When I received the envelope in the mail I reverently placed it on the table and didn’t open it for days. I was both afraid of what I might read, as well as afraid of where the information might lead me. By the end of the week curiosity had tightened its grip over the fear and I broke the seal. Inside was a link with the past; my father’s birth certificate.
It has been almost fifteen years since he died, and time softened the pain of his absence. It also slowly chipped its way at my memory of his stories. This was the hardest to take. Usually a child would turn to the other parent for memories lost, but sadly cancer also took mom.
Dad spoke of his life in England fondly. He called himself a missionary, come to illuminate benighted Canadians. England, with its songs, war stories and character, was forever present in my life as a child. Dad hadn’t made my search easy; he was aloof and seemingly paperless. This made my search more about diving the depths of memory to remember the names of the places he had talked about. Place names danced in my head: Little Wheaton, Beverley, South Cave. None of which I was certain if they were to be the right place.
So I filled an online application and hoped; and then the envelope arrived. Written in royal red and filled in by a signature, the document gave me an anchor. It told me where my father was born; a starting point.
This summer, I traveled to South Cave in Yorkshire to see his hometown. Remembering dad’s stories as I walked around the town in which he lived was like walking between worlds. The country dad talked about was Yorkshire during the War. This calm, solid town seemed nothing like my father’s stories, and yet. Stories my father told of the people and the place of his youth would weave in and out of my experience of the place.
One of my last memories of being in South Cave was of exploring the churchyard. It was tucked into a corner of the town, hidden by large ancient trees and closed; like a well kept secret. I was looking for my grandparents graves, and imagining a little boy dressed in his Sunday best walking up the stone path. Digging in the overgrowth of English ivy and hedge, the only graves were two centuries too early. The daylight was fading and it was my last day. If I were to find more of my father’s past, it would have to wait for another year. Someday in the future. My father’s stories are now sharpened with a deeper texture of place- and for now that is enough.