Remembering My Ancestors

I don’t know where to start.

There’s a bowl of onion soup[1], a dark-chocolate truffle (or “truffle”, as the case may be), and a lit candle[2] sitting together in a pie plate on my dining room table.
The dining room table, I think, came either from my Grandmother’s vast accumulation of furniture, or from the antique store down the road from my parents’ place in Sackville, where I was born.

I don’t think that I’ve ever done a real “ancestor plate” before. I’ve done offerings of food, sure. Winter solstice sees a plate of goodies left outside for all and sundry who may be passing by. Sometimes that means Santa Clause, sometimes that means all the spirits who pass by in the night. Sometimes that means squirrels. Who knows.
But I haven’t done something like this – with my sweetheart in full awareness of what I was doing and why – set out food for the dead who have come before me.
But I’m doing it now.

As you know, I had a couple of relatives die this past Summer.

This brings the count of ancestors I’ve known well enough to have memories, as opposed to just mental snap-shots, of them to:

Great Nan – Elsie. My mother’s mother’s mother. Born out of a family feud. She died when I was in the 4th grade. On a Wednesday. I don’t have many memories of her. Not much more than snap-shots – how thin her hair was, how skinny she was, the weight of her walker (all heavy, curved metal – not these sleak, wheeling things with seats on them that people have now). The bumps on her scalp that she kept having to get removed (I wonder, now, if she had some kind of cancer but, really, she was in her 90s for most of the time that I knew her. by that age, as my brother would say, “cancer’s what gets you if nothing else does”. Although what actually got her was an active decision to say “Screw It, I’m Done” and stop eating. I’m not sure why we don’t call it suicide when the person’s over ninty…)

Dad – Robin. He died of pancreatic cancer in 2000, just a couple of months before he turned fifty-two. If I don’t have many memories of my Great Nan, I don’t have nearly enough of my Dad. He taught me how to fish, how to tear paper in a straight line by folding it over and weakening the fibres along the crease (brains, not strength), how to shoot a basket. In a lot of ways, he taught me how to not be a douche, which I appreciate. He was a distance runner and a basketball player his whole life. He was the parent that I could talk to when I was in my teens. When I look at the picture of us together (the one in the ancestor shrine), the thing that jumps out most is how we have the same smile, the same crinkliness around our eyes, the same face.

Gramp – Doug. My father’s father. He died seven months to the day after my Dad died, and I can’t help thinking that the death of his son might have had something to do with why his heart stopped that night. When he was young, he ran hurdles. I seem to recall that he was one of the best in Canada at one point, but I could be wrong on that. He was a painter – I have one of his paintings on my wall, and another one in storage (waiting to have space to be hung again) – and a mountain climber. I’ve often wondered if my family gets its queer streak from him.

Nana – Marguerite. My mother’s mother. She died a little ways over a year ago, after making a decision much like the one her own mother had made, and for much the same reasons: She was so ready to go by the end. Didn’t want to be here anymore. She taught music, played organ and piano for the “old folks” (who were typically younger than she was, by the end) at the senior’s residence next door to her appartment building. I get some of my musical tallent from her and, I suspect, some of my speech pattern as well. I remember when she and Papa came to visit me, shortly after I’d bought my first (and so-far only, as far as ownership goes) house. It was probably around Thanksgiving, or maybe a little bit earlier. The squash was ripening. I was part-way into my MA at that time, and I remember her commenting on how I was… neat-but-unusual in that I went out looking for a religious path rather than just following the one my parents had. I remember being struck by how much… mischief was in her eyes in some of the old photographs of her, back in the 1940s. She was trouble. πŸ˜‰ I can see my Mom in her pictures. I can see me, too. I have her chin and jaw and, probably, hairline.

Gram – Ruth. My father’s mother. She died this summer and was burried in a shroud of paisley wool. I look at pictures of her when she was my age, and younger, and she is such a looker. I have her nose. I also have her bones. Same shoulders, very, very same hips. I know where my figure comes from now. We had similar taste in Big, Fancy jewelry, a fair bit of which I’ve inherited. I confess that I’m looking to her, these days, for some style guidance. Here’s hoping her Fabulosity rubs off. πŸ˜‰

Papa – Jack. My mother’s father. The last of the grandparents. He lived long enough to meet his first great grandchild. I can’t help wondering if he was waiting for that, since he died within a week of his great grandson being born. But I think, more likely, he spent the last year of his life missing his wife and waiting to join her. My Ghost says that she could feel the earth – the relationship my farmer grandfather had with the earth – coming off him like mist. I believe it. He loved baseball. Played it, when he was younger, and followed it for his whole life. (I have a picture of my Mom as a toddler – a formal portrait – and heaven and earth, her body language, as a baby is exactly the way my Papa looked when he was watching the ball game).

These are my ancestors. Not all of them – duh – but the ones I knew personally, and who I’ve been closest to.

I hope they enjoyed the soup and the chocolate.

Sleep tight, and happy Samhain.
Meliad the Birch Maiden.

Photo by Sujit Kumar
Via Wiki Creative Commons

[1] For what it’s worth: Home-made duck stock, mixed with a little each: sesame oil, balsamic vinegar, and molasses. Yellow cooking onion, rounds of leek, diced garlic scapes, slivers of carrot and ribbons of collard greens. Home-made bread, toasted and buttered and cut into quarters. Slivers of cheddar on top of it all.

[2] Happy Home candles – the soy wax ones I made that all cracked across their surfaces. Sweet orange, clove, and vanilla for happiness, love (and lovin’), prosperity, and protection. Things that build and keep a family, or a phamily, one way or another.

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