Funny how a taste or smell of certain food can open a floodgate of memories. Recently, after a long enjoyable afternoon of fellowship at church, I sat down, with a piece of cherry pie. As I took my first bite, I was transported back to October 1972. I was still living in Ontario Canada with my two older siblings and our Dad. There is truth to the saying that still waters run deep. In our case the more things seem to have stabilized the more the foundation was actually crumbling. At times it was like living in a rain cloud. You couldn’t see far ahead and knew it was just a matter of time that the next storm would arrive. At this point Dad was either cold turkey heroin sick or slipping in and out of heroin induced coma. He might wake up just long enough to promise a fishing trip that never happened or to take us running down the street in a paranoid state terrified of one of his many demons. It was never a dull moment, as my siblings Danny 12, Lorraine 10 myself 9, taking our Dads word for it that we could go fishing after he was shaved…… With Dad passing out again on the couch and daylight burning, (I smile inside remembering) Lorraine and I lathering him up and with Danny being the eldest, he was in charge of the razor. Lorraine and I pulled Dads head back to tighten the skin just as we had watched him do countless times over the bathroom sink. Eventually daylight, exhausted, Dad woke up, puzzled why his face was dotted with blood clotted toilet paper where we had nicked him with the razor. Needless to say, no fish were caught that day.
It wasn’t unusual for us to be pulled out of or having to change schools. By the 4th grade I had already attended 6 different schools. But this time it was different, we weren’t on the run, or going to a foster home, but rather we had all our belongings and seem to be making the rounds to Dad’s family in Ontario for a visit as if to say goodbye. For all we knew we were moving back to BC (British Columbia). Hearing my father speak primarily in French to my grandmother as he often did when things were serious, gave me sense that something was going on. At that particular moment, we were all together, that’s all that really mattered.
We boarded the bus in Sudbury, Ontario at night. The heated bus air was a mixture of diesel exhaust, damp air and cigarette smoke. Unfortunately I was one of those kids that got car sick. The next four days in the bus were somewhat of a nauseous blur. “Hey Porky”(my nickname) wake up, we are at the next stop”, my Dad would say. And there it was, in every bus stop from Manitoba to Vancouver, day or night, like a beacon in the night, behind the glass case…”Porky, what do you want to eat”? “Just some cherry pie please”… On the fifth day on the road, we arrived in BC. It was around 6 in the morning and only then did we find out we were coming to “visit” my Mum. It had been 3 years since we had last seen her. Regardless of society’s view of our Dad, he was our world and all was right with the world, as long as us four were together. The bus stopped in Abbottsford, BC (being a felon, Dad couldn’t easily cross the border)> We did not want to get off. We stood at the base of the steps. I looked to Danny and Lorraine as I always did for reassurance or direction. Danny stood there as he always (and still does) quiet, strong as not to upset us. In the cold morning air Lorraine’s tears glistened in the light from the bus stop waiting room. Like so many times before, I held on to my Dads leg, pleading for him not to leave.
“Come on, let’s go meet your Mum”.The bus stop waiting room was illuminated with concession machines. In front of the lights were silhouettes of two woman. . As I walked closer ,they each looked similar and familiar. One was my mum but I wasn’t sure which one she was. The second woman was Mums sister, Sharon. Up until this point I had only visited Mum, twice in my 9 years. I wrapped my arms around the quilt stitched dark blue coat. As I hugged my mum around the waist, I could feel the cold fabric against my cheek as an unfamiliar hand stroked my besheffeled hair. We piled into the white leather backseat of a blue thunderbird. Patsy Cline’s “walking after midnight” played on the 8-track and through the vapor of our warm breath we could see lights of the greyhound bus station fade in the distance. I looked at Danny and Lorraine, as many times before, when the only known was the unknown.
Later in life I heard reasoning of why we were finally brought to Mum. One line of discussion was that we were in danger as some of Dad’s unruly dealings had left him as a marked man. Whether this was a part of his paranoia or truth, makes no different to me. Another reason was that my sister was coming of age and needed a Mum. That went without saying. Regardless of the reason, one truth I have no doubt about is the fact that my father saw the value of a stable family environment which no matter how hard he had tried, he could not provide. Today I am a father of five. And yes, I love taking my kids fishing and at times I may over promise and under deliver which reminds me of my Dad’s good intentions, but as God is my witness I strive to harvest the seed my Dad planted by putting his kids first. A seed planted at a bus station early one October day back in 1972. For this I am truly thankful. RIP GJR.