Saturday, December 17, 2011

Our Parents

I’ve begun a new writing project, which started with a thought I had when we last visited Vancouver. My aunt and uncle invited us over for a meal with my mother and father, and as we waited for the dinner to start, my uncle Brian told us a story about his mother getting lost in an airport.

I asked him to write it down for me, and he was kind enough to do so; you can find it at the bottom of this post. It’s a great story, and Brian is a remarkable orator. Stories like his should be written down. And that’s where this project was born.

It’s called Our Parents. It’s a collection of people telling stories about their parents.

Painting by John McLean

At least once a week, I’ve been interviewing someone I know. I try not to look for any specific content before beginning the interview. The only criteria I have is to keep as close to a balance of the sexes as possible, and look for geographical variety. And it turns out that Dominica is a great place to start a project like this, since there are so many expats from all over North America. I have interviewed sixteen so far.

Every time I sit down with someone, I try to cover at least these questions:

-Where are your parents now and what do they do?
-What would dinner with your parents be like?
-How has your perception of your parents changed from childhood?
-Do you have any memories of them that stand out for you?

After each interview, I transcribe much of it, and turn it into a three to five page entry. I do my best to keep myself out of them, and concentrate on the words of the interviewee.

So far I’ve noticed that the people I interview, afterwards, are nervous about the process. “How’d I do?” is a common question. What I’ve found is that while the content is always different in its tone – whether sad, happy, mundane, or exciting – it’s always important to them, and that’s what makes every story carry such weight. Everyone has something to say about their parents that has depth and importance to them.

I hope to start a blog in a couple of months, where once a week I’ll upload an interview. After a year, I hope to offer the stories, as well as a few extra ones, in a book format available for purchase, with proceeds likely going to charity. Stay tuned.

Please let me know if you would like to be interviewed. With the magic of technology, we could record something over Skype, so geography makes little difference. The stories I’m collecting don’t need to be epic in scale; they just need to be important to you.

I’m also keeping an eye on possibly making this more than just a one-man project. If anyone is interested in conducting interviews as well, I think that would create some great diversity. Let me know if there is any interest.

I hope that when the time comes, you’ll come check out the website once a week. I’m pretty excited about this.

Thanks. Here is Brian’s story.

This past summer my mother visited my brother in Vernon, BC, by plane.  Our job was to help her with the transfer from one airline to another en route, to ensure she got home alright.  The flight to Vernon worked well at the beginning of the week. So, at the end of the week this is the story of picking up my mom at YVR main terminal and driving her over the South Terminal for the second leg of her flight home, on a small regional airline.

I arrived early at YVR, checked the monitor, and went directly to Baggage Carousel #3 where the bags from mom’s WestJet flight would be tumbling down to my waiting hands.  As I had time, I wandered over to the baggage agent, told him my mom regularly got confused, and that we had asked for help getting her from the airplane to the Baggage area to meet me.  I asked where the staff was likely to bring her.  He told me they would come down the elevator a short distance from Carousel #3 and I should wait for her there, but they would be the last ones off the plane, should be another 15 minutes.

I waited at the elevator for about 5 minutes until mom tapped me on the shoulder from behind.  She had NOT accepted the help that had been arranged, but had followed the crowd.  When I challenged (chastised?) her on that, she said that although my sister in law had worked hard with the WestJet staff to arrange help for her, she decided she didn’t need it.  However, as the two of us stood waiting for her bag, a fellow passenger came up and said to mom “so you found him did you?”  Mom then admitted that she had needed a “little bit” of help, so had asked people, as she followed the crowd, how to get to where her son was waiting.

But, we had a great visit and she told me how good the visit was in the Okanagan.  We had a long lunch and a great chat at the South Terminal, and talked twice with Martin at the KD counter about making sure that he didn’t send her suitcase on to Toronto like some other agent had done many years ago.  He seemed to take it well.  In fact he was great, and assured me that he would watch out for both her and her bags.  But I was prepared to wait for the rest of our 3.5 hour transition between flights.

However, I got a call from a client in Regina asking where the files were that I had promised by mid-day.  I told him they were all sent this morning before 9am, but he hadn’t received them and needed to have them before he left the office.  So… I talked again to mom who encouraged me to leave (“I have waited for flights before you know”) and to Martin (“don’t worry, I will look after her”) and rushed home to resend the files to Regina.

I was only home for 10 minutes when my sister Alison called from Parksville.  It was her job, as part of the family relay, to usher mom off the 20 minute KD Air flight to Parksville and drive her home.  She called to say she had just come in to receive a voicemail from Mom.  “Alison, I am here at the airport.  Are you coming to get me?”. This is at 3:50pm, 25 minutes before her flight leaves Vancouver.  The call had come from the gift shop at the South Terminal (free call, instead of having to pay at the bank of pay phones five feet away).  Alison asks “What is going on???”

I immediately called KD Air’s head office, which was kind enough to give me Martin’s cell number.  I call.  He says “she is sitting right in front of me.  She’s just fine.  Don’t worry!”  I asked to speak to her, and he turned over the phone.  She says, “I am sitting right where you left me, but Alison hasn’t come to pick me up”.  I said, “that’s because you are still in Vancouver and Alison is waiting for you in Parksville”.  She says “Oooooh, of course…”
I hear her saying to Martin, “I am in the wrong airport, I’m supposed to be in the Parksville airport”.  Then the line goes dead. 

Of course, it is my own fault.  No use blaming her.  I was sure she was lucid when I left, and she was.  Until about 5 minutes after I left her.  The real problem is that now my wife Linda says that “you won’t be trusted with your new grand daughter Abby, you know”.


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