One day in the late 80s, I was back at my parents’ house, between semesters at University. “I think you look like my father,” my mother said, rather matter-of-factly, and somewhat out of the blue. She went off to another room of the house and came back with a cardboard stationery box that I had never seen before. Inside the box, she produced a large head shot photo of her father, Walter Dynes, for comparison purposes.
I’m pretty sure that I was in my early twenties. Until that moment, I had never her say a word about her father. I don’t think that she ever mentioned him again.
At some point in my life, I’d come to understand that her father had died quite a long time ago, and that the person I considered to be my grandfather was, in fact, her step-father. Certainly, by the time of the great grade 7 family tree homework assignment, the details provided by my grandfather clearly spelled out the three maternal grandparents. But my bio-grandad’s figure seemed to cast no shadow over my family: he wasn’t talked about, no photos were out, and no stories about him were ever told. When I refer to him, I often call him my “biological grandfather” — a term that feels distant and removed. But it also feels apt because he seems distant and removed.
My father’s father, Vidal Holmes, was also dead. He died shortly before I turned two. But I was aware of his absence in a way that I was never aware of Walter’s absence.
I visited with some relatives during Easter and we chatted about Ralph’s first wife, Charlotte Jones. Apparently Ralph’s second wife, Stella, was very, very Catholic, which might have something to do with why the first wife was never talked about. We speculated Ralph never told his second wife about Charlotte because Stella might not have married a divorced man. And somehow, that became a secret that the entire family conspired to keep.
Many months ago, I was looking over some old family photos with my aunt, Janey. There was a woman I didn’t recognize in a few pictures, and on the back of the photo, she was identified as “Beatrice”. “Who was Beatrice?” I asked Janey.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Oh, wait. Maybe she was Ralph’s first wife?”
“Ralph’s first wife?” I said.
“Yeah,” she said. “We never talk about it.” My family seems to have a lot of stuff that we never talk about.
My father has a brother named Ralph. That’s not who we’re talking about. The Ralph we’re talking about would be my grandfather’s brother, James Ralph Holmes. My grandfather was the youngest of three children. Abbie Estella Holmes was the oldest, but she died at the age of 20, due to complications from pregnancy. Ralph was the middle child, closer in age to Stella. When Ralph came of age in the midst of the great depression, he moved to Detroit to find work. My grandfather, Vidal, ultimately took over the family farm and raised his own children there. Ralph and Vidal both died about a month apart in 1968, shortly before my second birthday.
Beatrice is not, in fact, Ralph’s first wife. I still have no idea who she is. One possibility is that she was a nanny that briefly helped out with child-rearing duties.
I’m reading my grandfather’s record of our 1985 trip to England/Scotland. 1985 was the year that I graduated from high school, and my grandparents and I, along with my grandfather’s brother, Jerry, and cousin Errol plus Errol’s wife Dorothy, took a trip together.
I had been eagerly anticipating this trip, it being my first international trip (excluding the States). I was also a total anglophile before this trip, but not afterward.
Here’s an entry from day 12, which appears to have started in Liverpool and ended in Bristol:
That night, [BC], Margaret and Don walked 3 blocks to a famous jazz bar, Dukes, for a drink, a look-see and listen to the jazz band there. It was great. (Jerry/Errol/Dorothy didn’t want to go — they missed out on a treat). Walking back 3 young girls are getting out of a black taxi cab, dress [sic] to kill and all with purple hair. [BC] likes them. Must be the hair.
Dear friends who have children, or spend a lot of time in their presence (without cowering in fear, like I do): I’m looking for some help identifying the age of these kids. How old do you think the kids are in this picture?
I know who the three older kids are, but I’m trying to identify the baby. It’s either my father, or my father’s older sister, Elizabeth, who died as an infant. If it’s the latter, then this might be the only picture of her that I know of.
I’m tackling more of the Holmes family. I left civilization, today, to visit my aunt in Mississauga (I kid! I kid! Mississauga’s not that bad, especially for someone who grew up in Sarnia). My aunt loaned me a metric buttload of old photos that I’m busily scanning, and we talked about family history.
I delivered the major deliverable of my big project on Thursday. Like many deliveries, the last few days were busybusybusy, and I’m happy to be taking this long weekend to decompress from that. I turned my attention to some of the genealogy stuff that I’ve neglected for a few months. I took a stab at writing up a blurb about my line of Houles for that Houle/Houde family association that I found out about several months ago. They have a quarterly newsletter, and they were interested in the Houles of south-western Ontario. Anyway, that got me looking at the migration of family members, and the towns and villages around Sarnia
My biological grandfather was Walter Dynes. He died a dozen years before I was born, and he was from Dresden, Ontario. He was one of two children of Russell Dynes, both of whom died young. The Dynes family were grocers, operating the Dynes and Dynes Grocery in Dresden. When Walter Dynes married my grandmother (who was from Wallaceburg), they moved to Petrolia. Walter Dynes died not long after that move, and a few years later my grandmother married Don, who was a Petrolia local.