The nostalgia kick continues it would seem. This summer, I’ve been re-living experiences from 30 years ago. My recent trip to the Island with my daughter was rife with memories of being there both 30 years ago and again in 2007 when Ayla was still a toddler. It’s a similar arc of time frames and flashbacks as I recently wrote about In the Haight.
My first visit to Vancouver Island was also the first time I met the woman who would become my mother, Mary. She and my father had decided to move into Mary’s Toronto home together, and I was living here in BC with my boyfriend of about a year, when they came to visit. I would meet Mary and my father would meet the man in my life. I was a just year out of high school then and had opted to move into Gord’s basement suite and take a full time job downtown Vancouver. Dad and Mary flew out to take Gord and I on a trip to Tofino and Victoria.
Gord’s anxiety got the better of him, feeling the pressure of meeting his much younger girlfriend’s father for the first time – he was feeling judged and nervous, I guess – so he got busy with work and stood us up for dinner their first night in town. I was embarrassed and disappointed. Dad and Mary were concerned and forgiving. But the die was cast, so to speak, and we left for the Island without Gord. He promised to connect with us in Port Alberni, where we were scheduled to depart on a supply freighter that would take us out to the coast… more interesting than just driving to Tofino, after all.
When my daughter and I drove through Port Alberni recently, the years slipped away and I choked up, remembering the unique trip my mom had planned for our first meeting. Most of the details of that vacation are now lost to time, but I remembered us laughing at the modest accommodations she had found for us in Port Alberni. Years later, she would book us into The Empress Hotel in Victoria when Ayla was just a toddler.
“Nothing but the best for Grandma Mary,” Ayla and I laugh as we walk past the stately manor hotel on the Inner Harbour, today.
But back in 1989, we stayed in a rustic little inn on the shores of the inlet that winds through Port Alberni and out to the coast. Gord was supposed to meet us there, but he didn’t. Once again: hurt and disappointment. I remember that. I remember the feeling of shame that washed over me, as my Dad and his new love made reassuring sounds trying to make the best of it. But they were getting worried too. So, the three of us boarded the supply freighter and made our way down the river, enjoying the spectacular beauty of the west coast in summer time: mountains rise above the sparkling water, modest homes dot the shores, and we watched as villagers come out to meet the ship, collecting their goods for the week. It was unlike anything I’d ever encountered, and Mary had planned it just for us.
I don’t remember much about Tofino; I was curious how much of the tourist town would be familiar to me when I returned this summer with Ayla. But the memories had disappeared into the mists of my life history, enveloped likely by the stress I was feeling about being stood up when Mary had planned this amazing trip for us to take together as a new family. The burden weighed heavy on me, knowing he had let them down, and how that would affect the first impressions of this woman who was so important to my father, and who would become so important to me in the years to come. It was a big moment in all our lives, one that would change the course of mine.
By the time the week was out, my parents had invited me to come live with them in Toronto and go to university, if I wanted to.
Gord eventually met up with us in Victoria. But by then the damage was done. He had revealed the weakness of our relationship. Perhaps I did need to consider other options.
He said he knew from the moment they announced their visit, that the writing was on the wall. But I think it was a self-fulfilling prophesy. He convinced himself that my parents were coming to take me back home, and he made sure of that outcome through his behaviour when they were here. So, I accepted their invitation, and moved back to Ontario to attend York University for the winter-summer session.
All of this came back to me while I wandered the streets of Tofino, and explored the ancient cedars of Cathedral Grove. I said to Ayla as we marveled at the centuries old mammoth trees, “I’m pretty sure this is where I became a tree hugger 32 years ago.”
I remember being absolutely transfixed by the size of those trees as an 18 year old girl. And I have stood transfixed before many a tree since then, but never the awe as for the ancient red cedars of the west coast.
It’s hard not to be a nature lover in British Columbia. But the memories that returned last week, and that have consumed me this summer, have me connecting to my nature, reminding me of where I’ve been, where I come from and reflecting on the journey I have taken to reach this time in my life.
Perhaps it’s because my latest work in progress has a nostalgic theme to it – it’s a memory work that came to me some years ago as a remembered image from my childhood and a narration by a young girl. Swaying on the branch of an old willow tree at the end of our street, I lean back and let the motion rush over me – three years old – the blue sky above me and the long, weeping willow branches creating a shredded curtain through which glimpses of the river peek.
Pieces of my life are coming back in vivid colour, and I’m writing them down, trying to find the through line for this latest project called The River… appropriately enough.