A Yearning for Home
St-Joseph-Du-Moine and Chéticamp in Cape Breton are awash with natural beauty. Little else is as powerful and moving as its setting sun, the particular scent of the ocean, or the mountains wrapped in multi-coloured fabric. Some who grow up here tend to remain, raising their families, generation after generation. Those who don’t want to leave but must to find work, often yearn to come home, returning for the occasional weekend, a few weeks’ vacation, to summer homes, or to retire in order to satisfy their yearning to stay connected to their roots and to the land. This place lures outsiders too; they come to witness the landscape or even to make their homes in our Acadian niche. In my novel, Laura’s Story, Laura leaves the village as a young girl, but as she grows older, she longs for her home and feels a distinct pull to reconnect to her native village of Chéticamp. What is it about home that holds us there or beckons us to return?"
A Link to the Past
I don’t usually write for the newspaper. In fact, this article is my first but for some unknown bizarre reason, I feel compelled to share this tidbit of history. You see, for some forty years, every other summer I have painted my maternal grandparents and great-grandparents’ tombstones. I was well trained by my mother. She insisted upon it, in fact. Since she passed in 2001, I have continued to tend to the tombstones. Whereas this year seemed like any other, something touched me to the very core.
In the morning of September 3, with the sun warming my back, I crouched down, meticulously painting the chiseled letters on my great-grandparents’ tombstone, which indeed carries the names of my great- grandfather, my great-grandmother who died the same day, as well as their son, who died twelve days later. The year of their passing struck me – 1895. Suddenly I put my paint brush down, stared wide-eyed and creased my forehead. Who would have thought that 123 years later, their great-granddaughter would be caring for their tombstone? Might the fact that I carry the same name as my great-grandmother be a factor, I mused. Ridiculous. Similar names often carry over from one generation to the next, even if they’re just used as a second name.
My paternal grandmother’s first name is also the same as mine. At the age of forty-four, in 1922, she died forty-five days after her last born. She had had sixteen children. Several years ago, I noticed her tombstone had broken into three parts. In 2009, my husband and I bought a new headstone and placed it on her grave.
I never had the good fortune to know any of my grandparents, but I got to know and admire my step-grandmother, Hélène. She was in fact the inspiration behind my novel Laura’s Story which is not only a tribute to her but to my biological grandmothers and to many women’s unheard stories.
In our parish cemetery, there are many beautiful and well-tended tombstones but as my father would say: "Beautiful or not, they’re dead anyway." He had a way with words, you see. On a more sombre note, because of such factors as age and harsh weather, many headstones are broken, faded and/or illegible. Every spring, a time is set aside where parishioners can help with the dilapidated stones but for the most ancient ones, some are beyond repair. Besides keeping the grounds immaculately mowed, should we tend to these forgotten headstones that mark the souls who once lived, loved and ultimately link us to the past? ~Julie Larade September 8, 2018
Le jour du souvenir
« Le 11 novembre – le jour du souvenir. Je me rappelle très bien des cérémonies à l’église St. Joseph de la paroisse St-Joseph-du-Moine, il y a de cela longtemps déjà. Les vétérans étaient dans le sanctuaire : parmi eux, il y avait Joe Arsenault, Freddie à Paul Au Coin, Eddie à 'Milien Chiasson et Arthur à Marcellin Au Coin. On voyait dans leurs yeux, dans leur visage, une tristesse parsemée de fierté. Leur présence était digne et solennelle. C’est cela dont je me souviens…» Julie Larade Nov 5, 2018
Reconnecting with Craig
Have you ever had a day, or a moment in a day, when you felt absolutely great, even blessed, after reminiscing with old friends, getting together with family, or making new acquaintances? September 8, 2018 was such a day for me.
On a warm Saturday afternoon, in our home, my husband and I welcomed a relative - my husband’s first cousin’s son, Craig, his partner and their beautiful eleven-month old daughter. If we hadn’t expected his visit and he had simply appeared at our door, never in a million years would we have recognized him.
The last time we saw Craig, he was in his early thirties with long blond hair, a dark goatee, a warm smile and soft brown eyes. Now at forty, he had short hair and a red beard, but he still had his warm smile and soft brown eyes. My husband and I had to look twice to make sure he was indeed our expected visitor. However, as soon as we saw him going from the kitchen to the living room, we both looked at one another, amazed. He walked exactly like his late father! In fact, we would have recognized him even on a busy sidewalk!
As soon as our visitors sat down, Craig inquired about his great-grandmother, Hélène. I was profoundly touched by his eagerness to know more about his ancestor, the heroine and inspiration of my novel, Laura’s Story. Both he and his partner asked question after question about Hélène, but we had few answers.
Amidst the joy we felt in reconnecting with Craig, my husband and I were also somewhat saddened. Later that evening, we discussed Craig’s visit and his many questions. The more we talked, the more we realized that when we were younger, we thought our parents and grandparents would always be around. Why hadn’t we asked Hélène, Craig’s great-grandmother who was also my husband's grandmother and my step-grandmother, more questions while she was still alive?
Had we been more curious about Hélène’s experiences, perhaps we could have answered more of this young couple’s questions. Today what remains of her legacy are only a few photos and very little information about her. Many questions; few answers.
~Julie Larade Nov.10, 2018
In July 2019, in Brampton, Ontario, my editor, Jenna Kalinsky and I met in person for the very first time. Since 2011, we worked online now and then, becoming good friends but we had never met face to face. It was a moment I will cherish forever!