Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Strong Roots

A wild day on the Bras D'or... 'Going home'
The drive from the South Shore here in Nova Scotia, to my sister's home on Cape Breton Island takes about six hours...six long hours to think about a lot of things. We grew up in a Melting Pot of cultures; a place where immigrants gathered to work at the Steel Plant, hoping to build a new life for themselves and their children. Back then, most of our neighbours had a back yard garden, as did my dad for awhile. He'd bring big bags of tomatoes into the house, grown well despite the ore dust that sometimes covered them...trace elements of iron perhaps contributed to their robustness.

I was thinking about my deep roots still pulling me home, thinking that no matter where I've gone in my life, and no matter what I've accomplished, I will always be, not a Nova Scotian, but a Cape Bretoner. I was thinking about the immigrant experience and how it shaped our lives, we the seeds that were planted on that island, growing, like our early garden transplants, sometimes without much encouragment, too little fertilizer, too little rain. Working parents, like gardeners, trying their best to nurture us to bloom.

Some of the strongest influences came from the Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Italian and Polish in our community. Each culture brought their own seeds of diversity. As I spend my January and February days leafing through Seed catalogues, making decisions about what I think might grow best here in our sandy quick draining soil, I can't help but be drawn to the old heirloom varieties, seeds, like my ancestors, that have survived for hundreds of years against all odds. As I read, I am remembering the food of our Cape Breton community, the celebrations of our ethnic population, shared church suppers, New Year's Eve dinners and dances at the Ukrainian hall among many fond memories. We grew up to respect what we had grown ourselves, not as some thought, you must be poor if you have to grow it and can't buy it. They didn't understand and some still do not understand. "Why do you grow that when you can just go out and buy it" a friend asked. How can you answer that? It would take generations of words to reply.

Anyway, a long drive gives you lots of time to think. It's not always easy going back home. Sometimes the journey is about a funeral, a sick family member ....sometimes a difficult circumstance one doesn't want to face. A highlight of this journey however, was my sister's 50th birthday and as we say in Cape Breton.."what a time it was".

Our roots run deep. We're planted, we grow, sometimes we make it to adulthood, sometimes not. Like the seeds we try to germinate and nourish, it's not always a happy ending. But, this weekend was and so to you dear sister, Happy Wonderful Joyous Fantastic Birthday and many many more.


  1. I am so happy that you get to spend time with your wonderful sister. I am here with mine and loving every minute.

  2. Worth the journey!

    I read the link re Cap Breton....but no mention of Brittany or Bretons...how was it so named?

  3. GZ. I do think you are on the right track there, believing it might have a link to Brittany or Bretons. This below is the closest I can find to answer your question in a more literary way than I can. Big Grin


    Hope that link takes you to the believed origins of the name.

    Erin..glad to know you are with your sister. Cherish every minute.

  4. Love this post Brenda! Brought back lots of memories from my childhood too. Growing up in Detroit, much like you described, our neighborhood was quite a melting pot. Our next door neighbor, who was like a Grandma to me, was from Yugoslavia. Our yards were very small, yet they grew 2 pear trees, grapes and beautiful flowers. I spent time with her every day and will never stop missing her. I also remember my friend's Grandma who lived with them .... I was always so taken with the beautiful Ukrainian Easter eggs she made. Another friends Mom grew up on a farm ... she made pies and bread everyday! Lots of great memories and lots of different influences.

    Your sister is beautiful! I'm happy you were able to share her special day with her! Indeed, the seas look quite wild and I'm sure you were glad to get home.


  5. Greetings from Old Scotia. I can relate to your journey. Our journey is to Caithness (just across the North Coast of Scotland from Cape Wrath). The sea looks the same.

  6. As you say it isn't always easy to go home. I am glad you had a happy occasion to lure you home this time. Happy Birthday to your Sister. I see that the theme was black. I always find that funny.

  7. Michele, thank you so much for your lovely comment. My sister is beautiful, inside and out. Thank you for sharing your memories xo

    I know it looks like the sea, but this is actually a lake, a huge lake in the center of Cape Breton, but it is much like an inland sea, as it opens to the ocean in three places, Big Bras D'or, Little Bras D'or and St. Peters Canal.

    Lisa, you are right, it isn't always easy to go home.

    SMILE...actually, the theme was Vegas Night..but most sparkly outfits seem to be in black! Maybe in the summer there would be more selection of colors.

  8. I love the photo with the chairs - it reminds me of Chesil beach on a stormy day. My sibling ties are so weak as to be almost non existent, but I've learned that is not to be admired or wished for. My wife (Welsh of course) is the opposite and this wekend at her parents Golden Wedding there will be huge family gathering

  9. Mal, Old Scotia..and so it is. Thank you for your comment, very much. I so enjoy your blog.

    Mark, thank you for commenting. Do you know this photo was taken right beside the highway, from the Causeway, along through St. Peters, to Sydney. Quite amazing to see such high waves, and those chairs not being floated out to sea...yet!!

    Hope you have a wonderful weekend celebrating the Golden Wedding anniversary.

  10. Gardeningbren,
    This is a blooming marvellous post and one that humbled and warmed me. I read over it twice. Your sister is stunning. So glad yougot to spend time withher and dwell on warm memories from your childhood.

    I grew up in South Wales - a melting pot too: Yememi, Africans, West Indians, South Asians, Italians and Poles, but witnessed (and still do) antagonism between host white communities and established/long term economic migrants. Moving back there will be interesting. Since the late 1990s there are many new migrant communities in the form of refugees and asylum seekers: Eritrea, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq. So it will be interesting to see the changes and the reactions of other people - I am a keen people water. These days Parts of South Wales in the U.K is disliked because of its cultural diversity, and like to dub it as a bit rundown - but thats what I like about it.

    Anyway, forgive me for my ramblings here. Once again, a truly beautiful post x

  11. Very thoughtful post. You can take the girl out of Cape Breton but you can't take Cape Breton out of the girl to slightly change a phrase we may use!

    You are right about some people's attitude to growing your own vegetables. When we first started to grow our own people thought we were weird!

  12. Are those two seats on the sea-front reserved for the Birthday Girl and her Sister???

  13. Beautiful photo of the water rolling in. Recently I looked through a seed catalogue and noted how many of the varieties listed there came from other countries and the stories of how they were brought here. There's a lot of history in our food and it's place in our lives. As you say, it would be difficult to explain that to someone who doesn't share that experience.

  14. Thank you Sue for your comment. Even though Cape Breton is part of Nova Scotia, we do tend to think of ourselves loyally Cape Breton'rs..you are right, I am tru and tru as they say.

    Mark, those two seats are by a lake, can you believe it. As there is such little tide action, only the wind would whip the chairs away. I'd like to think they were reserved just for the Birthday girl and sister.

    Thank you Marguerite...the noise and the wind was awesome! I wonder if it wasn't Hope Seed's catalogue you were looking through...a history lesson between those pages, on most of the seeds offered!

  15. I can think of a one word answer to why someone would grow their own -- taste! Nothing beats the heirlooms for taste.

    I love to grow antique plants for their history too.