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the search for Hazel Pearl Bean’s family.

Late one night, I typed 6223 Molson Street, Montreal into Google Maps to see their home.

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No, I’m not a creeper.  This is where my Grandma Beatrice’s adoptive parents once lived.  6223 Molson Street was the address listed on her adoption paper.

We have very little information to go from.  We have a baptism certificate and one piece of paper about her adoption.

Hazel Pearl Bean was born January 1st, 1926.  She was adopted June 17th, 1926 at the Montreal Foundling and Baby Hospital.  Her adopted parents were William Oliver Blakemore and his wife, Elizabeth Blakemore of 6223 Molson Street in Rosemount, Montreal.  At the time of her adoption, she was 5 1/2 months old.

In 2009, I sent a letter to the Montreal Children’s Hospital.  Dad had always wanted to know more about his Mom’s past and I wanted to help him.

This was their reply…


YOUR REQUEST WAS DECLINED DUE TO THE FOLLOWING REASONS:

MISSING or OTHER REASONS

As per our telephone conversations, we are unable to locate any information concerning Social or Adoption concerning the above mentioned person.  All information concerning this must be handled through Montreal Social Services.  The English Sector is now known as Batshaw Youth and Family Services.  I hope they can help you.

Sincerely,

Carol Cambridge


 

I took it as a no.  I didn’t even read the rest because I was so disappointed.

I can’t believe that I missed the piece that said, try here instead.  So now, almost 10 years later, I’m trying again.  I’m going to call Batshaw Youth and Family Services today to see what I can find out.

I also reached out to another friend who grew up in Montreal.  I wanted to know more about the neighbourhood of Rosemount (where Great Grandpa and Grandma Blakemore first lived).  What was it like in the 1920s?

It ends up that her husband grew up two streets over from Molson.  Small world.

It was a blue collar neighbourhood with very few detached homes.  There were mostly 3 story walk-up row houses. It was a predominantly French-Canadian neighbourhood with some English Italians and rarely any anglophones.  It makes me wonder if they spoke French.

I also called my parents to say that I was going to search for more information about Grandma Beatrice. Dad started sharing amazing stories about Grandpa Blakemore and his adventures.  He was in the war.  He contracted TB when he was in a prison camp (they had them work in a mine).  He worked on steamships and in big hotels as an elevator man.  He was a baker and a night watchman at Studebaker (a car factory).

Once they moved to Emo, Ontario, he delivered mail.  He would meet the train at night to pick up the mail.   Whatever job he had, Great Grandpa Blakemore always asked employers for a reference letter.  Dad has the whole collection up in the attic of the garage.  He’s going to look for them and scan them for me.

I also had a friend from university reach out to see if I would like to do some research on ancestry.com.  I had written a blog post earlier about Dad’s grandpa, Johannes Juhala.  I was trying to learn more about him and while researching online, I had stumbled across a partial family tree on ancestry.com.  But without a membership, I couldn’t view the whole tree.

Her aunt had a membership and was coming home for Thanksgiving.  If there was anything I’d like to look up, she could do it for me.  I haven’t seen her since we were in the same program over 20 years ago. And here she was offering to help.  It was such an act of kindness that it still surprises me (she is so thoughtful; I was just surprised by a person’s willingness to reach out and offer help).  I found out some really cool stuff and have a collection of old documents – like the registry forms from when they first entered Canada.  I’ll have to post them.

It feels like different people from my past are coming together to try and help me figure out pieces of our family’s story.  I hope we can learn more.  I’ll keep you posted.

 

#jewelryboxstories: conclusion

Moving through the grid from left to right:

Grandma Beatrice’s Brooch
Coins
School ID Card
Figure Skating Pendant
Last Letter from Gram
Locket Necklace
Fake Plastic Teeth
A Ring from Auntie Lyd
Grandpa Pud’s Keychain

I’m going to wrap up these little stories for now.  I find that I get bored if I keep doing the same thing over and over.  I will continue to look through my jewelry box every now and then, to see if there’s another story I can write for the kids.

I do it because I think it’s important.  Yes, they will know the stories behind the items in your jewelry box, but they will also learn a little bit more about you in the process.  What you care about.  The memories that are important to you.  Those little items actually tell a lot more – they give insight into what you value in your life.  Seem a little deep?!  Maybe.  But it is interesting to think about.

I just don’t know how to encourage others to write.

We wait to write down the things that matter.  We think we have so much time. It gets pushed aside, avoided, or we don’t see ourselves as writers in the first place.  Been there.

But we all can write and we should do it for our kids and our family members.  Maybe it’s because of my past experiences with death, but I feel a sense of urgency around writing down what matters to us.  To tell people that we care about them.  To write down stories before there’s no one to tell them in the same way.  Death happens and unfortunately, it’s not always when we’re old and grey.

My four little cousins died when they were 2, 3, 8, and 10 years old.  A girl from our hometown died in a tragic bus accident on the way home from high school one day.  My aunt died in her late 40s after becoming a grandma for the first time.  It’s important to write now.

We should write not because we are fearful of dying but because it creates connection. It can piece together parts of our past.  It can bring us closer together.

We can learn about our partner and see a different side to them.  We can empathize with that person from work who we totally misunderstood.  It’s a way to learn more about yourself and to see how you tick.

You might be surprised by what you learn just from writing a few jewelry box stories….

 


Note from Lainie:

I apologize if this sounds like a bit of a rant or has any condescending tone at all.  I don’t write all of the time either but I am trying.  I’m also learning to have a backbone and to share my opinions more openly.  I just need to learn how to do it in a way that will keep people open to the ideas.

#jewelryboxstories: my locket necklace

Grandma Lainie bought me this locket and necklace for Christmas one year.  There are two photos tucked inside – one of Grandma Lainie and one of Grandpa Pud.

I have shown the kids who is inside and it still catches me off guard when Tate says, Is Grandma Lainie coming? (he notices my necklace as I lean into the car to do seat belts)

I usually wear this necklace when I’m about to do something uncomfortable.  If I’m about to go to an event where I don’t know anyone.  If I’m going to go interview a business owner for a Humans of Danforth story.

Wearing it makes me feel like she’s with me.  It makes me braver.

 

#jewelryboxstories: coins

Eric and I want the kids to know what we used to do, during that mysterious time called ‘before kids.’  We wrote a list of some favourite travel memories…

We rode the night train in Thailand.

Floated above the cloud forest in Costa Rica on a zip line.

Ventured underground in London to wander Churchill’s war museum.

Flew through the night market in Chiang Mai on a tuk tuk.

Stretched out on the grass at Circus Maximus in Rome and had a nap.

Drove along the base of an Icelandic volcano in a rental car.

Rushed down a river whitewater rafting in Costa Rica.

Ate the best pizza in Trastevere, Rome.

Wore white silica masks while floating in the steaming Blue Lagoon in Iceland.

Jumped from one boat into another in the middle of the Andaman Sea.

Watched the sun set while swimming at Ko Phi Phi, Thailand.

Hiked up a rugged hill to tour Neuschwanstein castle.

Learned more about the past touring the Dachau concentration camp.

Watched artists paint in Montmartre.

Soaked up The Louvre for hours and hours.

Wandered the island of Aranmore with an Irish family on holiday.

Drank enormous beers in Munich, Germany.

Admired the architecture and design in Barcelona.

Spotted sloths and monkeys in the jungle of Costa Rica.

Napped in hammocks by the ocean in the Mayan Riviera.

Explored the narrow cobblestone streets of ancient Granada, Spain.

Devoured pastries and sipped coffee everyday in Portugal.

Named a lizard outside our door in Manuel Antonio.

Toured Lisbon with Tate in a carrier.

Drank sangria and snacked on tapas at a wine and food festival in Faro, Portugal…

 


The bottom of my jewelry box is filled with left over change from our trips – a few euros, baht, krona… just little reminders of our great adventures.

We hope to bring the kids too.  Once we finish paying for our home renos, we’ll pull out our backpacks again and start planning our next trip.

 

 

#jewelryboxstories: last letter from Gram.

“This isn’t a baby blanket – it’s called a lap blanket.  Got it out of Mary Maxim. Thought it might be cozy in the fall months for curling up on the sofa…”

This is the last letter I got in the mail from Gram.

It makes me laugh.  My family was so excited about our news; they were buying baby things and here was gram saying, yes, yes, a baby is coming, but this is for you.

Gram had never made me something months in advance and sent in the mail.  It was like she knew – that she wouldn’t be around in the fall.  Gram passed away in August (3 months before Tate was born).

I don’t keep this letter with the others.  It stays in my jewelry box.  Two photo boxes are filled with the rest.

I kept every letter and card she sent me.  I don’t know why I did.

I have letters from when I was in high school; notes from Gram saying that she looked forward to our Christmas Music Concert.  I have letters from university, when she would send care packages every month.  I have letters from when I got my first teaching job and was living in a bachelor basement apartment with very little furniture.  Letters when I moved, when Eric and I got engaged, married, bought our first house, were expecting our first baby.  Through her letters, Gram was there through it all.

It still feels like she is.

 

#jewelryboxstories: Grandpa Pud Keychain

Grandpa Pud always carried coins in his pockets.

As a kid, I can remember dumping Pringles cans full of pocket change out onto the floor. Grandpa, my brother and I would begin the task of separating the coins – dimes with dimes, quarters with quarters…

The quarters were then stacked in fours, so we could quickly count dollars.  Dimes were grouped in tens… I don’t know why we counted his change, but we were excited to see so much money.

When Grandpa Pud passed away, he had a pocket full of coins.  Grandma Lainie kept them. One Christmas they appeared in our Christmas gifts.  Each grandchild was given a key chain with one of his coins attached.

Our family holds onto things that seem insignificant to others.  But to us, they are little reminders of those we love.

#jewelryboxstories: figure skating pendant

Picture a little redhead holding on for dear life.

Being the shortest skater on the precision team meant that I was usually stuck at the end of the pinwheel.  And as much as I loved how fast we went, it was a relief when it was over.  I was always worried that I would fly off the end and land on my butt in front of the crowd.  We had an ice show every March.

I used to throw up every show.  I was so nervous to be in front of others that being nauseous became a part of the tradition.  The most memorable was the year I was dressed as a robot in a large cardboard box.  Worried that I wouldn’t get to the washroom in time, my Auntie Lynne picked me up and rushed a large silver box through the crowd.  It’s funny because I’m still not a fan of being in front of others.  I prefer to be behind the scenes.

For those who were in figure skating too, you will remember the uniform.  Spandex.  Spandex everything.  Short spandex skating skirts.  Full out spandex dresses with long sleeves.  For young girls going through puberty and super self-conscious of their bodies, strapping on a skin tight spandex dress was just cruel.  It’s the reason I quit skating.

Don’t get me wrong, if I loved it enough, I would have kept going.  I did love the feeling of opening the arena door and stepping out into the ice surface.  There was an instant blast of cold air and it was quiet.  With very few voices, only the sounds of skate blades scraping the ice could be heard.  It was peaceful.

And yet, I didn’t want to compete.  I wasn’t interested in being judged for different badges. I also didn’t think I was as good as the other girls (and I wasn’t).  I was not attempting the same jumps and my sit spin was never low enough.  For me, I was just happy to skate.


A note to my kids:

If you enjoy it, keep doing it.  Compare your skills to where you were before, not to other people.  You need to do it for your own reasons.

#momlifelessons

#jewelryboxstories: a ring from Auntie Lyd.

Auntie Lyd gave me this ring when I was in elementary school.

It was made entirely out of plastic and featured my “birthstone.”  I loved it.  Auntie Lyd had been selling Mary Kay at the time (I think that’s where she got the ring from).

The ring now barely fits my pinky finger and clearly has no monetary value.  I’ve kept it almost 30 years.  A cheap plastic kid’s ring has traveled with me through multiple moves and to different cities.  I keep it because it reminds me of her.  Auntie Lyd (and my four little cousins) passed away in a house fire when I was in grade 8.

Auntie Lyd bought the best gifts.  She always seemed to know what each family member would love.   Her gifts were never expensive; they were thoughtful and personal.

At 10 years old, she knew what I would love 30 years later.  For Christmas or birthdays, she often bought me books, art materials, or craft kits.  It’s funny as I write this because something just clicked; I’ve been told by friends that I give thoughtful gifts.  Maybe I learned it from her…


 

To learn more about my Auntie Lyd…

The Fire (part 1, part 2, part 3)

Auntie Lyd

#jewelryboxstories: Fake Plastic Teeth

I have a weird looking pair of fake plastic teeth in my jewelry box.

For friends who know me, this would make total sense. I have three massive Rubbermaid bins in our attic filled with dress up stuff.  A girl needs to be prepared, right?!

But these teeth share a different story.  One of finding my place.

Picture seven professional adults at work – sitting around a table with these beauties in their mouths.

It was classy.  Janine was snorting. The rest of us were trying to talk between bursts of laughter.  And our teeth kept popping out mid sentence.

It’s a good memory.

I was so lucky to work with this group of people.

I was a math consultant with our school board and was working alongside people who loved learning as much as I did.  A curious group who got excited when they read something new and were excited to try it as soon as possible.

We had really busy schedules and lots of commitments, but we remained a team.  We knew how to have fun together and had each other’s back.  We went out for lunches and celebrated each other’s birthday’s.  It was the first time I had ever worked with a team.  It marked a time in my career where I felt like I finally belonged.

And that’s not why I kept the teeth.

It’s a good memory, yes, and you never know when you might want to surprise someone with some nasty looking plastic teeth!  Can you imagine if I wore them today to drop Tate off at school…


Previous Jewelry Box Stories:

Grandma Beatrice’s Brooch

#jewelryboxstories: Grandma Beatrice’s Brooch

I used to sneak into her bedroom and look through her treasure chests.

They sat on top of two long dressers, draped in intricate doilies she had crocheted herself.  One peek inside and I could see the handfuls of sparkly jewels.  Grandma Beatrice had brooches with clustered gems and necklace strands that glimmered. I thought she was rich (I had no idea what costume jewelry was).  She had quite a collection – with most of the pieces bought for her by Grandpa.

I would look at my reflection and tilt my head slightly as I held her earrings up to my ears or draped a necklace across my front.  She must have known what I was doing, but she never said anything.

When Grandma passed away, somehow I got this brooch.  It reminds me of her.

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