Wednesday, October 6, 2010

For My Daughters~Our Matrilineal Line

I decided to do a photographic history of the matrilineal line in our family. We are a long line of strong and feisty women, all with very definite ideas and opinions, all with wicked cackles and off-the-wall senses of humor, all with stoicism and endurance that likely came from this woman here. This is Julia Fitzsimmons, "Grandma Julie", my grandmother's mother. She came from County Cork in Ireland. My  Grandma was very proud of her Irish heritage. This woman's face shows the hardship she lived through, likely harsh times and poverty in Ireland, then living roughly in the bush on arrival in Canada, raising her children with all of the hard physical work life entailed in those times. Cooking on a woodstove, chopping wood, hauling water from the creek, heating it on the stove - imagine what doing the laundry and simply having a bath meant in terms of work and effort, in those times. Raising several children, tending the farm........physical labor from dawn till dusk, and then some...........baking her own bread, cooking for farm hands, sewing clothes for everyone, growing a garden and canning the produce, raising cows, chickens, horses. No end of hard work.

At the time of this photograph, her husband had died, and she lived a few months of the year with each of her children, traveling to each home in turn, living on her tiny pension, without many possessions, her few dresses folded in a small suitcase. My grandmother said so many times how much she had loved having her mother with them, and that my grandfather loved her mother as well. My sister still has one of Grandma Julie's dresses, a threadbare flowered cotton print dress.

My Grandma told me stories about when she was a girl, living on a small farm near the spot where her father worked. My Grandma was born in Montana,  while her father helped lay the tracks for what would become the first cross country railroad in North America.
Grandma remembered seeing the ruts in the ground made by the covered wagons that had made that journey first. 

By the time Grandma was a girl, growing into her young womanhood, they lived on a small farm in the Canadian Prairies - in Esterhazy.

This is Florence Fitzsimmons, my grandmother, at around the age of thirteen. She was the youngest in her family and her older sister Dolly used to grumble that my grandma was spoiled because she didn't have to work as hard as the older kids had. Florence also had a sister called Rose. The two sisters had a falling out  early in their married lives, and didn't speak to each other for the remainder of their lives. My grandma's brother Frank I believe took over the family farm. Grandma used to visit it during her married life.

In Esterhazy, Florence met and three years later married Wilfred Lloyd Marr, the bank manager. They had their first home in Esterhazy, later moved to Brandon, Manitoba , and then to Saskatoon. Finally, in the 1940's, they moved to Kelowna, where they lived for the rest of their lives.

This is the only photo I have seen of my grandmother holding my mother as an infant. My mother was named Irene Julia, in honor of her Grandma Julie, and was called Renee all her life. She was a beauty, with the family sense of humor and strength, the grit needed for getting through hard times.

Renee and Grandma Julie had a special bond. They called each other "Julie" affectionately, recognizing their sharing of the same name. In this photo, my mom looks so much like  my daughter Lisa, who definitely inherited the beauty gene from her. Mom was around sixteen in this photo, had already met my father, and soon would leave home to be with him. 

I love this photo of my grandma, one of the few photos where she is herself, a young woman, not someone's mother or grandma. I like the pretty dress, the effort to look dressed up and faintly provocative. Grandma discounted how hard it was raising five kids through the Depression, in the years when my grandpa did the books for small businesses in exchange for a sack of coal, or whatever they could offer to keep his family looked after. My grandma told me she would wash the family's laundry by hand in the bathtub, that grandpa would come home from work and help her wring them out. Sheets, frocks, pinafores, leggings, for five children - all by hand in the tub. In the middle of a frozen Prairie winter, 40 below outside and no dryer. Canning, searching for enough food to keep everyone fed. This woman somehow got all her children through the hungry 30's. "But I had my husband," she said, "He helped me."

My  mom remembered her as a "fun mother" - with that zany sense of humor, the cackle, the pranks. I remember both her cackle and her pranks, when she was in her 60's, 70's, 80's, even into her 90's. That sense of humor never failed her until the very end, when she was living in extended care and no longer wanted to be inhabiting her body.

This family has been through a lot of pain, but there is always laughter, great surprised hoots of it, at the most unexpected times:)

In this photo, my grandma was somewhat older. From the look of it, she was still living in the Prairies, before the move to Kelowna.

My mother, looking so beautiful. My grandma often told me my mother could have been a model, that someone had sent Norman Rockwell a photo of Renee, and he had written back and said, if she went to New York, she could have a career in modeling. However, she chose life with my dad, and she never regretted that.

My mom and a very young me. My mother looks so young here.

Here I am a little bigger. We are sitting by the Okanagan Lake in Kelowna. Soon my mother had her dream, a two acre small farm called Twin Acres, across the road from the lake. She raised chickens and rabbits, and tended a huge garden, happy as a clam. When I was five we moved to the city, and for the rest of her life she keened for a return to farm life.

My mother holding my sister, Lori Lee. I had begged and begged for a sister, but when she arrived, I was jealous of all the attention she got, and was less enchanted with the idea:)

Big and little sisters.

Mom, Lori and I.

Mom had a hard life, too, and the strength to get her through it. My parents struggled with addictions, with accompanying poverty and violence. There were harsh years. But there was a lot of love between them and when my father died when I was thirteen, my mother was inconsolable. But she put one foot in front of the other and kept on working, slowly working her way up through the ranks to a position in the Attorney General's department.

All through the years, she would hold out a dream for herself and for us, that one day we would have a place on the land, where Lori would have her horse. She had about given up on it when, in her 70's, Lori found a two acre hobby farm in Port Alberni and convinced Mom, whose eyesight was failing, to leave the city and move to the Island. For a couple of years Mom was in her glory. Lori's horse was in the barn, chickens were roosting in the trees, Mom baked her own bread, and she had what she had so longed for.

It is so good she had that gift. Soon, her health took a sudden turn, and suddenly she was gone.

On her death bed, it wasn't the hard times of her life that
she remembered, but her glory years, when she and my dad were so in love. "I had it all" she said. Not many can say that and mean it as she did.

Me, thinking I was very grown up.

My sister Lori

Me with Lisa, my older daughter


Lisa and I
How could I have looked so young, yet felt so old?

Lisa in her early teens

Stephanie and me - at the time of
this photo, I was a single mom of four and accessing some of the matriarchal strength and grit required to raise kids in poverty, provide for their needs and do so somehow with fun, laughter and happy times. I had been through a ton of heartbreak by then. But it is the years when I lived alone with my children that were the happiest for me. We had good times.

Steph was always a sunny child.

Steph and Snoopy

Before you know it, Lisa had Baby Alison, and there was another generation
of women in the family.

Lisa and Ali

I was a Grandma, and thrilled to have a wee granddaughter.

Ali and I had a special bond.
 I wasn't a conventional Grandma, she called me Grandma-By-the-Whales
because I lived in Tofino, where the whales lived.

My mother, Alison and I -I wish we had gotten Lisa into the photo-
four generations. And at that time, my Grandma was still alive!

Looking so cute.

Chasing her mom on the beach with a starfish.

Here I am on the Tall Tree Trail on Meares Island in my glory days.

My beloved Chestermans Beach.

It took some strength, courage, hope and a huge risk-taking leap to make the move from Kelowna, where I finally had a well-paying job, and "security", (a huge issue for a single mother accustomed to poverty), to move to Tofino where there was no security of any kind, accommodation was seasonal and scarce, one had to work two or three part time jobs to survive. But I knew if I didn't make the leap, I'd have to give up my dream and I knew I couldn't live without a dream. From the moment I arrived there, I was ecstatic, and never regretted the move for one moment. I had to struggle very hard to stay there, to find some stable accommodation for myself and Stephanie, who was still at home. I worked hard, with joy, and lived the ten most glorious years of my life.

Lori, on Beau.

Lori watched how hard my life was raising four kids as a single mother, and she made different choices. Her animals have been her kids.........she and Beau enter cattle  sorting events, she rides long hours in good weather, and when she's home she hangs out with her three dogs and a cat.
Lori and I both inherited stamina, grit, a terrific work ethic, strength of character and that zany humor from the line of women who walked the path ahead of us. We have both endured our share of heartbreak, disappointment, and have both started over again so many times, it's amazing we kept getting back on our feet. But quitting has never been an option.

Here Lori cuddles her boy, Luke, and my girl, Jasmine. On the left is Noey. And bad little Blakey hadnt arrived on the scene yet.

Here Lori is with her real baby, Baby Leo, the little foal who was born too small and compromised, who fought a valiant fight to live.
Leo the Lion Hearted, he had so much spirit and life. He grew to be a spunky spirited little guy fourteen months old. He had passed the one year mark, we thought he had come through the worst and was going to be all right, when suddenly he was down, with what turned out to be a ruptured bowel. He suffered through two weeks trying very hard to live, but finally succumbed. This broke Lori's heart. I'll tell the full story another time. In our lives, it always seems that when a dream comes true for us, we pay for it with a very high price. Perhaps it is that way in every life. But losing this little guy was a real blow.

My Grandma, in the final years of her life. Her humor still evident in her eyes, though she was living in a seniors facility and hated it. "To many old people in here" she'd say, herself in her 90's............."Still here!" she'd say disgustedly,
as I popped my head around the door. "Just too damned healthy!"
My mother, still beautiful as ever.

My mom adored her mother. She thought the world of her. At Grandma's funeral, when the strains of "Galway Bay" sounded, my mom broke down and wept. It wasnt very long before she, too, was gone, unexpectedly, far sooner than we ever would have dreamed.

Grandma and I
When I lived in Kelowna, I spent a lot of time with Grandma. I knew she lived for visits from family and often after my workday I would bike across town to sit with her as the afternoons faded into sunset. I remember one evening pushing her wheelchair to the window and us wordlessly
watching the sun go down behind the hills. We often simply sat in companionable silence. I was exhausted after working all day. She was retreating within herself more and more the final year or two in the extended care unit.

Lisa, my older daughter, as she is today, a beauty.

She has the trademark family humor........she has been on an amazing journey, this lifetime, and has gone through a ton of hard times. But her spirit continues to rise. She has worked hard on the inner journey (which is the real journey) and today cracked me up by saying, "I have all these tools...........but how
 come MY toolbox has to be so f-ing BIG???? Everyone else just walks around with a sledgehammer!"
Lisa raised four kids as a single mom, in poverty, too. A daughter Ali, and three sons. I doubt there is a harder job in the world than raising several kids with no money and little help. I helped however I could, but given my own financial straits, Lisa and the kids have experienced much the same challenges as her family of origin experienced. But she did it with love and humor and her kids are sensitive and considerate. They get that from her.

Stephanie with her boy, Sanchez. Both my girls are beautiful.

Steph has another little fellow, Chase, a black Lab. She is a big dog lover and dog rescuer. Her dream would be to open a Canadian version of Dogtown. She too has had her share of heartbreak, has the same grit the rest of us have, has started over many times, rolling up her sleeves and working hard to get the job done. Same trademark humor............when we get together, all you hear are cackles. By now, we are all pretty strong, pretty cracked and pretty independent.

              I am bursting with pride over my two daughters.
  And, for the record, I am still waiting for some more baby granddaughters:)

Ali as a young teen.

Ali, a little older.
As this is the matrilineal line, I dont include a photo of Ali's little fellow Damian........(saving him for the boys' page:) But he is adorable, four years old, making me a Great-Grandma, and, unbelievably, given how young she looks, making Lisa the youngest looking Grandma on the planet!

So we are just waiting for some girl babies to arrive in the family to continue this line of strong women!
The matrilineal line includes those born to descending generations. But since this is entitled For My Daughters, I have to include another daughter, a daughter of my heart, my adorable daughter-in-law Zenny, who is married to my older son Jon. Zenny is the sweetest girl in the world, and our whole family just adores her. Bonds of the heart are as strong as those of blood. So this piece would not be complete without her.
                                                        Zenny at Lori's birthday bash

                                                       Zenny - Zenaida - on the beach.


  1. What a wonderful tribute to all the women! You have such an amazing, beautiful family! I admire that there is beauty on the inside as well as the out! I will have to read this again~ I might do this for
    a Christmas card...what fun it would be or book, perhaps! Thanks for sharing so much~xXx

  2. Fantastic idea for a Christmas card. I only wish I had taken more time when I was younger and everyone was still alive to get more of the family history. It is amazing how important it becomes as one gets older. My mom always told me I should be writing it all down. But we get so busy and put things off. Now I cant go very far back, and after me, who is going to remember all this? I am putting what I can in here for posterity:) Tanks for reading and commenting, Ellie.

  3. Oh wow! What a valuable and wonderful piece you have written here... I learned so many things I didn't knew before! There were even a couple of pictures I hadn't seen. This is a real gift to all of us. Thank you xx YAY YOU!!!! I love you xx

  4. Hi Sherry...

    Wonderfully written family history...even me who is altogether a stranger is filled with tears for your family..I dont know what moved me ...the love it pictured,the sincereity in your writing or what...simply touching...
    Wish you all a very happy long long life...
    Thank you for sharing..

  5. This is an absolutely amazing piece! I would have given anything for something like this and wish I could do it too. But I am the only child girl of two children, and my mother died when I was nine years old. Because my parents were older when I was born, all my grandparents were gone. Almost all the history, especially of the women in the family, is gone. I know everyone in your family will greatly appreciate this wonderful history you've put together.

    You and I have some things in common. I too have an Irish heritage. I was a single mother for years, raising my children alone (one of whom was my daughter Lisa).

    Thank you for visiting my blog and for your very kind comments on my non-traditional little love poem.

  6. I so appreciate your kind comments. I love this piece - families are such an amazing compilation of individuals and stories - a wealth of material for a writer! I am at the stage of life where one does a lot of looking back and summing up......I love the photos of the old faces, and enjoy remembering the stories of the way we were.............thank you for stopping by and caring enough to leave a message. It means so much to me.

  7. Wow! You have done an incredible job here of documenting your matrilineal line - I applaud your thoroughness and skill at documenting bloodlines while also highlighting the strong heartlines that run through. And what a pleasure to read and view the photos; gives me a warm feeling...

  8. This was an absolutely beautiful piece Sherry. I too am a single Mom of two beautiful girls, but with more than likely many more years to go and stuff under my belt, I cannot wait to fill up the memories like you have. It is hard and there is struggle, but as you say, dreams and strength are made from these. This is truly a special gift for your children and grand-children. Thank you for sharing.

  9. I enjoyed every minute of this wonderful tribute to the women of your family Sherry...all beautiful and full with humor and inner strength. I hope you get more of those grandchildren you are longing for. :-)

  10. This was such a heart-felt, loving tribute to strong, beautiful women. It's amazing to look back and trace the life paths of those we've loved and lost and who gave us our very life. I enjoyed reading this so very much. Thank you so much.

  11. Words fail me. Not about the post...about you. All of you. You all have what matters most, love and humor. Thanks so very much for sharing this with us!

  12. Sherry this was a fantastic journey through your life and thanks for that!
    My maternal grandmother was from county cork also!

  13. I think you should print the photos and frame them and in the back of the frame print this out and place in the back! It is a fantastic piece of herstory not history~

  14. Wow...a truly impressive pictorial tribute...I was mesmerized...fascinated!

  15. I loved this, Sherry. As you might remember, I did a piece of my matrilineal line recently too - The Storytellers.

    Maybe I will get around to putting up photos.

    Your story, and that of your family is the story of real people. And strong foundations.

    It is dificcult for me to imagine not knowing those whose path lie threaded before me. But many never knew even grandparents - due to many circumstances and turned out fine. I am just blessed we got to know these wonderful women.

  16. Mom this is so well written!! I enjoyed it so much!! I love you, xoxo
    your daughter, Stephanie

  17. What an honour to our loving family Sherry....I am so grateful that we have your love. Our beautiful family.......Reunion 2011!


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