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An Autobiographical Object

When my great-grandfather moved to Canada, he would write long letters to my great-grandmother and his two sons, Gerry and Helmut — who were patiently waiting to join him — in Switzerland. These letters detailed moments of his life as a young minister in-the-wild: how he travelled in a horse-drawn carriage on a snowy night to bury a young boy, how he spent his afternoons daydreaming of her, her red dress, her careless laugh, and the evening he met Reverends Weber and Schmieder, fellow ministers in nearby Northern Ontario towns.

On the night that my great-grandfather met Reverends Weber and Schmieder, they made plans to build homes on Lake Papineau. They cut lumber, carted stone and, once all was said and done, Reverend Schmieder proudly documented their work. He illustrated the buildings and hand lettered the respective names for each one.

          My great-grandfather’s rendering depicted a lanky pine tree, a stoic place, quietly tucked back out of time and the name of his new home, Ahaluna, which. translates ever so appropriately to “Meeting Place”.  His letters then shifted from now-yellowed plain sheets, to ones written on stationary that referenced a pictorial promise of what was waiting for his family.

My great-grandmother received these letters in Basel, Switzerland, on the doorstep of their narrow flat. She would clutch at the pages, rubbing her fingers over the letters, which were teeming with stories and smudged with love. She would sit her sons on her lap in the kitchen and read them aloud; show them illustration; and playfully guess at the meaning behind the strange word, Ahaluna. The stationary transformed my great-grandfather’s letters into more than containers for his stories; they became an inanimate gesture towards a place where they would meet and be together, once more.

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