November 02, 2005
The Family Door
Since I was very young, I have been interested in where I came from. No, not THAT where, but the family story itself. I can remember being as young as 10, dutifully making notes on a pad what my family tree looked like.

I loved hearing the stories of my Dad's parents meeting in the shadows of Edinburgh Castle in 1910 and emigrating to Canada on the ship that sailed just before the Titanic. Or of my Mom's parents meeting during the Irish Civil War when she was an English Protestant nurse in Limerick, and he was Catholic and in the Royal Irish Constabulary. I begged my Mom to tell me of growing up on a farm in a small town without even a hospital close by. I would bug my Aunt to write down little stories about how they lived during the Depression, with my Grandmother baking cookies and shortbread to sell to the neighbours for a little extra cash, or how she would never turn away a downtrodden soul who couldn't afford to feed himself anything more than 'Ketchup Soup'.

My Mom always longed for cousins. Her parents had emigrated here and began their live in Canada, never to see their own families again. Some of the break occurred due to circumstance of the time. Ireland was a rough and complicated place during those times, and it tore a lot of families apart. Then when things settled, the sheer distance between Canada and Ireland and the rest of the British Isles was just too big. Letters were written but that gap was just too large. So we lost touch with our family overseas.

When I was in my 20s, I read a book on genealogy methods and decided to put an ad in the Cork Examiner. I figured that with my Grandfather having several sisters back home, it was likely there would be some family still left in the area.

Imagine my surprise when I received over 20 letters! The cousins in Ireland, and now scattered through England were thrilled to hear of our existence. They believed, partly through an unsubstantiated rumour, that my Grandfather had perished on the boat to Canada. A couple cousins had begun researching the tree but had no idea where to even begin in Canada.

In 1997, I travelled to England. I had been in touch with my cousin Helen in Andover, Hampshire and it had been arranged for me to meet my Grandfather's only living sister. One he had only known as a baby, as she had been born 3 years before he left home. Sadly, two weeks before I was to travel, we received word that my GrandAunt had passed. However, I was able to still meet with her daughter, Helen.

When I arrived at her home that day, I was struck with her warmth and generousity. Still griefstricken from losing her mother, she took me in as the long lost family member I was. I was amazed to walk through her house, and feel as if I was at home. The pictures on the walls bore resemblances to my own family members and she reminded me so strongly of my Mother's sister that I had to fight the urge not to call her a different name. Helen shared my same love of family history, and we found no difficulty in conversations.

Then she took me out to her backyard. There, lovingly mounted in the garden, was the family door from the Cork City home she grew up in, and my Grandfather before her. When the home was to be demolished, she insisted on having this keepsake sent to her to be kept as an heirloom.

As I touched that door, I could envision my own grandfather grasping that knob as he rushed in breathless from school as a young child. Or he and his mom sitting in front of it on the stoop, as they talked of their days. I could feel the energy from the several dozen children, from my grandfather and his 7 sisters, to their husbands, and then their children and grandchildren that had likely opened that door every day without a second thought. It was a touching and deeply moving experience.

After I returned home, Helen and I continued to write and call each other every once in a while. Then her husband became ill and she feared she would lose him. Last I heard, he was not expected to make it and she was planning to move into her son's home. I wrote her some time after that and the letter was returned. I feared the worst. Meanwhile, I was moving too. I bought my home, and as happens in moves, I lost her phone number.

Over the last few years, from time to time, I would try to look up her son's number. As the internet got more detailed, I felt it was only a matter of time until I found them again. But, their last name is a very common one and there are several hundred in the district I believed they lived in.

I've begun researching my family tree again. Partly because of the plans I have for writing, and partly because once begun, it is a project that I don't see myself ever fully letting go. Over the weekend, on GenesReunited, I noticed a familiar name. Not Helen's name, but what I believed to be her son-in-law. Seizing the chance, I wrote him. Imagine my delight when I got an email back from him with the words from Helen - "You still owe me a letter, girlie!"

Her husband survived, and they moved into a smaller home. I plan on calling her this weekend to catch up, but I am thrilled to be back in contact. She is an older version of myself. She loves the family history, but the ability to scan and share our treasures back in 1997 was somewhat limited. I can't wait to show her what I've found out since then, and I can't wait to find out what she's been up to either.

Vancouver, British Columbia
A patriotic Canadian full of visions of a better Canada, random thoughts and a lot of hot air. Who am I? A struggling writer and photographer, who looks forward to a better Canada. I read. A lot. I learn. A lot. I push myself. A lot. The world is a small place, and getting smaller every day. I'm proud to have friends in every corner of the earth, and abide by the old adage that there are no strangers, only friends we haven't met yet.
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Turning thirty and a half
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