I am back in the land of my birth. I have traveled to the coast of Cape Breton Island in eastern Canada. I am here with my mother. We are visiting her family. We have been discussing this trip for a decade and I am happy we can finally unite.
I am mostly a stranger here other than to close family. Though I was born and spent the first 4 years of my life here, I grew up a thousand miles away in Ontario. It could have been a million miles away. It could have been another planet.
The reality is I have spent half of my life outside of Canada so I greet return visits with a comfortable but curious disposition. In any case, I have not been back here for many many years, far too long to leave matters of family.
We are in the largest Gaelic speaking community outside of Ireland and the UK. Most of the population is of Celtic or Anglo Saxon heritage. I am profoundly struck by the cultural connections. This is an anthropological Petri dish. It is land that harks back to another time.
The pace of small town life is unmeasured. Houses have large gardens and picket fences. Traffic moves at a snail’s pace and politely gives way to pedestrians. Strangers regularly greet you on the street and bode you well. Shopkeepers are polite and ask after your family. Modern urban dwellers do not appreciate that places like this exist.
Most of my mother’s family live 5 minutes from each other. My Aunt’s house is the centre of the universe. The volume of traffic through the door in a day is most impressive. Brothers, sisters, cousins, children, grand children, neighbours, friends; it does not abate. Everyone is welcome.
The tea is steeped for what seems hours in advance of lengthy storytelling and discourse, engaged in by all generations. The laughing is often contagious. The branch of my family we are close to look after each other and are charitable with their actions both at home and in the community. They are good people.
I am fortunate for many things in life not least of which is a lovely family and friends and to have travelled and lived around the world. The older I get the more curious I become about why peoples from wherever they are, are the way that they are.
Though I only spent the formative years of my life here it is patently clear to me how important these years are in a child’s development. My indelible memory is that of being loved to near death by my grandparents and aunts and uncles, and well looked after by my cousins.
I am grateful. It explains a lot.
Blood is thicker than water.