Thursday, June 23, 2005

the name is the bullet

– among a heap of papers the confused letters
of 49 yrs these bits and pie-eyed pieces of that
lovely summer afternoon in Glengarry County...
before any one of us thot “I’m not young anymore
etcetera.” Bob's Pieces echo thru these leavings –

Roy Kiyooka, Transcanada Letters, “letter to Angela Bowering, winter ‘74”

Now that I have a grounding sense of where I am, at least a beginning, I’ve been leaning into the past, searching and researching a genealogical work on not just our strain of Glengarry / Stormont McLennans, but all the McLennan / MacLennan threads throughout the two counties. Eventually, having to touch on the whole history of the two, early Canadian settlement, United Empire Loyalists, and Scottish reasons for leaving.

What I’ve learned, arriving at Lancaster, Ontario between 1820 and 1845 and on the land we now occupy, as my great-grandfather’s uncle received a grant for two hundred acres from the Crown. What called, the Indian Lands, by MacDonald’s Grove; soon after he and his five siblings arriving on this side of the ocean with their parents. In 1860, he purchased the two hundred acres next door form the original grant holder, where he moved and remained, selling the first piece of land. When he died, his will gave it to my great-grandfather to continue, as he had no children of his own.

It would be eighty more years before we made the leap back, my grandfather and new family, when my father but a year old. Things my family never knew of, or had long forgot.

Imagine: one hundred and forty years, and the furthest my family would get, moving next door and then back.

There was a strain that moved west, and never returned, unaware that there was anyone left in the east, unaware that the name along the way was changed. John, the carpenter: the first of us Canada-born, and my great-grandfather's oldest brother. A whole family of MacLennans living in Regina, where John moved with second wife and children, away from five siblings and parents to homestead, in 1904.

In the years that followed, incorporating Earl Grey, Saskatchewan in 1907, probable letters home, and then, his son burying parents as MacLennan. Both died on the land that they lived.

The differences are slim. The difference enough, making them impossible to track for years, until I went to the Municipal Hall in Earl Grey, and saw there, what was written. Death notices. A single vowel added.

As they say, what’s in a name. The one I was born with not my own, Duncan Warren Andrew, last initial A. My lone parent single, and but two decades older than I. The generation of McLennans I know of, five, and all with a son named John, stopped cold with my father.

Canadian poet P.K. Page, painting under her married name for decades, P.K. Irwin; with paintings in the National Gallery. The Ottawa writer Clare married once as van Berkom, and now as McDonnell, but publishes as Latremouille. From her father. What once we translated badly, to “the very moist.”

How everyone in the 1960s seemingly wrote under a pseudonym, from David W. McFadden to George Bowering, Barry McKinnon to Victor Coleman. Toronto poet bpNichol, according to jwcurry, was the only one of that group who didn’t. As he explained once, if he couldn’t put his name to the work, he didn’t want to publish it.

What’s in a name. Stuart Ross and his poetry collection, Razovsky at Peace. The name his grandfather was born with, before shortened to the current suffix, Ross.

In my area, the calm importance placed on the name, and the history of the name. The annual Glengarry Highland Games, as even questionable links to the area suddenly glow, and are built up from nowhere. The century farms that appeared in the 1980s, between one and two, of the same family working the land. Reminders of a Bethune who once worked in the area, or Peter Gzowski a teen, working roadcrew to put Main Street in Alexandria.

Or the story I knew nothing of until too late, the story of the massacre at Glencoe. I found out quick enough, when a McDonald friend turned on me in an Ottawa bar, lunged with a wooden spoon when she learned my paternal grandmother’s maiden name. Bloody lowlander, she hissed, you killed us in our beds.

So much of the blame I put on King James II, damn fool. The Glencoe Massacre, and the Orangemen parade.

Only three hundred years back on the other continent, and what things are not forgotten. In Glengarry County, Ontario, as Kim Campbell ran for Prime Minister, the signs that read “Remember Glencoe.” No dogs or Campbells allowed.

What I saw around as I grew, the importance of history, and the importance of name. For the longest time, presuming my past was filled with neither.

Part of my decision for lower case, to diminish the importance of name, and the author; how the most important part of the equation seemed the work. The effect was quite opposite, questioned on that more than anything, and what once a simple request completely ignored by some magazines, local papers, and journalism students claiming there is but one way.

When I visit home now, my sense of it is different; an understanding and appreciation of context, and filled with reading. The slow movement of French and Scot migration from the late 1700s on, and the last county in Ontario to get phone service; where Scots Gaelic still a strong second language (once first) not two generations before me.

No longer simply the area historically wrote by Ralph Connor or Dorothy Dumbrille; what Toronto writer Margaret Christakos referred to, titling her first poetry collection Not Egypt, and the boy she loved outside Alexandria. The greyhound bus from Cornwall to Montreal.

What artist Roy Kiyooka wrote of in his Transcanada Letters, or poet Don McKay, raised in Cornwall, and his family still, a cabin in Williamstown, without even a phone. Where he and his partner, Jan Zwicky, go to write, for part of the year. And birdwatch.

So much to be proud of. At one point, Glengarry county, the highest rate of teenage alcoholism in Ontario, and mental retardation in Canada. Teenage pregnancy up there too. Tell me there was no correlation.

Every year, someone would die in something car-related, road or rail, or some rare farm mishap. And usually, the wreck front photograph in the local weekly; once, with the sight of the passenger still in the front seat, head to one side. That we knew her name, before we read it.

For us when we were, teens, there was little to do but drink. And lucky for us, we were happy with a case of beer; cared little for anything stronger, or of chemical ports. Alexandria a main point between Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, and direct route to Cornwall, and the International Bridge.

To consider, less important what you are called, then who you are. Less important, sometimes, what you have left behind, then how you have lived.

It was once considered, to know your secret name, was to have power over you.

Now I look for my mother the way you’re supposed to, through patience and with little result. A waiting list through the province, Adoption Disclosure Services, to let her know I’m fine.

Without the benefit of mother’s allowance in 1970, after ten months of work, and school by herself, and me in foster care, she had to let go.

All I can presume, from what little I know.

When I find her, will I know what to call her.


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