[Dear Readers. Over the next few posts, I will be telling you about my summer vacation. I travelled well over 5,000 kilometres and never left my backyard. That’s because I time-travelled. I was visiting the backyard of my childhood, and the backyard of Canada’s childhood. I’m back now, back in Northern Ontario. And I’m still breathless. And sometimes I catch myself crying, and other times I’m laughing. So I guess it’s been what you would call a meaningful experience. It’s too late for me for it to be called life-changing, but let me tell you, I am changed. Forever.]
I have spent a lot of time reconstructing the past. My past. And Canada’s past. For Canada’s past is my past.
My late father spent a lot of time reconstructing his past. He told us his past in stories, stories that he related time and again until they got more perfect. We still tell them to one another, we children, meaning my brother John and my sisters Grace and Susanne.
My father left out some sad parts, parts that we’ve pieced together from other sources, and even some happy parts, parts that might’ve been too private. My late mother had stories too, which she edited and improved to her satisfaction.
In early July my brother John and I travelled to Lloydminister, Saskatchewan, where we met Grace, who had flown to Edmonton and driven down. We still have family there, on my mother’s side, where my father-to-be met her. We were going to stitch together a few more pieces of the past, their past, and therefore our past. And Canada’s past.
Meanwhile, my wife Olga visited with her sister Anne in Manitoba, spending a few precious days, which may be the last days they’ll spend together, for Anne is critically ill. And Susanne, who has visited Lloyd (as residents call Lloydminster) many times, Susanne housesat for us and looked after our menagerie. I return to the West as often as I can, not just to Lloyd, but to other places, places that tell me about my past . . . as a Canadian.
Everyone – and let me emphasize this – EVERYONE is an historian. Every one of us is an authority on his or her past. And if there’s any aspect of our pasts that we don’t like, then we change it, or we bury it. And at different stages of our lives, we may choose to unearth those aspects which we buried. Because they become important to understanding who we were, and who we now are, each one of us.
Professional historians, now, they operate in the same way. That explains why history is being changed, and being buried, every day of our lives. New histories continuously flood the book market. And then along come more historians who make their bones by digging up aspects of the past that previous historians thought best to cover up, or leave in the dark.
History, you know, is not facts. History is stories. And every historian writes his stories as truthfully as he can . . . at the time . . . according to who he or she understands he or she is, or was.
Historian? Novelist? Writer? Reader? Illiterate? What’s the difference?
We all make up stories in our heads.
Our stories tell us who we were, and now who we are. And they are our legacy to our children. And they don’t have to be written down. They don’t have to be a memoir or a novel or a blog post. They can simply be the daily pattern of our lives. They can be the way we manage our garden, or the way we make a doll, or the way we keep in touch with a dear sister. That’s Olga’s way.
Me? I write.
Neither Grace nor John had visited Lloyd since they were teenagers, in the late ’50s, early ’60s. They clutched at every scrap of information that fell their way. I can’t even weakly speculate how they have reconstructed their personal histories.
We have all changed. Forever. For the better.
And so has Canada’s history.