Remember, family lore held that when Leona wanted to leave my Grandpa Les and return home, Fred Bagley had told her yes, but leave the brat behind. It had irked me, but but what I was learning about Fred was that he loved music, horses, and kids. Did he love my mother?
my great-grandfather's pony
Here too in Pincher Creek is the old homestead and home of my mother's lost-and-found cousin, Doug Connelly, keeper of the Bagley artifacts, manuscripts, and family Bible. Doug's grandfather homesteaded this land and his mother, Fred's youngest daughter, married into this cozy place on the prairie.
|Doug and Sally Connelly|
Pincher Creek AB
The most fascinating, however, was my mother's name recorded in Fred's handwriting in his Bible. There she was, Shirley Elizabeth Goodfellow--Oct. 2, 1928. My mother's name, Fred's pen. I think I loved my great-grandfather at that moment and found it hard not to cry, to see that he did in fact acknowledge my mother. Her brother's story of Fred wheeling a whicker pram onto the train in Banff and off again in Vancouver, a gift to her, came to mind. I no longer had to wonder. Fred Bagley loved my mother.
This much came even more clear as I read his many letters to his youngest daughter Marian. His affection, his humor, his delight in all three of his girls--Kate, Pittising (Leona), and Tiny (Marian)--comes singing off the antiquated pages. And his joy and concern for his grandchildren are equally evident. Did he, each October 2nd, wonder where his eldest grandchild was? Did he wonder how she was doing? Did he look at her name in his Bible and ponder the mysterious circumstances that brought about their separation? Did her absence bring him sorrow?
He was a man who kept track of his brother and sisters scattered about the States and Canada; he kept track of his daughters; he loaded his Christmas tree each year in Banff with gifts for Dale, Doug, and Mick. Did he miss not having presents for Mum?
|Leona and Les|
"The three girls," Doug told me, speaking of his mother, my grandmother, and our aunt Kate, "were very close. They kept Leona's secret all those years--at least until Kate spilled the beans on her deathbed." Doug speaks and I stare at these images of my grandparents, so in love, so happy, sharing their lives in a way I've never experienced--and I wonder, what happened to them? How did this all fall apart?
I know Les had invited his best friend to live with him and Leona. I know my grandfather was an alcoholic. He liked to party and was probably very much the Roaring Twenties playboy. I'm not sure how all this sat with Leona. But at some point Les moved out of the little home she'd bought with her own money to go live with Marguerite. He left Philip behind. What was that all about? We know Leona was alone when Mum was born.
So what happened in that little house in Vancouver? And why did it mean I lost my grandmother? And Fred?
After saying good-bye around five o'clock, I drove west to Fort Macleod and the open prairie. I camped along the Bow River, a place I'd taken my sons one year. Sleeping in the back of my jeep, listening to the river play over the rocks, and then the rain, I thought of families and how when we do the best we can and still do lose.
Some people easily sum up the story with a shrug and "it's all for the best." I don't think so. We just don't have the luxury to line up "what was" and "what could have been" and declare a winner.
All I know is this. Fred lived a life of adventure, intrigue, and faithful duty, surrounding himself with love, music, and family. From his perspective, it wasn't my grandmother and himself who'd gone missing. From his corner, it was my mother who was lost.