Ruth under glass


My grandmother was an O’Hara, born and raised in Glasgow. This is not such an unusual thing as there was a time when it was all Celtic land. Some time later the English sent Scottish soldiers to protect English interests in Ireland. And when the English turned the lush green of Ireland into a land of famine and misery, some of the starving Irish came east to work in Glasgow’s shipyards.

Within a generation they were fighting and starving with a brogue instead of a lilt.

At the beginning of the 20th century my grandmother came to Canada.  She found employment as a mother’s helper to a struggling family in a francophone community on Georgian Bay. In the way of these things the mother she was helping eventually stopped struggling, probably due to the side effects of epilepsy. And, in the way of these things, the mother’s helper took on new duties in the household of a young man recently widowed.

I am not implying any indiscrete behaviour took place. We’re talking about my father’s mother and a devout French Catholic family in an extremely devout French Catholic community. Let’s just say that, like Ruth labouring in the fields, she came to the attention of the young man for whom she worked.

It seems some themes keep threading through their way through our days: the story of Ruth keeps rubbing up against my life like a cat.

As we wandered through the Botanical Gardens in Glasgow, trying to warm up a bit before lunch, I watched school kids yelling, laughing and crowding around demonstration tables. There was an environmental display and a table where they could learn to extract DNA from plant material. I felt very old thinking how, at their age,  I knew nothing of DNA let alone how to extract it from parsley.

These tables were set between the marble statues spaced along the outside wall of the conservatory. That was when I saw her. Ruth. Young, resting with a sheaf of barley across her lap. In the city my grandmother left,  her land of Moab.

Sometimes you travel thousands of miles to find where the journey began.