My Nana, Christina Mary McLeod, was a strong woman. I remember washing a grey, hooked rug with her at our family cottage on a Quebec lake. She filled the old claw-footed bathtub with some warm and soapy water, then helped me roll up my trouser legs. She dropped the rug into the bathwater, then lifted me into the bath to step on the carpet as one would crush grapes to make wine. When the water was murky and grey, she rinsed the rug and wrung it out with her hands. It’s that image I remember so well. I recall trying to help wring out the carpet, but my small hands didn’t have the strength for the job. Nana always wore an apron over her dress and stockings, even at the cottage. Her strong arms and hands were skilled at cleaning fish, skinning rabbits, making log fires crackle and baking shortbread. My Nana was bright and she was a reader. Born in Thurso, northern Scotland, to a shepherd and his wife, she had twelve brothers and sisters. It’s Nana’s sister Jean I want to talk about today. I wonder if Jean had a disability. No one in our family knows for sure. Family records show that Jean was the only McLeod sibling who never attended school. If Jean did have a disability, it appears that my Nana was her caregiver.
My Nana looks to be about ten years old in this photo, she is standing beside her older brother. Jean is seated in front of her brother.
Jean as a young woman, shortly before moving to Canada.
I never knew Jean, but she must have been beloved, because Nana named her first-born daughter after her. When Nana and her sister Amy came to Canada as young women in search of a new life, they brought Jean. I don’t know what happened to her – how or when she died. But I know that my Nana loved her sister and as the oldest girl in the family, cared for all her younger siblings. My Nana met Charles McKenzie Thomson, another Scot who came to Canada and they had four children, one of whom was my father. If Jean did have a disability, it appears that she was naturally included in the family. And that inclusion was born of love.