Things My Mother Said

GREGORY: Did you ever notice how we don’t tell family stories anymore?
MONA: What do you mean?
GREGORY: Families used to be made up of stories – their history – and those stories were told down through the generations. It’s where a family got its identity, the same way a neighborhood or even a country did. Now stories we share we get from television and the only thing we talk about is ourselves.”

from: the short story ‘My Life as a Bird‘ c1996.
Moonlight and Vines: A Newford Collection.
by Charles deLint

My Mom’s family were clannish. Always on hand, a member of that, friends of everyone, known for their humour and loved for their open-minds and gentle souls.

However, at the Dundas picnic I went to a couple of weeks ago, I learned an important lesson – you can’t always rely on ‘things your Mother says’. Case in point – the story I was told about the Dundas’, which were my GrandmaD’s Mom’s family, that there were 3 brothers that came over from Ireland together. Not true, in fact, it was three brothers that got together and started the annual Dundas Picnic every year, held in the same small hamlet for 104 years, located outside London. There were 8 children in fact that came over with their parents in the early decades of the 1800’s.

It’s not that she lied, it’s family myth, and sometimes we miss the details, but not the point. I guess I’ll never know if I just remembered it that way, or that’s how Mom told it to me, since Mom passed away in 2001.

I’ve been very busy the last few days on the Heritage Book Project I’m volunteering for. Went out on Wednesday with one of the other members to interview one of our old neighbours, a good good man. He is another one of those ‘salt of the earth’ types. So there I am in the Library, listening while he tells us all these wonderful stories about his family.

His Grandfather was in fact one of the Home Children , and arrived on these shores in 1873 on a boat with 86 other young ones, who ranged in age from infants to 17 years old. These children were brought over by several different organizations, societies and church groups to either work for some family till they turned 18, or were lucky enough to be actually adopted by a couple who wanted a son or daughter to join their family.

These ‘Home Children’ were sometimes also called ‘Barnardo Children‘, after the name of the man who started one of the first societies. The first groups came to Canada as early as 1869, and continued into the late 1930’s, and only stopped because they couldn’t safely bring them across the Atlantic with a war starting in Europe. Some of you may be familiar with the books and movies, “Anne of Green Gables“, by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Anne was basically a Home Child.

As Anne, this young lad prospered, and ended up inheriting from the farmer he had been placed with – he inherited 200 acres upon his employers death. Which was not always the case with these children – some of them were abused and neglected, and died young.

So this young boy, merely 13 years old, came all the way across the Atlantic on his own – departing Liverpool, England June 5th and arriving in Quebec City, Canada June 18th. He traveled over with a group heading to one of the Annie Macpherson Homes that was located in Galt, Ontario.

That is part of this old farmers family story. The next step was we wrote out the notes we took, the woman who had asked me to join her took the bulk, and I just did some of the other stories he told. I was there more or less to be another ear, to catch things she may have missed. We’ll compile these together and meet with him again, to make sure we have the facts right, and to get some more information we didn’t get at the first meeting. Eventually this will be taken and written out and will then be included in the book. There will be two books, the second book will contain all these family stories.

And so when I read that passage I quoted above, from ‘My Life as Bird’, about people not telling family stories any longer, I felt so sad about that. How can this be? Is it true? Is it that rare now to know things about your ancestors? To have stories and themes that you know about, and that were passed down to you? Really?

Even more now, I realize how important this heritage book project is. So many of these stories are going to be lost soon, and to be a part of an organization that is going out there and collecting these stories, is just SO very gratifying. I am so grateful my friend told me about it, and that there was something I could genuinely contribute to the project – my writing, my photograph’s (mine and Grandparents), and even my technological & design experience – I feel blessed to be able to contribute.

As often happens, as we were leaving our interview at the library, she took me into the Employment Resource Centre, and coincidentally the woman in charge gave me a GREAT idea for a series for the newspaper – An Historic Walking Tour of the village. She relayed how she came upon a history teacher the other day, on a walking tour with his students. She over heard him telling them that the feed mill used to be the train station. Which is categorically not true. It never stood there, and the station itself was moved across the tracks and is now situated inside another house that was built around it. Restore, recycle, reuse.

We all have our stories, some are true, and some are false memory, or out right wrong. Regardless though, they are more rare now, and these family stories are being lost. Maybe I just have always been so interested in these stories and have therefore just always been surrounded by them – it just never occurred to me, till recently, that in fact so many now do not have stories any longer to tell. They’ve all been forgotten through the passage of time. So many families are fractured and spread all over, not the county, but the country and even the world, and so there are not enough members around any longer to tell the stories to, I suppose.

If technology can give us anything, I guess perhaps one of its best uses will be as a tool to get our stories back. Sharing data and family memories on Facebook, researching them on ancestry.com, or telling their stories through a blog, all of these are tools now of a digital age.

Will this book be well received, I wonder? I realize that part of the answer to that question will be up to me. My role is to engage people, and draw them in to be either part of the project itself, and/or a purchaser of the book upon its completion.

Its’ a given that social media will be an intricate aspect to the project, yet just as important is the printed word. We are lucky enough to have the local newspaper, and they are very supportive of the project. It has become a fantastic tool for our purposes. I have another article coming out next week, based on one of my posts I first published here – This Old Porch.

It’s all starting to come together now. The pieces are falling into place, the stage is set, the players are ready…and maybe NOW someone can turn around and say hey “wanna get paid for doing this”? One can dream. One can dream.

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5 thoughts on “Things My Mother Said

  1. Your task of collecting stories is most certainly a sacred one.

    As for “truth” in stories, be sure not to get so bogged down in “facts” (confirmed or not) that you miss the storyteller’s point. Facts and figures are often like potholes in the road. When driving a story home, you sometimes have to swerve around them to get to your final destination.

    Keep up the good work.

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    • re: getting bogged down in the truth – most definitely. As a new writer, but a storyteller at heart, I see that as a fine line sometimes. For me it currently depends on the medium, and purpose I suppose as well.

      I guess that is part of why I do find it so enjoyable, as there is that fluid stream of spirit that these pieces should contain….and that is the challenge.

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  2. Wonderful post. I’m glad you’re getting so much satisfaction from the Heritage Book Project. It seems to fit you like a glove. The idea of family stories is one to which I relate very much. Half of my family survived the Holocaust, the other half are descendants of slaves. Imagine all the stories. But most of the older folks have passed on and the rest of us are so spread out. My siblings and I have long talked about doing ‘interviews’ with my father (84 now) and recording them. We really need to do it! Your post also reminds me of the Shoah film and foundation. Lastly, when I was in Vermont, one of the visiting artists said in his symposium, “Truth is construction.” He was a sculpture who incorporates live and recorded real-time human behavior into his work.

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    • Now THAT’s a family history. Wow. You really should, there are so so many things I wish I’d even known about to ask Mom…and so many of that generation are now gone, and there is no one to ask.

      re: Vermont – That is one of the many things I miss about living within an artistic community…the creativity and originality. Even in Port Credit, in Mississauga where i lived…there were all sorts of film people, artists etc…the conversations you found yourself in … and the people I met. Wow. Such fascinating things other people do. If the whole GTA wasn’t such an ants nest, I would love to still live there.

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  3. Pingback: Abandoned, But Not Forgotten | The Temenos Journal

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