My grandfather was one of my heroes.  I was fortunate to have such a talented, wonderful man in my life.  He played piano professionally for many years, completely self-taught, and performed with several rather famous musicians.  But I knew nothing about his upbringing, other than the fact that his grandparents raised him.  Two pictures hung on the wall of his house, one each of his mother and father, the only pictures he possessed of either of them.  I used to stare at those pictures, trying to see a bit of myself in either of them, wondering what they might have been like.  Several years ago, I decided to utilize the internet to see what I could find out.


My great-grandmother, Catherine, was born in Ontario in 1890.  Her mother was French-Canadian and a bit of Mohawk, and her father was Scottish.  Great-grandfather, Joseph, was born in Glasgow in 1895 to Irish parents, who moved to Scotland before he was born because his father worked on the railway cars.  Joseph was a porter in his early teens.  At some point, young Joseph came to Canada, around 1911.  I do not know if he set out from Glasgow alone, or traveled with relatives, or planned to stay with relatives in Canada.  I cannot find those records.  He worked as a fireman, and was a member of the Governor General’s Foot Guard.  And then he met young Catherine.  I like to think he was entranced by her beautiful eyes, which must have been green like my grandfather’s.  I ache to know how they met, how he courted her, how they were together.  They were obviously in love.  Then young Catherine discovered she was pregnant.  Her mother, a staunch Catholic, sent the beautiful young woman away to the Grey Nunnery in Montreal to have her baby. 


What must young Joseph have thought?  What must young Catherine have suffered, knowing she had shamed her family so badly they felt the need to send her away?  My heart broke for her.


My wonderful grandfather was born in March, 1913.  No one seems to know what happened during the next two years, but finally, in May, 1915, Joseph married the lovely Catherine, and they began their lives together with their son.  


Then, World War I interfered.  Joseph was drafted by the Canadian armed forces and sent overseas to fight.  Catherine remained home to care for her young son.  In May, 1918, after a long battle with tuberculosis, Catherine succumbed.  She did not have Joseph at her side when she passed away, and no one today seems to be able to locate where she was laid to rest.  She isn’t where her paperwork claimed she would be buried.  A month after Catherine died, Joseph was involved in a horrific train fire in Normandy, and passed away. 


My grandfather was orphaned, at only five years old.


My great-great-grandparents took Joseph in, and brought him to Michigan in 1920 to raise him.  My great-great-grandfather, who used to make boots for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, now had a difficult time making ends meet as a simple cobbler.   But my grandfather, named Joseph after his father, did well in school and taught himself the piano, and learned a good work ethic at an early age.  He married a wonderful woman who had been born with no left hand, and there was nothing she couldn’t find a way to do.  Together, they were both heroes of mine.


One of my favorite memories of my grandfather was one afternoon at his house, with him at the piano, and me with my flute, jamming to the songs he knew so well.  He would play a song, and I would listen and figure out the notes, then we would play it together, and then take turns improvising.  In all the times I visited my grandparents, he never once raised his voice to me, and always had a special treat for me when I visited. 


I know Catherine and Joseph each suffered, and life was very hard on both of them.  They never got to raise their son together, never had the opportunity to revel in his accomplishments, or see their own grandson and granddaughter, or live to ripe old ages together.  I wish I could reach back through time and hug each of them, and thank them so very much for the wonderful gift of my grandfather, a man who gave so much of himself to so many, including his very grateful granddaughter.

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