My kids are so funny. They think they’re the ones who discovered Led Zeppelin, Scooby Doo and Batman. I laugh when I hear them say, “Mom, you gotta hear this great song! It’s called ‘More Than a Feeling’!” (take me back to junior high) or “I’m reading this great book by Robertson Davies; ever heard of him?” (discovered in high school!).
You can’t really blame them for not understanding that I once lived a life beyond them. In fact, I really can’t point a finger their way because just the other day I was SO guilty of doing the same thing. I could almost hear the collective groan of my ancestors.
Here’s where I fell down. My husband and I were out on a walk in Banff near the Cave and Basin Historic site. It was a gorgeous fall day, and we found a lovely walk down through the forest to the shores of Vermilion Lake. I said out loud we should bring my parents back here, wondering if they had done this trail. As we stopped near the trail head, I snapped a photo of the cool slate building near the pool.
I had a sudden flashback: “I’ve seen this spot before!” It was more than knowing that I had been here before (in the last few years, and as a child). But SEEN it, that way, from that angle, through a photograph.
Then it hit me: I was pretty sure that this very spot was the place where my grandparents had their family’s photo taken, next to their Model-T Ford in 1924. When I got home, I discovered it was true! This is, you see, the whole problem with our personal narration: we only see the tip of the iceberg that is our own history.
If you think of it, each of us has a familial history as huge as an iceberg. We may know – if we’re lucky – the 10 percent that sticks up above the water of our existence … through personal interactions with grandparents (or if you’re really lucky like me, great-grandparents), uncles, aunts, cousins and more. Or, we may also know it through stories passed down the years by those who had the gift of blarney (my family landscape is very rich in this regard).
I am the family historian, and have been for years. I have a passionate interest in family stories, and have been dubbed “the keeper of the family history”. Over the years, many relatives have made deposits in the “Bank of Linda’s Files”, giving me information, photos, documents. My stash is large and — in some cases — dates back to the early 1600s in Canada.
At Christmas a couple years ago I was making a collage for my parents, and wanted to use family photos as the base. Digging through my files, what I found astonished me. My family history in the Bow Valley (Canmore, Banff, Lake Louise) goes back almost a century! (I often use these photos as inspiration for my art projects.)
As I dug through old photos, I was amazed to find my paternal grandparents in picture after picture at the Banff Springs Hotel, The Upper Hot Springs, Lake Louise, the Spray Lakes and even – in one photo – with the Three Sisters mountain range behind them! Hey, that’s what I see when I look out my art studio window every day!
Talking with my father, it became clear that he and my mom retired in Canmore because it had become one of their favorite places on earth. My dad started coming here with his family in the late 1930s to fish, hike and ski.
I particularly love these photos of the Sunshine Ski Area where (get this) you walked up the ski hill once in the morning, skied down, had lunch, walked up again, skied down, then went home (my kids roll their eyes).
My mom and dad also did this really special thing for us as kids. They took us every Sunday without fail on a “family picnic”. The only rule was that you couldn’t spend a dime (beyond gas and groceries), so we spent a lot of time outside in the Rocky Mountains. Having picnics, throwing rocks, walking through magical places … generally spending time together and building our own strong love of the mountains and the great outdoors.
Later in life, when I remembered to thank my parents for giving me this deep and lasting love for the mountains, my mom said: “You don’t have to thank us! We went on hikes and picnics because that’s what WE loved to do. You had to come along, and we were just glad you liked it, too!”
We all earnestly believe that knowledge comes from first-hand experience, don’t we? But, that can be short-sighted, too, if you don’t give credit to those who have gone before you.
Surely, a love of the mountains can be passed through the generations as much as that crooked pinkie-finger that links me to my mom, my Grama Violet, my Great-Grandma Jane, and untold others before her?
I think it must, because, there’s a funny thing I’ve noticed since moving to Canmore: as I fall more deeply in love with our place in the Bow Valley, something here already feels remarkably like home.