Whispers of the past…

I was sitting in the van with Colin and my parents on the way to Bon Echo Provincial Park. It’s a place we’ve gone camping for decades now, a popular campground in Ontario. I was looking out the window, not really thinking of much, just noticing all the sights of nature as we whizzed past. Then I looked over and, for half a second, I expected to see heads with brown and black hair in the seats in front of me, instead of the grey I saw.

My parents’ camping days are numbered and their numbers are less than the fingers on my hand. I commented to my Mom about when we go camping next year but what I really meant was if.

It was really noticeable with my Dad this year. Would he be able to walk down to the deep beach this year? Should we take a van to the day beach? This is a man who was scouted for the Montreal Canadiens farm team, an opportunity he missed because he was out fighting forest fires in BC and no one knew where he was. A miss I’m grateful for because otherwise he wouldn’t have met my Mom and my sisters and I wouldn’t be here. A man who played “oldtimers hockey” and walked the track for exercise. A man who enjoyed getting into nature for a good walk. Now we’re worried if he can walk a few blocks.

My Mom commented sadly a few months ago that things just weren’t the same. When she was little (and when I was little for that matter) the dishes were ignored for a while and everyone sat and chatted. Now everyone finished, cleared their plates, got right into washing, and then went to do their own things, while my Mom and Dad sat at an empty table, a table that should have been filled with chatter. That one was easy at least. I messaged everyone and asked them to hold off on clearing the table to chat and, thankfully, it’s taken off and become something everyone enjoys. But there’s nothing I can do about age.

It’s seven and a half weeks until Kait has her baby, bumping me into the grandmother position and my parents into great grandparents. I wish my Nana could see this baby, when she was still strong and cheerful. She would have loved him so much (and equally loved knitting him little outfits). My Nanaimo Nana (great grandmother) would have loved him too. But I can’t dip into the past and bring them forth, they only exist in memories. There’s a chain of family connections and my parents are next on the list to get bumped off, then, eventually, it will be my turn.

I’m reasonably sure my grandfather had similar thoughts because he set out to write down the more memorable family stories that he remembered. I don’t think he got all of them because there’s been a few times I’ve mentioned a story he’d told me and got blank looks. Sometimes I think maybe I should write some family stories down too but I don’t know if anyone would be interested in the coming years.

But the past is the past. We honour them by remembering them and remembering their advice. Well except for my Nana’s advice to have me leave Kait in her carriage outside for a nap while I cleaned inside. That’s terrible advice when you’re in a third floor walkup in a not so good neighbourhood. But the good advice.

The future is coming, like it always does. Soon there’ll be a new grandchild and the beginning of a new generation. Soon there’ll be new ideas, dreams, and goals. And I hope my parents are there to see it unravel and to watch the little wee one grow big and strong.

Mom and Dad's 50th wedding anniversary

Mom and Dad on their 50th wedding anniversary

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100% human…

“You’re Irish!”

I looked up in surprise. I’d only just opened the door to the office when the receptionist blurted those words. Maybe it’s the green hair… maybe it’s my features or skin colour. I’ll never know.

“I’m [insert my real and very Irish name here],” I said awkwardly. “I’m here for my bone density test.”

I could argue that I’m only a quarter Irish… but which quarter? That amount seems so much smaller than the great-grandmother I clearly remember. I sleep in the same bed she once did and curled up on her lap when I was small. Her croon comes out when I cuddle small children or animals.

“You sound Irish,” one of my fellow patients commented as I sang a lullaby one night.

“My Nana and Nanaimo Nana sang like that to me,” I replied simply.

I’m a mixture of English, Irish, and Scottish but how do you measure and by what? Are my eyes English? My hair Scottish? How do we divide ourselves into parts? Each ancestor is important, no matter how far back. Every one of them has value. They all have some part in my existence, just as I’ll have some part in every child who goes on beyond my children. If one of my ancestors didn’t exist, I wouldn’t be here.

When I look at myself, I don’t see parts, I see me. I wasn’t born with national borders or clan colours or family crests imprinted on my DNA; each part of me is melded together, woven into blood, sinew, and flesh. A tapestry of various threads… all combining into one whole.

Yes, I’m Irish, and Canadian, and English, and Scottish (and likely a whole jumble of other cultures as well, right down to Neanderthal ancestors sharpening stone blades by firelight). I’m all of those at the same time, all in the same blood.

I remember my hand in my great-grandmother’s. How her skin was paper thin and soft. How her breath smelled like her favourite white peppermints. I am not a quarter of her ancestry. She is bigger than that. I am a part of her and she’s a part of me. I’m 100% part of every person who came before me. We are all canvases woven with the threads of family, blank slates waiting to be painted by time.

Nanaimo Nana and Nana

Nanaimo Nana and Nana