Saturday, May 24, 2003

Mia famiglia
I've been thinking about my roots a lot lately. Okay. So not so much "lately" as "regularly." It's the navel-gazing Canadian in me.

At any rate, I just thought I'd share a page from my family album.

Alice (nee McGill) Killop - The mother of my maternal grandfather, John Alexander Charles Killop (he was named after his father, Alice's second husband.) She was by all accounts a strong, fiery woman, who was fiercely protective of her family. She once spent a few days in jail for beating up a nun who had "roughed up" one of her children.

An Irish Catholic born and raised in Belfast, Alice was widowed and left to care for her children by herself. She met a fellow widower with children--the Protestant John Killop Sr.--and they were married. He left Northern Ireland for Canada ahead of the family to secure a place to live. After the family settled in Windsor, Ontario, my grandfather--the only child of Alice and John Sr.'s marriage--was born.

A "blended" family this was not, for no one mixed well together. They say that the Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics can't get along; if Alice and John's marriage is a microcosm of Northern Irish relations, there will never be peace between the I.R.A. and the Orangemen until the Orangemen move across the river to Detroit.

Alice died of uterine cancer when John Jr. was sixteen years old.

Leo and Rose (nee Salerno) Teoli - Leonardo Teoli, one of two sons of an olive grove owner, immigrated to Canada from the family's home near Monte Cassino when he was eighteen years old. Here, he trained as a chef, quickly gaining respect in his field. He was the first chef at the "new" Toronto city hall when it opened in the 1970s. One of his great-granddaughters--that'd be me--is said to posess a number of his personality traits, from a passion for food/aptitude for cooking to a quick-temper when playing cards (he always hated to lose!)

Rose Salerno was the daughter of two Italian immigrants. She met and married Leo Teoli, several years her senior, and with him had four children: Frank, Madeline (my Mamie), Patricia (or Pat) and Lenny.

John and Madeline (nee Teoli) Killop - No one would have guessed--least of all these two!--that in August 1947, my grandparents--John Killop and Madeline Teoli--would have married.

As children, John had been a member of the same Cub Scout troup as Madeline's older brother, Frank (in fact, Leo Teoli was the troup's leader.) The limited contact these two had at this time was enough for each to develop a strong dislike for one another. The two fell out of touch.

Then, several years later during World War Two, Madeline was chased home from the bus stop by two uniformed officers on shore leave from the Canadian Navy. The young men, having a laugh at her expense, had no intention of ravaging her. Their true aim, though, was achieved: Madeline was so scared that by the time she reached her front door, she had not the strength to enter. Gripping the banister on the front porch and breathing heavily, Madeline awaited the worst. Much to her surprise, the two sailors simply stood at the end of the drive way, raised their hats and bid her a good night.

The two sailors were my grandfather and his older brother, Chuck. Neither of them knew that the young woman they chased that night was the same girl who John had ordered out of a Cub Scout meeting in her own basement years before.

I have so many more stories about my family. At least, the family members on the Irish-Italian side of the family. They revel in storytelling and they celebrate the past, no matter how outlandish or painful. The French side of the family prefers to keep the past buried.

Every day I hope to prove worthy of such courageous, passionate ancestors.

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