Tuesday, 29 January 2013

A Thistle in the Mist...My Inspiration

Something happened to me when I was eight years old.  I couldn't have known how profoundly it would affect me until twenty-six years later when I sat down before my computer and slowly began to type.

When I was three years old, Mom became the secretary at the local school and my great-grandmother, Janet Ross, cared for me while Mom worked. Her Scots burr fascinated me. I can hear it today as clearly as though I was still that little girl cuddled up on her lap, listening to tales of her homeland.

Grandma sailed to Canada from Scotland when she was sixteen. At that age she had endured more loss and  heartbreak than I could ever imagine. As a wee lass, she lost her mother to childbirth, and her father, heartbroken and with no means to care for his family, placed his three daughter in an orphanage, leaving behind a promise to return.

Sadness and desolation took hold of the three sisters. When their father finally returned for them, their joy was beyond compare. That joy, however, was short-lived. Their  father had remarried while his girls waited for him. Their new stepmother had two daughter of her own and nothing to give the sisters but anger and resentment.

While their father worked, Grandma and her sisters grew to expect the beatings and disparaging comments their stepmother flung at them. Her older sister soon found work and left home. Grandma and her younger sister were left to the mercy of their father's new wife. Grandma was a feisty lass and to escape the desolation, she snuck away to meet her young lad. Soon she realized she carried his child and so, at a loss, she went to her father. There was no doubt this man loved his daughters but he was weak and allowed his wife to dictate. When Grandma's son was born, the baby was taken from her and given to a relative. Heartbroken, Grandma was sent away to work as a servant for a wealthy family.

With Grandma out of the way, the stepmother turned her hostility on the remaining sister. Grandma had loved and protected her youngest sister. Without Grandma, the young girl quickly lost hope. When her sister showed up at my grandmother's place of employment, pleading for Grandma to take her in, my grandmother had little choice but to console her and send her home. To do otherwise would have meant the loss of her job.

But her sister did not go home. Instead she found her way to the ocean and as the waves closed over her head, her desperation and sadness floated away.

Grandma was inconsolable in her grief and guilt took her heart. Running away from her sadness, she answered an ad for an indentured servant position in Ontario, Canada. Crossing the Atlantic with nothing more than a trunk filled with memories of Scotland, my sixteen-year-old great grandmother made her way to Canada. She married my Great-Grandad Ross and had three daughters of her own.

Grandma lived a long and happy life and was loved by all who were lucky enough to know her. But somewhere inside, Grandma never let go of her guilt.

I remember the last time I visited Grandma at her apartment, before she broke her hip and went to the nursing home. I remember the smell of her cigarettes, her worn face and her twinkling eyes.

Something happened to me when I was eight years old and I couldn't have known how profoundly it would affect me until later. Grandma lay in her bed, my small hand cupped in hers. With tears in her eyes, she told me how sorry she was that she left me behind, that she didn't stay to protect me. I stared into Grandma Ross's eyes, searched for my grandmother. But the eyes that stared back at me were distant and made me feel scared. I turned to my mother in confusion and she quietly told me that Grandma thought I was her little sister...the little sister who had taken her own life.

I will never forget how I felt at that moment. Over the years, as bits and pieces of Grandma's life found their way to me - the injustice, her heartache, her loss, her courage and strength of spirit - a vision grew in my mind.

I held onto those bits and pieces and wove them together to create Meara and her story...A Thistle in the Mist.

Thank you for being my inspiration, Grandma Ross. Love you. 

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