Crossing lines, history lessons and the light on Main Street

 

Pier 21

Pier 21

After attending the memorial exhibit to immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax, Margaret and I talked about our shared immigrant histories. The memory of three and five year olds is limited but the birth mark is large. Our families arrived about six months apart and we each travelled by train across Canada. The stories that were shared over the years were devoid of much of the romance and beauty we experienced as we toured this country. Yet in our immigrant families there was this deeply rooted admiration for Canadians following the liberation of Holland. Seeing the pictures of the same suitcases we had at home in the exhibition, seeing the trunks and the scarves and the train cars and the line-ups at official counters all flooded back memories of our childhood, our own displacement.

We reached the US border at St Stephen and I proudly handed the agent two Canadian passports and after a brief interview we were on the road again. A couple of naturalized immigrant kids on a journey.

Main Street Gloucester

Main Street Gloucester

In my student days at SFU I had the gift of having studied the writing of Charles Olsen. One line stood out for me about “the light on Main Street” So on this trip I dragged Margaret to Gloucester Massachusetts to see the light on Main Street. This earliest of American harbours had coffee bars and book shops and except for the line in the poem was unremarkable but attractive.

The idea of travelling all these miles to see a town because the light was unique on Main Street seems a bit obsessive. The the idea of my parents packing three kids and all their allowed weight of belongings and then travelling a third of the way around the globe to find a new place to live flashed from memory. The destination did not matter. On the road every event has this gift of triggering memory, of connecting experience with history to build hope.

 

Boston Common

Boston Common

Pulling the Westphalia up to the parkade entrance at the Boston Common the overheight became apparent. Finding a parking spot impossible. We were at that point in our history lesson where more than a Tea Party was required. It was time to move on.

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