On December 23 my daughter and I were downtown, getting coffee. I shared a story of when I attended the University of British Columbia. My daughter was surprised to learn I had attended UBC. I was certain she knew the story, that she had always known the story in the same way the important people in my world know my ‘stories.’ I mean my students know I had attended UBC. They know I left that school one Wednesday in January many years ago with what I believed was a migraine and then spent the following three years in hospital.
I know my daughter lives the effects of the story of hospital, but I guess my attendance at UBC has become a non-essential. And I guess she’s correct.
This winter holiday I have spent a few hours every day hiking near the lake with my dad. I spent every breath of those moments listening. One day we hiked out to the woods with a bucket of warm turkey parts, treats for the coyotes. One day my dad and I snooped around an abandoned cabin, sitting in the sun on its upper deck, watching the birds. One day we shuffled through the wet brown leaves gathered near the willows by the beach, without words, dad and I breathing in the scent of leaves.
Today, dad and I walked along the beach path I walked as a girl. We walked the beach a long, long way. Almost, it felt, until we met the horizon. Almost, it felt, until everything was clear.
That’s the way it is with dad. He is a storyteller. He is my storyteller.
December 24th, after returning from Christmas Eve mass, my family began sharing tales of years gone by. Dad shared that when he was a boy, on Christmas Eve, he went to the early movie, the late movie and then to mid-night mass. His story did not strike me as odd. Dad’s Christian faith has always been steadfast. Then, mom wondered if that had been a time he had had to attend the movies alone, mass alone. This was information, a connection, I knew, but had taken for granted.
I had not been listening.
I knew my dad had been homeless, had raised himself from the time he was in grade eight. I knew he had sometimes found warmth curled in church windows, church services, with a kind-hearted family. I had forgotten how movies and restaurants and church had acted as family for my dad.
I have never before heard his December 24th story. I turned to dad and told him I loved him.
There I was sitting in my parents’ cozy home, the home they have created for my sister and me, for my daughter, for each other. The home they continue to create for us every day; I mean when my students are giving a performance or heading out for a basketball tournament, they ask if my dad may attend.
Today, dad and I walked along the beach path I walked as a girl. I heard stories I had never heard before, or maybe I heard them like I never had before. Maybe I was simply ready to hear them. I know as we wound our way by the cottonwoods, both our eyes were filled with tears.
I am 39 years old. I have many more stories to hear, a lifetime of strolls to learn. I love my dad.
The best gift anyone has ever given to me is the gift of storytelling-time.
I hope I listen well enough to give the same…