Family Lines

stories for you

Month: February 2017

Frozen in time: lives behind photos

My grandmother as a toddler with her aunty, Scotland around 1924.

My grandmother as a toddler with her aunty, Scotland around 1924.

The little girl in the photo on the left is three years old. She’s my grandmother. The child’s joy with being outside with her aunty is frozen in time. But the 94 year-old’s memories of that moment are fresh in her mind.

I took the photo and restored it as best I could. I covered the holes, brightened the image, framed it and then gave it to my grandmother last September. She smiled and smiled and smiled when I handed it to her and she couldn’t stop looking at it.

My paternal grandmother lives in Thunder Bay and I don’t see her often. We talk on the phone and correspond through letters but nothing beats seeing her in person. Nothing beats being able to hear stories and ask questions and more questions and see her eyes brighten when she tells me about her past.

The story behind this photo starts in Scotland. Grandma was playing with her Aunt Elise Booth, a favourite relative. The picture was taken three miles from Huntly, in Aberdeenshire, at the farm where my grandmother lived with her parents. Beyond the haze of the photo are trees and a church and an ice cream shop run by Italians were grandma used to get sliders: ice cream sandwiched between cookies. Beyond the photo are scenes of life and living long gone — but alive to my grandma.

Then, she spoke English in a “Scotch style,” a Scottish dialect.

“Foo are ya the day?”  How are you doing?

She had quite the accent when arriving in Canada at age 7. She won a public speaking contest at her little school in Saskatchewan but lost at the regional event. The Saskatoon judge marked her down for her brogue.

On her Canadian farm, grandma was needed for the thrashing in September. She didn’t work outside with the threshing: 12 men did that hard work. She was in the kitchen in the heat of cooking and baking non-stop. Breakfast was at five in the morning and that meant she had to fry potatoes and bake ham. There was also a lunch in the morning, around 11. Dinner was at noon: meat, more potatoes and pie. Grandma says sometimes a man would eat a quarter of a pie. At 3 in the afternoon, sandwiches and big squares of cake were sent out to the field with coffee in the cream can. At 7, supper was served. Grandma says food tasted better back then.

This is the original photo. I restored it by covering the holes and making the image brighter.

This is the original photo. I restored it by covering the holes and making the image brighter.

Back then, my poppa wasn’t allowed in the delivery room when my uncle and dad were born: delivered by their grandfather, who was a doctor. Grandma and poppa and the boys moved from Saskatchewan to northwestern Ontario where my dad grew up. Where my grandma is today.

When I talk to grandma she opens up another world to me. It’s a world my ancestors walk in. I’m the link between their world, grandma’s and mine. Without her stories, they would fade away.

Shared stories

ebook cover.

Cover by Eveline Kolijn.

Stories bind us. Words tie society together with strands of familiar narratives and shared experiences. Not all stories are happy ones but there’s value in listening to how people are dealing with tough times. You may also learn others are more like you and me than you know.

I heard a lot of these types of stories when I was a volunteer artist facilitator for This is My City Calgary Art Society (TMC). TMC is a not-for-profit organization that brings art and people together no matter what income bracket or social status.

The following is a story I wrote a couple of years ago after a memoir writing session at the Calgary Drop-in and Rehab Centre.

Shared stories

Today only two participants showed up for my last life writing workshop at the Drop-In Centre. Two regulars. Four other people were in the same space painting and drawing and playing the piano.

I was disappointed one man hadn’t made it to my class. He had been to the three other sessions and was an active learner. He asked a lot of questions and even wanted homework, which he always completed. I asked the other writers where the man was.

“Cheques are out,” one participant told me. “He usually disappears for a while after he gets his money.”

At first, it was a let-down that the man was missing the class. I liked him and having more than two people in my workshop made the low numbers easier to handle. Nevertheless, I gave my lecture like I have the other times. The two men were just as interested in what I had to say and asked questions. They took part in the writing exercises and wrote interesting and compelling memoirs. It was a lesson to me about numbers and participation. Even though there weren’t many people, two people wanted to learn. Wanted to write. And now have stories to share.

A collection of stories by the authors above as well as Alpha House and the Women’s Centre is now available for sale: http://bit.ly/2jHfyvu Profits from Voices in the Wind fund TMC artistic workshops: http://bit.ly/2k4Wymv

Oh Canada

Canadian flag and US flag.There’s been uproar in Canada over what’s happening to our neighbours – the almighty and powerful United States of America. What their new president is doing is abhorrent and nonsensical and as my husband paraphrases Trudeau (Pierre, that is), “We’re the mouse beside the elephant.” However, it’s bothering me that many Canadians are taking an active interest in politics stateside while there are issues in our own country that need voices. Now.

The local Calgary news, my Facebook feed, Twitter and so on are full of anti-Trump rhetoric, calls for protest and moves to avoid the U.S. – all by Canadians. It’s valid to be upset by the megalomaniac living beside us and concerned for our American friends. But why not focus some of that energy on issues at home? Here are two major challenges Canadians should be speaking out about.

Some First Nations and Inuit communities are in the midst of a suicide crisis: it’s a catastrophe for Canada. An investigation done by The Toronto Star found the federal government has done little to help. Federal, provincial and territorial governments should be offering ongoing support or solutions – rather than simply reacting during emergencies. Say something about this, Canada.

Homelessness still exists in our country. According to The State of Homelessness in Canada 2016 (Stephen Gaetz, Erin Dej, Tim Richter, & Melanie Redman (2016): The State of Homelessness in Canada 2016. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.), 35,000 Canadians are homeless on a given night. 235,000 Canadians are homeless at some point every year.

These are men, women and children who are our neighbours. A national housing strategy could help end homelessness and one of the recommendations is for our government in Ottawa to adopt a national goal of ending homelessness with clear and measurable outcomes, milestones and criteria. Let’s make the call, Canada.

Of course there are issues beyond our borders that are important and require attention and immediate action. But a danger of turning our thoughts away from home is allowing a Trump-alike to sneak past us and into the lead of the federal Conservatives. If you’re wondering what I’m doing about the above concerns, ask me. If you’re Canadian and you raised your voice about Trump – raise your voice for Canadians too.

Respond, Canada.

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