As I Remember It: Teachings (Ɂəms tɑɁɑw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder

My Grandmother

“And as was the custom with our people, the grandmothers always helped with bringing children up.”

I grew up with my grandmother. She took me as a child, actually, a new baby when she took me. Because my parents – my mother and father were moving to Port Alberni. And they already had two very small children that was just a year and two years older than I. And as was the custom with our people, the grandmothers always helped with bringing children up. That was really important. No one questioned that. And when my grandmother took me as a new baby, she told my mother, “I’m gonna keep the baby. Your hands are full with these two small babies.”

“My grandmother, when I was born, wanted me to be named Elsie after the daughter that she lost.”

And besides, my grandmother had lost her youngest daughter with that residential school experience that we all have heard and know about. She was about ten when she was taken away to residential school, in Sechelt. And she got very ill, very sick there, within a few months. And by the time they let my grandparents know – they went to pick her up by canoe to Sechelt. They got her home and she was so weak they had to pack her on and off the boat. And within a few days she had died. So her name was Elsie. So that’s where I got my name from. My grandmother, when I was born, wanted me to be named Elsie after the daughter that she lost.

So she raised me, I guess, as a replacement for the daughter she lost. And it’s been good. For me it was very good. I thank her for that. So they took me. Kept me. And I stayed there the rest of my life with them – the rest of their life. I grew up with them and – treated me like I was their own. I was just an extension of their children.

And a lot of the families were like that. A lot of grandparents took on grandchildren, especially if the mother was single or the spouse had passed away or whatever. They always just came together and took – whether they could afford it or not! They just accepted you into the family. So that’s how I came to be with my grandparents was through their generous big heart. They raised other grandchildren. I don’t think there was ever a time that they didn’t have grandchildren around, some of us more permanent than others. Yeah, and they raised a bunch of kids – my grandparents had a large family. They had a lot of children together.

A lot of them died, at a very young age. She had sixteen children, and out of the sixteen, six survived. So she had lost ten children throughout her life. Some at a very young age and some, you know, like the girl they lost through residential school, she was probably about ten or eleven when she got sick and died. But the rest were babies. They were very young babies, through one type of illness or another. And they died – she lost two children in one day. Got very sick and within a day two of her children died. These were just very young children yet. So that was most difficult for them as parents. So I guess that’s why they took us in as grandchildren. I guess maybe in some ways we helped their loss in that way. Yeah.

My grandfather was easygoing. He was easygoing. He was a man of very few words. But he was busy. He was always busy doing something. And my grandmother was the boss. She was this short woman. Short and tubby – kind of chubby. And I always remember when she was upset about something, her legs were so short, like they barely touch the floor like that [gesturing], and she’d stomp her feet. [laughs] And she would get really annoyed at him in later years ’cause he was quite deaf. He was really deaf. And so she would be jabbering away at him and it’s like he’s ignoring her. Maybe he was pretending to be deaf, I don’t know! Yeah, she was a good woman, my grandmother. She was the boss of the house and controlled the house. She never laid a hand on me. She never struck me. Neither did my grandfather. So they were very loving and nurturing to me. So I was really lucky that way. I have good memories of them, real good memories. Yeah.

This page has paths:

This page has tags: