I have never really felt like I was from a place. Perhaps I learned to feel this way from my mother. I never got a sense of where she was from but I know she spent time as a child in Shannon Park. Yesterday we visited Shannon Park guided by nostalgia, memories of innocence, and an open gate.
Mom has childhood memories from England, Singapore, Nova Scotia, and Ontario. Her parents were in the military and as a child she found herself in many places for short periods of time. I don’t remember her parents, but I have memories of them.
Her father had a waxed moustache, a thick british accent, and was once chased by a rhino. Her mother was stern, with an oft raised eyebrow and a fierce judgemental eye. In my childhood mind, she could have been the rhino chasing down my grandfather.
It was in the 1960’s when my mother, her two brothers, and her parents found themselves in Shannon Park. Mom’s parents were mostly into the “free range” approach of parenting. Mom played in the ocean, with games on the train tracks, and occasionally losing herself in the woods.
It was while she was playing she once found an amputated human leg. It was wrapped in plastic in the fields next to the school and left to be found by children playing childhood games. In our lives we all have moments where we feel like we have lost some of our innocence. As mom tells me the story of finding the leg I can’t help but think, “Did mom lose some of her childhood innocence here?”
The school still stands but the fields are mostly reclaimed by grass and shrubs. It seems to be a place for walking dogs and flying drones.
While we walked Mom looked for clues to her childhood. Maybe her apartment was here, or perhaps it was over there? Everything looks different now.
The trees are taller and the buildings are gone. Vegetation is working to reclaim some of the land. The roads are still here, but not much else.
As we walk we spot deer tracks, but no deer. However, there are many starlings, flying in their murmurations. They don’t leave tracks. Deer are native to this land, but starlings are not.
Perhaps mom and I are starlings. We belong to a long list of settlers who form patterns and groups, clinging to nostalgia for a time and a place on stolen land. We come from over the sea that meets us here at this park. We can trace ourselves to Ireland. We walk this land looking for memories of our own, but our family history is thousands of kilometers away.
As we walked through mom’s childhood there were murmurs of the past mingling with visions of the future. Twice a large dump truck rumbles by, the driver waving at us even though we are technically trespassing. We are not supposed to be here, not yet anyway. Not until it is transformed into something else.
Like the birds in the park, my mother’s movements to this place were guided by the subtle small decisions of those around her. The conditions of her life gave her shape and direction. She doesn’t belong here and this place isn’t her home but there are parts of her story here. We leave Shannon Park under a flock of starlings, with her memories hidden under grasses and between cracks in the pavement.