September 05, 2005

Hazel Althia

This weekend being a long one, we decided to head to the valley and stay at my grandparents house. My grandparents happened to be away at their cottage in Martha's Vineyard which means that we had the rule of a century home, built on the cliffs of the Bay of Fundy.

How cool is that.

Margaretsville just so happens to be my most favoritest place to be. The air smells good, the breeze is always refreshing (except in the winter, then it kills, which makes for cozy indoors), and perhaps most importantly, the ice cream is cheap. My favorite part about visiting is the scenery... the way it feels to be in that place.

My own family history is rich in this area. It's where William and Mary Downie settled after crossing the Atlantic from Ireland at the turn of the 18th century, and where most Downie's have lived and died until the past 50 years. Many of my ancestors were carpenters and built a number of the homes that still exist in the village. The house where we were staying belongs to my maternal grandparents who aren't actually native to Margaretsville. Though they aren't part of this ancestry, the house was built by some great great great relative of mine. My Downie grandparents also live in a house built by great great relatives.

Generations of Downie's are buried in the Evergreen Baptist Cemetery. It hasn't received any new occupants in decades, and the oldest headstones go back to the early 19th century when Margaretsville was first settled. The spelling of our last name varies (Downey, Downing) as it wasn't until my Grandfather's typo during WWII that we became Downie (the story he told me was he didn't know it was spelled 'ey, not 'ie). The namesake's of myself and my siblings are all buried there. It's a little surreal to go and find your name on a headstone.

I visited with my grandparents Sunday afternoon (the one's who weren't in Martha's Vineyard, obviously). I was really dreading going, because visits are often extremely mind-numbing and I usually end up leaving with something I don't want but couldn't say no to.

I've discovered that as much as I love Margaretsville, I really don't like going there to visit. I always end up feeling guilty for not visiting someone enough, or for visiting someone else when I should be visiting my grandmother. For saying no, and of course, for not really wanting to be there to begin with. I don't think there's anyway I could ever make anyone happy there. No matter how long I visit, it's never enough. And not that good kind of "I can't wait for you to come back" visit, but the "You're leaving, that means you don't love me" vsit. The guilt starts as soon as I say that I have to get going. There's just no way around it.

And for someone who doesn't do guilt well, it isn't a good time.

The visit began with a meal, as per usual. I realized something new about Grammie... food to her isn't really a pleasure, it's just something you acquire and then have to get rid of.

"Keep eating! Have some more! It's just going to go to waste! Eat it up! Oh, well if you don't want to eat another cob of corn I guess I'll clean it up. Musn't let it go to waste! There's hardly any left! Keep eating! You must eat! Don't go away hungry!"

It's impossible to go away hungry. Even the most resolute child ends up eating more than they want. Very few people are able to say "No, thank-you" as many times as a dinner at Grammie's requires.

Food is not a joy. It is just a bunch of can't-have's and good-for-you-so-you-must-eat-even-if-you-hate's. And after every meal the cycle begins again. Food is a necessary evil.

We chatted a little about my moving to Alabama.

"That's where most of the coloured people live, isn't it?"
"Um... I guess so?"
"I imagine you'll be working with quite a number of them."

I don't think my grandmother is racist. But she does carry a lot of stereotypes about people from different backgrounds. My mother was evil for marrying her son for quite a long time. She is from Ontario, afterall.

This visit was pretty typical. I played the auto-harp for a little while. She loves it, even more than a guitar. I play it because it's funny. I think I may be inheriting it. When my attention waned I asked if I could look through the family Bible.

My great-grandmother was a pack-rat (a family trait, I believe). There were newspaper articles from Whitman, Mass., where she lived as a young woman before she was married. One article was dated 1932, the headline reading: "Lindbergh Baby Found Dead".

I also found some letters written to my great-grandmother, and I was amused to learn that one of my middle names, Marilla, was actually spelled Mirella. The census records show it has Marilla, but family used the other spelling, which I kind of like better.

This could very well be the last time I ever see my grandparents. My grandfather is turning 80 next June, and he has all kinds of health concerns. Who knows what kind of situation I'll be coming back to. But even though I dreaded the visit, I'm glad I went.

I'm sorry for such a long, boring post! But I've already decided that I feel guilty about enough things that I'm not going to include boring you as one of them. :)

Oh yeah... and the thing I ended up leaving with because I couldn't say no? A huge, old, brown suitcase. It has holes in it. And it's huge. Impossibly large. Grotesquely humungous. I haven't opened it yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if I find some poor little mouse that lost it's way.


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richmanwisco said...

I had a cyber friend from North Carolina that wanted to move to Nova Scotia, and I told her, the only thing you'll have in common is skin color. It's a whole different culture. She didn't want to believe me. She ultimately didn't go and that was probably the best thing.

richmanwisco said...

Jeez..I just noticed you have word verification and you still get blog spam.

Evelyn said...

I added the word verification after that comment...

And I agree, it is a very different culture here. But my grandmother also grew up on a mountain (well, a big hill, but we like to call it a mountain)... not too much positive interaction with outsiders, didn't have a tv, didn't listen to the radio much. Very sheltered.

Most people here aren't like that, are very welcoming, friendly, open. You'll only find backwoods attitudes if you go into the backwoods. And I think the stereotypical attitudes you find here are pretty representative of the attitudes people hold in general...

just my two cents

Callen Damornen said...

Interesting blog!

The Right Left

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