Sunday, December 12, 2010

Where I'm From part 3

It's raining in Toronto but it's expected to turn to snow later today. Lots of it, if the weather reports are to be believed. It's about time -we've been blessed with an unusually long fall this year and have had only traces of snow to date. I was still getting green tomatoes from the last of my roof tomatoes until about two weeks ago and if I known I would have sown a fall crop of greens- next year I need to plan better.

So the gardens are finally put to bed and the last of the preserving has been put up in jars - one last batch of apple sauce is on the stove as I type. It's time to look to winter pursuits to keep myself amused. Like many people, I've been known to pick up a pair of knitting needles on occasion; it's good way to keep my hands occupied while watching tv on cold winter nights. My grandmother, my dad's mom, was an avid knitter and she taught me to knit when I was younger but I never had the patience to keep it up like she did. Truth be told, I have the attention span of grape and anything that requires me to keep track too closely or too long is destined to be messed up or abandoned. I can manage basic scarf and mitts and even a non complicated hat pattern but any attempts at more involved projects have ended badly. This goes for sewing as well; anything more than a basic seam is pretty much beyond my capabilities. My mother on the other hand is an accomplished smocker and seamstress. When we were young she made most of our clothing and she still makes the most beautiful smocked dresses for my nieces. Sadly I appear to missed out on that gene but at least I inherited her abilities in kitchen! Her cooking is combination of the joy of good food from her French heritage, with the frugality of her Scottish roots (think cabbage sauteed in bacon fat and maple syrup, yum); somehow she always managed to feed our abundantly family on a tight budget without resorting to gruel!

These skills and traits passed down mean so much more to me now as I dig further into our family history. Genealogy became my main outlet during the winter last year and although I set it aside during the growing season, I've been looking forward to having the time to bury myself in family history again. Last year I was caught up in the basic info- the names, dates and places became like a treasure hunt and each fact I was able to fill in was like solving another piece of the puzzle. But dates and places can only give you so much- they tell little of the people themselves. This year I'm making an effort to flesh out the people I discovered last year; the bare facts are my starting point of course but it's the little details like family stories and inherited traits that make me curious now. And one thing often leads to another- it was my mom's memory of hearing her mother speak of her Delorme cousins that lead me to discover that the woman believed to be my ggg grandmother was actually a stepmother- my gg grandmother Lizzie McVicar's birth mother Anna Lemay dit Delorme was actually the first wife who died when Lizzie was an infant. This was a huge surprise which my grandmother herself never knew. I think she would have been pleased to find out she had French Canadian heritage since her parents disapproved of her marriage to my grandfather, a French Canadian through and through.

I'm also looking into the history of the area they lived known as Argenteuil, Quebec. Many of the towns that evolved there are still much the same as they were when my ancestors settled there; the boundaries have changed or been renamed over time but the area my mom calls home is still fairly rural and off the beaten track thanks to it's somewhat isolated location in the Laurentian mountains. So what possessed my ancestors to leave their various home countries to settle there? Archibald McVicar, Lizzie's father, left Scotland and saw much of Canada as a furrier/tanner before settling in the area- perhaps his genes give me my need for constant change? The McCluskey side ( Lizzie's husband was John McCluskey) came from Ireland and set up farming "at the back of Chatham"-Were they farmers back in Ireland and is this where my love of digging in the dirt comes from?

John McCluskey and Lizzie McVicar

I know I will likely never find the answers to the many questions that come to mind as I discover more of my past but as I spend this winter searching for more facts and stories, I'll be grateful for the those that came before. For being smart enough and brave enough to come to an area that was little more than a wilderness when they started, and for digging in roots long enough to raise a few generations of family. And most of all, for passing on the skills to grow and preserve the bounty that Canada has to offer! I hope I do you proud.

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