I didn’t really understand to the notion of “place” in our lives until I immersed myself in teachings from our First Nations people. I think that’s what all good teachers do. Set out to learn what they don’t know. They immerse themselves in the things they are required to teach. If the curriculum requires you to teach something, and you don’t like the materials provided, you set out to find other sources of reference. Perhaps even more so if you are a history major and have wrapped yourself in stories of the past. The problem with the materials provided in textbooks when I first started teaching, was that they treated the subject as a long past piece of our history. For me this was reinforced by a well-meaning Grandfather who helped his grandchildren to make bows and arrows in his workshop to stalk one another in the corn fields of Abbotsford. And depending on where you lived, you may never meet someone who was First Nations, or who declared their First Nations heritage with pride. It was in the First Nations legends that unfolded in beautifully illustrated picture books that allowed the significance of place in Indigenous culture to emerge. As Kieran Egan so eloquently articulated, story was the most effective means engaging the imagination and help us to create meaning from history. The teachings of our First Nations people for the past two thousand years show how the places we learn, and work, and play take root in the people we become.
In my early years, the stories are of beaches, and parks and a vacant lot. Place defined where I belonged and what consumed my attention. Jericho Beach was a five minute walk from my house. Fog horns, sand, waves and the plaintive call of seagulls were part of my days and nights. Fish and chips were part of sunny weekends. The Vacant Lot was just across the street, long before it was developed into Seniors’ Housing. It taught me that first appearances are never reliable. You need to lean in and take a closer look. The Railroad Engine at Kits Beach was still there for free play and adventure to unknown lands. Tatlow Park was my place. It was where my Grandpa was the caretaker and my Nanny Keenan hosted Sunday dinners for her 4 kids, her 10 grandchildren, and anyone else we invited.
I ran with a pack. Our parents believed our safety was in numbers and our good health in regular outdoor play. All of us were sent outside to play all the time. My cousins. The neighbours. The other kids who moved into our spaces and places. The call to come home for dinner came from the backdoor steps not a cell phone. And although we sometimes ventured too far beyond boundaries, we all survived. Older kids were handed responsibility for younger kids. We built forts. We buried dead birds being careful not to touch them and had funeral services complete with prayers for God to watch over them. We learned that tadpoles were best left in the ponds rather than dehydrated on the side of a forgotten bucket in the laundry room. We learned that even with great perseverence, we could not dig a hole to China. We figured out that no matter what kind of family turmoil rocked our lives, the calm waves would prevail and continue to go in and out and in and out.
I have gravitated back to the places and spaces where I feel like I most belong. And no matter what anyone says, you can in fact go home. Warm memories from my childhood, intertwine with the memories my husband and those I have created with our family and friends. The comfort zone that came from familiarity with beaches, parks, and vacant lots of unseen potential, extended out into other aspects of my life. Give me a beach, a park and some wetlands, and I can tap into a sense of joy that comes with feeling a sense that this is a place that you belong. These are my places, whether they are in California or Italy or the Southern Interior of British Columbia.
Sunday’s Child – This is the memoir thread in my blog. Many of my “aha” moments of life emerge from my reflections of the past. This is my place to do just that.