"Cowardice asks the question...is it safe? Expediency asks the question...is it politic? Vanity asks the question...is it popular? But conscience asks the question...is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because it is right." ~Dr. Martin Luther King

Friday, September 25, 2009

Oh My Lord

My grandsons have sent photos of themselves on the shore I loved all the years of my childhood. It's the first place I have to be any time I return.

Even when I was a teen-ager and crowds in the hundreds hung around the ice cream parlors,
where there was music and jostling and waves of chat and having to be where everyone else was, I could sometimes persuade a friend to walk for miles along the shore, leaning into the wind with the tide always on the move, coming in or going out and the wet hard sand either flat as a table or ridged like the ripples of the waves. I never understood why the sand changed character like that.

Now they are there. They can have no idea how much it means to me that they knew they had to go and see it resembles the Sandbanks on the shores of Lake Ontario in Picton County, the place we discovered when my own children were young and where their family has spent vacations since they were infants sometimes new-born, camping in the Provincial Park.

They are home now with my cousins and the children of my cousins, and the grandchildren and great grandchildren of Aunt Meg and Uncle Davey and whoever else they might meet in the few days they are there, who have welcomed them like the family we are.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Another Significant Event

Keenan is twenty two and Aaron is twenty. Kari is Keenan's special friend.

They've been working and saving for a year. Yesterday they boarded an Air India Flight and took off for Brussels and a back-packing trip in Europe.

Keenan and Aaron are my grandsons and Adam's brothers. Kari quickly fitted into the family circle. Their house will be strangely silent for the next fifty-six days.

Keenan is six feet tall. His hair has turned into a russet colour. His sideburns are like brushes. His face has pixie features , small with a short up-tilted nose and freckles.

Aaron, the younger is taller. His limbs are strong and straight and immensely long. He listens to reggae music and talks in Jamaican patois. It's interesting to hear him call me on philosophers completely unknown to me, in reggae language.

He knows computers like I know pen and pencil.

Before I was elected in 2003, I regularly dropped in to share a meal. afterwards we played scrabble. Aaron found words in the dictionary to fit the tiles he had.

I used words from Scottish vernacular. Andy, their Dad insisted they weren't. I was always more surprised than anybody to find them in the dictionary . I bought a new dictionary for the house to support my efforts.

I used to join them on camping vacations at Sandbanks and watched them grow and change.

They grew up in New market. Their other grandparents were my friends before they came into the world. They're as close to my own as it's possible for grandchildren to be. And now they are thousands of miles away . And I can't help if they need me.

They will go to where I was born. Cousins will take them about. . The buildings don't exist anymore. A town library occupies the site. I hope they go to the building down past the railway bridge. They have been been kept in original state. The same style of housing.

Not far from there is the shore where I spent my early summers. They will see how it resembles Sandbanks, except it has tides that ebb and flo.

I wish I could be there. I used to think about exchanging my house with somebody so that all my grandchildren could come and see where we came from.

Aaron has one of those fancy phones .They can call and e-mail and send instant photos.They have sent some already and my computer for some reason isn't letting them through. If I ever get them and Heather Sisman comes to visit, I will share them.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Extraordinary Life...I don't think so

We live in extraordinary times. But I'm not sure the extent of change can be appreciated unless one has experienced the impact.

In my childhood, when there was a death in the family, someone had to go the rounds to inform the family of the death and particulars of burial.There were no phones or cars. Mail was delivered the same day but writing a letter and mailing would not be the same as carrying the word and sharing news of the loss.

When my father's younger sister died in childbirth. It wasn't expected. I was eight years old. I don't remember the face or name of the person who came.Only the terrible news she brought.

Mary was beautiful, intelligent and talented. She was expecting her first child. Her parents didn't even know she was in labour until her husband brought the news on the morning that she and the baby had died.

The parish was the community. For the most part, families lived close. They were each other's friends and supports.

It must have been that constant relationship that kept them grounded in the present. It was all encompassing.The past had little relevance.

In my mother' s last years, much of our conversation was about her memories. She was frustrated. I was asking questions and she wanted to know the answers but had never thought to ask them and didn't understand why.

Now, someone living in England , four thousand miles away, finds a reference in a Canadian Blog to a place in Scotland that hasn't existed for at least fifty years, makes contact, discovers and provides a clue to a lost great grand-parent and finds a distant relative in a matter of minutes through the wonders of the world wide web.

Now...that's extraordinary.

At a time when the national media are less able than ever to provide current news of community affairs, individuals have at hand the means to keep each other informed independently.

Of course, there are those who are not enamoured of the notion. It's more convenient for some to work in shrouds of "now you see it, now you don't"

That's not extraordinary. It's not even unusual.

The first printing press was broken up by people whose interests were threatened. (I have no memory of that event.I learned about it in the classroom).

But it didn't stop the printed word nor halt the amazing progress it made on ordinary people's lives.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Nagging,Niggling Mystery solved

The McGuires were occasional visitors to the house. They were there on the day of my grandmother's funeral. I never understood who they were but knew there was a connection.

I thought of them over the years and wondered . Yesterday, out of the blue ,or ether. or wherever e-mails travel, came the answer. From Lindsay in Cumbria, England. Her mother was a McGuire. Efforts to trace her great- grandfather had heretofore come to a dead end.

There was a record of death of James McGuire aged twenty-three at Bartonholm. His death was registered by his mother. There was a record of marriage between James and Janet Fox and birth of John. After James death, Janet and John disappeared from records.

James and Janet had come separately from County Antrim in Ireland with their parents .They married in Kilmarnock.

There was record of a marriage between James McCafferty and Jane Fox of an address in Irvine. Jane was twenty-five and James, a bachelor, twenty-seven. They had a large family. The name John McGuire did not appear again.

Until this week. Lindsay was still searching and googled the name Bartonholm. It brought up my Blog ;"Setting the Record Straight" I had watched a T.V.documentary about an unknown soldier, buried where he fell in the mud in France in the first world war. along with sparse belongings. Research indicated he had been a Scottish coal miner who joined the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders hoping things could become better for his family.

I had a powerful negative reaction to the degrading depiction of life for coal mining families in the piece. The presumption that poor people who work hard to provide for their families have no sense of dignity, status or even self-respect has always grated.

I promptly posted a Blog of what I knew from my mother's stories of her childhood and my own experience. It was substantially different to the T.V. documentary . Writing it afforded me great satisfaction.

This week , it was read by Lindsay in Cumbria. Social conditions for past generations of her family has become as much an interest as family history. She was enjoying reading the Blog when the names James McCafferty and Jane Fox "jumped out at her "

An e-mail started an excited exchange that allowed us to fill in for each other a missing piece of the same puzzle. The McGuires who came to visit, were the family of my grandmother's half-brother,James son of Jane Fox, who is my great-grandmother and Lindsay's great-great-grandmother.

Lindsay found her lost great-grandfather and I learned more than I ever hoped to know about a woman who has been a strong and secret source of pride.

James and Jane had many children. After Jane died(I think) James bought a house at 100 Fullarton Street and lived in it with Mary his eldest daughter and her family,the Kennedys.

Several of his grandchildren became teachers. One, George McCafferty , became a priest and then a Canon in the Ayrshire Diocese of Galloway. Great grandchildren became teachers. At least five great grandchildren emigrated to Canada . The first, myself, became Mayor of Aurora, a small town in Ontario in the 1970s and continues to serve as a Councillor in the year 2009.

James McCafferty, had the advantage of an education .In the eighteen hundreds, it was not universal in Ireland. Only one member of the family might learn to read and write, usually a son. But that person was expected to assist whoever had not the advantage.

Jane could neither read nor write. But as well as raising a large family, she "kept a pig and knitted socks"

James lived until he was one hundred years old. Jane died years before him and five years before the birth of my mother.

Grandfather was remembered sitting up in bed with a long white beard ,wearing a red stocking cap and people still coming to see him with official papers to read and write responses for them.

There was intelligence, enterprise and a substantial contribution to their community. By any standard, their lives were successful.


Watch Them Grow