. Nelson thought that it might have been made by Indians. Anne’s research came up with salt-glazed ware, likely produced in Stonington in the years between 1760 to 1830.
Nobody wanted to leave. Mary’s daughters spent some time up the grass laneway sitting on their Mother’s bench overlooking the field. Soon afterwards, a flock of wild turkeys walked the same lane past the bench. It was a special day for all of us.