Anyone remember taking the bus downtown to shop at Thalhimers and Miller & Rhoads?
Well, today’s bus trip was of a different sort. Initiated by an enthusiastic and youthful 81-year-old woman named Eunice, a Finding Thalhimers tour group explored Richmond to see sites mentioned in the book. In the morning, they viewed Thalhimers’ history with a Valentine History Center tour guide, and in the afternoon they visited Beth Ahabah synagogue and Hebrew Cemetery, where they were promised a “surprise.”
Since I’m staying busy with 7-week-old Ethan William at home, I couldn’t join the tour for the whole day, but Dad and I met up with the group at Hebrew Cemetery. The two of us strolled around together, putting stones on the resting places of our loved ones, then watched as a big tour bus drove up. The first thing that caught my eye was that the bus appeared to be driven by a Snow Bear sitting next to a copy of Finding Thalhimers. The bus parked alongside the cemetery, and Eunice stepped out to meet us and thank us for coming. She told me she had read the book three times, and even had stashed within its pages an old Thalhimers bag and my sister’s wedding announcement as bookmarks. (I told her she should write the sequel!) Then, about forty people filed out of the bus for the walk up the hill into the old part of Hebrew Cemetery. I led them to the shady spot under the old magnolia tree where William and Mary Thalhimer are buried.
I said a little bit about our family visiting Tairnbach, the birthplace of William Thalhimer, and bringing dirt and stones to America to spread upon his gravesite and let him know we had brought his story full circle. That day was not only my birthday, but I was pregnant with my first child. After I spoke, I turned it over to Dad. He gets nervous whenever he has a speech to read, but he’s one of the warmest off-the-cuff public speakers I’ve ever witnessed, and today was no exception. After sharing a bit of history, he surprised me by saying something like, “I think William and Mary would be proud to see us all gathered here in memory of our family and their store, and particularly proud of Elizabeth. I couldn’t be more proud of her and what she has done to preserve our family’s legacy. And the ultimate honor, of course, is that her 7-week-old son’s middle name is William.” Of course, his emotion combined with this circle of strangers in the old cemetery brought tears to my eyes. I found myself witnessing another circular moment connecting past, present and future.
I’m exhausted from caring for a baby, but needed to share this beautiful story before it too became history. Too many moments pass that I’m not able to capture my gratitude for those who have read my book and told me in their own words how it was meaningful to them. So, thank you, Eunice. It was a lovely afternoon that I won’t forget.