Young Helen

It is not my plan to go deeply into Helen’s life here. She is the entire subject of ‘Chinoise – Ancestors Book 18’.

Despite the loss of her mother before Helen’s 2nd birthday, she was not raised absent of caring. And even though she was raised, for the most part by the French relatives, the Ducharmes, she was not estranged from her father, Charlie Wong (whose name we recently learned was actually Yip Wong Chan or Wong Moon Chan).

I found this deep in the depths of the old photo pile. A picture of Helen, with her mother, behind the Fox Café in Winnipeg when she was 1 year old. So, taken in 1936. On the back of the photo is the note describing it and a Chinese postage stamp that has been affixed.

They were supposed to have a happy family, before tragedy struck and changed the course of many people’s lives.

Exploring the little bits of information scraped together, reveals that they must have had an interesting beginning. Charlie and Clarinda were married just 3 days before Helen’s birth. It is likely that Clarinda, left the farm for the big city, worked in one of Charlie’s restaurants and they became involved. With the birth of the child imminent, Charlie relented to marry and accept his obligation and their brief life as a family began. I wonder about the dynamic of that situation.

It is evident that Charlie was a generous and benevolent man and appears he provided well, financially, for Helen. He had portraits taken with his child, which demonstrates, to me, his desire to declare his continuing father-ship. Clarinda’s younger sister, Marie Anna, took up employment with him for many years afterwards, and became the surrogate mother to Helen. Charlie must have remained on at least reasonable terms with the Ducharmes.

I often wonder about the juxtaposition that must have been young Helen’s life. Such as posing for a photo either going to or coming from church in her First Communion dress, standing in front of a Chinese Laundry. I think she would have been quite happy with it. After all, a 7-year-old doesn’t really know much, but what the adults in their life tell them.

You can see by her expression that the seriousness of this solemn commitment has not been lost on her. A life directed by the values of a mixture of cultures. I think she was probably very pleased to have this order brought to her. I think she valued both cultures and was a willing supplicant to both.

There were things she resented, about her father, she told me. He was not a skilled or patient parent. But it was clear there was a lasting bond between them as she aged. I imagine the strict upbringing from the Catholic Ducharme side imposed restrictive disciplines that most children would rather be free of. But it was her young life, and that is what she knew.

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