I’m not your garden variety Canadian. I don’t own a Hudson’s Bay blanket. I don’t go to hockey games anymore. I’ve stopped being nice. I’m no longer so polite. And I gave up my citizenship when I became an American many years ago. But I can’t seem to shake my country of origins. Of course, all of my family still lives in Canada, including my son, and I return regularly to visit them.
Yet even if my family vanished tomorrow, I would be drawn back to my homeland, like a moth to light. The land and the culture got planted in me as a child, and I can’t shake either. I’m constantly forced to return there, as if on an archaeological dig, trying to uncover what lurks beneath its surface, missing parts of myself.
O Canada! My home and native plant: A Freudian slip, a twist on the line “My home and native land.” Except the natives have almost vanished, and so have my previous homes. The land is vanishing too, cities taking over, nothing much planted there. Very little remains of the places where I grew up in Calgary and Langdon. Either progress or decay has attacked the structures I lived in, leaving me only with memories, the most unreliable of mediums.
And so I look for clues, wanting to throw open the doors of childhood: W. G. Sebald says, “No one can explain exactly what happens within us when the doors behind which our childhood terrors lurk are flung open.” And in Speak Memory, Vladimir Nabokov wrote that “Childhood is next best to probing one’s eternity.” The material is endless even if we aren’t.