Growing up I always knew I was different from other kids. I spent years hiding who I really was and just tried to blend in. Maybe no one would notice. And for the most part, no one did. I was in my twenties when I couldn't conceal who I was anymore. Nor did I want to. I wanted to live my life out loud, just like everyone else. But, there was a problem. I was a quiet, understated Canadian girl living in a vociferous, excessive American world. It's only now in my late forties that I can say that I'm proud to be bi-national. (And maybe Justin Trudeau has something to do with that.)
It was the mid-sixties when my parents moved across the border from Canada to the U.S. on the outskirts of the bi-national city of Niagara Falls (both Canada and the States have cities named Niagara Falls) with four kids in tow. It was in New York state that my youngest brother and I were born and registered as Canadians born abroad. My shy, understated parents learned quickly not to draw attention to themselves. They stopped saying "eh", pronouncing schedule as "shed-u-le" and referring to the letter Z as "zed". I imagine part of the reason was to prevent our new American neighbors from taking advantage of my nice, defenseless Canadian parents by asking them for favors. They had six kids, it's not like they had nothing to do. But, obviously they found time to do things. Which I prefer not to think about. Did I mention I was raised Catholic?
Though they tried to blend in with the crowd when we were out in public, things were very different at home. My dad listened to the Canadian news on the radio. All day. Every day. I was raised on Pierre Trudeau and the comedy sketch radio show Royal Canadian Air Farce. (My dad was in the Royal Canadian Air Force when he married my mom.) We crossed over the border into Canada frequently to visit my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. (You didn't even need a passport to travel from one country to the other back then.) Canadian Thanksgiving was the best because we'd go to my dad's parents house for a Thanksgiving lunch and my mom's parents house for a Thanksgiving dinner. Then when American Thanksgiving came around the next month, we'd host a feast at our house. And this is back when I could three Thanksgiving dinners with three slices of pie loaded with whipped cream at each one of them without any guilt or gaining an ounce. Those were the days!
But, there was a dark side. My mom could never help me memorize the capitals of states because even as an adult, even after she'd lived in the states for decades and had become a citizen, she didn't know them herself. She was always ashamed of that. But, she wasn't ashamed of lying when we crossed the border into Canada. She'd give us a debriefing before we approached Customs. "When they ask what we have to declare, we don't mention the gifts for grandma's birthday. We say NOTHING!" I felt guilty for years. But, not as guilty as when I crossed the border when I was in college when the drinking age was 21 in America and only 19 in Canada. Not only that, the drinks were cheaper because they were in Canadian dollars. And if a nice Canadian guy bought you a drink then it was totally free.
When I was leaving home at 18 to take my first international trip alone to Holland, my dad (being protective of his youngest daughter) told me to tell anyone who asked my nationality that I was Canadian. Which of course is a half-truth. (He did not however, warn me not to fall for an American guy while I was traveling there.) When I was 30 my dad finally trusted me enough to give me my official Canadian Born Abroad card that he'd held onto since I was born. With the words..."you might need this some day". And I laughed. But, now in 2017, it's not funny anymore. And today, I have that card in a very safe, but very accessible place. Just in case I need it one day.
Though my dad has lived here over 50 years, he's still very much Canadian. He still over pronounces words like sorry giving it the long o that it's spelled with. While I've been Americanized to pronounce words with an o as a short a. Because it's the lazy American way I'm accustomed to hearing it pronounced. Even with our differences, he's instilled in me some basic Canadian values. First and foremost: Don't be an asshole! Being nice matters! Sure, it might not make you successful, but it makes you substantive. And that's actually more important.
My mom passed away almost twenty years ago now and she's buried in Canada in the town her and my dad grew up in. And when my dad's time comes (which is hopefully a long time from now), he has a plot next to her. It was a choice that befits my parents. When her funeral procession drove over the border into Canada, the traffic stopped to pull over for the hearse out of respect as is customary in Canada. It's a civility that was not lost on my dad. And while I understand why my dad chose Canada as their final resting place, when my time comes I want to be cremated. Then have my ashes put in a barrel to float down the river, then over Niagara Falls, so I can float between Canada and America before drifting out into international waters.
Dedicated to my dad.