Split

Two things are happening simultaneously. A propellor whirls. My being is moving in two directions. My body is twinned in two places at once. The present tense and my long ago past collide every morning.

I’m trying to write something representative of my trip with friends to Oaxaca City and Mexico City. I begin. I finish a piece. It doesn’t suffice. It links to a photograph other research I’ve not yet done. I start again.

Roma Norte, Mexico City, February 2020

I fell madly in love with Mexico – not the place of beaches and hoards of foreigners I visited before but the urban spaces and countryside inland where I felt both estranged and entranced.

That is my passion.

But give me too much is my motto. And another passion takes hold. On my arrival home, I received in the mail a copy of the 1994 Manitoba death certificate of my great grandmother Sarah Davis, a woman I didn’t know much about until fairly recently. When my mother told me she had Alzheimer’s, I told her I would try to find her history. My great grandmother died seven months after my grandmother was born. She was thirty years of age. So was my great grandfather who skipped town and disappeared. All four young children were “farmed out” to neighbours and others – the eldest was eight. The parents and two young children had arrived in Quebec on board an English ship five years before. One child died on board ship, possibly of cholera.

James Baker Pyne, “Windsor Castle from Clewer Hill” 1838 (Elton College Collections)

Over the past two years, I discovered my great grandfather’s identity and tracked his sad life though I’ve not discovered where he died. I’ve even connected with his descendants in England and Canada. But not until I read the death certificate did I come to know where my great grandmother was born. Now I don’t have to continue sleuthing through the lives of about fifty Sarah Davis’s born in 1864 and 1865 in England and Wales. I only have two women’s lives to explore. An elusive enough but welcome task.

This documentary discovery about my great grandmother excited me. I didn’t expect the wholesale glee I experienced. What is this macabre obsession that has to do with the dead? My long dead grandmother is the clue. I loved her so and recall her no-nonsense sad stories. Today I imagine what it would be like to talk with her about her mother. While this happens only in my head, on the phone I talk with my mother about Sarah Davis, a name and a woman she never knew. Though my mother is in decline, she too is excited about my discoveries and the story line is important to her.

“You are good at this, Jan,” she says.
”Yes, those dozens of Nancy Drew mysteries I read as a girl inspire me.”

My investigative zeal is uplifting. In fact, the tragedy of Sarah Davis helps explain the way my mother was mothered and the way my mother mothered me. Unravelling a puzzle, I am eager to press on.

I don’t want the mystery to stop. So writing is a stop and start effort. I start to chart the false starts and free runs into my genealogy for an hour or so. And then I take up another subject – like flipping through mental and digital photographs of my travels and encountering the magnificent pleasure and the heartache that is Mexico today.

I think about the way stories of outrageous misogynist violence in Mexico are met with widespread protests across the country. These are orchestrated by women though others participate. I want to know more about this and the upcoming strike that will galvanize a population. I am in awe of this collective engagement.

Photo by Sonya Greckol, Guanajuato, Feb 18, 2020.

And I sit on my hands here in Alberta where a truly evil government destroys the province. They spin around attacking in all directions. A spray of bullets aimed at all of us. Threatening the lives of Albertans by driving away doctors and nurses and decimating health care. Killing the hopes and dreams of the young by cutting services, damaging schools and universities. Milking a myth of petrodollars, they refuse to prepare the young for this 21st century. A disastrous state of affairs.

Meanwhile, the rate of violence against women in my city is among the highest in Canada. And all across Canada blockades and protest sound their support for Indigenous people protecting their unceded Wet’suwet’en land. While elsewhere some Canadians call for “law and order.”

Jennifer Ditchburn makes short work of this cry: “For more than 150 years, Indigenous governance structures and legal systems have been dismantled, local knowledge and language deliberately decimated, treaties violated, and Indigenous land settled without a legal leg to stand on. Still, even with all the bad laws, bad faith, and shrugging off the rule of law, we can’t seem to muster as a country a heartbeat of empathy or patience or self awareness.”

“We also ignore that the courts have acknowledged repeatedly that Indigenous laws and rights are part of the rule of law in Canada. “Indigenous legal traditions are among Canada’s legal traditions. They form part of the law of the land,” Federal Court Justice Sébastien Grammond wrote in a 2018 decision.”

A poster at the 12th annual Memorial March of Edmonton for Missing and Murdered Women taken on Feb. 14, 2017 at Sacred Heart Church. 

I feel paralyzed. I avert my eyes, divert my attention. And so I return to the Mexico I loved. Or the great grandmother I never knew. The stories sound through my head with such pleasure and enticement.

A friend calls to invite me for an afternoon walk in the river valley. Sun blinding bright: it warms snow on the roof into rain. Just imagine Mill Creek, no one in sight, the poodle circling your heels, we are deep in conversation. She shares the political opinion piece she wrote that advocates for taking into account not only climate change but the lived beings and landscapes potentially harmed by new mining projects threatening northern Alberta.

You listen, and inspired, you spot a whining Jason Kenney up a tree. Yipping coyotes circle. The ravine echoes their cries.

Keep the Vitamin D flowing!

My suitcase remains unpacked.

Entangled, I write.

Split

4 thoughts on “Split”

  1. You’ve hit the nail on the head with why it matters – that it’s somehow passed down in the mothering. I saw a Who do you think you are?’ Program about Boy George recently. He discovered that his g-grandmother had been put into nun care at age six as a way of stealing her from her poor Dublin family. The sadness of that had come through to his grandmother who’d been very tough and hidden.
    I knew my g-g was Jewish and converted to Catholicism but in recent years we also discovered she’d had other earlier children with a man who died – they were taken into care, she met and married my great grandfather, had four more children and never mentioned her previous ones to anyone. My grandmother was very ‘hidden’ and concerned with respectability and very hard on her daughter, my mother. I begin to see why.

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    1. Yes, so much pain in the cover up for the children and the mothers…. thanks for your response. These are insights learned late in life that explain a good deal.

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  2. Hi Janice,

    I absolutely agree with your thoughts! Only you express them so much better. Your rant on Jason Kenny was spot on.

    Glad that your time in Mexico was so exhilarating. Iv’e only done the tourist resorts but you have delved deeper into the lives of real people.

    We leave for Australia in 4 days. I expect to find a very changed country.

    We will get together after April 7.

    Hugs, Lyndal

    >

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    1. Yes… thank you for your kind words, Lyndal. Enjoy your return visit to Australia and I look forward to our get together on your return. Xox Janice

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