A photo taken 33 years ago in Manila reminds me how sad and brave my grandmothers were as they bid us farewell for our journey to Vancouver. After final blessings, embraces, and tears, we boarded the plane with suitcases crammed full of everything we could bring from our old life. Everything except my cherished umbrella which we had somehow neglected to pack. I loved that umbrella the way other four-year-olds treasure dolls or teddy bears. My new friends were mystified by my broken spirit and broken English. I did not know the word for umbrella. “My payong, my payong.” I repeated woefully. I wanted the umbrella that had sheltered me from the hot sun.
I wanted to escape this strange place where umbrellas held the wind and rain at bay. As I got older the memory of my umbrella drizzled away. I planned my getaway: Paris, Tel Aviv, New Delhi … even Toronto. Anywhere but rainy, boring Vancouver. Like my parents, I sought a better life elsewhere. Unlike them, elsewhere left me disappointed. I yearned for the seawall and for Granville Island and salad rolls. In my homesick mind, I heard the seagulls at Kits Beach, and breathed in the deep green peace of a day spent at UBC. I longed to smell the cedar tree in the backyard of my childhood in Marpole, and to taste the vegetables my parents tend there. I ached for Vancouver.
Today, I show the photo, taken all those years and countless lost umbrellas ago, to my husband and children. I will leave umbrellas behind, but I don’t forget where I have been or how far I traveled to get here. Once it was a distant destination promised in a photograph. Now it is the place I love and call home. ~ Bernadette Gonzales McGrath
The story of Bernadette is in two places. One in Marpole, close to where she used to live, attached to a lamp-post. The second is a monumental rock where each word is cast in stone, at Queen Elizabeth Park, a forever chiseled story. A masterpiece.
Bernadette and I are cousins.