My second life is to be Canadian. It is a great regret of mine that I was never truly bi. Bi-national, that is. There are Canadian words I say. I often think Canadian thoughts. I joke that this makes me bi-racial or at least half Middle North American and North North American. I joke like a Canadian at times, as throughout my life I was influenced by being from somewhere other than the United States.
In many ways, Canada is my co-homeland, although I am too long in the tooth for any Right of Return and in their eyes too unskilled seeing how their ‘communist’ government pays for their education and healthcare. I am a United States Citizen, and enjoy all the benefits of our Empire. I root for our team. However, I am also North North American (if you include Mexico as part of North America), and if anyone watched hockey around me, I would have to watch and root for the Canadian teams. My siblings and I/me were partially created by a Canadian parent, but for reasons of complex family politics, we remained with our South North American parent and never fully benefitted from this potential dual citizenship and access to free healthcare, university, and education, and networking with a Commonwealth that included far afield bits of what had once been the British Empire. Nevertheless, we spent many a summer up in Canada if not at least a few long weekends and some says off from being American where we played with foreign children and sat about summer campfires, Canadian summer lasting about a month or so from the end of Black Fly Season and the start of the first snows of September.
After having traveled up there for over four decades, the friends of my parent’s are now old and gray, and the children I played with have moved on to dots about the world in order to start their own families. I have been reminded of the passing of time for all of us as well as the continued feeling that I should have been more dedicated to making at least that once-a-year pilgrimage to those green mountains of the Laurentides if not have lived there for a summer or two. However, life has a way of taking us in different directions. New places distract, and old connections of youth fall away to our wanderings. Adulthood takes hold, and there we are. Living our lives far away from those people and places we love. I was shocked that it had been six years since I was in Moren Heights, and I felt that little pit in my stomach, the feeling that I had just remembered a promise I made to a lover and today I was reminded I forgot that simple thing. That flower, that Bodi leaf pressed in a book, that post card, that letter was never sent. And now…. it was too late. Panic and grief blow into my stomach as if I have a carburetor regulating this traffic.
The occasion was the yearly cookout and concert, celebrations of a number of birthdays for the zodiac sign Cancer and a gathering of folk musicians and those who provide a casual and comfortable audience. There were few of my generation represented as most of those had themselves become adults, parents, wandered too far areas of the Commonwealth and were not there that weekend. For me, it is a slender opportunity to visit. To reconnect with people who may still recognize me, or may not since they knew me as a child, and I am no longer that.
When I say I am bi-ethnic, it is looked upon with a laugh. Were I something like Cuban and Dominican, this would be a real thing in the eyes of my fully white friends since for some reason the sand bars that comprise those islands differ greatly and create new races but the cold dark pine forests and the deciduous lands of our states cannot do as much. Certainly, the language, food, the politics of these two countries are very different. Most food in Canada comes out of a bag, like their milk. In addition to a national tax on services, eating out will also have you pay no tip but a very high VAT. Canada is a mosaic of peoples while our Great and Storied Nation is a Melting Pot. They also have few shootings. Something like six or seven to our thirty thousands or so.
In the Laurentides, there is a certain smell of the village I have been visiting since I can remember. These smells of pine, cut wood, cold water brings back memories. Far too many memories to be contained in one entry other than these smells are forests of a certain type and something else I cannot yet describe. Sawmill lumber perhaps. Memories of a slightly hippy crowd that came up in the early 1970s to get away from the then big city of Montreal, a city that was yet to be international and even had one foot firmly planted in a Francophone Middle Ages. These friends were not quite hippies but were on that spectrum. They took over a sleepy Anglophone sawmill town and made coffee houses, concert venues, bummed about at the ski slope, and generally brought a certain amount of flair to the village not quite making it another Woodstock, but certainly putting it on the Map of Canada as something of a minor Woodstock of sorts in a Quebec sort of way.
I never spent more than perhaps a week a year up there at a time I think. I have always regretted this, but I have never in my life found a way to make more time for my second homeland. Were I to add all these decades together they may amount to perhaps six months or more. Maybe a year. However, I doubt it adds up to that amount of time. So, how long must one be “from” another country to be “from” that country. True, were I born in Cuba and taken a few days later from those shores I would always be looked upon as being ‘Cuban” or otherwise best able to interpret anything from that land. Such is our culture of identity assignment, the whole Raceclassgender of it all.
I should have been a full Canadian. When I was young, I was not in control of things, and I was stuck in the car seat of the station wagon or trapped with the American grandmother having to do this or that. I did not think to get up to my second country on my own because how could I as a child, especially since my Canadian parent was not at a fixed address, did not call, and for the most part was vanished from our lives in part because my American parent moved without a forwarding address and in those days that made it difficult, in part because the Canadian parent did not search for us. I do not know why or how a parent can loose track of children, but they do from time-to-time it seems.
When I was a teen, I for reasons I cannot explain, I did not run away to start a life up North even though I hated just about every moment of my home life in the United States. In time, I got a job in the United States, but I guess that stability of working, no matter how menial, kept me close to home. In time, I got into a college of some note, and my life became truly American. Struggling to pay student loans because our government doesn’t care about education, not getting healthcare I needed because our society doesn’t want to pay for doctors, and trying to make my way in the world in the States because while our country wants cheep and disposable immigrants, it doesn’t want to lose citizens who form a middling class. Not poor enough to be a burden, but not smart enough to belong to the Jet Set class, the International set who keep their treasure in tax shelters and found and sell companies when they aren’t shoveling bad ideas down our throats, and I assume blow up their noses.
When I return to my old childhood could-have-been life, it is always bittersweet. The old guard of those I grew up with. The folk rockers are now passed away, the children of my age now old, the fresh young faces of the children now grown up and with families of their own. Often it is as if I have been caught in a stasis. I am always the same and those around me grow up, move on with their lives, and I am reminded how much I miss that community I would touch so many summers ago of youth but that I am bland and of some passive quality that I have never pushed myself into the life of being a Canadian and never created my own community closer to wherever I find is home in this free land that teases me with the potential of success and then sees me struggle to capture an American Dream that is no longer possible.
The party went off without a hitch as it always does. The younger as well as elderly smoked hash, drank beer and spirits, listened to a band from Newfoundland, and enjoyed company and had half-assed conversations long into the night. The weather cooperated somewhat only that the rain held off until the last burger was served and then the gray way turned into a rainy and cool night. I hung out with a woman I remembered as a teenage girl, but now she had a family and a sharp tongue, and we joked about the old days and life and so much. Her eyes were as blue as I remembered. Or maybe they were green.
I drank a whiskey with the now old man who has known me my entire life, a mantel few have worn. He had known me since I was a child who skipped stones on the mill stream. Followed the adults as they skinny dipped in the cold water. Slept on the floor on a few rugs as I listened to the adult’s laugh and talk and joke and drank wine. So few people have been there to witness me. He is as much a father to me as many other people I have seen but on occasion.
I stayed at his house with his wife. When they were out, and I left alone, I stoated about a little and looked at all the trinkets I remember in the house I have seldom visited but always felt at home. One of the many houses of the village of my youth. I looked at book titles, record collections, the pictures of their children, these beauties now grown I had known when they and I were children. Some now married, others divorced, some with children and others living in the far-flung reaches of the former Empire. I thought back to this time I entertained them all with stories as the adults got stoned about the campfire and we all talked and laughed, and it was then that I became intent on traveling to Labrador to which it was twenty years or so later before I made good on that plan. It was a Canadian summer of long hot days and chilly nights. The summer perhaps after Charlie had dunked his car into the lake after drinking too much and storming out. Good thing they cleaned it up before the matron, Ms. Hotchkiss noticed. The summer home was on almost a thousand acres of fine pine; the main house bordered a lake of almost twenty acres. The friend of my American parent and her then boyfriend (now husband) had cleared up the wreck, but there was still a strange hole in the shrubs, and Dave was not about to let Charlie live this down. The girls and I were in the living room chattering away. The campfire burned, and the adults blazed, we were all burning with hope.
So many years later.
I went over the day after the party and helped clean up. Most of the hard work had been done. I shared a few jokes and bid my new friends, the band from Newfoundland, farewell and promised to visit. I went for a walk to the old mill dam and the sluice that I remember as a child that is now reduced to complete ruins with only a trace of what once was, this old structure already abandoned for a generation when I was a child, and not that was a long time ago. These rocks. These rocks on this creek were where I first learned to balance and to run as fast as I could from rock to rock. I listened to the water pour through the many cracks in the old dam. I returned to the house and after a few more articles of furniture were returned to their position, made ready for the drive back to my other country.
Again I promised to return to visit and reconnect. I tried to back out of work and extend my time, but the stings and hooks that connected me to my native lands were stronger than those that grounded me in Canada. Said goodbye and again made the long trip back to my country.