A Generation Gone

Today has been three years since my granny passed away. She was my last living grandparent. I wrote a column about her a year after she died.

I have been meaning to post more entries on this blog. I will make an effort going forward.

For now, here is the column, which was originally published in Wawatay News. It appeared in their June 15, 2015 edition (Vol. 42, No. 1).

A Generation Gone

There was an odd feeling when I arrived in Moosonee this spring for the goose hunt.

I felt like there was something I had to do, but I couldn’t sense what. Then I remembered, and sadness came over me.

Because for years after I moved down south to cities like Timmins or Thunder Bay, one of the my first instincts was to visit Granny.

To have her greet me by planting her mouth on my cheek and clucking her tongue several times, the way she always kissed her grandkids. No, I could not expect that on this visit. It’s coming up on a year now since she left for the spirit world. She gave that same kiss for as long as I can could remember, from when my parents would take my sisters and I to her apartment on a Saturday morning. She would greet us and we’d all sit around for a while. Like most families, our grandparents’ homes was a gathering place for extended family and so it was not uncommon for my uncles and cousins to be there as well. Noon would come and the adults would uncap their dabbers to play radio bingo, leaving us kids to our own devices to play in the building’s hallways or outside. Then the parents would corral us back into the apartment and we’d all sit and listen and laugh for a while until it was time to go home.

With that came another kiss. My mooshoom kissed us too though it was more of a peck. One time he was unshaven and his whiskers itched my cheek and I immediately scratched. Those who saw laughed, especially Granny. The next Saturday it was time to leave again. “Go say bye to mooshoom,” my mom said and it got quiet as I approached as everyone watched. Although it did not itch as much as the first time, I reached up to scratch again. Laughter. As usual, Granny laughed the loudest.

Granny would look after us at times and when she cooked, she cooked a lot. I was a scrawny child and so she’d try to get as much food as she could into me. “Meechisoo, meechisoo,” she’d say. “Eat, eat.” She was probably happy to see when I finally put on weight, even if not in the right places.

She’d become annoyed if the toast was too dark or the bacon was not cooked to my liking. “Ever fussy,” she’d say as she scraped the toast.

We moved away when I was 14 and from thereon I developed the routine to visit her once I got off the train or unpacked at my dad’s.

It’s an unfortunate and sad reality that it was only after Granny became my last grandparent that I realized she was my remaining link to my family’s past. My maternal mooshoom, Xavier, passed when I was very young. My kookoom, Sandra, passed when I was a teenager, and my mooshoom, Alfred, gave his last breath when I was 21.

While I have fond memories of each of them, I missed on the opportunity to ask them about their childhoods and what life was like for them living along James Bay before there were skidoos and boat motors, let alone running water and electricity. The stories and memories they must have had.

So with each visit, I ensured I spent time at Granny’s to ask her about her life. Over time I learned she had grown up in Fort Albany and moved to Moosonee as a teenager with her family because one of her sisters was very ill and needed to be cared for at the hospital. She told me the struggles of living through the Great Depression and a World War, and later meeting my mooshoom, one of the “Attawapiskat boys” who worked on the nearby railway. They had eight children together, my dad being the fourth.

She asked about my life, of course, and inquired about my sisters and little brother. I’d tell her about going to high school in Timmins, then college in Ottawa and again in Thunder Bay where I studied film before I returned to journalism.

During what would be my last visit with her, I told her about a recent trip to Los Angeles. She chuckled before saying, “World traveller.” I learned then that save for a trip to a U.S. border town, she had never left the province.

She passed seven weeks later.

I’ve learned that death is the most honest yet way of telling you time has passed. I’m 31 now. My siblings have their own kids. My parents are the mooshoom and kookoom now. I’m still trying to come to grips with the fact that I no longer have any living grandparents — that a generation of my family is no longer with us.

I hope we can live up to what they hoped for us. To instill that goodness and love toward a better future for the next generation as they did for their own kids and grandchildren.

We love and miss you Granny, as we always have. Going back to Moosonee will never be the same.

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Anne and Alfred Carpenter. Photo by Leica Carpenter.

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