family on trip and the past

Posted on September 23, 2006. Filed under: Family |

I was able to speak at length with my grandmother’s half-cousin, with whom she was very close and my great-auntie dorothy and I discovered a lot of things about my grandparents. Some of which were upsetting and I discreetly tried to wipe a few tears away as they were telling me things that I guess I had been piecing together since they died, but still don’t like to hear up front.

One being that my grandmother wasn’t happy in her marriage or in Canada. She and my grandfather met in a Woolworth’s one day and my aunt believed that she had pity for my grandfather, who had a hard life and grew up in an orphanage. Dorothy told me that my grandma said that she thought love would come later.

I was shocked to learn that my grandmother didn’t go to her brother’s wedding because they were inseprable, but she and my grandfather had already booked a trip to Switzerland. She also left, when her brother was dying, to come back to Canada a few days before he died. She and I are more similar than I knew. I missed coming back to Canada to see my grandfather before he died and though I was home from Vancouver when she died, I missed her too. At least I know now that she would understand, and that helps.

I guess the thing is that when I grew up here, in the same house with them (they upstairs, us in the apartment downstairs), I never would have imagined that my grandparents had anything but love for one another and maybe it did finally come. Maybe it did grow out of 60 years of marriage and I cannot doubt that at the end they did love each other, but I never really questioned until after this recent trip the fact that they did have separate worlds. My grandfather down in the sunroom, my grandmother up in the living room. Separate bedrooms. I always assumed that this was what happened when you got older, but I see now that it was the only way for them to manage a marriage. Now, I do know that there were happy times, but I also have to wonder if there were ever affairs. My grandmother was incredibly stunning and my grandfather was very handsome and often away on business. I guess that’s something I will never know.

When she was home to visit her brother on his death bed, he said to her “you look so drab, Mab”. Shocking because the grandma I knew always wore crazy colours and was bright and lively. Perhaps his death was a turning point for her.

I was never allowed to ask my grandfather about his family. It was assumed that he wanted nothing to do with them. All I knew was that his mother died at a young age. he had a brother and a father who remarried, and the boys were put into an orphanage. Dr. Barnardo’s. I wish I knew how to even start trying to track his brother down through them, but I don’t even have a name. I guess I have parents’ names.

I just found out, after years of assuming that he didn’t want to know them, that my grandparents tried to track his father down when they were newly married. They didn’t find him. I doubt I would either, but it’s nice to have the permission now to try. I want to see if there are more family connections out there.

I do know that he was turned out onto the streets around the age of 12 and that he became a self-taught engineer and didn’t have to serve in the war because he was building tanks and was therefore an essential service. My grandmother worked at Kodak during the war — film was definitely essential. This bit about the Kodak factory I didn’t know until I met with the guardians of my past on this last trip.

I also didn’t know that my great-grandmother, my grandmother’s mom was institutionalized. I couldn’t really get anyone to committ an answer as to what was her illness, and I can only conclude that it was a “mental” illness… whatever that could have been at the time — women were labelled with so many in the past that it could have been something that is curable today, but she was in there for the remainder of her life. I wonder if there’s a way to find out where she was or what she had; what she died of.

My great-grandfather, who worked high up with the railways over in England, had remarried a woman named Ivy. Neither my grandmother nor her brother went to the wedding. He had to get a divorce from their beloved mother in order to remarry and they definitely didn’t think that was right.

Then there’s the clock. My great-grandfather had promised a granddaughter clock to my aunt and I would give anything to find it now for her. It was a retirement gift and had his name, Clarence Wise, engraved on the front. It went with the new wife, and therefore fell out of the family and she’ll never forget or forgive it.

And I feel a real sense of closure, of completion and happiness for having finished this trip that was started three years ago. And I still miss them both tremendously.

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