Reason & Doubt

The front of the envelope announcing Maureen Roy’s birth, postmarked 16 March 1949.

Ephemera (singular: ephemeron) is any transitory written or printed matter not meant to be retained or preserved.

I found my cousin Maureen’s birth announcement in a pile of letters and ephemera kept by my mother (her aunt, Therese) in San Diego, kept intact and surviving the potentially cruel cut of the necessary triages before every family diaspora; from Montréal-Èst to Orange County (1964) to San Diego (1970) to Laos (1972) and back finally to San Diego (1975). The one cent stamp sports King George VI’s portrait and is war issue. These types of stamps used to come in rolls. The card and envelope have weight and gravitas, it feels good to the touch.

Maureen’s birth announcement.

I went to Québec City last month intending to give Maureen the birth announcement. The card, in its original envelope, had traveled far, and it seemed right to turn it and some other photos over to some of the subjects of the photos, cousins, aunts, and uncles.

I left Québec the next day and resolved to scan and immortalize this card and its envelope on the web. It’s still a beautiful piece, simple and to the point. The card is in english, not french. It’s probably what was available in Woolworth’s at the time. It holds more meaning than the envelope and card, postmark, ink, stamp, and its ultimate purpose – to announce a birth.

The card is addressed to Sister Pierre Celestin, currently living at the Hôpital St. Sacrement, having just started her nursing degree at Université de Laval, where she eventually graduated from in 1953 after leaving the Soeurs Grises, the Sisters of Charity. That would be Therese Bedard starting her nursing studies in Québec City, as a novitiate. She would soon be heading to the Côte-Nord to work in a tuberculosis ward, not unlike what you see in the Academy Award nominated film, The Necessities of Life (Ce qu’ill faut pour vivre).

Back of birth announcement with directions to turn over.

Mr. and Mrs. Paul Roy were the proud parents. Paul, my Mom’s older brother, fought in WWII pretty much from 1939 to the end. Canada joined when Britain joined. For almost two full years, Americans were not in the war, which is ironic, since Paul later found out he was an American citizen and not Canadian, but that’s another story. In 1949, he was probably working in the asbestos mines in Thetford where he had brought his bride Vina home from WWII. Was there still snow on the ground?

The postmark, 16 March 1949 sets the time right in the middle of one of the most important events in Québec and Canadian history, the Asbestos Strike of 1949. All hell was breaking loose in Thetford at the time, and Paul, Vina, my mother, and the entire region were likely worried about what would come next, after the strike.

“Tout a ete tres bien, on va t’ecrire.” Everything went well, we’ll write you. Did he sign it “Paulo” because he was feeling particularly great about being the first of Antonio’s kids to produce a grandchild? No doubt he had many cards to send out that day, announcing Maureen’s birth.

Back of the envelope.

“Raisonner c’est douter, et douter c’est souffrir.” (To reason is to doubt, and to doubt is to suffer.) This is not Paul’s handwriting but my Mom’s. What was she thinking? When did she write it? Immediately after receiving it? Was it during a moment of reflection and contemplation? Was this triggered by the receipt of the card? Was it another nail into the coffin of doubt about her lot as a novitiate and what awaited her as a nun? The drive to have children overcomes many things. If not, no one reading this would be here today, including me. Thank God for doubt.

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