Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Ring

112 years ago today, on January 25 1890, my great grandmother was born. The youngest child of John and Lizzie McCluskey, there seemed to have been some debate initially over what her name should be. She was recorded in the family bible as Jessie E Pearl but christened Lizzie Jessie Pearl, and on the 1891 census when she was just one, her name was given as Pearl E McCluskey - no mention of Jessie, the name she'd be known as all her life. My cousins and I had another name for her: she was our 'Gamie', a child's mispronounciation of granny that stuck long after those great grandchildren grew up.

Jessie lived to be 87 but spent her last decade lost in a haze of dementia brought on by numerous small strokes. I was 13 when she passed away so my memories of her physical presence are fairly clear yet I still don't know much about her. Even my mother and aunt who lived with her for many years know little of her life; she was a private person who disliked talking about the past. What's past is past, she liked to say.

No one knows when or where Jessie met Thomas John Anderson. Thomas arrived in Montreal from Scotland in 1906, along with 2 of his brothers. There's no record of what drew him to Brownsburg in particular but we know he went to work in the quarry. Having visited Kinettles where he was born and Dundee where he grew up, I can certainly see why the Laurentian mountains would have felt a bit like home and it seems once he met Jessie, he never looked back.

One bit of family lore gives a brief glimpse of how strong willed Jessie was. For reasons unknown to us now, Jessie's brother Lenny objected to Thomas and hoped to encourage a match with another wealthier suitor. Perhaps Thomas being a recent arrival, and likely without much means, seemed like a poor risk - but at least he was a Scot, and the fact that he was a teatotaller must have met with Jessie's approval. Lenny however had other ideas for his youngest sister and offered to buy her a ring if she'd agreed to marry the other gentleman. The ring, a pearl for her second name, was purchased but never worn as long as she lived; it was found, still in the original box, amongst her things when she died.

Thomas and Jessie were married in Lachute in Oct of 1912; Lenny was not a witness but her father John was. Jessie and Thomas had a son Gordon and a daughter, my grandma Ruth and lived happily in the house that John built in Brownsburg until Thomas died in 1958. When Jessie died she was buried with Thomas in the Lachute Cemetary. It would seem that my great grandmother preferred love to riches. As it should be.