Track 81 — 100 Years

The other morning as our train pulled into Union Station, Siaya turned to me and asked if three weeks at grandma’s and grandpa’s house was enough. I stared at her for a long moment, regarding her question with a little more thought than she was expecting. I know she was hoping for a quick answer. A simple ‘yes’, or ‘no’. Not the monologue she was about to get. Nevertheless, I smiled at her and began.

I can remember back when I was your age, traveling to visit my grandparents, aunts and uncles. Although your grandparents, Uncle Scott and I lived in Canada, we were always a plane ride or eventually a road trip away from everyone. Visits were never frequent. Back then, they remained annual events, very similar to our own trips back here to Canada. And like our trips here, they seemed to finish just moments after they began. Really. Doesn’t it feel as though we just arrived?

Siaya stared at me with polite boredom. I knew I had already lost her; however, I pushed on.

I listened to you and your brother laughing and chattering away as we pulled away from the platform in Cornwall. This train ride has been fun for you both. Onan loves just being here. For him, trains, buses, planes, you name it – they are all amazing. He is still at that age where a ride on any type of vehicle is exciting. You, I think, are anxiously anticipating the adventure that awaits you in Toronto. This will be your first vacation alone; your first summer camp. Your focus is on the freedom and independence that lies just around the corner.

 Believe it or not, I can still I remember feeling the same sort of excitement and delight every time I boarded a train, walked down the gangway onto a plane or piled into an overstuffed car. When you are young, your focus is very much on the now. This means, every time you travel anywhere, the trip is all you can really think about. Your attention remains on the present adventure. This usually means that any amount of time spent on holidays is enough. Of course, there is disappointment when you leave; however, you have the trip home to make things a little easier. A little more fun. And that, my dear, is a youthful perspective.

Siaya’s eyes told me that I was beginning to take away from her fun, but, hey, I was on a roll.

For me, I must admit that this train ride carries with it a little more bitter than sweet. I am very sad to leave your grandma and grandpa behind. They are getting older and I don’t know how many more trips home like this I will get. Although I am thrilled to be sharing this train ride with you and Onan, I don’t have your youthful view on life. I can’t shake this feeling of sadness as we move farther and farther from your grandparents’ home. At this moment, I am preoccupied with where we are leaving rather than where we are going. And that, my love, is a more aged perspective.

I knew that that was too deep, so a backtracked a bit.

For a time, your grandparents, Uncle Scott and I would drive to New Jersey to visit my grandmother, aunt, uncle, and cousins. New Jersey is only a seven-hour drive from Cornwall, so we did this with a little more frequency. We made it into long-weekend vacations, about twice or three times a year. And every time the weekend ended, as we drove away, your grandpa would honk his endless goodbyes, and your grandma, Uncle Scott and I would wave wildly through the windows of our packed car (You really have no idea just how packed it was.). I remember watching as my grandmother grew smaller through the rear window of the car. She was always so much sadder than the rest of us. Her wave had a little less weight to it. Her smile never seemed to penetrate through the slow trickle of tears that made their way down her cheeks. At the time, I didn’t – couldn’t truly understand why she felt so sad. I was about to eat pretzels, chips and chocolate-marshmallow cookies for the next seven hours. What was there to be sad about? And besides that, we would, of course, return on the next long weekend. Youthful perspective.

Now that I am older though, my perspective has changed drastically. This morning, for example, as we boarded the train, the only thought on my mind was having to leave your grandparents. And it sucked. This feeling got even worse as the train pulled away. I’m not sure if you saw your grandpa standing on the platform as we left. You were very busy getting settled into your seat with your brother. I, however, did. And it broke my heart. How sad he seemed trying to catch a glimpse of us through the tinted windows. His waves held much less promise than the torrent of beeps he used to give his mother so many years ago. It brought tears to my eyes.

I had Siaya’s attention, if just for a moment. I needed to bring my rambling to an end.

No, my love. Three weeks was not enough. But as you get older, you realize that no amount of time will ever be enough. All I can do is to enjoy every moment that I share with your grandparents and satisfy myself with the understanding that each goodbye is simply a prelude to the next hello.

I could have gone on. I had more to say. But, I didn’t. I recognized that Siaya had had enough. So, instead, I kissed her on the forehead and let the moment pass. For her anyways.

Not for me. Not yet.

I turned from Siaya and stared out from behind the tinted glass for a moment, looking for another glimpse of my father’s face that was miles behind. I wish he could have seen me waving back at him as the train rolled away. He would have known that I shared in his heartache. But then again, I’m sure he knew. I’m sure they both know.

100 Years, by Five for Fighting is a song I tried to introduce to Siaya a few months ago. Unfortunately, at the time, she asked me to change the music. She said that she had had enough of my ‘old-school’ tunes and wanted to hear something from her generation. Fair enough. I do hope, however, that one day, maybe after reading this, she will give the song a second chance. For me, the lyrics have a lot to say. Once again though, perspective.

Life is short. As my father has said on many occasions, “Tomorrow always comes.” Fifteen turns to twenty-two turns to forty-five turns to sixty-seven turns to ninety-nine. And we’re done. As quick as that, it’s over. And all that is left are the memories that we have helped to create for ourselves and for others along the way. I have learned over the years to do my best to live these moments that I have been given. To laugh, to live and most importantly to love. Understanding that there is never enough time has pushed me to better cherish the time that I have. I may not have 100 years, but I will do my best to live a life that feels like it.

100 Years Youtube link

 

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Track 48 – One Love

2 -6-2. It’s not the name of some fancy cocktail. It’s not a special date or anniversary. It’s not even my first high school locker combination. It is an address. A destination. A not so distant memory of my Formosan life before family and kids came into fashion. 262 was simply the place to be.

My brother and I had been living in Taiwan for about three months when we first heard of 262 Shiang Ping Lu. Actually, at the time we were introduced to the house the address wasn’t even known. It was simply referred to as the house just up the hill from us. Our other housemate had mentioned to my brother and I that two new expats had moved in to the community and were living at the end of the first lane as you entered the village. According to him, they were a couple but he wasn’t sure if they were dating or married. He also told us they were Canadian, very friendly  and… nah, better keep that to myself.

I remember seeing the two of them drive by one night as I was exercising in the basketball court near our house. At the time there weren’t any gyms in Hsinchu. I had to work out with what I had. My ghetto version of the World Gym was chin ups in the basketball court, bench presses on a plank of wood leaning against my bed and a nightly jog around the village. But I digress. I was too far away to notice if the newcomers were Canadian or friendly. However, I could see that the gal was snuggled up rather tightly behind the guy on the back of their scooter. I assumed at the very least that they were a couple. And if they were that cuddly with each other, I figured they had to be decent folk. (At least the girl/woman must have been.) I decided that my brother and I should make the effort to introduce ourselves.

So, that Friday night before heading out to The Bar, our pub of choice at the time, my brother and I grabbed a couple of walkers and headed up hill to see if our neighbors wanted to join us for a night of debauchery. I don’t know what I was thinking about as we stood waiting for someone to answer our knocks. I am not sure which of the two answered the door and invited us in. I don’t even remember how long we hung out in their living room before heading downtown for a few drinks. However, what I do remember with the utmost of clarity was that the people whom we met that night were not only Canadian and genuinely friendly, but more importantly, they turned out to be family.

There are few people in the world that you meet and are instantly bonded to for life. Usually there is a sort of courting period before casual friends become close friends. First impressions are of course important; however, it usually takes a while to find out a person’s true colors and decide if they are people with whom you would like to have a lasting, more meaningful friendship. On the other hand, every now and then you meet people who just make sense to your world and are instantly a part of it, no questions asked. The couple from 262 was and still is one such set of friends.

Despite the instant bond that we seemed to share, I am quite sure that it wouldn’t have mattered who had knocked on their door that August evening. Without hesitation or deliberation they simply would have been invited in for a drink or two. That is the type of people this couple was and still is. Although this was the first night we or anyone had heard of 262, it wasn’t long before the word spread and the number became known to many members of the foreign community.

Their door was always open for euchre games, poker games, birthdays, barbecues, Thanksgivings and Christmases. I often found it a little coincidental that 262 Shiang Ping Lu was originally a restaurant during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan. Like the restaurateurs of years gone by, this couple had never said no to a guest or a party. 

Years passed with no change. Thinking back now I seem to have spent a lifetime in the living room of 262 either shuffling cards, playing Super Mario Cart or just chilling having a beer. However, as their family (and the wild pack of dogs living next door) started to grow it eventually became time to pass the 262 torch to another foreign couple. It was a sweet consolation to see that the keys were given to another set of close friends. It was good to have the house in the family. For another couple of years at least.

While their address has changed a couple of times since their days at 262, this friendly, Canadian couple never has. Even now, as I sit typing these words into the computer, they are busy hosting a poker game or two in the basement of their house. It is also likely that a group of us will end up there for a few drinks tomorrow night after our tenth anniversary whiskey meeting (see Track 49). And with this in mind, I am keenly aware of the fact that although 262 will forever be etched in my brain as the place where my brother and I met our first family members in Taiwan, I realize that it wasn’t the number that made it happen. It was the people behind the door.

Bob Marley was the first CD that I ever heard playing at 262. Quite honestly, for a time, I was pretty sure that it would also be the last. It was the soundtrack to a copious amount of euchre evenings and weekend warm-ups.

One of the many amazing songs on the Legend CD is One Love. Its lyrics seem to epitomize our Taiwan family. We are comprised of Canadians, French Canadians (apparently there is a difference), Americans, South Africans, Namibians, English, Irish, Scottish and of course Taiwanese. Our heritage also brings us back to such countries as Poland, Goa, China and Trinidad. We have dark skin, olive skin, tan skin and white skin. There are Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Atheists. However, as different as our backgrounds may be we share a love for life and (I hope I am not only speaking for myself) each other.

People are more than their religion, race, color and creed. They are and forever will be —  people. Open your doors to them, play a game of euchre with them, and let your family grow. One love, y’all!

One Love youtube link

Track 47 – We Are The Champions

Life has worked out so that I do not have a strong bond or connection with many members of my extended family. Due to a confluence of different factors, we don’t talk or even correspond with each other on a regular basis. A few notes are passed now and then via Facebook, but that is about it.

Every time Rachel, Siaya and I head home to see grandma and grandpa, I think to myself how nice it would be to become reacquainted with my cousins, aunt and uncles. It would also do Siaya some good to be introduced to family members that she has never met. However, due to limited time and vast distances separating them from my parents, it never happens. It is a pity because as kids my brother and I spent a fair amount of time bonding with both sides of the family.

Our summers were spent visiting my mother’s family on my grandparents’ farm in Alberta. My brother and I had a ball dismantling old tractors, making tree forts, feeding farm animals, stressing out farm animals (see Track 28), chasing tractors, climbing bales of hay, collecting grasshoppers, racing through fields of wheat, and every now and then causing some real trouble.

I can remember a time when we almost lost one of our twin cousins in my grandmother’s garden. It was evening and the farm was water logged from a late afternoon downpour that had just let up. My brother, our twin cousins, who were a few years younger than me, and I were out exploring the farm, looking for any damage that the storm might have caused. As we walked past the garden my brother stepped into the edge and his whole foot was instantly consumed in thick mud. The rain had fallen so hard that the garden was transformed into a thick, black pudding of earth. My brother must have been slightly panicked as the mud inched over his boot top. I, on the other hand, saw this misstep as the opportunity for fun. As he tried to pull himself free without losing his boot in the thick muck, I gave him a little shove. A slight tap was all it took to send him ass first into the garden. I giggled and jumped into the mud after him. I figured he was going to throw me in anyways so I might as well beat him to the punch. Literally.

Our cousins stood at the edge of the garden laughing at us as we splashed muck everywhere. It didn’t take much coaxing for both of them to join us for a little frolic in the mud. Actually, one of our cousins only ventured into the garden a few steps. Oddly enough he hated getting dirty. Our other cousin was a little more trusting and adventurous and stepped out a little further into the black abyss.

My brother and I had only sunk into the earthy porridge a little past our knees. Our cousin, on the other hand, was quite a bit shorter than us and was almost immediately engulfed in the black muck. He looked like a legless Weeble Wobble (Remember those toys?) swaying, no flailing, in the pool of wet soil. His squeals of joy soon turned to tears of fear as he tried desperately to escape from the cement like grips of the thick mud. My brother and I started to panic. Not so much out of concern for the safety of our cousin, but because of the backlash that would result in our grandmother or aunt hearing his screams of terror.

My brother and I worked quickly to yank him out of the muck. We managed to calm him down a little as we tugged and struggled to get him free. By the time we pulled him to the embankment that bordered the garden he was giggling furiously. For some reason the fact that the garden had just eaten both of his boots was the funniest thing that had ever happened to him. My brother and I didn’t see the humor in the situation because we knew there was going to be hell to pay.

We were right.

My brother and I never got into that kind of trouble when we visited my relatives in the States. Mind you, my grandparents’ condo in Florida didn’t provide the same opportunities for mischief as did my other grandparents’ farm. There is only so much trouble you can get into when you are constantly surrounded by senior citizens. Don’t get me wrong, my brother and I loved hanging out by the pool or playing billiards in their community center, we just didn’t get into the same amount of trouble.

Visiting my aunt, uncle and three cousins in New Jersey was equally as fun, but our weekends there were all about enjoying their state of the art entertainment system, playing on my cousin’s computer, making videos with his VHS recorder or attending weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs or other holiday celebrations. My Aunt and Uncle’s house was usually full of relatives and exploding with life and chaos. I was always in awe with how many people would come and go throughout the days and nights.

Although a few afternoons were spent playing running bases or hopping into piles of leaves in their backyard, most of the time we were indoors. My uncle always had the newest gadgets and electronics with which we were free to play. This meant we were usually much more sedate and less likely to get into trouble. I’m not saying that we didn’t get into trouble. Three boys left to their own devices can always find some way to cause a ruckus. I just can’t recall ever getting yelled at. (This might have something to do with the fact that my cousin and I blamed everything on my brother.)

Looking back on the times spent with my relatives, I find it interesting how opposite my parents’ families were/are. Understanding these differences gives me more insight into my own family. I hope that going back to see my parents once a year will give Siaya the same understanding of her background.

We Are the Champions, by Queen, was a song to which my cousin, brother and I made a lip-sync video during one of our visits to their home. When I think about the countless videos and movies that the three of us made, I often get nostalgic for the relationships that I seem to have let slip by the wayside.

For many reasons my extended family has become something of the past – a memory. The only way to describe this happening is as a loss. For no matter who we have grown to become, my family is and always will be at the core of my foundation. There is no denying that all members of my family had a profound impact on the man I have become. I think it is time now for me to show them who that person is and learn the same about them.

So, if any of my cousins are reading this post, I look forward to speaking with you soon. And if none of them are, I still look forward to speaking with you soon.

We Are The Champions youtube link