I learned about the existence of Austin (Manitoba), long before I ever heard of Austin (Texas). I have my mother’s side of the family to thank for that one. There seems to be some kind of family roots situation over there, yet I’d never been. Until last weekend, that is!
My mom’s aunt was turning 90 so she threw a massive birthday celebration for herself, because she is AWESOME. I took the opportunity to catch a ride with my mom and crash the party, thus scoring a free ride to Austin, Manitoba. (Mennonite-ing my way across this prairie province, if you will.)
Plus I was curious about what would happen if I’d throw myself into a big roomful of my mom’s relatives, not having much of a clue about who they are, nor they I. When I was a child, this extended family used to assemble itself on a yearly basis, which is a pretty admirable feat! Of course, when I was a kid, I was absolutely terrible in crowds. Now that I’m an adult… I still am. HA. Anyway, everyone was vaguely familiar, and not in a Steinbach way. Nope. They were vaguely familiar in a we-used-to-have-family-gatherings way. So that was very interesting and pretty cool. I enjoyed chatting briefly with some extended relatives, and only regret that I was a little overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people, and a poor conversationalist. Aunt Helen is clearly well-loved by many, and super-smart for hosting a party for herself. I think we can all learn an excellent lesson from her. The last time I saw Aunt Helen, she was on the back of a motorcycle, triumphantly pumping her fist in the air. No word of a lie. This is the image in my head, burned into my brain as my mom and I turned the vehicle around and began our two-hour drive home.
I have to be honest, there was something more pulling me to Austin: Edrans, just a quick innocent 24-minute drive from Austin.
Over the years, my mom has occasionally talked about “the farm in Edrans”. This was where she was a very small child, before grandma and grandpa moved their young family to Winnipeg. I knew my mom’s Winnipeg-based childhood home pretty well, because grandma and grandpa lived there until I was ten years old. But “the farm in Edrans” from the time before Winnipeg, is entirely mysterious to me. I’ve seen a few grainy pictures that were apparently taken there, featuring little cherubs reported to be my mother and aunts. This is not enough to help me identify the location of this now-mysterious farm site, which is not technically within Edrans, but rather just kinda sorta in that area somewhere. (This is also not very helpful.)
I’ve never been to Edrans, but really would love to check it out, so I was hoping we could take an extra little jaunt to Edrans so mom could show me the location of her childhood home.
Alas, it was not to be. She was tired from hours of long-lost familial interaction, and I forced myself to accept the fact that I ought to be respectful and NOT kidnap my mother and force her into extending our little adventure. (However, doesn’t this sound the like the perfect setup for a mismatched buddy road trip movie?)
So close, yet so far away.
So I’ve been thinking lately, about how difficult it is to get information out of people. Particularly if they can tell you’re hungry for information. They see you lean forward, get suspicious, and clam up. (Or refuse to drive an extra hour. Yeah, I know I said it was just 24 minutes from Austin… but let’s not underestimate my ability to get lost on roads I’ve never seen before.)
Of course, other times, valuable information comes gushing out of nowhere, from an unexpected source, and I find myself completely unprepared to catch every droplet of these rich words and images and begin to panic, thinking, “This is my chance! This is my chance! It’s passing me by and I’m not even listening! How do I stop and figure out how to get my iPhone recording this? Should I take notes? Ahhhhh!”
Anyway, this reminds me of those times I’ve heard some people decide, at the end of a loved one’s life, to sit down and pelt ’em with rapid-fire questions. To me, this seems unkind. To suddenly realize you’ve let the relationship lapse and abruptly leap into their face, pummelling them with intense questions about some of the most difficult times of their lives… honestly, that’s just a really stupid kind of cruel.
People won’t always be in the mood to talk about this stuff. Or show you stuff.
And that’s okay.
At least I got to see Aunt Helen kick ass at 90, and catch a glimpse of Austin, Manitoba!