Me: ” I remember when we were both eight or something. You were staying with us and we went and saw “101 Dalmatians” at the Birch Cliff theatre. That was my first movie. You were such a sweet little Theodore Cleaver then. I remember laughing while waiting in line. You could wiggle your ears.”
Him: “I still can. Want to see? Yah, I remember that too. I stayed at your house for about a month while my dad was in the Don Jail.”
What a surreal situation. Here I was sitting in a Tim Horton’s with my long-lost cousin. It had been decades since I had last seen him. We had 50 years of catching up to do and obviously Kirk wasn’t trying to hide the truth. All cards were on the table, exposed.
Out of the blue, Kirk had emailed me six days before. He was asking the family if anyone still had any photos or letters related to Gramma during the war years and specifically her three sons. I had brought everything: photos, memoirs, war medals, Dad’s research on the family tree and one treasured onion skin letter. All of Gramma’s sons had served overseas. Kirk’s dad was the youngest of Gramma’s kids. My dad was in the middle and the oldest brother Kirk, who died over there, was my cousin’s namesake.
I first showed the family tree. There was a chart listing all of the names and dates stemming from Evan and Sarah Price, both born in Wales and immigrated to Canada in 1831. They had eight children. Evan died in 1857 and Sarah in 1872.
Me: ” It’s difficult to follow because their eight kids all named their kids using the same names. There are three generations of William, Henry, James and Sarahs. You have to look at the dates of birth/deaths to tell them apart. See…. They are 1850s and those are 1880.”
I pointed to the names laid out on the chart. Both of us were leaning in towards each other, elbows on the table. Two cold grilled cheese sandwiches sat forgotten on the table between us. We studied the names listed on the page. I pointed to the final grouping.
Me: “There…. that shows John married Bertha McLam and their four children: Our Uncle Kirk, Aunt Jean, my dad and yours.”
“When did your mom die?” Kirk asked me. I shared. More tombstones and dates. Neither Kirk or I recall what year Gramma died.
Me: “I do remember that your Dad would phone, out of the blue, from some place way up north, always very late at night, just wanting to talk. Dad would be tired but always patient. He’d pull up the kitchen chair to the wall phone and settle in for a long call. I could hear everything from my bedroom.”
Him: “Yah, he’d also call Auntie Jean. I would lie in my bed listening, embarrassed that he was drunk and bothering people at that late hour. He was a teacher, you know.”
Oh yes. I remember. I hated when he visited. He always seemed intent to center me out and prove how stupid I was. “Come here Cathie”. He would flag me over to the couch where he was sprawled. He didn’t even get my name right. “What is 11 times 18?” he would fire out. I would freeze. “Come on girl. You should know this stuff”. He would slur with obvious disgust in his voice.
Kirk filled me in on more of his history.
“Dad was actually my teacher for a few years. In grade 4 we lived in Buckhorn. It was a two-room school house. The following year he got a position in Surgeon Falls. That is way up north. It only had a one room school. “
” Dad didn’t even make it through the whole school year when I was in grade 6. That was in Temagami. He was fired again for drinking. We lived with Gramma for a while. I was really into sports: football. I was pretty much a street kid at that point. Dad spent all of his time at the Legion.”
“How sad.” I offered. “He must have been terribly lonely. A widower left with two kids. How old were you when your mom died? Do you remember her?” I asked.
“No, she died when I was two; before they had dialysis machines.”
I pause and grapple for the right words. I don’t know how to respond. We were both just two kids from Scarborough, almost the same age, sharing the same grandmother yet we had lived totally different upbringing. I felt both guilt and shame. Why hadn’t my mom and dad done more for poor Kirk?
We sat and again compared memories; major touchstones in our lives. We both started university in the same year. Back again to talking about his father. Kirk reminds me that his Dad went to Bermuda for a year. 1974 was the last time Kirk had gone “home” to see his father. He had very little to do with his dad from then on. Kirk was bitter. He had created a new life, in a new city. In his fourth year of university he had met his future wife. The rest is history so to speak. He had a good life now.
Kirk pulled out his phone and proudly started showing me pictures of his wife, his son’s commencement, and his daughter’s call to the bar and the family labradoodle.
I’m told about his recent family vacation to Hawaii. More vacations and a story involving special vacations shared just with his son. Together they have visited 17 major league stadiums and watched the teams play in their home field. Kirk talks on. I listen He has a lot to tell, a lot to prove. Kirk certainly has done alright for himself. He has a double doctorate and has been in a prestigious executive position for many years. Business takes him around the globe. The previous night he flew in from Beijing.
We have been at the restaurant for over two hours. It is time I hit the road.
We hug one more time before going our separate ways. I’m pumped. Our meeting went so well. Kirk is a really nice guy. A happy ending. Kirk finally got the security and family love he deserved. I hope we meet again.