Rushing to print is often a mistake and I do believe I rushed to print with my last couple of posts. I think that was a mistake. Research can often turn up evidence from the past that makes a lie out of what we thought was true. Does this really matter? Maybe. Not certainly. It depends on what we want to depict, on what we want to understand and have understood. I could write fiction, drawn from my imagination, enriched by my experience. How would that be different than what I am doing here? The ‘truth’ of fiction is in how believable it is, how sympathetic the characters are and how ‘realistic’ the scenes. In turning my gaze on my family, I enter a very different realm than I would occupy writing fiction. Of necessity, family histories are mostly fiction, the details of lives lived drowned in a sea of unrecorded continuity just as one tree can be made insignificant standing in a forest. Moments that stand out get into the history books. Sometimes, they are recorded in a photograph. More often not. When writing about family, the truth sometimes comes out slowly, not always in one go. Even the ‘truth’ of a photograph, objective as it might seem, can be revealed more fully in all its complexity when the past, present and future of the depicted scene are entertained.
When I look at the picture I analyze in my last post, I am struck by the innocence of the scene, the mundane aspect of it. The full impact and relevance of the scene cannot be appreciated at first glance. The scene is nothing outside of its living context. The people depicted in the photograph have no idea what awaits them in the near future, the death, panic and sorrow that they will suffer, as well as the love and sacrifice that will energize life and make it livable for them. What can I see in their faces? Nothing that belies their future. My mother would never have dreamed when this picture was taken that within 3 years she would be having a baby with the man standing next to her in this picture, a man married to the woman who stood just on the other side of him, both of whom had been her family’s close friends for years.
Now, I must make a correction to my previous post where I suggest that Yvonne died on June 22nd, 1945, because it was rumoured my father couldn’t afford a transfusion which would have saved Yvonne’s life. That may still be true, but I now know that my father had asked my mother and aunts to give blood to save his wife. Cecile donated blood sometime after midnight on June 22nd, but it was too little too late. I learned this by looking through calendars my sister Claudette created for us over the years which contain pages from a diary my mother kept for a few years during the 1940s. It may be that my father had to find blood donors himself because he didn’t have the money to buy blood from the usual sources. I find this difficult to believe because St. Mary’s was a Catholic hospital and I can’t imagine they would let someone die who couldn’t afford a blood transfusion, but no one lives who can set the record straight. That makes the photo I introduce in my last post even more compelling to me because now, Cecile, my wonderful older aunt, standing on the far right in this picture, is also intimately involved in the final stages of the drama that was to unfold at St. Mary’s Hospital on June 22nd, 1945. Death in childbirth was not as common in 1945 as it had been in previous generations but everyone knew that it was a dangerous time. Yvonne was 29 years old, a mother of five daughters. Such a tragedy.
It seems my mother and her family were very close to my father and his family for some time before they were married. There was much socializing between the families starting in Alberta around Bonnyville and continuing in and around New Westminster in British Columbia. My mother’s diary is full of references to visits to my father’s home in the years leading up to June, 1945. She writes on Sunday, January 7th, 1945: “My day off [from work at St. Mary’s Hospital]. Went to Zenons for supper and a party. Stayed until 3 AM. Had lots of fun…” On Sunday, March 11th, “I went to Zenons for supper then to a card party. I won $1.50 first prize womens. Zenon won $10.00 door prize…had lunch at Fraser Café with Albert and Gill, Mrs. Lagrange and Zenons.” The close familiarity between the Alberts and Leguerriers is evident in the photograph and it waits patiently, silent in the background to give added meaning to the scene for those who wish to know. The events to unfold in the following few months can only be understood in light of the tight bonds that existed in the community of ‘ex pats’ from Alberta now living in British Columbia.
A photograph can hide as much as it shows. It can give us the impression of time stopped for an instant, frozen in a way that allows us to return to contemplate the moment, to relive the essence of a snapshot, lingering and maybe meditating on it. It’s an illusion, of course, but that doesn’t prevent us from taking pictures, from trying to momentarily pause the clock. But clocks are stubborn things. They stop for no one.
I have another photograph. This one was probably taken on June 25th, 1945, the day of Yvonne’s funeral. She was buried along with her son, Roger, in St. Peter’s Catholic Cemetery in New Westminster. It shows my father kneeling before Yvonne’s grave which is covered in flowers, his five daughters by his side. The same day, my father asked my mother to quit her job at St. Mary’s Hospital, come work for him and look after the girls.
3 thoughts on “Rushing to print is often a mistake.”
Roger, I am not sure why you feel your previous two posts were “mistakes.” Perhaps you feel it may have been better to simply have written them as personal journal entries rather than posting them here. Newspapers rush to get the news out and make quite a few mistakes and often have to rescind previous statements in the following issue. Sometimes it isn’t until we have written something that wasn’t quite correct that we realize our error. I know that has been true in my case.
On the subject of women hemorrhaging after the birth of a baby. My mother recently told me that she had hemorrhaged seriously immediately after giving birth to me. Her doctor called for two specialists at Grace Hospital in Vancouver to see what they could do to stop the bleeding. Shortly after they arrived, the bleeding stopped of its own accord and both mom and I lived (obviously). I know of a case where a woman in our neighbourhood who was four years my senior hemorrhaged to death after the birth of her first child and this was in the late 1960s in the city of Burnaby, so it can happen anywhere at any time.
I am sure I am not the only reader who has been touched by your family stories. Keep your stories coming as you feel you want to do so. They are very interesting.
Ok Although I occsionally read your posts, most often, I choose not to comment as your memories are yours alone and different from mine in many ways. I want to comment here because you have mentioned blood transfusion a couple of times. Having worked in health care for over 40 years and transfusion medicine for at least some of that time, I feel I can speak with confidence in this regard. Also, our mother told me about the night Yvonne passed away. Mom, auntie Cecile and others worked at St. Mary’s hospital at that time. My mom told me that the call came out from the hospital for people to come and donate blood for a woman hemoraging from childbirth. They did not know who it was for at the time, they just heeded the call. This was the practice at the time, and was still the practice in small communities back when I was a new technologist pretty sure. Shows how old I am I guess. I’m pretty sure a little research will confirm this as well.
I agree that the truth of memories may be true for you and may not be what I remember at all and may not be the same truth for our other siblings. That’s life. We all interpret things in our own way. My wise older brother once told me that as parents we all mess up our kids because we cannot control their interpretation of what they see and hear from us. I accept that, try to correct misunderstandings when I am aware of them and otherwise trust that they know I love them.
Lastly, I think it might be helpful to ask some of your siblings what they remember. The truth no doubt will be somewhere in the midst of all our varying memories. With much love…
Thank you so much for commenting on this. I was hoping that some of my siblings would. I did speak with Helene about some things and I consulted the calendars Claudette made as well as the ‘Memories’ books, although they don’t address the issue of Yvonne’s death. That was a tough one for me because I sure didn’t have any memory of it and so I had to rely on hearsay. I really appreciate your comment about transfusions. Like I said, I couldn’t imagine the staff at St.Mary’s Hospital letting someone die in childbirth for lack of a transfusion. As I dug a little, I found out that Cecile had donated blood for Yvonne. That really struck me as special in the context of the photograph I posted. I have no idea where I got the idea that Yvonne had died because dad didn’t have the money to pay for the blood that would have been necessary for the transfusion. Beats me. Weird how that works. Thanks for setting me straight on that one. I didn’t realize that dad had even worked at the hospital for a time washing dishes. I’m thinking that this kind of history would be best written by a committee of family members to be sure, but that’s not always possible. Actually, when I started writing this series of posts, I was more interested in writing about the way things around us change constantly in time than in writing a history of the family. I was especially interested in the 634 Alderson Avenue in the past and present. How many memories are locked up there and unknown to the current occupants. One thing that triggered this line of thinking is a building on the corner of 25th and Main in Vancouver close to where Arianne and her family live. The building was built a couple of years ago. Before that the lot stood empty for a long time. It was a gas station before that. We walk by the building now and it feels like its always been there. We adapt to new environments so quickly and easily most of the time. Not always, to be sure, but a changing urban landscape becomes familiar very quickly to most of us. The past so quickly forgotten in a collective sense. We remember some things from our own pasts, but not the pasts of people and things around us unless we make a special attempt to do so as professional historians, and it’s not easy for them either.
Anyway, thanks for this. We do need to talk more about things. Do you mind if I ask you about things from time to time? I’m not interested in the sordid details of our lives. I’m interested in the more distant past, actually. Turn of the 19th century stuff, the Depression, wars, family, etc…and how they impacted our family and the decisions they made.
Thanks again Diane.
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