Correspondence From the Past- Remembering my Father, and the Beauty Behind Letters.

As a mother of a 20- something year old I have to say that I was never the type to hang to too many memento’s of hers. I would keep the random cute drawing, a report card or too, and few baby items that I felt one day she may appreciate. As it stands right now, she has no interest in any of it- so therefore I am obliged to hang on to it until perhaps 10 years from now she still will have no interest in it.

I have moved so many times over the last 15 years that the opportunity to unload and let go of stuff has become customary. I often tell myself as I’m offloading this stuff that if I did not remember I even had it, I probably do not need to hang on to it. So basically I Marie Kondo the F*** out of my house on a monthly basis.

That was until I had my elderly mother move in with us.

When we moved into a much larger home you would think that after having moved her from British Columbia only a year before that she would have very limited belongings.

Wrong.

This woman has kept everything…as in she still has my reward for “Participation” ribbons. Mementos of my mediocre attempts at anything academic or athletics. My mother also loves to hang onto cards from anniversaries, birthdays, thank you’s…she has boxes of these cards. In addition, the family heirlooms and antique furniture that do hold value, however in the context of my own love for more contemporary décor, stick out like a sore thumb. But at the end of the day I tolerate it obligingly- my mom deserves to be surrounded by the familiar things she has grown to love and cherish.

More recently my mom decided to introduce a new desk into her room so that she could house more of her stuff and perhaps alphabetize her cards and categorize the bill statements she has hung onto since 1995. As she was going through her things she had come across some letters from my father when he had taken a job overseas in Tanzania. Read Here about those adventures! Part 1 and Part 2

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Mom and Dad- August 2011

Now if there was anything to ever hang on to this would be it. My father passed away in August of 2016 after a long battle with organ failure complicated by dementia. For about 10 years prior to his death, my father had deteriorated and what was left the man I had remembered had been long gone. So when my mom came across these letters to her, I was able to revisit a time when he was vibrant, humorous and the father that I had grew up with. I had long forgotten this side of him, as the decade prior to his passing was overshadowed by so much stress and worry while we advocated for placement and my mom was left as a caregiver.

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Dad on the Sailboat he built–1990
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University Graduation 2007

Before his health declined my father was a hard worker- in fact a workaholic. He was determined to provide for his family-despite some underlying mental health and addiction issues that I’ll save for another time. My father had served in the Canadian air force, taught college Electronics engineering, was a boat builder, woodworker, and avid fisherman. He worked all over the world, and one of his last jobs brought him to Tanzania as mentioned.

Here are some of the excerpts from his letters that I will hang onto without a doubt. Hope you enjoy!

Mgololo, Tanzania 1991
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Love You Dad- Miss You.

Summer Vacation 2020- The Relationship Reset

We’ve hit the one year mark of enduring life in a pandemic I’m sure many of you have had to take a step back a few times and asked yourself how have I not pushed my significant other off a cliff yet. Many of us in the field of health care and social services braced ourselves for the increase in domestic violence, overdoses, and mental health related cases. However, due to the isolation the issues have noticeably been pushed further into the darkness. I’ve often joked with colleagues that the eerie silence seems to be foreshadowing a scene from Game of Thrones. Anticipation continues to tease the anxious audience with the looming threat of the white walkers who inch closer, while lives hang in limbo.

A large part of being in the health care and human services sector is a responsibility to manage your own mental health and wellness. And as seasoned as some of us may seem at doing this, there was nothing in our bag of tricks that could have prepared us for this blow.

I think it was the end of June where my partner and I hit a wall of intolerance for each other. A wrong look, a snappy tone, or small misunderstanding was enough to ignite world war 3. Our lack of social buffers and distractions was like having a field of dry grass in a drought awaiting a match to be lit. Time together was no longer cute or meaningful opportunity to strengthen us, in fact it was going to break us.

We needed a relationship intervention. We needed a dose of what life was like before the complex web of Fuckery impacting our ability to be civil human beings. I recognize that we have remained in a better situation than most folks who have faced unemployment, illness, and loss of family members as a result of Covid-19. I think recognizing this was a motivating factor to get well in my personal life. The white walkers are coming and in this case as services and schools begin to reopen the demand for healthy front line workers will too. I can’t be of assistance to anyone if I’m in jail for accidentally poisoning the smoothie I so kindly threw in his face.

I can appreciate that there is a spectrum of opinions and levels of comfort with regard to the Covid-19 topic. My own has wavered consistently from the beginning of it. I remember being in Mexico in March just as the pandemic was escalating. By the end of my stay as the resort became a ghost town and the stream of concerned texts and emails came through for me to come home, the severity of it began to sink in. We are all aware of the panic and fear that ensued after that.

I’m sure this is actually how Covid was introduced to the world…Foam Party.

It was in July that both my partner and I tested positive for Covid. Living under the same roof as my 78 year old mother with significant health issues complicated our recovery even more. Covid left us fatigued, foggy, and unable to support one another at a time no one else could. And while I recognize there is still so much we don’t know about Covid-19 and reinfection, we decided to take what we think we knew and take advantage of our fresh antibodies and go on a trip. We had been advised after being quarantined and cleared by health professionals that we have up to potentially 3 months of antibodies until the harshness of winter ascends on us. So with our empty and weathered buckets in tow we took the summer vacay we needed to fill them accordingly.

We took a quick flight from Calgary to Vancouver, one we’ve taken many times before. This departure felt similar to the excitement attached to some of our previous tropical destination trips, equipped with the obligatory gate drinks. In fact, they were literally Gate Drinks whereby we were allowed two at a time to be drank at our gate while we waited for our flight. It made me wonder how this wasn’t even a thing before because I was loving it. We boarded our half empty flight where I could stretch myself across the seat and take an hour long disco nap prior to the anticipated fun that lay ahead of us.

Over the next few days we took in the beautiful sites of Vancouver. I was excited to show my partner a piece of my past where I had so many great memories. Having lived there before, I knew all the best places to go and reacquaint myself with the ever changing cityscape. My favorite part of Vancouver is the transit system, as it’s an extremely large and densely populated city whereby a short distance can turn into a 2 hour commute by vehicle.

Stanley Park is hands down a must when visiting Vancouver. You can rent all different types of bikes from cruisers to electric and ride along the seawall. There is the aquarium you can currently book ticket times for along with the many paths, beaches, and indigenous art spread about waiting to be discovered. From there you can tackle the city by foot, Skytrain, bus or scooter. Stanley Park is really close to Denman Street and English Bay where you can find the colorful and LGBTQ2S safe community that has been well established for a long time. Typically around the time we were there it would have been boasting one of the largest Gay Pride Celebrations and parade.

We strolled through Gas-Town & Yaletown in the search for the little hole in the wall sushi spots where you can get fresh sushi on the low-low. It was crazy to walk by the old closed clubs I use to frequent in my early 20’s, like Sonar and the Purple Onion now looking unidentifiable. These were the years of the late 90’s, early 2000’s, when Hip Hop and Rap artists were killing it, and my gold hoops were as big as the vibes. It was the time to be alive and in your twenties, try to tell me otherwise. Craft beer gardens and Bottle Service were nonexistent, and the only thing that separated you from the next person was what color your Fubu Jersey was.

The next few days we encountered some of the most gut aching laughter ever. I’m blessed to be surrounded by some of the quirkiest characters that are always sure to deliver. Our beloved friend we call “Uncool Jake” who is often the Butt of many jokes was in true form

By the end of the night after some monetary encouragement to the donor he was putting back shots of breast milk quite willingly. How our circle has changed since the far racier Las Vegas trip days. The content may change but the bad behavior never dies. With laugh lines reinforced, we moved on to a slower pace and headed to Vancouver Island.

We took the ferry to Victoria which is where I went to the University of Victoria. Victoria boasts the most beautiful inner harbor, where you could typically come across buskers, vendors and musicians. However…COVID World strikes again and it looked like it would traffic wise in the winter. Victoria usually is a big cruise ship destination, and the lack of tourism was evident with many of the storefronts closed and out of business.  After I identified the big tree I peed in one time on Canada Day I felt like we were ready to move on to the next stop on memory lane.

I decided to surprise my honey and took a night on Salt Spring Island staying at the Salty Pear Farm, which has a number of different Air BnB options.  They suggested that we go to Salt Spring Wild Cider Brewery and take in their tasting flights. They had us at the word “tastings” and primed our palettes and bellies by getting a solid buzz on. The view was vibrant as it overlooked hues of rolling wooded hills with the orchards below. The casual atmosphere along with the fervent staff made the experience idyllic. I left feeling like this would be a place that if I was a local would stay until closing time, and likely be found in a nearby field under the stars.

Salt Spring Wild Cider Brewing Company
Hamock Lounging at the Salty Pear Farm, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

We surprised ourselves and showed enough restraint at Wild Cider in order to take in a waterfront dinner where we listened to the band Grapes of Wrath perform as the sun set. If you grew up in the 80’s & 90’s you will know that these guys were the SHIT! So I may have fan girled a little bit while my significantly younger partner took zero interest in this epic moment. Watching the boats come and go, as well as eaves dropping on the horny middle aged women’s conversation next to us was a highlight. It made me actually miss the girls night dinners I used to have pre-Covid days where the night would be littered with the dirty details of our one night stands of Stampede Past.

I had initially researched Sunset Kayak trips, but the trip was beginning to take a toll on our energy and were looking forward to just relaxing by the camp fire at the Salty Pear Farm. We were leaving for Shawinigan Lake and Tofino the next day so lacked the time needed to cover the Provincial Park, Lakes and artisan studios that Salt Spring is known for. It will be a destination I can see returning with a group of girlfriends after the pandemic has subsided.

Shawnigan Lake School Main Building

I had been anticipating the drive to Shawnigan as it was the boarding school I attended for 5 years. It is a prestigious school located on its namesake lake where I spent my years rowing and skinny dipping at night with my dorm mates. The grounds mimic something out of a movie, with its main gardens and mix of new state of the art learning commons among the old refurbished heritage buildings. My high school years here were hands down the best years of my life. Ironically it was also the setting for my last wedding that ended in divorce, yet the nostalgia of the place remains unsmeared. I pointed out the Chapel where I had lost my virginity in, which also was the same chapel I got married in.

Inside the Chapel of Sin

Indeed I am going to hell in a hand basket.

 I pointed out the train tracks that we would walk down and go smoke weed. I shared the story of when 15 of us got busted and all got put on “Wilbur Force” together, which was a punishment based more on public embarrassment along with loss of privileges. Joke was on them because all 15 of us were friends, and it allowed us the time to smoke more weed while not having to do sports or other enriching extra-curricular activities. It took us 6 weeks to pull a tiny area of Broom, which is that thick yellow brush that grows in BC, in what should have taken a week. I feel like it may have been easier to have just let us get away with our insolence, because it left many of the other students wishing they were on our side of trouble.  I love visiting this place, and cannot wait for my 25th reunion next year where the tradition of poor behavior will be continued.

We pushed on to Tofino and I was adamant about stopping in Coombs where they have the Market with the goats on a roof. My partner was a bit confused as to why this was a thing, let alone a reason to veer off our direct route to Tofino. Unfortunately the line was so long to get into the actual Market where I was just wanting to take in the familiar smells of the wood and hand made goods. We did take in lunch at the Italian restaurant Cuckoo Trattoria, dining on hand tossed flatbread, pasta, and sinful desserts. It made the blow of not getting into the market digestible. The patio sits in a wooded grove overlooking a ravine where you can hear the stream below, and offers soothing shade on a hot day. There were moments where I felt I was at an old Tuscan Villa enjoying a glass of vino with Il Mio Amore!

Coombs Market

On route to Tofino we passed through Cathedral Grove, which the Arboreal groves resemble Gothic cathedrals of Europe boasting the worlds largest and oldest trees. Due to the pandemic the trails and park was closed, however remained impressive with the lush green cavernous coastal forest lining the highway. I was thankful to be driving as this road is not for those who encounter car sickness.

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Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island

You literally weave and wind along roads hugged up against the coastal mountain range where waterfalls cascade off the cliffs and onto the side of the road. Each bend reveals a torrent river of rapids that have cut through the landscape unearthing interesting geographical land formations. All of a sudden my inner twelfth grade self made an appearance and I’m identifying fluvial formation terms such as “look at that Alluvial fan!” I officially outted myself at that moment as a total geography nerd and I think he dug it

Tough City Sushi, Tofino British Columbia

Despite the  distractions and near misses we made it to Tofino, whereby on our arrival Mio Amore quickly got up to speed on the vibe of the little coastal town. Earthly looking characters strolled the main drag in bare feet and dreaded heads. There was a mix of surfers, kayakers, and outdoorsy fleece clad groups meandering with a sense of ease and harmonious interaction. We scuttled quickly to find a restaurant that was not closing before 8pm and came upon another sushi spot called Tough City Sushi. We sat on the covered deck as the west coast rain fell fervently. The smell of the wet salty earth, and purr of the rain complimented the fresh raw fish and intimate moment we so desperately needed to renew.

The next day feeling rested and rejuvenated after our previous day’s drive we decided to take on Boogie Boarding on the world famous Long Beach. We rented wet suits and boards from Long Beach Surf Shop and it was super reasonable. The weather was in fine west coast form, blustery and wet.  This did not dampen our childlike excitement as we fought the fury of the ocean’s waves and rode them in one after another. On the beach we had found the perfect little driftwood shelter, shielding us from the elements and making for a romantic little sand oasis where we sipped craft beer and cognac to warm us up. 

We cycled back and forth between the ocean and our shelter that day, feeling the heaviness and weight of the previous month’s tension and sadness get washed away into the Pacific Ocean. I could have sat there in that feeling for countless hours. In fact I had not felt that weightless and in the moment in years where found myself so in tune with all of my senses. In fact with no doubt in my mind I knew that there was no other place I wanted to be than with him on this beach in the pouring rain. We had found our way back to one another even though we had not left each other’s side for months. There was a sense of renewed hope that when we returned home things would look brighter and perhaps easier even in a pandemic.

Our Little Love Shelter on Long Beach

The remainder of our trip as it began to draw to its conclusion was further filled with family moments whereby I appreciatively looked around me and acknowledged the wealth of love around me. I have often ended vacations feeling exhausted or less than enthusiastic to return to work. As I boarded the plane, I was anxious to get back to my own bed and return to the reality that faced me back in Calgary where I could flex my replenished perspective.  I even looked forward to seeing my mother who had also admittedly enjoyed our absence, but grateful to be back in our own brand of dysfunction.

It turns out it was a much needed reset in varying aspects of our lives, and not just between the love of two people. Who knew it was only an hour plane ride away and with people we’ve had all along. Who knew the city streets, highways, little towns, and islands of my childhood could ground the person in my future the same way they grounded me in my past and share that together. It left me Feeling not only grateful but fueled for the next few months at least to absorb the impending damage that this pandemic has had on families, relationships and individuals. And while there may be gloves, Lysol, masks and potential vaccines to protect us from catching Covid, no one is immune to the suspected long lasting emotional trauma that is un-ravelling as the months begin to inch closer to a year.

 Stay strong Friends. Stay Woke. Stay Close to those who love you and RESET.