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Saturday, October 28, 2006

For Winifred

I am thinking about my maternal great grandmother tonight.

About 100 years ago she left London for a new life. She ventured across the pond with a soon to be professor to the University of New Brunswick and his wife, to be their nanny. She was 15 or 16 years old. I am told two of her first cousins were Lord's in the House of Lords. I really don't know what that means, other than it has to do with English government structure. Her father was a relatively wealthy man who owned a tavern. It is reported that his family was somehow involved in the slave trade between Africa and America.

Grandmother (as my mom refers to her) left of her own volition and refused to return despite her parents attempts. I believe it broke her mother's heart. Grandmother gave very little away about those days. Practically refusing to discuss them.

Not long after arriving in Canada she met my great grandfather. He was years her senior. He took her to live in his log cabin, far in the woods. He was often gone - hunting, fishing, trapping. They had children before he ever married her. She was an intelligent and articulate woman, an accomplished musician who in her youth, had played before the Queen. He was neither well spoken or well read. I'm sure the backwoods of New Brunswick was a far cry from the city streets of London. Being an unwed mother must have come with unbearable shame. Eventually they had 14 children which included two sets of twins. I once asked my mother how the two of them ever got together, I assumed it to be a loveless union. My mother suspected that she was in need of a place to live and he in need of a housekeeper.

When I was in eighth grade, I interviewed Grandmother for a socials project. I was learning about my family tree. I recall the walls in her house were all white and the sun seemed to come in from every direction. The ceilings seemed unnaturally high. She was old to me. My mother asked most of the questions, being much more interested in this particular piece of homework than I. Grandmother played the piano for us and sang. I thought it sounded dreadful but quite remarkable given she was the oldest person I'd ever met. For days afterward my mother recounted childhood memories and the special attention Grandmother had given to her over all the other grandchildren.

It would be so interesting to me to have this opportunity now. I would want my mom to be there and would plan it for days. I would ask her about having all those babies. How did it feel to be 30ish for her? Was there joy or did the days pass too quickly for such excess out of life? Was there any love or only duty? Did she make the right choice or just get so far into the wrong one that...

I have a theory that pain is passed down from one generation to another. That we can carry guilt and shame from a hundred years ago or even more. Chances are we don't recognize it as belonging to our ancestors. We pass it along regardless and throw in a few of our own secret sins just to ensure the gift keeps on giving. I see evidence of this in my own family. Thankfully, every once in a while, a generation refuses to indulge the sins of our fathers and our mothers and their fathers and their mothers. I'm certain that Grandmother's seeking out of a new life broke a cycle - but also created new grief to be passed on to her children and their children.

I honor her. I am told she was a brave and courageous woman. I'm sure she must have been.

4 comments:

Rob said...

The British Parliament consists of a main debating chamber
(this is the House of Commons where elected members of parliament sit)
and the House of Lords
(where elderly non-elected hereditary members debate and sometimes modify matters decided upon in the House of Commons.)
The House of Lords has been amusingly described as a day centre for retired gentlefolk.
In recent years the House of Lords has been reformed...but in your great grandmother's day it would have consisted mainly of elderly, male and right-wing members of the aristocracy.

I am interested in your theory about pain being passed down the generations. I am sure you are right. A best-selling book that deals with the way parents unconsciously pass on a 'script' to their children is "Games people play" by Eric Berne.

I like your style of writing. You choose your words very well. I like the way you sometimes leave things unresolved rather than presenting a neat little package of explanation.

Ms Dare2dv8 said...

Funny that you should post about her... I was thinking about her just yesterday. I stretch between wondernment and astonishment at where our gene pool has manifested. No wonder we're retarded.

love you
a
xoxo

Smarts said...

Rob,
Thank you for the information. Consequently, our government has the exact same structure - not surprising given that we are a colony. Our equivalent to House of Lords is called the Senate, but made up of appointments that are not hereditary. I like the daycare description.

My ideas on generational pain actually came out of my own reflecting on the lives of all four of my grandparents. Once I opened my eyes to patterns of behavior, they were everywhere. In a metaphysical sense, I believe that pain - physical, spiritual, mental - can live in the very structure of our bodies. In much the same way that a smell can bring on a memory, our bodies hold memories in their tissue that our brain may not recall until poked and prodded - even then they may be primative at best, leaving us confused, angy, sad, depressed. If we never poke and prod they never get released. When a baby is in womb, it vibrates to the frequency of its mother and thus picks up all of her joy and fear. The world is often more ful of fear than joy. This vibrating creates the possibility of inprinting our dna.

Both my aunt and I have had experiences with massage therapy where (with the right therapist) we have been 'released' through touch that brought out pain we were unaware of. This is part of the reason I am such an advocate of massage - for me it heals beyond every day muscular tension - there is a deep body/mind connection.

For the past few years I'v had an idea for a novel (fiction) that would be based on four generations starting with my great grandmother and her life in London as a girl. She passed on a lot of pain to my own grandmother, my grandmother in turn created pain for herself - leaving many of her children with a double heaping. My mother, who found Jesus in her early 20's was a lucky one! Her faith caused a 180 degree turn-around and broke a generational cycle for me and my siblings. In ways, I feel this one thing, her belief and conviction, changed the course of my own life drastically.

Thank you for the compliment. When I was young I only ever wanted to be a writer. Instead I became a teacher - makes perfect sense! Very few people know I have this passion or that I blog. For me, life is always unresolved and open for new directions and possibilities.

Your friend.
angela

Smarts said...

Ms.D
I love you! I feel for you, lonliness is the worst kind of pain. My thoughts and prays and hugs are with you right now.

You can't always get what you want
You can try some times
But you just might find
You get what you need

chin up.
all my love
a