A Few of My Favourite Things – Week 3 of 52

The weather has been so dark and gloomy over the last few days, and I haven’t been able to take a morning or an evening photo without the graininess of a Canadian winter showing through.

With Robbie Burns day right around the corner (January 25), I’ve been thinking about roots, the very thing that we’re trying to lay down in this Little House.

One of the essential questions of humankind, ‘Where did I come from?’ keeps rolling around in my little head. Even though we try very hard to live by our own rules and to learn from our mistakes and get on with growing, me and big S are mired in the past. We find ourselves anchored by our own upbringing. The elements, the moments, the particulars – these little things that happened, making us who we are today. This isn’t to say that our upbringing was perfect, we both have inherent issues that we’d rather not have, and are working hard to shed these annoying habits. However, both the social and the physical environments that we grew-up knowing have helped (or hindered) us during our relationship, and eventual transition to parenthood.

My parents emigrated from Scotland in the early 1970s. They came to Canada, as many did before them, to create a better lives for themselves and their children. Such a long journey, I can’t imagine – I think about how brave they must have been, and how much they would have missed their own families. My mom was lucky enough to have a sibling in the ‘new world’, but my father left his whole family behind. How strange it must have been. Leaving it all behind to start anew. Must have been liberating. Must have been scary. Must have been exciting. Must have been overwhelming. Can’t imagine all the ranges of emotions; I did my own fair share of leaving and traveling, but never with the thought that I wouldn’t someday come back to Canada.

My imagination forces me into romanticizing the immigration process, it becomes a monumental event. How did my mom said ‘good-bye’ to her parents? How did my grandparents react to losing both their daughter and their granddaughter (my older sister)? In my version, their departure is much more of a blend between a Shakespearian play and an Austin novel, than a 20th century flight across the Atlantic. My parents have told me stories of their journey to and early years in Canada, there are tales about drunken immigration officers, of mother’s singing about jet planes, of squalid working conditions, there are even stories about honesty, and a realtor who actually gave them good advice and helped them find the perfect family home.

My parents left Scotland behind, and created a new life in Canada. Although we never learned to play the bagpipes or to dance the highland fling, we were still raised with a keen sense of our heritage, ultimately we were thoroughly steeped in Scottishness. For the most part we were typical suburban children, unaware of our cultural inheritance, unaware of any cultural differences. But every once in a while we were reminded that our parents weren’t quite as ‘Canadian’ as other parents. Walking home from school, we knew we were getting close to home, because our ears perked to the sounds of the pipers and percussionists blasting from the record player in our family’s living room. We used strange words for common items, like sark and haver. As an elementary school child, I remember the first time I ever phoned home from a friend’s house, and upon hearing my father’s voice at the end of the line I thought I had the wrong telephone number. The stranger answering had this deep, weird accent that I’d never heard before, and was near impossible to understand. In person, I couldn’t hear the accent, and thought my father sounded the same as everyone else; that he sounded very Canadian. You’d think coming from a very Western culture to another typically Western culture would be seamless, but there are subtle differences, things I now take for granted. We had the same language, we had many of the same customs, but we had some traits that outed us as Scottish (the main one being our pasty white, freckled skin – our ‘Scotch’ beauty as my father would call it). I can only imagine how much of a shock it must been for some of my friends’ families, and how much more strange the transition from private to public life must have been.

Here I am, the first to be born in Canada – I’ve made several journeys back to the homeland, and have chosen to return here, to the place I’m familiar with to raise my own family. Vancouver is a fairly multicultural city (much, much different from the very monochromatic suburb from whence I came). Even though I may not know where I’m going or what the future holds, there is a little reminder of where I came from hanging at the bottom of the stairs. This reminder is blue and green; it is wooly, scratchy and utterly uncomfortable (which is why it is on the wall and not in my wardrobe). This hanging kilt is beautiful, it is simple and striking; much like the country in which it was created. I adore it.

Maybe someday we will address the Haggis, great chieftan o’ the puddin-race, toast to the lassies and drink to our wealth and health. For now, I’ll read often to my own children, the poems read to me by my own mother. I’ll try hard to use her voice, to use her inflections, and to use her tone. I’ll show them photos of their grandparents’ life before Canada. We’ll travel as a family to Scotland and explore the moors and ruins. Maybe the kids will learn to dance the sword dance and play the pipes. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll put in and win a bid for this little painting, and we’ll gaze lovingly upon the cows (or as my dad may say, “the afa bonnie coes”). Yes, I know where I came from because, only a Scot could look upon a painting like this, and think that it would be just perfect in their house (but be horrified at paying more than a few well-earned pennies for it).

William Pettingale, Highland Cattle, signed and dated 1906

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One thought on “A Few of My Favourite Things – Week 3 of 52

  1. I was delighted to stumble into a Robert Burns celebration over the weekend…haggis and all. It was rowdy, wonderful and an unexpected treat.

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