Winter certainly made its presence known in the NCR when it officially arrived last Saturday (December 21). Looking out the window, I felt like I was living in one of those “snow globes” circa 1973. Fifty-five years ago, it was the same kind of day when my father left his home and family in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) for Canada by ship. Inspired by his journey, I recently submitted a story to the Canada Writes >> Bloodlines competition. At this time of reflection on the past and new beginnings for the future with friends and family, it seemed like an apt story to share with OLM readers. I call it The Trunk.
As long as I can remember it sat in the furnace room from the time we moved into the house – 1971. No one paid it much notice and it was mostly forgotten, collecting dust for 30 years. Then in 2001, everything changed. On the first day of spring, my father died.
In time, we went through my father’s things: what to keep, give to other family members, donate to Value Village. It was during one of these sessions that I spied the trunk in the basement. Remnants of travel stickers were still affixed to its rusted metal exterior – reminders of the ocean voyage it had taken over four decades earlier to Canada: Cunard Lines, Ceylon Government Railway. RAJA scrawled in blue ink. It was February 1958 when my father left his home and family in Jaffna (a widowed mother and five younger brothers; his eldest one had already come abroad a few years earlier to study medicine in California) and accepted a job offer of $3,000/yr to work on the St. Lawrence Seaway project. With that and the brown metal trunk – which at the time would have been an extravagant expenditure for the family – he boarded a plane and then a ship to Halifax. His bride, my mother, followed in 1960 and they were married with much fanfare – the Toronto Star chronicled everything from my mom’s arrival to the wedding on June 25th. And as they moved (numerous apartments and two houses) during their forty years together, the trunk moved with them. During that time, it was used to keep “dress up” clothes for two young daughters and their friends; a step stool for little hands to reach a light just out of grasp; a storage place for my mother’s many exotic saris. This heirloom held a cherished role in our family’s history in Canada and it deserved a second chance.
The trunk now occupies a special place in my Ottawa home, converted into a funky coffee table. It is a daily reminder of the hopes, dreams and even uncertainties it held over half a century ago; and that in this life all is possible.
When the store lineups get too long and your patience is running short, think of the person(s) you are buying that gift for and how much they mean to you all through the year and not just the holidays. Aren’t they worth waiting in line for?
And on that note, I’ll sign off for this blog and look forward to resuming our journey through the maze of decorum do’s and don’ts in the new year. Glad you dropped in – you are always welcome.
Elizabeth Rogers, aka Bette, is an event planner, certified wedding planner, publicist and manners maven. She is passionate about people and what makes them tick. Elizabeth always treats others with respect, dignity and kindness. And when invited for dinner, she always brings two bottles of wine, one for the meal and one for the host.
Original Toronto Star Syndicate (Copyright 1960) photographed by Donna James