Recently we spent a few days in our nation’s capital, Ottawa, Ontario, where we gathered to celebrate the life of my husbands oldest brother who left us suddenly and much too soon.
Air travel can sometimes leave me frazzled and cranky as I deal with navigating through unfamiliar airports, crowds of people (not all of whom share the same sense of what constitutes good manners), the ordeal of passing through security screening, flight delays, turbulence, not enough leg room, and other various indignities. We were fortunate on this trip to enjoy a relatively uneventful travel experience; other than a minor delay with the return flight everything went according to plan.
I always find myself inspired when I travel and have the opportunity to sit back, watch people, and imagine their stories. People are fascinating; diverse, entertaining, humorous, and yes, sometimes irritating. Still, as my life intersects ever-so-briefly with people who, in all likelihood, I will never see again I can’t help but consider what their life story is at that particular moment. Why is that man running down the concourse? What is that woman who is staring blankly into space and tossing M&M’s into her mouth thinking about? Who is meeting the young mother with the sleeping baby on her shoulder and the energetic toddler at her destination?
Another thing I like about air travel–especially trips with long flights as this one was–is the opportunity for uninterrupted reading time. No inflight movies for me. As soon as the flight attendant announces that we can use our electronic devices, I’m happy to open up my Kindle and lose myself. I was fortunate on this trip to have just started reading Carol Bodensteiner’s Go Away Home, a work of historical fiction about the coming of age of a young woman in the World War I era that is loosely based on the life of the author’s grandparents. (See my review of Carol’s book over at Story Circle Book Reviews.)
After I finished the book on the last leg of our flight home I closed the cover of my Kindle and sat back to digest what I had just read. I basked in the afterglow of a story well told, of a novel I had been able to immerse myself in, of a yarn whose ending was bittersweet both in the story itself as in my sorrow that it was over.
I couldn’t help think of the historical fiction work I began a few years ago about the life of my own grandmother–a woman who raised three children on her own on the hot and dusty Saskatchewan prairie through the years of the Great Depression. I set that work on the back burner in favour of the contemporary work I’ve been focusing on more recently but my grandma’s story continues to call to me. The call seemed even louder having just read Bodensteiner’s novel and with the memories still fresh in my mind of just-toured museums in Ottawa where the past was brought to life.
Since we got home I’ve been immersed in reading about the history of the small town where Grandma raised her family and the stories of those who once lived there, taking notes, and imagining life on the Saskatchewan prairie during those hot, dusty, difficult years. Life was hard, to be sure, especially for a woman left to raise a young family without the support of her husband, but I’ve been struck by the accounts of fun, laughter, and good times told by those who lived through those years. These people did not find happiness in wealth, comfort, or abundance–that’s a good thing because there was none of that to be found. Instead, they appreciated simple and priceless things like family, community, faith, and the kind of fun to be had that didn’t cost a cent. I believe we can learn much from these stories from yesteryear.
I leave you today with a photograph of me taken on our Ottawa trip on Parliament Hill next to a statue commemorating the proclamation of women as “persons” under Canadian law on October 18, 1929–a proclamation that came four days after the birth of my mom, my grandma’s second child, and less than three years before the sudden death of my grandfather. I can’t help but wonder what my grandma thought about the changing landscape for women, or if it really affected the young prairie farm wife much at all, busy as she was tending to her growing family and simply trying to survive.
I think it’s time to dust off my notes, timelines, photographs, early chapters and continue the work of telling her story.