12 February 2008

Who's For Dinner?

A number of genealogy bloggers are egging each other on with creative ideas. “Carnival of Genealogy” is like that, at One edition I enjoyed was: which four ancestors would you like to have dinner with and why? (4 February 2008) Naturally, my ideas began to perk ... along with a dinner menu, which I used to enjoy planning before I had a 24/7 career in genealogy. Never mind four ancestors, two of my choices would be ggg-grandfather Donald McFadyen the pensioned soldier, and great-uncle Alexander Jurikas the Orthodox priest. They will be appearing here later.

Not to invite under any circumstances is great-grandmother Isabella Campbell McFadyen (1845-1924). By all accounts she was an impossible visitor in her later life, descending on adult children without notice, making demands that exceeded all bounds of civilized hospitality, having the rude manners of an untutored dictator, and throwing each household into mass disarray. Bella would stay for months at a time. I was told her fractured English was usually indecipherable, and she increased her decibel level in direct proportion to the dumbfounded looks on nearby faces. Someone chose an ambiguous epitaph for her: She Hath Done What She Could.

If I really try to put myself in her shoes, as good genealogists attempt to do, it’s not easy. We have to think multicultural shock here. Bella grew up in a Gaelic-speaking household. I’ve read numerous books about the transplanted highlanders in Cape Breton, even some written in the vernacular. Growing up in a crowded household where a pack of kids had to work all the time at domestic responsibilities, heavy farming requirements, or often working at out-sourced jobs for extra family income, when schooling was minimal and English was rarely required ... is a big stretch.

Nevertheless, I understand they managed to have excellent parties, ceilidhs, with great music to offset their otherwise sober lives. No problem relating to that, a tradition that survives exceedingly well in Cape Breton. Having ancestor Bella to dinner would be a trainwreck, balancing the agonizing communication difficulties with potential rewards on the hope that she knew anything of her ancestors. My 21st century is battling with the 19th.

Now take my late Aunty B (1906-1979). Not really take her, she’s not for giving away! There’s a woman to have dinner with. As a house guest, she would never bemoan or turn up her nose at a plate of pad thai and schezuan cucumbers. Unlike Bella, Aunty B was totally familiar with knife and fork usage at the dinner table and was in all ways cool. She didn’t even have to say it: she’d been there, done that, probably hid the T-shirt in her underwear drawer, and wasn’t going to tell a soul about it. Aunty B knew plenty of family gossip I’d like to cross-examine her on now. No-one remembers now why she got called Aunty B. Her official name was Isabelle (family habits die hard) but that’s the only similarity to Bella.

That’s for you, Heather.

1 comment:

Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

LOL It's wonderful that you can try to put yourself in Bella's shoes and write so honestly about her. Aunt B offer a nice balance. I think we all have these same characters in our trees.