November 6, 2013

Sepia Saturday #201: To Grandmother's House We Go


As a child, grandparents did not figure largely in my day-to-day existence.  My mother's father died when I was only 4 years old, and my grandmother lived at the other end of the country on Cape Breton Island.  I only saw her when she came up to visit us in Ontario (usually in the spring), or when we made trips "down east" to visit mom's sister and brother and my "Nanny".

As for my father's side, I never met either of his parents.  Though both from Northern Ireland, they both died in England (living close to, or with, one of their  12 children who had left Belfast). My dad's father had died in 1951, while my father was in the British Army, and his mother died in Portsmouth, in 1964. He was already settled in Canada by then.

I never really had a "grandmother's house" to go to, except for the one at 9 York Street in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, where my mother was born and raised.

The house in the picture above, is my mother's "grandmother's house". It is the house where her mother and her parents, and her grandmother, and her aunts and uncles once lived.  In fact, that is probably my grandmother sitting on the middle chair on the porch, along with a sister and brother. I'll never know for certain.

The house was, and is still, at 6 Cottage Lane. My mom and her siblings used to refer to it as "up home". It was really only a few streets away, but they spent a considerable amount of time there. Not only was it a "second home", but my great-grandmother, Alice McNeil was always known as "Other Mama" by her grandchildren.  She took care of them a good amount of the time, feeding and caring for them during school-hours.  Lunch was always, "up home". I think my grandmother was busy with the baby, Guy, who was somewhat younger than the rest. (I know my mother will tell me.)

I've been to this house a number of times and I could always feel that sense of comfort and warmth that permeated it's environs.  My great-aunt Clara ended up as the caretaker of the house, ultimately, but not much appeared to have changed over time.  One time, I got to explore a few of the bedrooms upstairs and dig in some of the drawers (I had permission) where I found loads of old yarn that someone had once been using for knitting.  Clara let me take some with me, and it felt like a real treasure.  I used it to make finger-crochet necklaces and bracelets. I had learned this in the Brownies. I remember the house smelled really old to me, especially since I came from a brand new, modern-day, suburban bungalow.  Even so, I liked the feel of the old place.

I too, felt a real connection to this house. It made such an impression that I wrote a poem about it once. You can read it here, if you like:  The Last Time I Was There

This is what it looks like, "up home" today:

I have much less vivid memories of my own grandmother's house - the house where my mother lived as a child and young adult.  Maybe it's because I was still quite young when I spent time in that house.  When my grandfather died, and my uncle Guy got married, my grandmother left her home in Glace Bay to go and live with them.  I lost the connection to the York Street house.  There is nothing there now except an empty lot.

I often wonder what will become of the houses we live in now. Will they still be standing a hundred years from now? Or will these places on the planet have been forgone for farther horizons? My guess is, they will not stand the test of time as some of the homes of our ancestors have.


Oops! I have almost forgotten that this was a Sepia Saturday post.  I must direct you to the many other writings on this subject of houses past and present.  (I've read them all, and they are definitely worth your time!)

Just click to move house!


  1. My mother's parents lived next door to us, so I was very close to them (geographically as well as emotionally!). They moved to Portsmouth (Virginia) during World War II, but they always referred to Shenandoah where THEY were raised as "up home."

  2. ‘Other Mama’ - what a wonderful tribute. I read your poem too, full of vivid memories.

  3. I hardly went to any of the houses in my blog this week either - all long gone out of the family by the time I came along.
    I loved your poem too.

  4. Lovely reflections here, Kat, and a great poem.

  5. I loved the ladies on the porch --- just perfect way to remember Up Home -- as was your poem.