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Devion's Views #230

TELL ME A STORY GRANDPA...'OUR' STORY (posted April 3, 2021)

American writer, humorist, entrepreneur, publisher, and lecturer, Samuel Langhome Clemens (1835-1910), better known by his pen name, Mark Twain, proffered, "Let us so live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry".

"Writing a memoir is like living your life, all over again" - Dame Julie Andrews, referring to her second memoir entitled "Home Work".

Anyone who has written one (or more) memoirs will agree it involves lots of time, effort and a great deal of discipline; especially with regard to decisions about what to leave out.

                                                                   Stories...'our' Family

During his retirement years, my maternal grandfather, Hubert T. MacDonald, wrote a book entitled "The Lords of the Isles - and their Descendants"; a short account of the MacDonald Clans in Scotland and their immigration to Canada and the United States.

The book was published in 1945, before the end of WWII.

My grandpa writes in the book's preface "The compiling of genealogical tables is as old as the human race itself, and of infinite value to succeeding generations; for bereft of genealogical data, it is literally impossible for any man to explain who he is."

"In the great migration of the MacDonald's from their homeland in Scotland to Prince Edward Island and Glengarry, Ontario, and also to the Carolina's in the U.S.A., about the year 1772, our part of that migration went to Prince Edward Island."

The reason the MacDonald's left their beloved homeland was "The only prize they strove after was FREEDOM, Freedom from the oppressor's iron heel; Freedom to serve their God in the way their conscience directed them; Freedom to work and provide for themselves and their dependents unshackled by the iniquitous landlord and tenant system, then obtaining in the Highlands and the Isles."

Sixty one years later (during my retirement years) I inadvertently followed in my grandfather's footsteps and wrote the first of two memoirs.

The notion of writing about my life began to take shape one summer afternoon on a trip to Toronto to visit our family.

Our (first) grandchild, Zoe Alexandra Taylor (then four and a half years old) was holding Grandpa's protective hand as we strolled on a sidewalk in the Beaches area.

Grandpa was happily fielding Zoe's questions, most of which started with "Grandpa, why does..............?"

The answer(s) always seemed to be followed by another...Why?

On this sunny afternoon Zoe was giving Grandpa's memory a workout he would not soon forget. 

Suddenly, out of the blue, she asked a show-stopper "Grandpa, where did I come from?"

A ready answer did not come and hoping my mumbling would suffice, the question was left hanging.

The question was much to complex to answer at that moment, given her father is adopted.

Consequently, the answer to Zoe's seemingly innocent, easy but profound question, could only come from our side of the family.

This led to eighteen months of research and writing before Grandpa came up with 'his' answer, in the form of a personal memoir entitled "from Stardust".

The book, self-published in December 2006, came to the following conclusion...the answer to Zoe's show-stopper question is, "everything in the universe comes from Stardust".

The arrival of another granddaughter (our third), Danielle Ashley Devion (on September 29, 2007) necessitated writing an update to the original memoir...because Danielle would never understand why she was not included in the first bit of family history, written by her Grandpa.

The sequel called "from Stardust, Book II" is dedicated to our three sweethearts; Zoe Alexandra Taylor, Caitlin Daniele Devion, Danielle Ashley Devion, and their descendants.

The second book was self-published in 2012, and reviewed by Barry Kiefl (president of Canadian Media Research) and Cleve Dheensaw (writer for the Victoria Time Colonist newspaper). 

                                          What follows is an excerpt from Book II - 'WHY I NEVER DRINK TEA'

My auntie, Marion MacDonald, lived in a large suite in the Royal Alexandra Hotel in North Winnipeg.

The Royal Alexandra was one of the grand railway hotels built across the West by the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Auntie Marion was unmarried, an accomplished educator and Principal of Elmwood School - the first woman in Manitoba to attain this position.

Once a month, my mother took my three sisters and me to visit Auntie Marion. 

Given the grandeur of her 'digs', we were obliged to dress in what was referred to as our 'Sunday best' - shirt, bow tie and itchy pants for me, and dresses for my sisters. It was considered 'all very proper'.

Auntie Marion always served tea on a silver tray with Carnation milk (yuk!) in exquisite fine China cups, along with an assortment of cookies imported from England.

Prior to our arrival, mother instructed us as follows: Behave, sit upright in a chair, hold the teacup with the small 'pinkie' slightly raised, and do not eat too many cookies.

Conversation was of little interest to children. This was the last place we wanted to be on a Sunday afternoon and our impatience to leave must have been palpable.

This obligatory ritual turned me against tea...for the rest of my life.

Fast forward several decades to the 1980's. Auntie Marion is living in retirement in Vancouver. Young nephew Ronnie is CBC's Director of Television for the province of British Columbia.  

Regular monthly visits with Auntie Marion included fine China cups full of tea, laced with Carnation milk (double yuk!), and of course, imported cookies from England, all served on a familiar silver tray.

The public broadcaster's, 'big TV Kahuna', dutifully drank the tea, without complaint; remembering always to sit upright with 'pinkie' slightly raised, while making sure not to eat too many cookies. 

Young nephew Ronnie relished the 'talks' with his favourite aunt who was a reliable source of wise advice and counsel.

In a letter dated June 27, 1973, Auntie Marion, first daughter of grandmother Margaret and grandfather Hubert MacDonald, wrote of her summer-long holiday, taken years prior, visiting the east coast and the memories triggered by her return to Prince Edward Island.

"I set off one day by bus to visit Souris, where I had been a boarder at a convent there. The Parish Priest, when I was a student was your Grandfather's uncle, Father Ronald MacDonald who was known as the silver-tongued orator of the Island - a real giant - big brown eyes, silver hair and size 13 shoes.

I attended Prince of Wales College, Charlettown and your uncle Dan and your Grandfather were students at St. Dunstan's, a catholic boys college at the time, but currently a university.

Another bus tour took me to Summerside via Kensington - a small town nearest to Clermont where the first four of our family were born. I caught a glimpse of the little farm home where your grandparents settled after their marriage in Boston.

About three miles from Summerside we came to Reads Corner where the family home was reached after passing along a lovely avenue of birch trees. Earl, Leo, Ronald and Bernard were born at this home.

About a mile from Summerside was our last "Island" home where your Mother and Edward were born. The family doctor pronounced her "a perfect baby" (I think she is still perfect.)

Your Grandfather was ahead of his time in many ways, regarding new ideas in farming - crops and domestic animals. He had prize winning Ayrshire cows and always - beautiful horses. He improved each farm he had and moved on to his next purchase. 

But P.E.I. offers no opportunities for a large family - Hence, we have relatives all over the U.S. and western Canada to which we finally came and started farming in the Brandon area where we had a cousin in the real estate business.

In Summerside I was especially interested in seeing the Convent where Josephine, Sister Geraldine and I attended public school.

Your Uncle Dan used to have a sailboat on the bay there and in winter he skimmed over the frozen Wilmot River (at the foot of our farm) in an iceboat, which he and his friends had built.

On leaving Summerside the bus returned to Reads Corner and turning right, proceeded to Charlottown, via North Bedeque and Central Bedeque, thus completing a circle tour.

At the former place, North Bedeque, is where your Grandfather's old home was - a lovely place fronting on the water. Seeing all the old places and remembering former times was a very traumatic experience".

Auntie Marion's words provide invaluable information about the MacDonald family's time living in Canada's smallest province.

Everybody has a story to tell. Sadly, there are too many that are left untold, unrecorded and lost to future generations.

                                                     Three favourite quotes about life

1) "Not how long, but how well you have lived is the main thing" - Seneca 

2) "You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough" - Mae West

3) "Sing like no one's listening,

     Love like you've never been hurt,

     Dance like nobody's watching, and

     Live like it's heaven on earth" - Anonymous

                                                                  And finally...

Dear Easter Bunny,

This year could you please fill my eggs with health and happiness and vaccines and deliver them to everyone I love.

Thank you.

Ron Devion, No Guts, No Glory