Marjorie Pearl Hughes (1914)
About a month before I left for India, I received a letter from my Grandma Zoe. Inside it revealed information about a relative I’ve never heard of. This Great Great Aunt of mine had been a missionary in India in the 20s, 30s and unfortunately passed away from typhoid fever at the age of 41 in Darjeeling three days before she was heading home. My grandma included a copy of her passport, Indian visa, and her obituary. Pearl born in 1898 was truly a remarkable woman ahead of her time. Receiving her degree in stenography and another I cannot recall. She then went to India to work at the Kolkata School for Girls for a few years. Back to Illinois to complete her MBA and again back to India to be the Asst. Principal at the school. She was then transferred to Darjeeling as the Asst. Principal at Mt. Hermon School for girls. To accomplish all this at her age in those times makes me extremely proud to be her family. When I opened letter an learned all this information, I found myself at crying on the train on my to work. Right then I promised myself I’d make to Darjeeling and attempt to find her grave.
So about five months later, I made it on my own and began my quest. I called the school and spoke to the principal who was confused at my questions so the next day I walked about an hour downhill (I got quite the workout in Darjeeling seriously walking up & down miles a day) to Mt. Hermon School. The school was beautiful and full of children dressed in uniform (boys in slacks, ties, and blazers; girls in knee-highs and skirts). The front and the playground looked over the amazing snow-capped Khangchendzonga range along with endless luscious green mountains. I met with George (Fernadez) the current Principal. Unfortunately the school has no information on her burial site but he gave me three cemeteries where she would most likely have been buried. I trudged back up to the city after snapping some more pictures and thanks to the locals found the first graveyard. As soon as I looked through the gates, I felt tears coming to my eyes. Many times while thinking about her I felt this way. This strong emotional power that fills my body. The gate was locked and I quickly looked around for help. I was led to an old lady sitting in her courtyard with her big, loving dog. I sat with her as she yelled to her son to get the key. I followed him back and as I stepped into the cemetery, I nailed my head straight on the gate. Heard laughter from the kids around and the curious onlookers from above and could only laugh at myself. Walking in I realize quickly how tough the search would be. Each grave was covered with weeds, moss, and sometimes trash. Saddened by the poor care, I walked around (trying to avoid stepping on graves) scouring her name on each one. Her obituary describes her resting place on a small, beautiful hillside site. And this place had an incredible view with the city of Darjeeling stretching up the mountain to the left to tea leaf plantations to the south and miles and miles of green mountains in front. After I made sure I checked every stone head, I left covered in thorns and weeds. I sat back down with the old lady who tried to help my search. She yelled to some kids walking by and asked them to show me the way. So off I went with a new posse of Darjeeling boys. They were off to buy some fish (the pet kind) and we’re happy to point out the next two cemeteries. When we arrived I bought them some chocolate to say thank you and started my hunt again. They decided to join me, and were yelling across the way “What’s her name again?” It was adorable and so sweet but I sent them off to enjoy their day. For the next few hours I strolled through row after row, headstone after headstone. No deep connections here, just frustration and a ton of British generals. As I was ready to give up I came across a Marjorie, her first name. The stone was cracked in half and covered in moss. The last name said Hughes, my heart quickened thinking I had found her but as I tore away the weeds I realized the dates were off. Near her time but not her born/death date. The middle name I couldn’t read but I don’t believe it said Pearl.
Although I never saw her name I truly believe I passed over her. Maybe it was in the first cemetery where my gut told me so, maybe not. She may have only had a wooden white cross which is nonexistent after decades. Regardless I’m thankful to have walked on the same ground she did 76 years later and I’ll never forgot the connection I felt in that gorgeous hillside city. Darjeeling, I will return to you and to my Grandma Zoe, thank you for leading me on this amazing spiritual journey. I love you.