I have one thing that belonged to the great grandmother I was named after. It’s a small, delicate, porcelain dish. I don’t know anything about it other than it belonged to her, at least according to my Nan’s cousin Jean.
Elizabeth Carter lived in Canso, Nova Scotia. She married Henry Nickerson, had four babies and raised three to adulthood. One of Elizabeth’s children was my Nan, my Dad’s mom, Dorothy Nickerson. According to Nan, she and her mom, Elizabeth were very close. Elizabeth died in 1943 at the age of 45 of cancer. Nan looked after her until the end. Like many Maritimers of my Nan’s vintage, she’d say ‘cancer’ in a whisper, and then suck in her breath while saying ya, ya, ya.
The story from my parents of how and why I was named after Elizabeth goes like this:
We were sure you were going to be a boy so we didn’t have any girl’s names picked out. We both liked the name Elizabeth and it was your great grandmother’s name.
That’s it. Full stop. My parents didn’t pause to consider the many nicknames for Elizabeth, such as 'Betty' and how that might pair with my last name. Which is fine now because I do like to bake, but in my early days the name did cause me some consternation.
The way Jean gave me this dish belonging to Elizabeth was a little like the way I got my name. It felt like an almost-accident. I was with Nan visiting Jean at her home in Canso and she remembered that she had a dish that belonged to Nan’s mom. I don’t think she had saved it for me in particular. She fished it out of a cluttered cabinet and handed it to me. Nan remembered the dish and was happy for me to have it. I don’t remember her saying much about it. If Nan owned anything else of her mother’s I never knew of it. There was just this dish.
Nan was not the least bit sentimental about things from Canso or her family. She loved them, but there was no need to make a fuss. Just like my parents loved me, but there was no need to make more out of naming me than was there. They liked the name and it belonged to my great grandmother. That was enough.
I’m happy to have the dish and I’m happy enough with my name. I never liked it as a kid. I always felt more like my nicknames. I was definitely more of a Lib and a Libby. These days I mostly go as Liz, but family and old friends still call me by my nicknames.
I don’t know what the dish was used for. I have never used it. I don’t know enough about what would have been served on the supper tables in Canso at that time. Fish for sure and Maritimers like pickles with their fish, so maybe it was for pickles. That’s my theory anyway. I might serve pickles in it next time I make fish. In the meantime, I have a daughter I adore, probably as much as Elizabeth loved her Dorothy, and my daughter gets to hold a dish in her hands that belonged to her great, great grandmother. It’s not much, but it’s something.
I don’t have an ancestral home to go to in Canso, but there is still the house my dad was raised in, that I can peer at from the outside. I can walk the hills Nan roamed as a girl. I can visit the place Elizabeth was buried. There are probably traits Elizabeth Carter and I share, physical or otherwise. I may never know what she has really passed onto me, other than the dish and existence, but that's probably enough.