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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Roots Music

Al's mother and father's grave, Trenton
'Shot Glass Made from a Bull's Horn.' A poem. Not Bliss Carmen. Not even D.H. Lawrence.  Could only have been Al Purdy .  Al tells a story of an artifact which has a deep connection for him:

"A young ensign set lips to this cup.
I drink from it now...
It's attractive to me for such reasons,
with initials R.P. deeply incised,
and a crude Brit. flag cut in bone.
I presume R.P. was my ancestor,
when George something-or-other was king...."

(from 'Shot Glass Made From a Bull's Horn', in The Stone Bird, 1981)

"Here's to you Ralph, with good rye" Al continues. Here's to you Al.

Purdy began to discover his own roots during those early A-frame days in the late 1950's. Much is made of Al Purdy's maturity as a writer stemming from the homesteading experience; creating a home with Eurithe at the A-frame, establishing a base. As a person deeply rooted in PEC's UEL history, I have an intuitive feeling that Al finds his stability, his roots, and  his voice when he finds his roots. Terroir. What we are comes from the land we're planted in.
L to R: Eleanor, Al, and Ridley Purdy

Al writes about the joy of discovery, first of Owen Roblin, who inspired the long poem 'In Search of Owen Roblin' and several other poems.

"All this information came from books I read
the well or little-known facts of Canadian history
also the dry record of genealogy
reminiscent of Abraham begat Isaac and Isaac
begat whoever he begat in the Bible
In the midst of genealogical research
with pure joy I spot the Roblin family
feeling like a literary detective
dead broke in Ameliasburgh
for nothing could stop me now and then.."
Al discovers his own story. I am told that the Purdy's were very fond of Janet Lunn, PEC historian who wrote the definitive "County" history, The County, in 1967 with her husband Richard. She is without doubt  a lovely person, whose acquaintance I have only recently made. But her depth of knowledge, and her love,  of local history must have been a well to which Al would have been drawn over and over.

I can feel his excitement, for I have felt it too, finding his family name in early histories, struggling to make the connections, to reach back across the generations, asking questions of mute stones, to find out more about his line, which is just to say, to find out more about himself.

The Voice of the Land, A'burg

"Back here at home on page 263
of Pioneer Life on the Bay of Quinte
the names of Gilbert Purdy and his eight sons
who were also at Adolphustown with 

...And one far-off descendent Purdy swings
full circle into the needle point of now
and Hey, I say, with silly delight,
Hey, maybe their children intermarried
maybe a boy in my family and a girl in theirs..."

Owen Roblin grave at Grove Cemetery, A'burg

"For it wasn't only Owen Roblin I was looking for
but myself thru him always myself..."

Ameliasburgh is the home of the astonishing Marilyn Adams Genealogical Research Centre, "the only free-standing genealogical research centre in Canada" according to their website. Al would have loved the place. Their motto is 'Have we your roots?' 

(All quotes above are from 'In Search of Owen Roblin'. There are no page numbers, so we'll have to read the poem again, together. Good thing, that.)

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