My children are all in Edmonton where one of them lives with his wife and new daughter; the other two, with the wife of one of them, have travelled there for the long weekend, to visit and to meet their new niece. There was a phone call yesterday and a request: the address of the house in Beverly where my grandparents lived when my brothers and I visited them with my parents in the 1950s. (Later, after my grandfather’s death, my grandmother lived with her daughters, rotating her residencies, so that we saw her in a different house, a different context, when we visited in the early 1960s. Though mostly I remember she lived with her daughter Ann.)
I went to the untidy file of papers I kept after my father’s death in 2009 and found the address for them. John and I went in search of that house in 2011 and didn’t find the exact address but I recognized the neighbourhood, the park where my brothers played ball with a clan of boys with whom they formed immediate friendships. I recognized the river — my father’s boyhood friend Steve Josey (Josie?) lived in a house near the river and sometimes he’d cook lunch for my brothers and me. (My middle brother is named for Steve and my older brother is named for another friend, Dan Danilowich.) When I arrived home from that 2011 visit, I realized I’d copied the wrong address into my notebook so we were searching on the wrong street — 113 Avenue instead of 111. But this time I provided the correct address and I hope they found the house. My son said he said he intended to knock on the door and introduce himself to the current residents and I said, “If you do that and if they’re interested, tell them I can make copies of the building permit and materials receipts as all those things are in the file.” There were two houses, I remember, and it was my understanding that my grandparents built one of them in 1946. There are hardware receipts for lumber, socket sets, plaster, and light fixtures. I remembered them from the file and after our phone call, I began to look through it.
Then I called Forrest back in Edmonton. “I’ve just found a receipt for my grandparents’ burial plots in the Beechmount Cemetery,” I told him. “If you can, will you go there and take a photograph for me?” He said he’d been there, years earlier while attending a conference in Edmonton, but that he’d try to go and take a photograph for me. I kept looking at the receipt and thinking how it felt like a palimpsest. So when this photograph arrived this morning, it was one of those moments when time does its strange metaphysical shiver: a phone call, a receipt for plots purchased five years before my grandfather’s death (and three years before my own birth) and thirteen years before my grandmother’s death. A photograph sixty-two years later. A grave behind, for one of the sons who travelled from Horni Lomna with his mother in 1913 and a small plaque for the first daughter born in Drumheller after my grandmother’s arrival.
This morning I’ve been looking through the file box to see what else is there. I did sort it in a cursory way after my father’s death but there was so much to do and think about at that time and I’ve forgotten most of what’s here. And it’s hard to place some of it, figure out how it fits. A handwritten paper, for instance, signed by “J. Prins” on February ?, 1946, certifying that my grandfather has paid 200 dollars for a house on the Humberstone Farm which is to be moved on or before the first day of July. At a Beverly history site, I find that Jacob Prins came to Alberta in 1927 and eventually, “After careful consideration, he purchased the 186-acre Humberstone Farm, nestled in a broad bend of the North Saskatchewan River and atop the Humberstone Coal Mine. The purchase came with two bonuses: the mineral rights to the land and a large two-storey white house that William Humberstone had built as a rooming house for the coal miners.” My grandfather was a coal miner, first in Drumheller, then Beverly. I have no idea of his connection with the Prins family but somehow he bought a house that was moved to 111 Avenue and I have no idea if it was the small house with the tin roof in which my brothers and I slept on one visit to our grandparents or the bigger house where uncles and aunts gathered with my grandparents when my parent’s visited and where my grandfather cooked corn for us and, oh, how the years have passed and are reduced to hazy memories and a handful of hardware receipts. And a receipt for two grave plots, priced at 25.oo dollars apiece.
When I showed John the paper signed by J Prins, he read it slowly (he was standing on a stool in the sunroom where he was in the process of scraping the 100 year old windows in order to reputty their ancient glass and repaint the frames) and said, You need to catalogue this stuff. And I will.