Tag Archives: connection

We Are Family

22 Aug

Cousins
So, I come from a big family.  When I say big family, how big is that you might ask? Well, my Mom’s father had 13 brothers and sisters and my Dad’s mother also had 13 brothers and sisters.  Both families are Catholic and so there was a whole lot of procreating going on.   Something I’ve realized with age is just how much sex was happening in the past.  When you think of it – there is a very small window when a woman can get pregnant every month.  There were no ovulation tests or IPhone apps for tracking ovulation.  So, with no tracking they were able to get pregnant all the time.  This means they must have been doing it all the time in order to hit the bulls eye on such a regular basis.  Since there was no internet, no cable, no Sunday shopping, Facebook or yoga class to go to – our ancestors used sex as their main source of entertainment.  And through this entertainment came big old families!

I recently had a family reunion for my mothers side of the family – from my Great Grandmother and Great Grandfather there are currently 290 blood descendants (and counting).  That is correct.  From 2 people came 290 people.  Around 250 people attended the family reunion.  Not an optimal place for a single girl, but hey, it was a lot of fun.  The photo at the top is me with most of the great grandchildren who attended the reunion.  How crazy is it to be in a room with 249 people who are related to you and due to my mothers steadfast ability to keep in touch – I know most of them.   Growing up, a past time was visiting.  We had what I call ‘Country Cable’ – two channels which seldom had anything good on them.  Sunday there was Mass for Shut Ins, Grand Pre Wrestling and Coronation Street.  So instead of watching shit TV we would go visit a relative.  There was an open door policy at most houses.  We would just show up, interrupt whatever they were doing and have a visit which usually involved tea and some kind of baked good being put out for you to snack on.   Lots of conversation about politics, family going-on’s and of course stories from days gone by.  Can you imagine doing that now?  My flipping doorbell doesn’t even work!  Now anytime there is an unexpected knock or doorbell ring people assume it is Jehovah’s Witness recruiters and they suddenly become very still inside their homes.  For me, those visits impacted who I am – I loved hearing all the details, all the funny stories, all the opinions, and learning of all of the dynamics.  One thing about me is that I remember everything. I can recant visits from 25 years ago where someone was talking about someone jacking deer, someone growing magic mushrooms on someone’s property or that damn Chretien Government.  Birthday parties were just cousins.  Weddings were mainly family.

After university my cousin Amy and I moved to Toronto.   We chose Toronto as our cousin Alicia had moved up a year earlier and we were hungry to join in on all the fun she was having.  Amy and I shared a computer room with a futon for the summer. There was both a heat wave and a garbage strike that summer and we somehow survived.  Our other cousin Sarah also migrated up at some point.  She is double second cousins with Alicia, first cousin once removed with Amy and a standard second cousin with me.  That means that Alicia’s Mother and Sarah’s Grandmother are sisters AND Alicia’s Father and Sarah’s Grandfather are brothers.  That is right – two sisters married two brothers.  Since Alicia is the youngest in her family she is the same age as me even though she is my mothers first cousin.  Make sense?  See what I am saying about big family.   Amy’s Dad is my Mom’s uncle – her Dad is the youngest in the family of 14 and my Grandpa was the oldest boy.   So Amy is actually my Moms first cousin, but due to the fact that her Dad got married many years after my Grandpa – she is closer to my age.   Layers.  When we would go out it would inevitably come up that we were all related.  Most people were mystified that we could:

  1. All be related
  2. Know each other
  3. Like each other.

Most people would say something like ‘I have like 3 first cousins and I don’t really know any of them’.  There is something completely unique about being pals with your cousins.  You know where each other came from, you know their family, you know dynamics and you know their history.  You really know who they are and how they become who they are.  There is no need for small talk and you ultimately have each others backs.  And we were kind of like Disney World – there was something for everyone.  Tall, short, blonde, brunette, athletic, conservative, wild, shy and loud.  We are all different and have very different tastes in men, so we didn’t ever get out the gloves over them.  But when a man came onto the scene he was sniffed out hard by ‘the cousins’. Kind of like a litmus test for ‘is he bring him home to NS worthy’.  One guy had a terrible laugh.  Nope, we knew he wouldn’t work.  There was an old guy.  No, he didn’t stand a chance.  What do you think?  What do you think?  What do you think?  Everyone has an opinion.

I’ve traveled all over the world and let me tell you – I have family all over the world and my mother would make sure I reached out while there.   Most cities and countries have included a family visit or a connection with someone a family member knows.  Where I live it seems that I run into someone I am related to most days.  For example, today in hot yoga, one of my cousins was in my class.  We did a quick wave and smile before getting into our downward dogs.  In a world where connections are shallow, a sense of community has been lost and people don’t know their neighbours – it is a beautiful thing to run into someone you really know.  Connect with them.  Have a good chat.  Get some updates and usually have a laugh too.  You feel part of something.

A big family.  It gives you deep roots, a wide support system and plenty of gossip.  I dare you to get to know yours even if that means 3 people.

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Tell Me A Story

18 Feb

story-telling-jpg-1

Can you tell me a story? I can’t even begin to count how many times my nieces have asked me to do that.  They absorb every ounce, of every word I speak when I tell them foolish and wild tales of growing up or stories from my older family members.   When each story finishes I can be sure to hear – another one please.  They love every second of it and stare at me like I am a wonder of the world.  We all love a good story, told well.

Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of entertainment.  Before we had the internet, before we had cable, before we had cellphones, before we had Ipads — people got together and told stories.  I’ve always had an insatiable interest in people and witnessing the world around me. Like some people love running or music, a great love of mine is hearing or recanting a great story.  I grew up in the country with no cable which meant one of our main forms of entertainment was going to visit relatives and neighbours in the evenings.  If my Mom was going so was I, as it meant I got to listen in on adult conversations and hear crazy stories.  I can clearly remember my Grand Uncle Emile telling the story of getting home to his fathers funeral in Cape Breton.  He was living away working as an RCMP officer and on the day he was to travel planes (from the only airline in Canada at that time) were grounded.  Instead of missing his fathers funeral RCMP officers did a convoy for him – they drove him to the edge of their districts where an officer from the next district would meet them.  Amazingly, he made it all the way from Ontario to Cape Breton in time for his fathers funeral. He told stories with such zest.  Hands going.  I was completely captivated by him.  Or what about the time when Grand Uncle Blais as a boy got a cows horn through his neck and nearly died.  Or when my Grandmere spent an entire year in a sanatorium when she had TB.  This left my Grandpere home with 9 children.   Or when myself and 5 girlfriends convinced 2 police officers to drive us to the bar and they asked for underwear as payment.  Or Grand Uncle Jerome who loved playing pranks.  He once gave my cousin Heather a hen in a box for her birthday.  When she opened the box the hen flew all around the living room.  Or when my Grand Aunt Phyllis gave away unwanted kittens for Halloween one year.  Or Grand Aunt Rita who swore her house was haunted and told creepy stories about seeing ghosts there.  Or the time when my brother Steve went through a barbed wire fence on a sled ripping his face to shreds and my likely somewhere around 300 pound grandfather nearly fainted when he brought him home to my Mom.  Or when our very drunk neighbour Freddy was lying out in the middle of the road in front of our house and my mother had to talk him through getting up and off the highway.  I watched from the hedge so that Mom wouldn’t see me – she told me to go back to the house.  Or about the time when Allan and Brent (who were in elementary school at this time) stole our school bus and did wheelies on the soccer field with it.  Or about Mrs North Grant.  An eccentric woman who lived in town, dressed like Sex and The City but wore knee high pantyhose.  Or the time when Sarah and I at 15 stole her parents car to go to a party   Or when Mom and I on our way to Australia on a stopover in L.A. took a bus tour of downtown and got stuck because that happened to be the day when Michael Jackson died.  Or when my brother Chris was able to get a dirt cheap place to live in university because the landlord asked if her mentally challenged brother could live with them.  Or the night when our dog and two cats all got hit by separate cars on the road in front of our house.  Or when we went away for March Break once leaving my brother Chris home to look after the house, a very pregnant cow and other animals – the cow got out and the police found her over the road.  They called my Grand Uncle (who is a farmer) assuming it was his cow.  Chris went to pick her up the next day.  On the way down the driveway she bawled and died, likely from exhaustion.  That was a great call to get at our hotel.  Mom and Dad only learned ‘the real story’ of what happened when my brother got married.  Coyotes were not involved, but my brother going to a party and not coming home was.  Or how we had so much snow in the winter that we used to jump off the roof of our house into the drifts.  One year Davids’ boots were not dug out until spring.  Or the times when people (sometimes complete strangers), crawled up our driveway when they went off the road in front of our house during a wild winter storm. They would stay for supper.  Or what about a cousin having her gallbladder stones in a jar in the cupboard.   I could quite literally go on and on and on.

This week one of our great storytellers Stuart MacLean died.  He had an enormous talent for connecting Canadians through his ability to tell a story. Every Sunday thousands of us across Canada tuned in to hear him recount a wildly funny or touching Dave and Morley tale, or to hear him read a listeners ‘must be true to be read’ story.  How many times have I heard a story and thought – that would be a great story for The Vinyl Café!  A few years ago I sent in a real ringer of mine and got a response saying they would like to use it on air.  Unfortunately, the right show to match my story with did not come around prior to Stuart bowing out.

Technology, rules, loss of community and paranoia from media has caused us to become kind of, well, boring.   We don’t talk to strangers.  We don’t take risks.  We don’t let our kids be independent because we fear the ‘what if’.  All the places good stories are made we don’t have anymore.  Earlier this week when I was walking home from work I came across a situation at a cross walk.  There was a man lying on the ground obviously in a lot of pain, a bus driver was talking him through the pain he was in – there was a big crowd of younger people looking but not helping (this was very close to a large university so students were coming from class).  I asked her if she had called 911 and she had already done so.  I decided I couldn’t help anymore and kept walking.  I had an awful feeling in my stomach wondering what happened to him and thought of him a few times this week. Did he get hit by a car?  Did he have a heart attack?  Fortunately, on Friday morning I saw the guy on the street near my house.  He is definitely a rougher looking guy and isn’t someone I would know.  I said ‘Excuse me, you don’t recognize me, but I saw you on the ground earlier this week and have been thinking of you ever since.’ He said ‘Oh, I fell on the ice and popped my shoulder out of place.’  I said ‘thank goodness that is all it was – glad to see you are okay.’  He stopped for a second and looked right at me and said ‘Hey, nobody seems to care about each other anymore.  Thanks so much for caring about me.’  My 10 year old niece was with me when this conversation happened.  I see a lot of myself in Cora in the way that she absorbs everything that is said around her.  She loves hearing stories and listening to adult conversations.  We got picked up in a taxi and chatted with our driver the whole way to her house.  Cora said- Aunt Emilie you will just talk to anyone.  True, and I am not going to stop.  It is in conversation and interaction with other people (not looking at our phones or watching our TVS ) where  stories and lifelong memories are created.