Return of the Native
Daddy's come home from Can-da-da
“You’re going home. You said you would, one way or another, and so you are. You’ve waited 50 years for this. You’re going home once and for all.”
That’s what I said as I walked from the departure lounge, boarding the flight to Shannon via Dublin, the flight that would bring us both to Ireland, him for the last time. There was no answer, none that I could hear, anyway. He was very quiet, and I walked as if in a funeral procession, too numb to think, yet resolute in our path and destination.
“Daddy’s away a Can-da-da,” I had lilted in imitation of the mantra my father sang to me every night for months after his usual repertoire of “The Croppy Boy” and “Kevin Barry”, good Irish rebel songs; and my favourite, the one whose title or real lyrics I never knew. He’d adapted the chorus for me:
“And away wee Marie, away,
‘Way down Rio.
So fare thee well, my pretty young maid
For I’m bound for the Rio Grande.”
That was my Daddy, my idol, my best friend, and I was two, being prepared – although I couldn’t have known – for my father’s departure to Canada. He was going to work with a general contracting firm that had hired him, a Quantity Surveyor, in Kitchener, Ontario. He was leaving for Canada with a steamer trunk and a ship’s passage out of Belfast. And I wasn’t going to see him for a year.
“Daddy’s away a Can-da-da,” I’d sing along with him. And, before I knew it, Daddy was gone away, and I was devastated. Where was my Daddy?
He lasted only two months without us. Soon my mother was packing what we could take in weekend bags, and leaving her parents with the task of renting the house and forwarding those contents we’d need. Then, we were away, to Canada, where my Daddy was.
It was May when we arrived, a beautiful soft May, not unlike a good summer’s day in Ireland. That’s all I remember, and I remember it only because I’ve seen a photograph that my Daddy took of my mother and me from inside the Arrivals lounge at the airport in Toronto. I don’t remember our reunion, nor much of anything else until I left my Andy Pandy teddy in the oven at our new apartment, unbeknownst to my mother – who was warming the oven in preparation for cooking dinner – and Andy Pandy’s rubber face melted. I remember the terrifying, rancid stench, and my mother’s rescuing my beloved friend from the bowels of hell. His poor wee face was distorted and I was hysterical, knowing that I had done this to him.
I’ve always seemed to live within the realm that courts disaster.
Despite that tragedy, pursuant to our settling in Canada, I do recall the feeling of sheer joy when my Daddy brought home our first car, a wee grey Volkswagen I immediately christened ‘Josie’. Now, we were freewheeling and off to chart new family memories beyond the confines of the virtually non-existent public transport system.
That’s my only memory of Josie – the excitement surrounding her arrival – until the inevitable (near) disaster that lives, even now 60-some years later – within the fulminating brimstone of traumatic episodes that have punctuated my chronology.
Daddy and I were out in Josie, and I’m sure he was making me laugh. (I seemed always to have been in a state of unbridled glee when I had him to myself.) He suggested an ice cream from Johnny’s Variety, not far from our then-apartment. No refusal from the passenger seat. He drove Josie and me into the parking lot which, I know now, was on a wee bit of an incline from car to storefront.
He told me to stay in the car, those being the 1950s when child abduction – though it happened surely – was not something that crossed the mind of anyone. Children were left in cars alone regularly, of that I’m certain. As I waited, proud to be in the front seat usually accorded my mother, I dithered with the notion of impressing my father with my latent abilities, uncertain what they might be.
To this moment, I clearly remember, to the very touch, grasping the sticky-out thing that Daddy always seemed to pull when he would start the car. As I tugged on what was the handbrake, I looked up to see, in still vivid, terrifying (and, yet, somewhat comical) detail, my father exiting Johnny’s, a vanilla cone in each hand, and the look of sheer terror at Josie and me slipping downward and away across the road and into what was then a ditch, bordering a cornfield.
I watched, frozen in disbelief and fully aware of my now-obvious transgression, as he dropped both cones and tore down the parking lot and across the road which (its being the 1950s) was uncontaminated by traffic, and into the ditch to my window.
And, there, my recollection of that fraught, then-horrifying episode ends. I don’t know how Josie and I were extricated and put to rights, but I do remember how desperately sorry and guilty I felt that I had caused my beloved Daddy even a moment of concern. My thoughts were not for myself and the potential peril I had courted, but for my poor Daddy, whose love and kindness had been met and sullied with my stupidity. The fact that I was only three was irrelevant. Now, so many decades later, I do clearly appreciate the dark humor when it all returns in a momentary flash-freezeframe of the ice cream cone drop and, yet, I still feel sadness that such a lovely moment was destroyed by my need to prove myself to him.
Aboard the plane, I found the spot we had been assigned. Bad seats, of course, backing onto the toilets, with no legroom; nor would the seats go back. “Typical,” I said under my breath, though I thought in epithets more descriptive of my reaction. This is going to be my fault, these bad seats, just like our last trip, only two months’ earlier. Then, my 12-year-old daughter and I had accompanied my parents to Ireland on a visit to the house my father had built there as a holiday home. I had booked the flights for everyone, both times. And, whenever I was responsible for things going smoothly, disaster inevitably struck.
“I’m sorry about the seat,” I said as I tried to wedge the carry-on case smoothly under the seat ahead. Of course, there wasn’t enough room for an easy manoeuvre, and it took several manipulations to guide it safely and securely into the only viable position. Perfect fit, I thought.
But, then I sat down, to discover nowhere other than atop the carry-on case to rest my feet, given the cramped quarters. And, so in that highly uncomfortable position, we set off, taxied to the runway and, upon clearance, left Canadian soil in a breathtakingly perfect takeoff.
When I regained my breath, I whispered, choking back a flood of tears, “You’re going home.” Under my feet, my father’s ashes embraced me silently.
And, in my mind, I could hear my wee voice singing, “Daddy’s come home from Can-da-da.”
Old vegan, animal-rescuing, ex-corporate communicator with lifelong crippling shyness that made expressing myself verbally near impossible.So I took my weirdness to paper, then to typewriter and, now, to computer screen. I write all wrong.