Patricia McCarney and I are related and unrelated at the same time.
Three summers ago she knocked on my front door. “I’m Patricia McCarney,” she said. “This house was in my family for more than fifty years.”
“I know,” I replied, inviting her in. “I’ve been expecting you.”
She told me that she woke that morning with an intense desire to visit the house. My neighbour, Doris, gave me the heads up that an older woman had stopped by a couple of times over the past years, not finding us at home. I worried that perhaps she had passed on before we had a chance to chat, but here she was on my/her porch and was delighted to be invited in. We took tea on the upper balcony where she had slept with her sister, Curly, in screened in comfort, on hot summer nights.
Patricia was born in Smiths Falls Hospital and grew up in my house until she was sent away to boarding school in Ottawa, returning for the holidays. There was no transportation available for she and her siblings to the high school in Kemptville, just fifteen kilometres away. After school, she took her vows and became a nun. Although she wasn’t cloistered she was forbidden to return home to visit her family, which, she noted, explained her lack of absence in later photos. Her grandfather owned the woollen mill across the street, the village’s largest employer, until it burned down under mysterious circumstances in 1951. Her father was a rep for two tea companies and he ran his business and kept his supplies in the “tea house”, in what is now Doris and John’s house across the street. The family sold “Rustic Manor” in 1976.
Last month she dropped by, unexpectedly, with her charming friend, Michael, for another look around and more delightful chat. This time we made plans for her to come back to the house with her nephew, John, along with the family photo albums.
Last week, on a gorgeous summer’s day, we toured the house again, although Patricia had noticeably slowed down. She rested in the garden, with my daughter for company, while John and I negotiated the steep basement stairs, discussed the stone cistern, and talked about the subtle changes to the house over the years.
We gathered at the table with the collection of photos of “Rustic Manor”. I recorded our conversation as we poured over each image and Patricia and John had a chance to reminisce. I numbered each one, made notes, and scanned them to create my own record. Because of my renovation work and associated building forensics, I was able to enlighten them on a few details of which they were unfamiliar.
They apologized several times for distracting me from other work, which couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Their time, insights and photos are a precious and fleeting gift and I look forward to seeing them again, and learning more, before long. We may not share bloodlines but we certainly share history.
Here are a few of the photos, from different eras, that they shared.