I am often asked if I ever miss my home in Canada. I do my best to to keep my reply short but the honest truth is that I miss home every single day, some days more than others. Today was a bit of a bad day for being homesick. That usually happens around the Christmas holidays, especially since my father passed away in 2004. You see, my mom and dad always worked very hard to give our family the best they could afford. My mom worked at home and Dad worked fulltime at a local papermill, and almost fulltime for himself laying tile and doing many kitchen and bathroom renovations. There were two situations where Dad was at his best. One of them was during Christmas. He loved everything about Christmas and often made a sport out of finding the best price on the 5 pound box of Ganong Bros. Red Wrap chocolates. He made sure there was always lots of Christmas sweets like chicken bones, barley toy, and ribbon candy (old-fashioned hard candy in Christmas shapes). I have to say that my sister and I really were SO unbelievably lucky to have had such parents while growing up, especially around Christmas. Dad loved the old tree ornaments that he managed to salvage from my grandmother’s collection. Although old and garish, they really made a tree become a magical thing, especially in the eyes of my sister and I, even to this day. Something else he always said, that the modern day icicles made of silver cellophane weren’t worth a damn. Of course he liked the old-fashioned ones that were made of lead. Highly toxic, but they looked great on the tree!
I also have him to blame for my preference of Christmas music by Gene Autry that could be heard in our home on LP, (naturally). Back in those days there was no such thing as compact discs. Eight track was available but Dad had lots of the old music on vinyl LP records. I just couldn’t get enough of playing records like that. I’ve gone and managed to find some of my old favorites on YouTube. Below are three songs that are very dear to me.
The other situation when Dad was at his best was when we went mackerel fishing together at the ‘Cape’ (Cape Tormentine) where he was born and spent his childhood. We went either for a long weekend with just the two of us or daily on the upcoming tide during the summer vacation while our family camped just outside the village. My Dad rocked. He knew the Northumberland Strait like the back of his hand and could outfish anyone. It wasn’t at all normal but almost eerie how he could walk out on the pier among 10-15 other guys who had been sitting there most of the morning without having caught anything. After 10-15 minutes he was getting sworn at while fat and silvery-green mackerel spattered around on the deck of the pier. There was little that could get my father more excited than a mackerel striking his line. The exception to this rule was of course, having hooked more than one mackerel at the same time, as Dad often fished with 3-4 baited hooks on one line. Sometimes if they were schooling well he’d have 4 hooked at once. and would land them all, too! Yes sir, Dad was really passionate about those mackerel. I think he drove Mom crazy with how he carried on all the time about how he could fish them or what he could try different for the next time. He was always thinking, always trying to outsmart them and always trying to outdo himself.
For a young boy, this was a real life playground. There was always something to see or catch. And while sitting there on that pier, there was also time to think, for it wasn’t as if I had long talks with Dad, certainly not if it didn’t have something to do with the fishing. But in those drawn-out moments of prevailing silence, Dad (intentionally or by accident) taught me to be attentive, patient, and determined. Keeping your eyes on the water and waves below, watching for changes in the tide, the behaviour of the black-backed gulls and arctic terns above the interminable numbers of shiners and capelin that schooled along the pier through the deep and dark green north Atlantic currents. Everything mattered and everything around you had a story to tell. And everything could help to tell you what was about to happen. Now that I’m older, I realize that these are all virtues that have played a great role in my photography: learning to be patient, to see, and anticipate.
Because I’m a photographer, it’s only natural that I post a photograph of Dad on here with this story. The truth is, I have very few photographs of Dad and nearly nothing of him and I together, even while fishing. What I have been able to find is a painfully short film clip I made back just several weeks before 9/11 during a visit back home in New Brunswick. I shot it with a Nikon Coolpix 990 that I had borrowed from my work at Calumet. It’s a piece of video I had shot at the end of a day’s fishing and Dad was cleaning the last of the mackerel on the pier in the last rays of the sunset.
For all the other moments that I wish I had a photograph of, I turn to music to help me remember, to help bring the images back where I can see and feel them again. The last video here below is of a band from the east coast island province of Newfoundland called The Irish Descendants. I met and photographed them about 14 years ago now. It’s not the best quality video and they’re certainly not ‘hip’ in the modern sense of the word. But to the people for whom they’re singing, their music is a warm blanket of truth, sincerity, and comfort. This song is all about what the word ‘home’ means to people where I come from, and it pays tribute to generations of family that have passed before us, as well as changing and sometimes vanishing ways of life. For me, it’s a means of nurturing my homesick soul and above all, it brings to mind the love that I have for my father and of the love that I think he had for me. There is one thing I never expected, that the love I have for my dad continues to grow and unfurl as I get older, even though he’s no longer with us ‘down here’. In the absence of all the photographs that (sadly) never were taken, I can still close my eyes while listening to this, and suddenly, in my mind’s eye, I see Dad standing there on the pier wearing a ball cap and a plaid flannel shirt, grinning and pulling back on his rod against the weight of a big old ‘soaker’. Yes, that was MY dad.