So, my grandfather had been cremated. This
de-railed the plan I had in mind to bring three stones to his gravesite;
one from our land of origin, Saputiligait-Tuqsukattaq, one from the
original trading post at Kangiqsuruaq, where my mother had been
conceived, and one from my mother’s grave. Gone also was the alternate
plan to have all of us place a stone upon his grave on our pilgrimage to
his burial place. Be careful not to plan too soon.
Considering that life is not a tidy
script, I could not be disappointed. The Inuktitut expression,
Ajurnamat, (It cannot be helped), fully applied here. Neither was it
disappointing to learn that there were no cousins. Ajurnamat,
again. Instead, I counted our blessings. We learned what had become of
our grandfather, and gained a fuller understanding of his extended
family. We were the only grandchildren of this man, and we could take
renewed pride in this.
Most of all, we had a living uncle we
could look forward to eventually meeting. My conversation with Jess
Peter lasted an hour and a half, but felt like 15 minutes. Here was
another segment for the how-to manual: “The first verbal
communication with a searched-for relative should last as long as human
nature makes it. Be your genuine, human self. The length and content of
the conversation will look after itself. Never let cost be a
consideration: You don’t search long and far only to become a miser when
you’ve finally made contact!”
I told Jess Peter about my mother’s seven
children; five sons and two daughters: all fortunately still alive! By
the time she died in March 1995, she had 30 grandchildren and a few
great-grandchildren. There had never been any way for us to search for
her father while she lived. Even when we, here children, learned
English, it had been impossible to know where to look for the records of
a company that had ceased to exist in 1936. Ajurnasimammat Ilaa!
(It had certainly not been possible!)
Jess told me she’d send me some
photographs of themselves, as well as a newspaper clipping of the death
notice of my grandfather. There was a lifetime of two family histories,
spanning a period of over 77 years, to be connected; of lives lived
separately – one Scottish, the other Inuit. All the gaps could not be
filled in one sitting.
But we were well on to squaring the basic
outlines, and the ocean between us no longer seemed to matter!