Shedding Light on the Family Tree: Sweet Dreams

The 37th in a series on my family tree

Prompt: High and Low

Life, by its very nature, is filled with highs and lows. It is the vessel that holds the contrast between our heartfelt dreams and the harsh reality of attaining them. We dream the dreams (the highs) and then get schooled in what’s required to maintain, sustain and thrive in that realm of our imagination. That is the low, for no matter how bright the dream the shadow reality lurks in its wake.

And what might the shadow look like? Experience has shown me that it’s the unexpected hardships, sacrifices, personal challenges, and disrupters that test our resolve, resilience and the strength of the dream itself. To me it constitutes the part of the hero’s journey where our commitment and mettle are tested.

We’ve all experienced this in one form or another. Our dream careers, cultural/political/social aspirations, etc. tempt us onto the road toward something better and we go for it. Starry-eyed with hope-filled hearts and the expectation of clear sailing based on charted coordinates we assume will guide us along the easiest route, we plunge headlong into the innocent sea of dreams only to find when we surface our course altered by storms and sea monsters, and hijacked by pirates and other ne’er-do-wells. With that comes the sad realization that, in spite of our best efforts we didn’t, in fact, think the voyage all the way through. But how could we when the unexpected is bound to happen?

It could be argued that if we were presented with a list of all the low points along the route to our dreams we’d never take the first step. I don’t what to do that! I don’t want to work with her! You can’t make me move there! The highs launch us on the impassioned voyage of no return ~ our hearts bounding on the open sea of possibilities while reason flies out an open port hole.

From personal experience I know this to be true. To help me reach that distant, longed-for shore I’ve learned to draw on the strength and example of my pioneer ancestors.

The Gordons

From Puritans to Palatines to United Empire Loyalists my ancestry is filled with hardworking idealists who dreamed of something better. I’ve referenced my Scottish great grandparents, William Alexander Gordon (1880-1854) and Jane (Robson) Gordon (1883-1959) before. Their relocation to the middle-of-nowhere Alberta, Canada, from a gentrified life in Motherwell, Scotland, in 1927, is a story that bears repeating as it epitomizes the high ideals of a dream and the types of daunting lows that undermine.

William and Jane Gordon ca 1950
Source Family Archives

The thought of starting a new life in another country would have been both appealing and daunting, and a decision not easily made. Still, my great grandparents decided to take a chance on a new life for themselves and their family in Canada, their hopes buoyed by the promise of free land through the Soldier Settlement Scheme. And so they jumped … and landed hard.

“We were not really farmers, at heart. My dad had been raised on a farm in Scotland. My mother raised in Inverness. She had only seen the odd cow while on holidays in the country. Dad never had milked a cow. That was women’s work at that time in Scotland. [At 47] Dad was even a bit past the age of starting to farm in 1927. However, both he and my mother wanted to get us children out of the close environment of the towns and cities. They would have been better off financially and comfortable if they’d stayed in Scotland if it were for themselves they were thinking. My dad always had a good job. He was a very good worker. Well built and at least six feet tall. He was a steel smelter with an advanced job at it and earning good pay.

This scheme had lots of faults. Dad got one half section, comprising of 320 acres, of which about 20 acres was brushed and broken. The Soldiers Settlement Board had put new floor upstairs and downstairs in a log house. A new stairway and chimney. A new cook stove, some chairs and a table. Some beds with no mattresses. A new roof on the log barn and a new floor. There was no well. Dad made a hole in some swampy land, the water filled the hole and we had to boil the water before using it. Naturally, the first things he bought were an axe and a grind stone to sharpen it. He bought a team of horses and a wagon and wagon box. Then a cow and a calf. Chickens followed also, in time, pigs. He worked very, very hard causing many remarks from neighbours. He brushed the land in navy blue suits. The mosquitoes were so bad that his back was grey with them. Horse flies were also terrible. They really bit bad. We had no screens on our windows and the flies, bugs, horse flies and mosquitoes had a wonderful time with our fresh British blood. We all were in agony and covered with red bumps. My mother thought we all had a different type of measles until a neighbour called on us and told us that it was mosquito and bug bites. We got screens for the windows and bought a lot of stuff called “citronella.” We stunk of that stuff. We also used smudges all over the yard to smoke the evil biting devils away from us. My mother had attempted to milk the cow. She was doing not too badly when her eyes swelled completely shut with the bites. I felt so sorry for her that I tried to do the milking. Hence I (Alice) always helped with milking until I left home. I hated it by then and left it alone after that.”

Memoir of Alice (Gordon) McDonall … Source: Family Archives

Despite a very challenging first year and a desire to return to the old country when the going got really tough the Gordons, over time, prospered and became valued members of their pioneer community. Still, the dream was tossed on rolling waves of uncertainty and despair for several years before it finally held its own.

Anyone who’s stepped off the high precipice of hope into the unknown depths of brutal uncertainty will say it’s not for the faint of heart. In fact, it’s the stalwart heart that keeps the dream alive. In the end my great grandparents waded through a litany of lows precipitated by loss, floods, dry spells, and the Great Depression, etc., to land on the original dream of creating a better life for their children.

After some 13 years on the farm and with their children having left the nest, William and Jane sold up and moved to Edmonton. He was soon hired by the Province of Alberta to grade cattle at the Exhibition grounds near their home. It was work he enjoyed and at which he was proficient. His years on the farm had given him a new skill that would see him through to retirement.

The Final Word

Anyone who has embraced the high of a dream realizes how quickly it can turn into a nightmare. Still, the most important part of the hero’s journey is the ability to rise to the challenges of the passage across the changeable seas so that when the ship finally does come in the realized dream is all the sweeter. ❦

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2022 … Aimwell CreativeWorks

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