Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Traveling Singer

She is 111 years old and deserves to rest a while after her travels. The traveling Singer has found her way to me and she deserves to have her journey documented.

If one were to follow the thread that ties us all to this sewing machine produced in 1899, it is easiest to start with me. This is the only information that I know for sure; much of the rest is guesswork. As with much family history, it fades away and gets lost very quickly.

Me, Catherine McGrath-Lee - My four-year-old Mya begs to look in the drawers to examine the lace and bobbins. My Dad claims that much of the drawers' contents are as old as the machine and I believe him. The tool kit in particular would have come with the machine at purchase. The original leather belt is in there too.

Mya is eager to sew with it and I can see the Singer is already laying the groundwork for her future pathway. One day she will continue her travels to Mya's home - the fifth generation.

For now, it resides on Keel Mountain in Gurley, Alabama, USA, and I am its most recent recipient. My Mom and Dad loaded it up in the back of their truck and delivered it here in the spring of 2010. It racked up 2,110 miles as it changed nations.

Its warm rich tones now glow in my breezeway and our cat Ella has her food bowl on top to keep out of our dog's reach. Is that any way to treat a family heirloom? I wonder if I should do more to preserve it, but because I don't sew and the days of treadle machines are gone, I decide it is okay to put it to some use. It actually stands in a very busy part of our home and it is integrated into our life here. It stands in full view when you walk in our door.

My parents, Bill and Shirley McGrath - Mom and Dad had to haul it up out of their basement in Vermilion, Alberta, Canada before their spring trek down south. (Actually, they didn't haul it up themselves, they recruited my cousin). It had been in this home since their move to town in 1998. Before that 25 mile journey, it took up residence on the farm - the north west quarter of section 11, township 48, range 5, west of the 4th meridian to be exact. It was tucked away in the basement there since being handed down by my grandparents. It probably settled there in 1971.

My Grandparents, Duff and Mary McGrath - Before 1971, "The Traveling Singer" as I'm coming to know her, was a couple miles away from our farm on the "home farm". It would have been in the house that Grandma and Duff moved into sometime around 1958 or 1959 when my Dad's Grandparents died. When they moved into the house, it came with the sewing machine. "Mom, being Mom, it probably sat in about 1,500 different places in that house," my Dad joked. He was only half joking though since everyone knows Grandma was a serial furniture-mover.

Dad remembers digging the basement of that house in 1947, the summer before he went to high school in Kitscoty. That means, prior to 1947, the machine could be found in the "old Ganton house" which was moved in that year in order to become the Tolland store and post office.

Now this is where the history gets filled with more hearsay since there is no one alive to corroborate what we suspect.

Dad's Grandparents, Charles and Isabelle McGrath - Dad doesn't know for sure which family, McGrath or Ganton, would have brought it out from Ontario. He suspects Grandfather and Grandmother McGrath who headed to the Islay district in Alberta from Elmvale, Ontario. Grandmother McGrath was, or worked for, a millner in the Elmvale, Ontario area. Grandfather McGrath would have been involved in the family brick business.

Because of its date of production , 1899 and the McGrath migration in 1913, "I would be willing to bet it came from Ontario," Dad surmised. He pointed out there would very few, if any, stores in the west to purchase such a thing at that time.

The McGrath's probably would have got off the train in Islay before trekking 24 miles to their homestead in the Tolland district. 24 more miles to her credit.

111 years, more than 4100 miles, two nations and a span of five generations. The Traveling Singer goes on.


Maria said...

This is a wonderful family treasure and story.

Catherine said...

Thanks Maria, I would like to preserve more family stories if possible - seems important.