Home to Plaster Rock: In Search of Stories

I have lots of stories about trips gone awry. About falling in a temple pond in Kyoto, losing my purse the first day of a cross-continent trip, car troubles in Maine and a night with strangers.

It’s the joy of being a storyteller. Mishaps, absurdities, and everything unexpected can be transformed into story.

This morning I’m on the road again. And I’m hoping for and expecting new stories before I’m done.

There’s my destination, Plaster Rock, a village in New Brunswick, Canada. It is not one of those quaint fishing villages on the Bay of Fundy. It’s deep in the interior, not far from Caribou, Maine.  A place of potato farms surrounded by vast stretches of forest.

The town is having a homecoming for all those who left for more prosperous places, like Alberta, or Ontario, or the States.  For sure, I’ll go the parade on Saturday afternoon. Maybe I’ll stop by the dance Saturday night. I expect loud fiddle music and lots of beer. The last time I went to a Plaster Rock dance, fifty years ago, a stranger swung me round so hard and fast my feet left the floor.

My father’s family has lived in New Brunswick for more than 200 years. My father was born on a farm near Plaster Rock and his father before him. We go back to the 1700s, when Abraham Marston left the United States after fighting in the American Revolution–on the British side.

I’ll meet my cousin there. Wayne grew up in Plaster Rock. Life was tough, and his was tougher and more tragic than most. Our grandfather had hanged himself when our dads were kids, and they grew up poor. The Depression didn’t help. My father left when he was a young man. but Wayne’s father stayed behind. Wayne now lives in Ontario…and he’s a member of Parliament. How did he overcome such hardships and why does is he going to the homecoming too? I want to hear his stories.

My brother’s wife, Patti, will meet us there too. She’s visiting her mother in Saint John and they will both drive over to meet us, a four hour trip. Turns out that Patti is a distant relative of Wayne’s mother. Good company and more stories.

We’ll visit graveyards and homesteads and talk to the old people who stayed behind. Erv from Bangor will meet us. I think our grandfathers were brothers. More stories.

And I expect a few good stories about the journey itself. Today I’ll start the 600 mile trip north to Montreal, past Quebec city, along the Saint Lawrence River to Riviere du Loup, and then over through the deep woods of the provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick to our family’s home.

The last leg of the car trip is on a road voted one of the ten most dangerous in Canada. It’s twisty and hilly, built mainly for loggers. The soft soil and big trucks mean the road is always in need of repairs.

“At least there’ll be no snow,” Patti said over the phone.

“But you must watch out for the moose,” I heard her mother say. “Whatever you do, don’t drive after dark.”

And I promise not to. And coming home, I’ll come the other way, down through Maine. I’ll  see new places, and, of course, I’ll stop at the L. L. Bean outlet in Freeport. Even for someone who loves stories, sometimes it’s just about the shopping.

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Family Resemblance

Harold, Dorothy, & Faye1“Got a letter from Edna. Your second cousin,” my mother said. “She lives in Rocky Mountain House. She’s having a reunion of the Marston family. Wants us to come.”

I had no idea that I had a second cousin in Rocky Mountain House.  I had assumed my distant relatives were still living down east in New Brunswick. Apparently we weren’t the only Marstons who hadn’t stayed home on the farm.

We could easily go. It was only a three hour drive from Edmonton where my mother now lived. An easy trip.

I’d wanted to learn more about my family for a long time. I didn’t remember my first cousins, let alone second cousins, third cousins, or cousins once or twice removed. I’d been too young when we moved west. I knew next to nothing about my ancestors, and I didn’t know the family stories.

I was achingly curious. What kind of people were we Marstons? What did a generic Marston look like? How did an ordinary Marston talk? What did a garden variety Marston do for a living? Maybe some had had distinguished careers or were fabulously wealthy or had devoted their lives to the poor and suffering. I’d heard about a few of our black sheep, but I was hoping that some of our stories would be better.

We arrived on a Saturday morning at the community hall where a gaggle of Marstons (75 to 100) had gathered. We mingled and we talked. Nothing in the conversations stood out in my mind though I was paying close attention. Nobody said anything brilliant, though nobody was rude or crude or foolish either. We were, I suspected, only middling conversationalists.

We ate salads and beans and chicken and cookies. The usual. Little kids played.

And I looked around at my new-found relatives. I was on a mission to find out who my people were and fix that knowledge in my mind. Everyone here was a Marston or married to a Marston or had been a Marston before she got married. I could find out what we had in common, what set us apart from the other families of the world.

I wondered if any physical characteristics were typical of our people. Noses. foreheads. chins. butts. But nothing stood out.

Nobody was extremely tall, nor very short. No  one was very heavy or very skinny, No one was super fit either.

No one had jet black hair or red hair or pale blond hair. Every last one of us had brownish hair. Dirty blonde, light brown, medium brown, almost–but not quite–black.  Some of the men were bald. What’s the expression? Typical male pattern baldness? That’s it.

No one was ugly and no one was beautiful. In this and every respect, we were all…average. As a clan, in every measure I could think of, we were medium.

We dressed the part too. None of us had worn anything fancy that day. No flashy jewelry. No ultra stylish clothes. But no green hair or visible tattoos, either. Conventional to the core..

All in all, we were not bad. Could be worse. Nice enough. Every last one of us–eminently forgettable.

And so were our kids.  No doubt all the parents thought them special and beautiful, and maybe they were. But the specialness was not visible to a casual observer.

No, wait. I did spot one little girl, four or five, who stood out from everyone else in the room. She was strikingly adorable. Piles of curly hair around a lovely face. A wonderful smile. She didn’t look medium at all.

“I said to someone near me, “What a beautiful little girl.”

And the woman answered, “Isn’t she, though?!

She added, “She’s adopted.”