Tomorrow i’m going to go to London, England. I’m all excited and nervous and, well, a little beside myself, really. I’ve never been so far away for so long (24 days) and all alone. I’m not going to be all alone, though. The first few days I’ll be staying with a friend — we were lovers a long time ago, had a sweet, short affair before she moved to London. We keep in touch, though. She’s living just outside London with her lover, and they’re both excited to have me visit. Then I’m going to Cornwall, where my mom’s cousins Dave and Gill live. They have a daughter who lives not far away from them, too. Dave is my grandfather’s sister’s only child. He is probably named after my grandfather, David.
Thirty-three years ago, when they visited Canada for the first time, we met at a family reunion. They came to Red Deer, too, for a bit. I was living with Frank then, and a bit wild. The cousins invited Mom and Dad to come visit them in the UK, and when Mom said, “well, Erin will probably be the first to go, of any of us.” Gill said, “Mmmm. We’re not quite ready for Erin.” So when i wrote them to ask if we could meet up (carefully explaining that i did not expect them to put me up, just to visit), I said, “I know 30 years ago, you weren’t ready for me, but I’m a bit more….tempered now.” Plus they’ve had probably enough time to get ready. heh. I also wrote to another cousin — he is Grandpa’s cousin’s son — I think that makes him a second cousin, or is he a first cousin, once removed?
Here’s another chart, maybe it makes more sense. Or not. Anyway, i wrote to Alun, too. He lives in Wales, which country has ALWAYS intrigued me. Grandpa Morgan was from Wales. When Grandpa was 9, he and his older sister, Gwladys, were orphaned (my auntie, Mom’s sister, is named Gwladys after her). They were farmed out to different relatives, and Grandpa went to Alun’s father Tom’s family (I think my mom, Edith, was named after Alun’s grandmother, Tom’s mother Edith. Are you following so far?). So Grandpa would be more like an uncle to Alun, though I doubt they met until Alun was grown-up.
When I wrote to Alun when Mom died, I didn’t hear back from him. So I didn’t have any expectations when i wrote him this time. Nor for David and Gill for that matter. Both of them responded within 24 hours, and I am surprised by how excited I am.
Grandpa left Wales when he was a young man, May 5th, 1926. I know the date because I have a bible that Grandpa got from his church Sunday School, and inside the front cover, he wrote “Sailed from Southampton, May 5, 1926”. There was nothing for him in Wales but a life in the mines. He sent away for his papers to Canada and to Australia, and whichever answered him first, that’s where he would go. My grandpa with the soft Welsh accent, the meticulously organized tool bench, the magnificent gladiolas…He was strong and tall, competitive and tender, a stubborn trickster.
Grandma always used to caution me, “Erin, don’t ever marry an Old Country man.”
Every step of the way, I’ve wanted to call Mom. I wanted to talk to her when Joanna was dying, (she was a catalyst for this adventure — she lived life to the full, did Joanna–and her final illness and death increased my sense of urgency). And i know Mom would have been sympathetic, and shed some tears for Joanna, and especially for Joanna’s mom. She knew what it was like to lose a child. Joanna faced her death with grace and courage, but it’s weird that she would have to face her death at all, so young. It was when i learned that she was not likely to live to her next birthday that i decided I’d better go to my ancestral homeland. This is a journey for which i’ve long yearned and a spur-of-the-moment decision. I have a little money left from Mom’s estate, no teaching work in July and August, and A LOT of work coming in September — so it’s a good time. A good time to go find where I come from.
Last weekend, too, Shawn and I took a trip to where we began. Regina, Saskatchewan. When Mom and Dad’s son Scott died in 1961, they bought three plots in a cemetery that was then just outside of Regina. In 2005, Mom, Shawn and I drove there with Dad’s ashes. We stayed with Don Jacklin. He and his wife, June, were good friends of Mom and Dad. Mom and June often talked on the phone until June died in the early 2000s. Don was a good host to us, and he took us for breakfast, i think. Some of our cousins from Dad’s side came to the internment, as did Uncle Jim, Mom’s oldest brother, and his daughters. We went out for dinner or lunch or something after. Our Saskatchewan cousins are all farm people, and his sister Kay’s kids loved their Uncle Jack the best of their uncles. Probably dad was their favourite uncle because he was their mom’s favourite brother. We were the “city cousins”, so cool. They were the farm cousins, and i envied them too. It would’ve killed me to live on a farm, I’m afraid, but whenever we visited, I remember being captivated by the barn, the cats, the cows, the chickens — did they have chickens? or am i remembering someone else’s farm? Never mind, they all smelled of manure and hay and mud — horse and cottonwood. Sometimes a visit would mean the hospital the next day, sometimes just itching and wheezing–but it was always worth it. We didn’t go visit our cousins much after Auntie Kay died, I don’t know why. Mostly we visited Grandma and Grandpa Morgan in Swift Current when we went to Saskatchewan. Grandpa Graham died in 1967, he was 79. After Kay died, (i learned this from Karen, maybe Bev this visit), Grandma Graham’s descent into dementia deepened. She died in 1986 at the age of 95, but she’d been gone for years. Most of the time she didn’t recognize Dad when he went to visit her. Shawn said that he remembers going to the nursing home with Dad one time and Dad walked right by her, had to get one of the staff to point her out to him. “That really bothered him a lot,” Shawn said. It must have. For mother and son to not recognize each other — and I know Dad loved Grandma with great tenderness.
Okay. it’s now the 13th, and i arrived right on time for my 6:30 pm flight, only to find the flight was delayed by 4 hours. No. 5 hours. they gave us $15 vouchers for food. And there’s a great big rainbow out the window here, so that’s nice. I kinda like airports anyway. And hospitals. Hard to tell what i like better. Hospitals of course have drugs, which, when i’m there for myself, I find enormously relieving. Airports have those kiosks that sell toys and watches and scarves and earbuds and other things I don’t need that cost money I don’t have. But that’s why god created credit cards…(capitalism. evil on both ends, producing and consuming–and consumer also consuming the producer –Ouroboros without the renewal part, yet).
The waiting area is filling up, boarding time is coming soon. I forget, is jet lag worse on the way there or on the way back? There’s a gang of teenage girls all in some team uniform in a corner. They look like they’re around 14 or 15 years old, all limbs, braces and ponytails. Do girls wear long hair more than they used to? There are many British accents in the air — posh and working-class, Scottish and Irish as well — I’m listening for Welsh, but don’t hear it. I’m watching Hinterland on Netflix because it’s Welsh and English, made in Wales by Welsh people. Everyone sounds like my Grandpa Morgan.
I learned a bit more about my Graham and Mitchell relatives from my cousins Bev and Karen. Bev said that our great-grandparents were loyalists who came to Canada — Ontario — during the American revolution. And she said she found another cousin in Saskatoon, who has our grandmother’s name, Christina. Grandma was Lydia Christina, everyone called her Tina. I love that family — they’re salt-of – the -earth good people. i won’t let our connection lapse again. In order to know the ancestors, I think we have to know who’s here now, to nurture the connections between the living. I felt part of something big when we were together in that cemetery, saying goodbye to Mom — cousins from both sides of the family together because of Edith — She did that in her life, brought people together. i didn’t realize how much, what a rare talent that is until she was gone. I take it as my job now, and it’s a bit daunting. She did ask me, and i did promise. So I will. She taught me how, I just have to remember.
I’m close to tears a lot, as usual. I don’t know, I’m lonely, is all. Makes that promise to nurture the family connections that much more urgent. I don’t mind traveling alone, i think I prefer it. Plus! I have those cousins in the Old Country. What an adventure is before me. No matter what happens, it will be good. Though it’s kind of unnerving to not have anyone with whom to plan. Mind you, if I were with someone, it’s quite possible i would let her do the planning, which has lead to resentment on both sides, let me tell you. Yes. this is better. I’ll be more confident, I think.The prairie part of my trip was grounding, a good start. I love this ancient place.
Saturday I’m going to a conference called “Feminists thinking differently” about gender and sex — that will be refreshing. I think that deserves a post of its own. I’m going with an ex-lover and her partner, they’re hosting me for a couple of days. Though she just sent word that a water pipe burst and their ceiling collapsed in part of the kitchen. That’s exciting in an unpleasant way.
right. we’re going to board soon. more to come. No way i’ll sleep for a loooong time. i just had to have a Tim Horton’s coffee, didn’t I?