Return of the Expat
I visited my grandfather’s grave today. Born 1888 died 1977. Memory of him playing his fiddle in an old Quebec farmhouse in summer, dancing a clownish jig, my cousins and I clapping and laughing, bellies stuffed with our grandmother’s strawberry shortcake. Happiness. A black dog named Teddy asleep on the porch — my first animal love. So many people and pets gone now, alive only in memories and photographs.
My family’s roots grow deep in this area of rolling hills and lakes named by Abenaki Indians: Memphremagog, Massawippi, Megantic, Tomifobia, Owl’s Head. People remember my grandparents. They don’t know me.
Here at my family’s summer cottage, I stand under cedar trees that shaded me when I was a child. Are they happy to see me now? Memories of a sunburned me carefully toasting marshmallows on sticks held over smoking birchwood bonfires, of bats flying across the Big Dipper, of my brother whizzing past Blueberry Island on one waterski. Beside a glassy lake, three generations noisily devoured hamburgers grilled by our fathers and corn on the cob freshly picked from a neighbor’s farm. Echoes of past laughter. Quiet now.
So many changes, some subtle others huge. There is movement in stillness, of course. This is a place I always wanted to escape from, eager to unstrap my wings and fly away into the great big world. Now that I’m back to say hello I find that I am a stranger in these parts. People who changed my diapers now politely treating me like a guest. The girl that was once me, now only vaguely familiar in the mirror, sometimes not at all. Foreign in my own land…