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…
Foreign in one’s own land. How odd that feels. Quebec has not been home for over half my life. Living on the west coast is like living in a land very different from la belle province. But those names! Lake Memphramagog, Owls Head, Tomifobia. All bring back memories of a long gone childhood. And how very odd to know we share these places and many of the same people, yet experienced them very separately. A fishnet of connections and associations.
Phyllis & James, it’s quite strange here in Quebec. I’ve heard several people talk about traveling to Ontario, saying they’re “going to Canada”. Weird!
I also am one of you. I remember the soft rolling hills worn down by 300,000,000 years of rain. The red and yellow leaves of autumn. Eastern Chinese food so very different from the, presumably, more authentic stuff of the west coast. Chez Tony Italian Pizzaria in Sherbrooke. All of this and more was my childhood and early youth, but I do not regret having left it behind. I have made a good life here in the west where I do not feel like an alien. Perhaps one day I will return briefly for the leaves of autumn.
Hi India – My sister sent me to your blog and I’m enjoying it a lot. I can so relate to “Return of the Expat” … such an insightful post. For many years I too have been living and travelling away from the place I was born and raised (although next week I too am going back to said place for a visit). I feel such strong and conflicting connections with many places in the world but here’s the question that always puzzles me: “So, where are you from?” … I never know what to say. Thanks for a great post!
Thank you, Debbie! It can feel a little lonely at times, being an outsider in your adopted home — and realizing that life has gone on without you in the place where you were born and raised. I wish you a very happy visit with your family and friends next week when you go “back home”…