I’m a storyteller.
Besides loving on my children and cuddling up to a good movie with my husband, there is nothing else in this world that I love more than writing. Part of story telling is listening. Writers are known for having strong opinions, being able to add words where necessary and summarizing something with ease.
I have always loved both fiction and nonfiction in equal amounts. Both writing and reading provide people the chance to both learn from another human’s experience, to create a world others can escape to or to offer insight into a topic you want to learn about. However, if I had to choose, I would probably choose nonfiction. There is something special about hearing the story of a person that came before you. Although, they are just words on paper to most people, to people like me, they are everything.
One such story is that of Carlos Rich.
Born in Canada in 1841, Carlos’s parents emigrated to the United States, landing just over the border in northern Vermont. At the age of 20, he enlisted in the US Army at Company K, 4th Vermont Infantry. Carlos left his family to fight the Confederates, like every other young man on both sides, not knowing if he’d return.
Then, on May 5th, 1864, something happened to Carlos that some might call fate or determination, but I call it grit. During the first day of fighting at the Battle of the Wilderness, Gen. Grant and Gen Meade’s Union armies faced off against Gen. Lee and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. It was there, among the carnage and the chaos, that Carlos Rich did something that would echo through time to the year 2020.
First Sergeant Carlos Rich saved the life of an officer. The details are hazy, the accounts were given at a later time, but in the aftermath of it all, Carlos was considered a hero. Thirty-one years later, on January 4th, 1895, at the age of 54, Carlos was given the Medal of Honor for his act of bravery in battle that day.
Carlos H. Rich is my five times great-grandfather.
Scrolling through social media one night several years ago, my cousin posted a screen shot off of a family lineage site. When I asked her who that was she said “our great-grandfather.” Always the inquisitive mind and lover of all things genealogy, I found out from my uncle that Carlos Rich was indeed of my relation, through my maternal grandmother’s side nonetheless.
Let me back up just a little bit. The Rich’s produced my great-grandmother Jessie, who was also a writer. She wrote beautiful poems for friends in her small town in upstate New York, who lost their loved ones during WWII. From stories told to me by my mother, Jessie’s grand-daughter, and other family members, Jessie was a spitfire of a woman. She raised six children and buried the youngest before her 10th birthday. Mom described her as “not the friendliest,” but also knowing the kind of poverty and hardship she had come from, I could see myself getting along quite swimmingly with Grandma Jessie, would I also picture as a real life Ouiser Boudreaux.
Jessie was the mother of one of my favorite people — my grandmother. When I talk about my grandmother my mood instantly changes. I can feel her long fingernails running gently over my scalp and hear her yell at my older cousins when I’d come back from the park crying because they’d picked on me while spending Sundays at her house. Gram was one of my soul mates. It was a two peas/same cloth situation between her and I, and when she died the day after my 16th birthday, my broken heart never really quite healed. Now, I have her glasses and handwriting tattooed on my left ribs, right by my heart and try to live everyday in a way that would make her proud.
I tell you this because Carlos taught me something really important.
Though, we’ll never get to shake hands or tell family jokes over Friday night dinners, I feel like I already know Carlos. Many people never even get to learn their 5 times great-grandfather’s name let alone find out that he was a war hero. But, for people like me, that loves history, stories and family — it is everything.
Carlos taught me to be strong.
On days I don’t feel like a good enough mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, friend or writer — I think of Carlos. At just the age of 20, fifteen years younger than I am now, he made a decision that had a ripple effect. He not only saved the life of that officer, but he created a legacy that has produced a wonderful strain of human beings. That single decision impacted his ancestors whether he knew it would or not.
From my uncle Gerry, who is also a Purple Heart carrying war hero. To my second-cousins who have all lived wonderful, full lives — some chasing their dreams in Maine and others diving deeper into our family lineage. To my own sweet mother, who is the my best friend in the entire world.
They are all go-getters. They are all hard workers. They all have grit.
Carlos taught me to be proud of that — that rumbling in my heart that tells me to fight back, to do something that goes against the grain and to be the kind of woman my own great-grandchildren will look back at one day and be so proud of.
If you get the chance, look into your family tree. See where you came from. If they exist, read the stories of the family that came before you. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine the sacrifice, the hardship and the will they needed so that you and I can be here today.
As for me, I will continue to tell just about anyone that will listen about my bad ass great-grandfather, First Sergeant Carlos H. Rich, including my own children.