Canada Day. I never knew I was a nationalist until I spent time out of the country when I was a young woman. In those years we had a prime minister to be proud of. Of course I’m thinking of Pierre Trudeau. I never voted Liberal but apart from some fairly draconian moves (the War Measures Act comes to mind), he was a pretty good reflection of my values or at least a compromised version of them. Maybe I mean a consensual version of them. When I was in France in March, I had a brief conversation with a young couple in a bakery. They confessed they were hoping to emigrate to Canada because they felt that the French (and I think they also meant the EU) leadership had betrayed them. But Canada! John and I told them that our country certainly had the potential to be so much better than it currently is but it will take work. And new leadership. Reading the Tyee this morning (my favourite online news source), I felt a kind of despair at the portrait Ian Gill paints of Canada in 15 years.
It will take some effort to get rid of this terrible government and I’m willing to contribute.
In the meantime, another beautiful hot day has dawned. When I went out to water the vegetable garden, the robins were waiting in the trees nearby. And when I fill their bath, they settle in to duck their heads and flutter their wings. I watched one of them raise its head, beak open, and then it sang. So late in the season but still the urgency to sing.
I wish you Happy Canada Day. May we recover our beautiful country before it’s too late. Here’s a short section from Patrin, in which the fictional character travels with her parents to Edmonton to visit her paternal grandmother. Of course it’s based on a childhood memory, though we never had anything so fancy as a trailer. The trout are true, though. And ice-cream at Edson.
When I was very young, we went to Edmonton every summer to visit my grandmother. We never questioned that this was the way we’d spend the two weeks of holiday time my father received from his employer, a marine communications firm. My parents owned a small trailer, which my mother spent the week before our departure readying for the journey. Bedding was aired and packed away in the storage cupboards under the seats. She made food—meatloaves, spaghetti sauce, macaroni casserole—which she froze and then put into the trailer’s icebox the night before we left. This meant we didn’t need to buy ice until two or three days into the trip. We meandered a bit, took our time. My father liked to fish so we spent an extra night or two at various lakes and rivers along the Yellowhead Highway where he’d get up early and try to catch our breakfast, and my mother read magazines—I remember Redbook and Good Housekeeping—in a folding lawn chair by the side of the lake, her legs turning golden brown in the sun. As advised by the magazines, she wore a hat to protect her face and prevent premature aging.
I swam. I didn’t like to fish because it always seemed that the fish looked straight into my eyes as they came up on the line, panicking and thrashing to free themselves. The one time I deftly removed the hook from the throat of a fine rainbow trout and released it back into the river, my father had such a fit I thought he’d burst.
Swimming, I could forget that I was taller than most other girls my age, that I was dark and about as unlike Hayley Mills as someone could be, and just push myself away from the shore into green water. I’d float face down as long as I could, looking at weeds and tiny bullheads, then turn to face the sun, my eyes washed clean. I had my father’s skin and never burned.
I asked him questions. Did you travel here with your parents? No, he said. We had no holidays. We worked. Ever, I asked. Not ever. And were there cousins? None that I knew, though my mother came to Canada with sisters and brothers, but they had no contact. What about your father’s side of the family? That’s enough questions, he said, with such finality that I didn’t try again.
We stopped, always, at Maligne Canyon where we looked down so far to water that I felt dizzy, felt like the planet had tilted and I had lost my gravity. After that, it was a morning’s drive to Edmonton, with one stop at Edson for ice cream and somewhere else to eat meatloaf sandwiches before we arrived. My mother poured coffee from the dented silver thermos for my father and for herself, and I had lemonade from the jar she kept in the icebox.
Once we’d arrived, my father backed the trailer into the weedy driveway next to the small house he’d grown up in, and my mother took her gift of apples and peaches into my grandmother’s kitchen, which smelled of her—wool and smoke and something she rubbed into her knees when they ached.