Nine years ago, I wrote a blog called, “In search of my father” on my original blog, Recover Your Joy.
In it, I told the story of travelling a thousand kilometres from Calgary, to a tiny town tucked into the prairies of Southeast Saskatchewan. Gravelbourg.
Gravelbourg is the town my father first lived in when he came to Canada as a young boy.
While I was there, I wandered the streets my father walked when he was a boy. I visited the cathedral in which he served as an altar boy at mass. I visited the Bishop’s home where he and other boys who attended Collège Mathieu, the boarding school where he was sent as a young boy, sometimes visited with the Bishop who oversaw the district when the Cathédrale de Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption was the seat of the diocese.
And I toured the almost deserted town of Mazenod, a few kilometres away. I went there because I discovered, via the school records, that my father’s father gave an address in Mazenod as his permanent address while my father was at school in Gravelbourg.
We never knew that, about our grandfather being close by while dad was at school. His story was always that he was sent, alone, to the school and only occasionally saw his Uncle Pat, who lived in Regina many kilometres away, on school holidays.
So many secrets. So many mysteries in the life of my father that will never be resolved.
He had no brothers or sisters. Though there was a half-sister in England who died many years ago. Even there my father’s penchant for secrets prevailed. The presence of an aunt on my father’s side of the family was never fully known by my sisters and brother.
Dad never talked about her. Until one day, he received a letter through veterans affairs. Inside that envelope was a letter from his sister.
My eldest sister called me when she found out. “So. What do you think about dad’s sister?” she asked.
“What sister?” I replied. “Dad doesn’t have a sister. He’s an only child.”
“Not anymore,” my sister said.
I promptly called my father to inquire.
“Her name is Phyllis,” he said.
“Why didn’t you ever tell us about her?” I asked.
“It didn’t seem relevant,” my father replied tersely.
For the next two years, my father and Phyllis corresponded via mail and telephone, both refusing to go see the other, though they both stated they wanted to meet again. Dad’s rationale was always that as she was the one looking for him, she needed to come to him.
The last time they’d seen each other was when dad was shipped off to boarding school from London, England and his mother left his father to live with another man. A man she’d been having an affair with for many years. Apparently, Phyllis was actually his daughter and so, she went with her mother to live in a new home while dad sailed across the Atlantic to take up residence in a new country.
Aunt Phyllis died before she and dad navigated the distance, the years and the pain between them.
My father passed away a few years later and carried the stories of his youth he’d never shared with him.
And still, sometimes in dreams and quiet moments, my father’s voice enters and whispers quietly in my heart. “You are a poet child,” he whispers. “Woven together of the warp and weft of stories threaded through your timeline shivering in harmony with the voices of the story whisperers of the past. Be brave. Give voice to the stories calling out to be told.”
This morning, I went in search of the posts I’d written about my father long ago. Thank you Bernie for your question! Aside from having to ignore the typos, I read the stories with fresh eyes and a heartful of gratitude and Love.
Listen. The muse whispers. The stories untold are awakening.
In order of appearance, here are the stories — and btw — if you have never been to Gravelbourg it is a beautiful town set in the vast wild prairies. The cathedral alone is worth the visit!
Father Maillard’s Ode to Joy (This one has lots of photos of the town and the cathedral)