This is the working title of my next book. I have to ‘fess up that I borrowed it from a self-published book I saw in the gift shop of a tiny historical society when I was in the Eastern Townships of Quebec doing research recently. I’m hoping no one minds.
Other working titles I’ve considered:
- Isobel’s Mountain
- My Granny, My Self
- The Life and Times of Isobel Millen
- The Matrilineal Wound
- Following in Granny’s Footsteps
But Chasing Granny kind of stuck.
I know, I know. It seems strange to be so focused on my second book when MY FIRST BOOK JUST ARRIVED AT MY FREAKIN’ DOOR A FEW MINUTES AGO!!! (the review copy) but I’ve decided I have to take my mind off the anxiety of having a very personal memoir about to land on the world.
At this point, I have many, many questions about what this next book will look like:
- Creative non-fiction or historical fiction?
- Include myself and my life – how it parallels my grandmother’s?
- My perspective or multiple, multi-generational perspectives?
- Include my journeys to Quebec, Labrador and Scotland in search of my ancestors?
- Write only about my grandmother’s wild and crazy life?
- Include my female ancestors all the way back to my great-great-great grandmother, Grace Cruickshank, in the Highlands of Scotland?
- Write it as personal essay?
- Include research about epigenetics, psychology of family systems, genealogy, etc?
I must admit to feeling somewhat overwhelmed.
Thankfully, stuck to my computer right in front of my nose are bright pink stickies with sayings to keep me sane when life swamps me: RELAX. NOTHING IS UNDER CONTROL is my favourite. Fake it till you make it has gotten me in a lot of trouble in the past (for details, read upcoming memoir) so I use a more mature version of it now: Figure it out as you go. Simple, to the point, verging on boring.
This blog is my way of figuring out Chasing Granny as I go. I’m going to blog my way to my next book.
I think I’ve always had my grandmother’s story burning in me, ever since I found the most extraordinary photo of her in one of my mother’s many boxes of “crap” (as my father called her stuff).
Here she is, my mother’s mother, Isobel Millen, standing between two guides in front of Mount Robson. My grandmother, a little rich girl from Westmount Quebec. What the hell was she doing in the Rockies?
On the back of the photo: Three of us that made the summit.
I knew she hadn’t climbed Mount Robson – it is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies at 12,972 feet – so I assumed she was referring to one of the smaller mountains in the area. She also had photos of the summit cairn of Mount Lynx (over 10,000 feet), and of the view from the summit of Mount Baldy. But when were the photos taken? She had to have been very young. And did she climb those mountains, or had someone given her the photos?
So I went to the guru of Canadian climbing history, Chic Scott, who was able to immediately identify the photo. He told me my grandmother was at the Alpine Club of Canada General Mountaineering Camp in 1913. She must have gone as one of the tourists who were guided up the smaller mountains. “The three of us that made the summit” was a take on the famous photo of Conrad Kain and his two clients who had done the first ascent of Robson. In 1913!!! My grandmother had been in base camp with one of the most famous climbers in the world, during one of the most famous climbs in Canadian history.
A bit of simple math revealed that my grandmother was 19 years old in the photo (she was born in 1894).
I started climbing in 1980. When I was 19 years old.
It’s enough to give me the heebie-jeebies.
Butt shot of me in Yosemite when I was 21 years old – one of the first photos of me climbing.
Next: Who is this Laura Isobel Millen and what other crazy shit did she do?