Friday, December 30, 2011

A Secret

It's taken me while to come back to this blog, not because of a lack of things to write about, but rather that there are so many I'm not sure where to begin. And because I am a tad ADD, I tend to deal with genealogy as I deal with everything else- sporadically and prone to jumping around a lot.  I fear that there will be no cohesiveness to these stories if I just post them at random, so in the interest of continuity I decided I should start at the end of the line so to speak and work my way back. And to clarify things even further I'm trying to come up with some kind of label to indicate which side of the family the key characters belong to, paternal (Kilner/Lawrance) or maternal (Hébert/Anderson).

I've been hesitant to tell my my maternal grandmother's story for several reasons. She kept her secrets well and though in my eyes she lived an exemplary life, she obviously wasn't comfortable with certain details of it being known.  Some parts of her life were only revealed after she died and things like exact dates and places remain a mystery. I've been questioning various family members but most know only some of the details which is why it's been difficult to pin down.

   I believe it's time to tell her story: today is the twelfth anniversary of her death and I hope she will forgive me for breaking her silence. The discoveries we made after her death revealed a side of her that I believe actually show her in a positive light but times are different today than when she made her decisions and some things that are accepted and even commonplace today weren't always so.

 Grandma was born Muriel Ruth Anderson on July 31 1918 in Brownsburg, Quebec. She was the second child and only daughter of Thomas Anderson and Jessie McCluskey (youngest child of John and Lizzie). The Andersons, like their families and neighbours were staunch Protestants and tea-totallers to boot. My grandma always claimed that never a drop of liquor had touched her lips, a stance my mother also maintains to this day. My grandpa Jean Claude Hébert on the other hand was from a large rollicking French Catholic family who never met a party they didn't like. In that time and place, the Anglos and the French were like oil and water; properly brought up girls from Brownsburg did not date French boys, let alone get pregnant and subsequently give birth to a child out of wedlock while that French boy was off  fighting in World War II. My aunt was born in Nov of 1940 but the shame of this must have been so great, it was never talked of as long as my grandma was alive. (So well kept was this secret that neither my aunt nor my mother knew anything about it until after my grandma's death in 1998.) Sometime in 1941 when my grandpa was home on leave, a quiet wedding was held, reportedly in the nave of the Catholic church, possibly in either Brownsburg or Lachute.  The date is uncertain as well but one thing is known for sure - my great grandmother Jessie did not attend the wedding. Sadly the marriage didn't seem to improve relations with my grandma and her family, at least not right away. My mother was born in May of 1942 and apparently my great-grandmother was furious; my grandpa was again overseas with the war and didn't return for several years. During that time my grandma and her daughters lived with Ruth's parents but things remained strained. When Claude returned from the war Ruth and my mother moved to a tiny flat in downtown Montreal, far from both sides of the family so Claude could be close to work. Sadly he was home only briefly before being sent to the sanitorium to be treated for TB. Ruth took in boarders to help pay the rent. My aunt meanwhile was being raised by her grandparents back in Brownsburg. It can't have been an easy life and the lack of emotional support from her parents must have made it even more lonely for Ruth.  By the time the family was finally united, Claude was a stranger to both of his daughters and the adjustment must have been a difficult one. Ruth and Claude however were better suited to each other than anyone would have predicted; another child, my uncle, was born in 1952, and their marriage was a wonderful one, cut short only by Claude's death in 1971 at the age of 51. I was not yet 7 when he died so my memories of him are few but he had a love of life and a creative mind that was the perfect balance for my somewhat staid grandma. Ruth never remarried and kept the details of her marriage a secret, leaving a few scraps of paper to start me off on this search.

Finding their actual marriage has proved difficult without an exact date or location. (There's even another possible storyline that had them eloping to Ottawa!) And this the main reason for finally breaking the silence: there are only a few members of my family who are still alive that might still remember the details and I want to get the facts right before there's no one to help me find the truth.  I really believe the whole story deserves to told because even though my grandma went to her grave believing that her past was something to be ashamed of, in the end it was truly a love story with a happy ending and that's the best legacy I could ask for.


  1. This is a very touching story, Callie. Thanks for telling it. It seems so many of our 20th-century ancestors were still bound in Victorian strictures.

  2. Hi Brenda, The irony of it all is that when I look closely at certain dates, 'shotgun' weddings are all too common in that side of the family. Ruth's only mistake was not getting married to Claude before he shipped out!