I spent the past weekend in Calgary with my little brother and sister-in-law. We decided to spend a few days down visiting my aunt and uncle — themselves visiting from Montreal and staying with my parents, a very rare thing. My aunt and uncle tend to keep to Lower Canada, seeing Alberta (sometimes rightly) as a little too redneck for their tastes (my interpretation, not their own admission). To put it into context, the last time my uncle visited Alberta — at his other sister’s 50th wedding anniversary — his nephews got into a fist-fight. With each other. High-larious, but doesn’t really make you want to come back for more. I so often look on my extended family with incredulity and bemusement, though I do love them all dearly — foibles, faults and all (because, hey, I’m certainly not bereft of those things my own self).
And I know my parents have conducted themselves both wonderfully and questionably throughout their lives. That’s human nature. But my mother and her twin brother were always up to no good, particularly when they were children; particularly when they were new immigrants (moved here from France when they were just kids); particularly when they were living and working on my grandparents’ farm in southern Alberta.
Mum and René were, more often than not, up to no good. By their own admission, they reveled in scaring the living shit out of their nieces and nephews playing late-night hide-and-seek — my Mum’s eldest sister, herself a mother of ten, is about 15 years older than mum, which means Mum was an aunt at a very young age.
But Mum and René took particular pleasure in tormenting a Frenchman named Georges, who came to Canada one summer looking to work as a farm hand. The Canadian government hooked Georges up with my grandpa, himself a recent immigrant who spoke both official languages (Truly, I think he understood some English, and relied on his children to help him with the rest). I think the government figured on this being a simpler transition for Georges than sticking him with a bunch of English farmers, language barrier and all. What they didn’t figure on was a pair of mischievous French kids.
I’m a first-generation Canadian. Both of my parents are European immigrants who jumped on boats in the 1950s with their families (my father’s family with five children, my mother’s with ten!) and made their ways here to start new lives. My dad led a distinctly urban life, even when he lived in Holland. My mother was raised on a farm both in France and in Canada, though you wouldn’t know it now for her love of all things urban. I take a great deal of pride in my origins (and having spoken French my whole life, identify with that particular part of my heritage), and seeing my mother and her “beau frère” recount their childhood memories last weekend was nothing short of beautiful and inspirational.
Over the next few posts, I’m going to share with you some of Mum and René’s stories, providing context about their upbringing as it relates to their present dispositions. I recognize fully that my parents, my wonderful aunts and uncles, will not be around forever — another sad fact of human nature. I’ve always told myself I’d write a book about my family, since so many of my aunts, uncles, and cousins have such a diversity of experience and I tend to manage to drill down to the interesting bits of their life-stories. I hope you’ll join me over the next little while, as I discuss the poor Frenchman Georges, who didn’t stand a chance in my Home and Native Land.