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Posts Tagged ‘family history’

I’m a first generation Canadian on my mum’s side. Mum was born in Scotland, and she, her parents, her aunt and uncle, and her grandmother came to Canada in 1957. These were the relatives I grew up with, the people I consider my closest family, the ones we spent Christmases with and whose homes were always my favourite places to visit. Most of them are gone now. Of the original immigrant family, only my mum and her aunt are still with us, along with mum’s cousins, born in Canada.

My great grandmother, the inimitable “More Grannies”, so dubbed by my sister and me, was born on December 23, 1887. She died just 19 days shy of her hundredth birthday in 1987, when I was a teenager. Every year when I was a kid, her daughter, my lovely great aunt Lily, with whom she lived, hosted a birthday party for her. The guests were always the same: friends, family, and neighbours, many of them Scottish or English immigrants, too. I’m reminded of those parties every time I hear “The Old Sod” by Spirit of the West. There’s a line in there that puts me back in that red-tiled basement party room every time: “There’s a bar in the rec room in the basement of our house…”

I loved those parties. They were always happy times, with singing and dancing and a spare room nearby lined with tables laden with treats, and I remember them through the eyes of a kid who loved people watching, loved listening to the grown-up conversations and watching the adults get goofy. The room did, indeed, have a bar in the corner. I played junior bartender many times, long before I was old enough to have tasted any of it (and I wouldn’t have dared!).

Lily and Pat’s friends who came to those parties are faces I saw all through my childhood, some just there and some at other times through the year. I was too young for them to be my friends, too, but they were there, a part of the tapestry of my life, and I had a great affection for some of them. Two of them have died this year, one just last night, and I’m saddened by their loss.

Florence was a tall, deep-voiced woman who was always invited to sing at any party, and always obliged. She died earlier this year.

Last night, we lost Anne, whom I’ve known my whole life. She was in her mid-eighties and was very ill, so her death wasn’t unexpected, but it made me sad, anyway. Up in my daughter’s room, there’s a tattered, disintegrating old baby blanket, THE blanket, the one she wouldn’t sleep without for years, preserved from further destruction by being zipped into a mesh laundry bag, so she can still see it. That blanket was a baby gift from Anne.

The days of those basement parties are long past, but I remember them. I wish sometimes we could flash back in time so my daughter could share some of those experiences. But I’ll tell her the stories until she rolls her eyes because I’m repeating myself AGAIN. That’s my job as a mother, right? 🙂

The women of the family before they had the basement, Christmas 1958

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I love Christmas cards. Okay, the truth is I love most of the cheesy, sentimental things about the holiday. But real mail, mail that doesn’t come from the cable company, the power company or the bank is a rare commodity these days, and it’s one I especially appreciate. Christmas cards don’t arrive with the frequency they once did. So many of us are in touch by email that we’ve let the tradition slide in the midst of a busy life. I’m guilty of that this year. I’ve sent a total of seven cards, all to relatives in the UK with whom I’m not in touch by email. The rest of my friends and family won’t be seeing my handwriting in their snail mail, I’m afraid.

But some people still manage to send them, and to those organized souls, I say thank you. When a card does come in the mail, even if all it contains is just a simple “Merry Christmas” and a name, it makes me smile. I read a comment somewhere or other from someone who can’t stand getting cards like that, with just a line and a signature. I couldn’t disagree more. How many cards did you send this year? They take effort and precious time, and the fact that someone put the effort into sending me that card adds a bright spot to my day.

Today, I got a card I really wasn’t expecting, and it makes me happy whenever I think about it. It came from Scotland. That much was clear from the handwriting on the envelope and, on closer inspection, from the postmark. But there was no return address.

Inside, apart from the “Merry Christmas & Happy New Year” printed by the card company, it simply says “To” us, “Love and Best wishes from Rosie.” No last name, nothing further at all, even though Rosie is nearly a stranger to us. But that simple sentiment made my day.

Two summers ago, my husband, daughter and I spent three weeks driving around Scotland. (The photo in my header is from that trip.) In part, the vacation was about chasing my family history, seeing the places where my mum had lived as a child, where my grandparents grew up, where my greats and great greats and beyond worked and lived and died. I loved every minute of the trip, and wasn’t at all ready to come home when it was over.

One of the places we visited was the community where my two of my great grandfathers worked, one as a gardener at the local estate, the other as a shoemaker. Their houses were just down the road from one another. My great grandmother lived in one of those houses until she died in the early sixties. A local we encountered at the cemetery the day we were there told us that the woman living in that house now is lovely, and would be happy to meet us. So we took the chance and knocked on her door. She came out, and we explained who we were and what our connection was to the house. She was very nice to us. We were only in her yard for perhaps fifteen minutes, long enough to chat a little and take some photos, both of the house and of her in front of it. Her name is Rosie.

Last Christmas, with the memories of our trip fresh in my mind, I made a big effort to send Christmas cards to the people we’d met along the way. I didn’t know Rosie’s last name, but for her I had not only a card, but copies of photos: two of the house as it was in my great grandparents’ day, and one of her with my daughter. I did some poking around online, finally emailing the principal of the local primary school just across the road from the house and explaining the situation in hopes she’d tell me Rosie’s last name. She did, and I sent off the card. I never heard back, and didn’t expect to, but I hoped the photos and card had given her that same bright spot in her day I always get from real mail.

Today, I got the answer to that. A year after I sent that card, a year and a half after meeting her so briefly outside the home to which we both have a connection, that simple message arrived: “Love and best wishes from Rosie”.

It’ll almost certainly arrive late, but I’m going to send out one more Christmas card for 2009 today. Happy Christmas, Rosie.

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