Last year, not long before we moved, Dan was corresponding with one of his sisters about their parents moving off the property they had lived on for 58 years, where the four children had grown up. Staying out in Pike Bay had become a bit of a challenge for his parents, so they were going to move to a senior’s apartment in the nearby town. He commented that he didn’t really consider that home anymore; even more interesting, he said didn’t really consider anywhere home. So, what is home?
Wagga is the third city we have lived in together, and it may or may not be the last. We lived in London for 11 years, then Edmonton for 11 more (hmm… will we leave Wagga at the 11 year mark? What’s with that number? Anyone have suggestions on where we should move to in 2022?). But we didn’t ever think that we would end up living in either of them forever. We don’t really put down roots like a lot of people do. Academics often move, and can often do it quite easily, especially if you are in a field (like Lisa is) that often has more job openings than job candidates. And who knows, maybe that wanderlust is part of why she went into academe? Definitely the normal associated travel, all those conference destinations, was part of it, but maybe there was another, bigger, aspect to it.
Getting back to Pike Bay though. Well, sort of. Our recent trip back to Canada (notice we aren’t saying ‘back home’) was Dan’s first time there since 1) his parents had moved from his childhood home and 2) his father died. So it was his first time being in Ontario that we didn’t spend a lot of time in Pike Bay. Kind of weird. We spent several nights at his mother’s apartment in Lion’s Head, and went for long walks in the evening around there. For Lisa, that was a bit strange because she hasn’t really ever spent time there; for Dan, it was even weirder because he went to school there but hadn’t been there much since. But it also wasn’t that strange because Mom was there, and Dan’s sister came up for a day, etc. Sure it was a different place, but a building or town isn’t what makes something home – it is the people. Unfortunately, Dad wasn’t there, so it didn’t really feel like home. But then again, maybe it was better that we weren’t staying at the house in Pike Bay because that place is so full of memories of Dad.
But we did spend an afternoon on the homestead in Pike Bay with all the family, including Bud! It was, we think, the first time that all of us have been together as a family in close to 10 years. We only get back to Ontario about once each year, and though there is always a family get-together (on both sides of the family) there is often someone who can’t make it. This one, though, was special and everyone made the effort to get there (thanks everyone for fitting our schedule into your lives!).
How, you may ask, did this happen? Well, first of all, when they moved, Dan’s parent’s didn’t sell the property; it is now deeded to his brother. It has been in the family for a long time – Dan’s maternal grandparents owned a lot of Pike Bay land at one time and his parents wanted to keep it that way. There is 100 acres of mostly bush, with a house and an old barn. And one of Bud’s last wishes was that his family spread his ashes on that property. So, six months after his ‘official’ memorial service – there wasn’t a funeral, but there was a visitation and a memorial held by the Royal Canadian Legion, of which he was a member – the family gathered for the memorial that he really wanted. The last few weeks of his life were spent in a nursing home in Owen Sound, and he really wanted to get back to the Bruce Peninsula – that would have been back to Lion’s Head where Mom was, but really he wanted to be in Pike Bay. And now he is.
On Saturday, June 9, Dan’s family – his mother, his siblings and their spouses, and nieces and nephews – gathered at the old house; with them, they had Bud’s ashes. Those ashes were doled out among the family members, and everyone dispersed around the property, spreading them as they saw fit. We immediately headed off deep into the woods. Dan was sprinkling bit of ashes here and there, along the myriad of tractor-trails that Bud had cut through the woods. He was a hell of a woodsman – not only was the house heated by a woodstove all these years, but he also sold firewood to local cottagers, and the bush was where he loved to be. He knew what trees to cut to keep the bush producing and thriving. What we were looking for, however, was a stump… a particular stump among thousands, probably impossible to find. But we found one that was good enough, and Lisa poured her cup of ashes on it. The significance: on her first Christmas with the Given family, Bud took her out in the bush to cut a Xmas tree. Having grown up with artificial Xmas trees, this was really special! After that, we kept wandering down a track. Lisa saw a rabbit scurrying by, and when she mentioned it, Dan threw the rest of his ashes after it…Bud was a great hunter, and for Dan, those ashes were like buckshot. Not a very good shot…Bud would have brought that rabbit (and a few others and maybe some partridge) home for dinner!
And then, with everyone safely mustered again, the grand finale of the afternoon: a 21-gun salute. As we said, Dad was a former soldier and a hunter, so it seemed a fitting tribute (suggested by a niece, facilitated by her husband who is another avid hunter and has several rifles). Dan and 6 of the nieces and nephews lined up and each fired 3 times (toward some blocks of wood that were set out, but 4 of the 21 hit…there were a lot of flying leaves in the bush behind!). Dan got to use his father’s old deer rifle…
The day ended back in Lion’s Head, with dinner at a local restaurant then back to the apartment for dessert…the venue might not have been familiar, but what happened there was: the family gorging on Mom’s homemade apple crisp, cheesecake, cupcakes, cookies… Home.
What a lovely story and a fitting tribute. Thank you for sharing it.