Writer, Textile Artist, Plantswoman

Category: Family Ties

Four generations

As people marry and have children later and later in their lives, having four generations in the same photo is increasingly a rare event. Going through the family archives I came across two photos taken shortly after my birth. The first is with my mother Mariette, her mother Marie Rose and her maternal grandmother Clarina. The second is with my father Paul, his mother Cécile and his maternal grandmother Delia. Had I not inherited the photo albums of both my grandmothers, it’s unlikely I would have ever seen these.

 

 

Family ties and mystery faces

In the post Christmas clean-up, I tackled the trunk we use as a coffee table in the loft room that is Robbie’s “office”. I thought it was full of home movie reels and 35 mm slides on carousels—and, yes, there were those, but there were also a couple of shoe boxes crammed with photos and letters and a crate of photo albums from my grandmother Marie-Rose. A wave of despair came over me. I thought I had found and scanned ALL of the old photos already!

There were 12 albums altogether. Eleven were the kind where the photos were stuck to a backing with a cellophane film over them. Very 1990s. I think putting these albums together was what kept my grandmother busy when she moved to a little apartment in Marlboro to be closer to my mom and dad. There was one other with just the plastic pockets, each filled with a negative and multiple prints. I think she intended to make an album for each of us and perhaps I will sort these out and send them in packets to each of my sisters. She was living right in the center of Marlboro then and very near a CVS pharmacy and the camera shop. Nearly all of them are of me and my sisters when we were very small.

The sticky back albums posed a problem. I could not scan the photos while they were stuck to the backing. But removing them was a delicate operation. After a few mishaps, I decided I needed to get out the iron to warm up the glue. For each page, I pulled back the cellophane protection, covered it with a manilla file, opened to its full size, and gently pressed the page with my iron set very low, just slowly swirling the iron over the file paper. Sometimes it took two passes. Eventually, I was able to get all the photos out of the albums and could start scanning.

Some of these photos seem to be very old, from the 1920s and ’30s. But the clarity of those black and white photos is remarkable—much better than the color photos taken 50 years later.

A few have names or dates on them, but not many. I can recognize my grandparents and my great-grandparents, Damase and Clarina Breton. I recognize some of my mother’s aunts and uncles, especially those like Alfred and Juliette and Phillipe and Germaine who lived, as did my grandparents, in Connecticut. The other aunts and uncles are familiar but I get their names mixed up. I would have met them, repeatedly, at large family gatherings, the language barrier complicating things. And some names have just gone out of my head completely, only to pop back in hours later… but still disembodied.

I do remember going around towns and villages in Québec and Lewiston, Maine, with my grandparents, staying with one relation or another, meeting my mother’s cousins and their children. “On faire la visit”—”We make the visit”, a pilgrimage to the heart of family and family ties.

In the rambling farmhouse of one of my aunts or uncles, my sister and I would be put to bed in the room just above the kitchen, the warmest bedroom. Set in the floor there was usually a grill that allowed the heat from the kitchen to rise, a natural “central” heating. I remember lying down near the grill to listen to the grownups’ conversation. My “baby French” didn’t get me far—their Québecois French was so fast and truncated—but I would sometimes get the gist of bits and pieces—especially if I heard a name I knew. I remember there was a lot of laughing. My Pépère, Odias, and his brothers-in-law were great ones for earthy jokes.

It amazes me that there are so many group photos in this collection of close to 1000 photos spanning 70 years. I often wonder, who was the person with the camera? Clearly, every time they got together was an occasion for recording their family ties.

Poem from the Archives

I’ve been ploughing through boxes and boxes of paper collected over the past 40 years, shredding most of it (old bank statements, the kids applications to college/university) and using the shredded paper to put the dahlias to bed for the winter. Waste not, want not.

Today I found a typed (yes… Courier on paper) poem written by Paul (son #1) as a book report for Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. It delighted me then and delights me still.

THE MRS. WHO, MRS. WHATSIT, MRS. WHICH SWITCH

by Paul Sean O’Connell

Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which
Did a switch
That changed the children’s material graph
So they could transport in a flash.
They transported to Uriel
In order to make their father get well.
(He had been captured by IT
And didn’t like it one bit!)
After, they went to Camazotz
Where they saw a man with eyes like red dots.
They found their father after all
And that is it, that is all.

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