It was Family Day in Ontario earlier this week, and I was looking at some family photos. This one reminded me something I wrote here in 2016, but at that time I didn’t have this picture, taken in 1896, to go with it. I thought it might be nice to go with a repeat today with the photo added..
Families frequently have secrets. Sometimes not even deliberate ones. Once upon a time of my mother’s “secrets” scared me. Or should that be scarred me?
In the summer of 1967 my family lived in Montreal. It was Canada’s centennial year and the centrepiece of the celebrations was Expo ’67, the World’s Fair being held on islands in the St. Lawrence River adjacent to the city. As anyone who lived in Montreal then can tell you, there was a constant stream of house guests from across the country as people were coming to see Expo.
Every week it seemed we had visitors. Given the millions of tourists, there was a shortage of hotel rooms in the city. Anyway, back then people tended to stay with friends and relatives if at all possible; guests were never an imposition.
I don’t remember too much about who came to visit. At that age I really didn’t care who the house guests were – I wasn’t going to interact with them all that much. My older cousin Bob came with his girlfriend, who would later become his wife, then his ex-wife. The only other visitor I remember was my mother’s Uncle Ed.
I had never met Uncle Ed before that summer. I had heard his name, but had never given much thought to who he was. The intricacies of family relationships weren’t on my priority list. I knew he was my mother’s uncle. If pressed I suppose I might have identified him as her paternal uncle, but I couldn’t tell you anything more about him. He wasn’t my uncle after all, and I was just a kid.
I suppose I understood that Uncle Ed was my grandfather’s brother, but that didn’t mean much to me. I don’t remember where Ed lived, but somehow I’d gone my entire life without meeting him. My grandfather I had known well – I used to see him at church every week. But he and my grandmother had moved to Toronto in (I think) 1964 and he had died in 1966. I was considered too young to attend the funeral.
Uncle Ed arrived at our house late on a weekday afternoon. I know it was later in the afternoon because I was already home from school. It was a sunny late Spring day and when the doorbell rang I went to answer. When I opened the door I freaked out and ran for my mother (I’m not too proud to admit it).
I don’t remember my exact words, but I do remember telling her my grandfather’s ghost was at the door, or something like that. I didn’t believe in ghosts then, and still don’t (and won’t go into a theological explanation here). But that was the only word I can use to explain what I saw on the doorstep. I was convinced it was my grandfather back from the grave.
My mother laughed at me. I don’t think she understood how upset I was. So much for mothers always comforting their children.
No-one ever told me my grandfather’s brother was his twin. And that even in their seventies they still looked identical. No-one had ever thought to mention that to me.
I knew it couldn’t have been a ghost. But my eyes told me differently.
Looking at the picture, even when they were young you could distinguish between them. But when they weren’t together I’m sure it was easy to fool people. Or in my case frighten them.