friending history

The entire community of Bowen island trundles out in their puff jackets and hand knit toques for the Remembrance Day service in Snug Cove. Various organizations gather around the cenotaph, laying wreathes against the stone in solemn respect for those who fought for our freedom. Babies whimper impatiently, children peer around their parent’s knees and a smart collie next to me sits at attention for a treat. At the end of the service, the announcer woman is interrupted by a whisper – she has forgotten Ms. Periwinkle from such and such church who hobbles over in her smart jacket and skirt to lay down her greenery. I wonder if she is the youngest in the congregation? The announcer woman apologizes so profusely for the oversight, I imagine Ms. Periwinkle might just be a force to be reckoned with. Children are encouraged to toss their poppies onto the memorial until it looks ardently lipstick kissed while we all sing “God save the queen”. My Fellow murmurs, “Not Oh Canada? I guess there are a lot of Brits here…” Coloured planes fly overhead in formation as Fellow leads his Boy and Nora off to see the fire trucks and ambulances.Unknown

We have had a spectacular time. This is our first outing together: the two families. We are all carefully watching each other. We’ve had a great deal of fun: cards and apples to apples and pie and hikes in the forest and cartwheels by the sea. When fellow and I hold hands or kiss, one child giggles and the other looks away, embarrassed. When the kids go walking down the trail along Killarney Lake in their own private conversation, we smile and strain our ears to catch a word of what they are finding in common. One of my favourite moments is when one child scaled a difficult tree by swinging one of their legs to a toe hold next to their ear and hoisted themselves up like some kind of fantastic insect. Or when I found a thin round stone and slipped it into the other child’s hand. “Thanks”, they said quietly, and skipped it into the ocean. Or when my Fellow started singing camping songs while paddling along the lake. Fellow is a playful and loving parent but is also old school about manners and chores: which I like. There was a point when I had to chide Nora in front of them, which embarrassed her, but it couldn’t be helped. We were in a canoe. There was no “taking aside privately”. Later, I asked Fellow, “Was I being a little bit of a…?” And he said, “What? A bit of a parent? Yes. Good.” It was a lovely time, but…painful too. Two broken sides of a family trying to glue themselves together to make a cup of plenty.IMG_1854

My friend, Basia, runs the store and the adorable little cabins we stayed in: the Union Steamship Marine Resort. She bustles about serving the nation while banging the natives over the head with a brick. It is a foam brick that makes broken glass sounds upon impact. She laughs every time. It is hard not to adore this woman. She has put out a table of cookies and hot apple cider for the Remembrance Day service. Basia could run a small country if she chose to. Easily. Some fellow in wool grins near the shortbread, offering a shot of Screech to any grown-up’s cup. Basia’s husband, Paul, amiably greets the locals as he moves coffee canisters and chairs here and there. I’ve always loved his face. Nora circles the crowd looking for a dear friend who lives on the island on a farm. She is frantic, “I can’t see them, Mommy, I can’t see them! Can we stop by their farm?” “I don’t know where they live” “Can we call?” “I wrote to the Mom already and she never responded…” “Why, Mom?” “Maybe they’re out of town…” “No, Basia said they were here!” I sigh. “Maybe they’re sick? I don’t have the answers, honey.”

My fellow leans his head in, his eyebrows raised. “What’s the deal?” Once Nora is out of ear shot I say, “She knows the Farmers through her Dad, the Dads go camping together with a bunch of other Dads and daughters. I really like the Farmers but when I tried to contact them, I noticed the mother had de-friended me on Facebook. I didn’t take it personally – sometimes people cull, you know? But when I did write to her, she never responded…”IMG_1869


“Probably just busy. Also, the Farmers don’t really know me. They know me through the Mutuals. The Mutuals…are the only family to take a clear “side”. And to be fair, during the last years of my marriage, I wasn’t myself. I don’t know that I would even like me. I was a bit of a simpering idiot…”

“Cia. I can’t imagine that is true.” Says Fellow.

But it is likely true.

He offers me his cup of Screech. “I’m not really a booze guy.” He heads off for a chocolate cookie. I stand and stare at the wreaths on the stone, my eyes circling round and around. I think of my grandfathers. One was conscripted by Mussolini, fought in Albania and hated it, the other enlisted in Canada and was never shipped overseas. I think of my Fellow’s Boy. His grandfather, fishing, pulled an 1812 sword out of Lake Erie. “The only war the USA lost was to Canada” our history books say. And if you ask an American about it, they say, “Huh?” I wonder what the German history books say about WW1 and WW2? I wonder at the Mother Canada statue proposed for Cape Breton on the Cabot trail and the controversy around it. How can this government honour the dead when they cut rehabilitation programs and support for living soldiers upon their return? Mother Canada. Her arms outstretched like that. I think of the brave and courageous who did fight for our freedom and died. I think of those who still fight. I think of the immigrants we have welcomed into our country, some escaping from the tyranny of war. But I also think of the MS St Louis. I also think of the genocide of our First Nations. What statue would they erect? What mother?

Mother is all these things. And she hopes to be better.Unknown-2

“Mommy! Mommy! They’re here!” Nora leaps across the lawn with her long pink legs and her puff jacket with the furry hood. I smile. She is a bit of a baby ostrich. It is good to see the two dear Farmer kids and my how they’ve grown. Sweet little faces. They huddle and hurriedly chat then giggle and poke at curiosities in the gift shop. The mother greets me with a relaxed warm smile and hug and we chat about gardening and swimming lessons and other mumsy whatnots. I ask for her phone number. She doesn’t ask for mine.

“How did that go?” Inquires Fellow. “Oh wonderful. She is lovely, I’ve always really liked her.” I say. “I was glad to see the kids.”images

We head out to Xenia retreat centre at my Farmer’s kind suggestion and walk along the labyrinth. The Boy walks on top of the rocks, quietly, methodically, carefully, quite content on his own. Nora races along the paths to beat us all to the centre and back with a constant commentary. I follow Fellow on the way in. He follows me on the way out. We hug the Opa tree and I feel for the old man’s scar. We scale a hill of ferns and moss and coloured leaves. We walk beside an immaculate barn and I tell a story from my childhood about Happy the Horse who loved to switch her tail over the fence for the pigs to eat. It was a story I never doubted. Happy had no tail. The pigs ate it. What is to question? Until I tell it as an adult and then think, “What?! How can that be?!” Oh history…

As we drive home on the ferry, Nora starts singing a song. To my great surprise the other child joins in. Then Fellow, then me. My little broken cup runneth over.Unknown-1

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  1. Lynne

    You are right, the pigs did it the tail. Maybe it was the glue matting some of the tail together. Who knows what goes on in the minds of pigs?

    1. Lucia Frangione

      hilarious, Mom! Truth is stranger than fiction!

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