I’m a first generation Canadian on my mum’s side. Mum was born in Scotland, and she, her parents, her aunt and uncle, and her grandmother came to Canada in 1957. These were the relatives I grew up with, the people I consider my closest family, the ones we spent Christmases with and whose homes were always my favourite places to visit. Most of them are gone now. Of the original immigrant family, only my mum and her aunt are still with us, along with mum’s cousins, born in Canada.
My great grandmother, the inimitable “More Grannies”, so dubbed by my sister and me, was born on December 23, 1887. She died just 19 days shy of her hundredth birthday in 1987, when I was a teenager. Every year when I was a kid, her daughter, my lovely great aunt Lily, with whom she lived, hosted a birthday party for her. The guests were always the same: friends, family, and neighbours, many of them Scottish or English immigrants, too. I’m reminded of those parties every time I hear “The Old Sod” by Spirit of the West. There’s a line in there that puts me back in that red-tiled basement party room every time: “There’s a bar in the rec room in the basement of our house…”
I loved those parties. They were always happy times, with singing and dancing and a spare room nearby lined with tables laden with treats, and I remember them through the eyes of a kid who loved people watching, loved listening to the grown-up conversations and watching the adults get goofy. The room did, indeed, have a bar in the corner. I played junior bartender many times, long before I was old enough to have tasted any of it (and I wouldn’t have dared!).
Lily and Pat’s friends who came to those parties are faces I saw all through my childhood, some just there and some at other times through the year. I was too young for them to be my friends, too, but they were there, a part of the tapestry of my life, and I had a great affection for some of them. Two of them have died this year, one just last night, and I’m saddened by their loss.
Florence was a tall, deep-voiced woman who was always invited to sing at any party, and always obliged. She died earlier this year.
Last night, we lost Anne, whom I’ve known my whole life. She was in her mid-eighties and was very ill, so her death wasn’t unexpected, but it made me sad, anyway. Up in my daughter’s room, there’s a tattered, disintegrating old baby blanket, THE blanket, the one she wouldn’t sleep without for years, preserved from further destruction by being zipped into a mesh laundry bag, so she can still see it. That blanket was a baby gift from Anne.
The days of those basement parties are long past, but I remember them. I wish sometimes we could flash back in time so my daughter could share some of those experiences. But I’ll tell her the stories until she rolls her eyes because I’m repeating myself AGAIN. That’s my job as a mother, right? 🙂