Thursday, February 9, 2012

Where Are You From? Oh Canada, My Home and Native Land...

My Grandpa Archie Medjuck was born and raised on Nova Scotia (that is a province of Canada for all of us still-in-the-dark United States residents).  Cape Breton to be specific.  He was born in a little town called Calendonia and grew up in the nearby mining town of Glace Bay.

Grandma Mayme and Grandpa Archie Medjuck with me as a baby

If you didn't know me (well, Molly as a middle name isn't overtly Semitic), ya'd think we were Scottish and our elder male members wore kilts on dressy occassions.  And drank a lot.  No such luck:  We were just like any other Jews at the turn of the last century hailing from the alter heim looking for the goldene medina.  My grandpa got drunk on soda pop.

Perhaps Grandpa Archie didn't find gold in the monetary sense, but he definitely found it in his sense of pride in his family and upbringing.  He loved telling stories about Cape Breton, and I think he always longed to live out his years there.  He had what sounds like a lovely childhood and attended Dalhousie University in "the big city" Halifax, and for reasons unclear to me dropped out very close to the completion of his degree to return to Cape Breton and work in his family's general store.

If you look very carefully, you can see my reflection in this photo, a framed receipt from the store that hangs in our home.  Thanks, Mom, for this great family artifact.

So proud of his Nova Scotian upbringing was Grandpa Archie that he continued to have mid-afternoon tea with milk and kippered snacks, always with his yarmulke perched atop his head.  Never mind the crumbs he left behind:  his mother, Rochel Malke, for whom I am named and was known to be a true aishet chayil (a kind, sweet woman), likely cleaned up behind him and never gave him a problem.  I imagine I could learn a lesson or two from her in dealing, with an angelic touch, with the frustrations created by gender difference conflict.  Men can be slobs, disorganized and biggie!

My brother, Uncle Goalie.  That hat would be a total Ebay score today!

My mother has a book entitled Cape Breton Memories in Verse which I believe my grandfather's brother Sol gave to him, as my mother said he probably knew how much his brother would have loved it once he moved away from Nova Scotia when his youngest daughter was a 2 year old to Syracuse, New York.  I managed to get a copy of this small pamphlet from our academic interlibrary loan system. I have been wanting for years to share this poem and now I finally have a forum.

Where Are you From?
by Winnifred Mitchell Protheroe

I have never met a person yet
Who did not ask of me,
"Where are you from?" then stare,
With careful scrutiny.
I have always thought it odd, that they
Such time, and pains should take
To ferret out the very spot!
What difference does it make?

When first you cross the border
You are a diplomat.
You say, "Oh, I'm from Canada."
And let it go at that.
But here, in our own country
The province folks must know;
And you feel that you must change your style
As further on you go.

For instance, in New Brunswick,
You may answer with a smile;
"My home," you say with  heartfelt pride,
"Is dear old Cape Breton Isle."
Then, when you reach Ontario,
More carefully you choose;
It's "I'm from Nova Scotia" then
As you would not dare to confuse

Worst of all are the cities
Out on the great Pacific;
Where you feel compelled to hum and haw
'Cause you can't be too specific.

The inevitable question comes,
And, like a cowering beast,
You get it over quickly with,
"Me?...I'm from the East."

You want to tell folks where you are from,
But you think that they might frown
As soon as they hear that you were born
In a smoky, mining town.
So, you fidget and fumble and shrink away
And your brain begins to snap.
You wish that you could do something great
To put your old town on the map.

Oh but it's good to be home again.
Where people do not scorn;
Where folks don't make a secret of
The place where they were born.
When someone asks the question now,
I can look him in the eye
And proudly say "I'm from the Bay.
Where are you from, B'y?'

Now I can return the book to the library tomorrow!

n.b.:  Yes, I transcribed that entire poem, complete with its colloquial punctuation, all on my own.  Giving myself a nice ole' pat-on-the-back.


Uncle Goalie said...

Great thing about the Medjuck Bros. receipt - the phone number! "245". That's not an area code, it's the whole number! Oy chichky!

Aunt Hedda said...

I want to personally thank you for the beautiful story. For sure you captured the real story of how Archie felt about his Cape Breton beginnings. I always thought he was tormented living in Syracuse and that is why he loved talking about Glace Bay. The poem was wonderful and appreciated too. By the way, I am enjoying reading many of your blogs. You could always turn to writing as your second career, (raising your children, your first).

Sherine Levine said...

Thanks for this! It almost moved me to tears. But I can't believe you haven't been to Cape Breton. It was voted the 3rd most beautiful island by Travel & Leisure magazine. Go there.

Donna Goldman said...

Thanx sooooooooo much for this..... Ralph feels very nostalgic & says "takes me back to m'roots girl". He said the picture of the house looks like it may be Aunt Dora's on South Street near the old Glace Bay Beach & across from the Miner's Museum.

Rachel I'm sure this wasn't an easy task and Ralph & I feel it is sooooooooo nice to see the younger generation is showing interest in the 'family roots'....

Sharon S. said...

This is terrific stuff. Thank you so much for including me on the A list. I love the photo of my Uncle Archie, and the sales slip from the family store is amazing. I remember that store very well, having visited it a few times as a small child. My mother, sister and I traveled to Glace Bay many summers to spend time with our huge family.

My dad, Abe, the eldest of the six siblings, also longed for Glace Bay all of his life. I guess for him and for Uncle Archie it was a case of 'You can take the boy out of ...'.

Sherine Levine said...

One Cape Bretoner to another: "Are you from the Bay B'y?" "No, I'm from the Pier, dear"

SwissYankee said...

Grandpa used to speak of Glace Bay Nova Scotia in a manner that made me believe, as a child growing up in their home, it was a magical never-neverlandesque place located far away over a rainbow somewhere. No topic kindled his interest more than his childhood home. It was like a revelation the day I finally realized GB was, in fact, reachable by humans - and not even all that far away from Syracuse!! Nevertheless, I still have never stepped foot on CBI. Maybe we should reverse that trend sometime soon....

SwissYankee said...

BTW, Cape Breton Memories in Verse available on for $210.00. Only 1 used copy available.

Ruthie said...

OK so as the eldest grandchild of Grandpa Archibald Medjuck and one who actually grew up around the corner from him and Grandma Mayme I have amazing memories of those stories........told with passion and love that not many can really remember. I loved those days of innocence and caretaking that I to this day am soooo thankful for! I love and miss you Grandpa and Grandma.

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