I’m in Halifax, my first visit since my family moved from here in (I think) 1965. I was curious to see if there were things I recognized and on our taxi ride in from the airport last evening, we passed the ornate gates of the Public Gardens and yes, I remembered staying with my grandmother when we first arrived from the west coast in 1963 and being turned loose in the city. Those were the days of free-range children and we quickly found the Common with its swimming pool, the Public Gardens where ducks swam in the pond and lovers embraced on benches while every kind of flower bloomed in beautiful profusion The city has a smell — old stones and sea air. I remember that. And this morning we went up to the Citadel, staying long enough to hear the 12:00 gun. My mother taught us to listen for it and hearing it reminded me of her. This was her city. She was born in Sydney but came to Halifax as a tiny baby, put into foster care and left there until she married my father in 1950. They met here. He was a young sailor on board the Restigouche (again, I am hazarding a guess, based on his history. But I saw the name today and it rang a deep bell). This morning my parents were everywhere, in the small wavings of michaelmas daisies and toadflax along the citadel ramparts . Their beginnings as a married couple, the beginnings of our family — my second brother, Steve, was born here in 1953 on one of my father’s postings. My mother longed for Halifax. Even in her last weeks of life, she talked about a trip “home”.
Tomorrow we’ll take the bus to Spryfield where my family lived 1963-65. The woman in the Information Centre suggested we take the number 15 bus right out to the end of its route where there is a fortification. (“No one ever goes there,” she said with some frustration.) I know from Google Maps that our old house on Claymore Avenue is still there but I’d rather ride the bus through Spryfield to its terminus, looking and wondering at the changes on Herring Cove Road. Some days we walked to church along that road. Once I found enough coins under melting snow to buy a Tiger Beat magazine.
My mother worked at Imperial Oil as a clerk when she met my father. Somewhere in this city she walked there, dreaming of the sailor she met on a blind date — and she was not even the girl he was supposed to take out on a double date with one of his friends. That girl caught the flu and my mum was the last-minute replacement. How close they came to never knowing the other existed, And I would not not be here now, have just passed through the chestnuts and Japanese lilacs in the Gardens. And along the paths of the Old Burying Ground where Campbells and MacKenzies rest in green shade.
I don’t know if my parents walked in the Public Gardens but they might as well have. I expected to find my own tiny hoard of Halifax memories but it seems I am haunted by theirs.