The series “The Gilmore Girls” was recently revived on Netflex – and GIs were interviewed on the national news saying the series represented the kind of small town life they felt represented the best of America. I recently drove to Brigden, Ontario Canada with my brother Bill for a family funeral – a town that in my memory felt like Stars Hollow. (And yes, my mother’s Slovak parents had a farm near Vassar, Michigan that was also a small town haven, but that’s another blog!) My Aunt Mary Jane passed away at 93 in a London, Ont. long term care home and was my late father’s youngest sister – only one more older sister survives now in Florida.
Brigden is less than a two hour drive from the northern Detroit suburbs, with the option to take the Bluewater ferry at Marine City or drive farther north to the Bluewater Bridge at Sarnia. We lucked out and got to the ferry right before it left, then drove up the region’s pastoral roads.
I loved the fact that while I was raised In Detroit, my weekends were often spent in the country, and often in Canada, in a region that seemed so quiet and rural and remains that way around Brigden – although massive oil fields are close by. My English grandfather and Scotch grandmother (her brother was a successful industrialist named Frances Shaw) had retired as active farmers when I was a kid and were living in a small, coastal town called Colchester on Lake Erie. My dad was one of 17 kids (two died as infants) and as the third oldest, he went to work in his teens to help his parents and younger siblings. He eventually ended up working for Chrysler in their Hamtramck plant as a tradesman and proud union man.
It had been two years since I visited the Bear Creek cemetery where my parents, Alvin and Marion Andrew, were buried next to my grandparents, John and Mary Andrew, surrounded by other siblings and their spouses. The local funeral home, Steadman Brothers, never seems to change, but I learned that the older cousin I was named after had passed away a few years earlier at the age of 104, and her daughter, also named Janet, joyfully embraced me when Bill and I entered the main room. It was also amazing to see how grandkids had grown and baby boomer cousins from my generation were gracefully aging. Bill had brought a handwritten letter from my Dad’s brother Leonard, who died in battle in France as a Canadian soldier in World War II. It turned out that Leonard had been my Aunt Mary Jane’s favorite sibling, who held her hand as a child and assumed the role of her protector. Mary Jane’s daughter had WWII letters from Leonard to her mother, but was excited to read another one. Bill promised to send her a copy of it for her records.
It turned out that Mary Jane was buried next to my parents, which seemed fitting since my Dad assumed the role of President of the family reunions and next generation patriarch. Mary Jane had spent her life within a short drive to her home town, devoted to family. The day ended with a late luncheon at a church behind the funeral home. My cousin Bonnie reminded me how I was the only cousin with colorful wooden marionettes and a playhouse for them while my brother had an extensive train set she loved to play with. We exchanged information and promised find new reasons to get together. Oh, Canada!