The Haystack Gets Bigger

During a phone conversation earlier this week, my mom told me that my cousin had left Montego Bay and returned home to the States.

It’s a good thing I kept my expectations low –  turns out she never visited our great-aunt Milda. Apparently on the day she’d arranged to go see her, there was a torrential downpour and (since the roads aren’t all that great, even in the best weather) she couldn’t go.

The mystery continues.

My mom has since had a conversation with my aunt, who says she’s trying to make plans to go in the near future. A tiny part of me remains hopeful. The rest of me is trying to figure out how I’m going to scrape together enough time off to go to Jamaica in the fall.

IMAG0087 Okay. Fast-forward to Wednesday afternoon. I go to my mom’s house for my weekly visit. She’s shredding some documents in the kitchen — spring cleaning — and, as usual, doesn’t feel as if she’s made a dent.

THEN she says, “I was going through some things and found something you might be interested in.”

She picks up a dog-eared white envelope – perhaps legal-sized – and pulls out two black-and-white prints.

The penny drops.

They’re reproductions of art work by my half-uncle, who’s an artist by education (but hasn’t really done anything since the 1970s) and lives in Florida. He sent them to my mother ages ago. June 1992, to be precise.

IMAG0089(Here’s the backstory: the aforementioned cousin who’s just left Jamaica had, in the early 1990s, tracked down my mom’s half-brother and put the two of them in touch with one another.)

My uncle had written my mom a letter on the back of each of these prints, giving her a summary of what he had been doing for the last 30-or-so years of his life since they had last seen each other in the flesh — school, marriage, moving, kids and divorce, in approximately that order.

I quickly skim the letter … and then I get to the last paragraph.

IMAG0092In case it’s not clear from the photo (and apologies for the shadows I cast taking these images), the paragraph in question reads:

“As for Aunt Helen (sic) – Carol, Milda’s daughter – now living in Florida, does not know much about her, only that she is in Toronto – address unknown – she may be in a nursing home.”

This short passage suggests that Ellen did in fact move from Montreal to Toronto – which backs up what Mom has long since believed. Of course, this is based on word-of mouth, not actual proof.

There are now two complications with this search:

(1) I have no address. If Ellen was in a nursing home in Toronto, she could have been in any number of them. Which leads to the other complication …

(2) I have no idea of how long Ellen lived. Previous to the re-discovery of this letter, I’d been working under the assumption that she may have died in the late 1960s or sometime in the 1970s. But here’s what I didn’t account for: occasionally, some of the people in my mother’s family defy the odds and live for a long time. Great-aunt Milda is a great example (and I really hope she sticks around long enough for me to meet her).

If Ellen was somehow living at the time of this letter – 1992 – I’m now dealing with not only a lack of information, but perhaps privacy laws. But then again, she may not have been living by that point. Who knows? It’s also possible that Milda may not have kept in touch with her, or even know or remember when Ellen died.

So I’m still pretty much in the same place as before.

When I started this personal research project, I was fully aware that trying to find information about Ellen would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. But as time goes on, I’m wondering if this is one needle that really doesn’t want to be found.

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