Category Archives: memoirs

Finding The Rose Wall

I can’t say why it’s come to me now, but I’ve become afraid of completely losing touch with my parents. That would sound semi-sweet were it not for the fact that they’ve now both been dead for decades; Dad passed in 1989 when I was twenty three, and Mum in 1995, when I turned twenty nine. So, with so much time passed, why is there this itch to feel a connection now, at the age of fifty four?

Truth be told, I tried to be a good and loyal son to my parents – likely better to them than they’d been to me. Between their alcoholism, bouts of depression, and little forms of neglect to me, I must have let go of what strained bonds were left after a while.

Let me be less vague about the evaporation of family bonds where my folks were concerned:

My mum left our home when I was eleven, after slipping into a deep depression and spending the better part of a year trying to drink herself to death. Her liver had quit, and she suffered permanent brain damage. She almost succeeded in killing herself. After she had transfusions and recovered physically at Burnaby Hospital, she wouldn’t have been able to care for herself alone at home, so Dad had to arrange for her to live in a succession of private hospitals. She didn’t want to go; she just wanted to come home. I guess home care wasn’t an option for Mum, and us kids never had a say in it. That was the start of the family break-up, and a lot of sadness and confusion came with it.

Over the years, our visits to see Mum became monthly rather than weekly, and by the time she had been in Riverview Hospital for a year or two, Dad took us there even less often. It was just too difficult for him. Eventually, in 1995, Mum died in Riverview after a brief bout of pneumonia.

In December of 1983, four days before Christmas, Dad had a big heart attack, and spent weeks in Burnaby Hospital. During his recovery from the heart attack, he suffered a number of strokes. His speech was slurred and his left-side mostly paralyzed, but he was a tough, determined old bugger and was lucky to be in a very good hospital. He went through the hospital’s Activation Program, recovering through constant physical therapy, learning to walk again and learning to hold things all over again. He understood that it was all about retraining his brain and rewiring the controls. He went from not being able to stand and having a left arm that would spastically swing and clear everything off his bedside table, to finally being able to walk with a cane, unassisted. Everyone was very proud of his progress, and most of all, so was he!

With a mix of fear and triumph, Dad finally came home again in the spring. Within a year, he was drinking again, had another stroke, and while in the hospital shower, fell down and fractured his hip. Because of his dodgy respiratory system from fifty years of smoking, they couldn’t use general anaesthetic, so he was awake with various local anaesthetic measures while they installed a plate and pin in his hip. Although a good many of his health problems stemmed from his unhealthy lifestyle, he endured them in a fiery and funny way. Dad was the toughest man in any room, but he never walked again after that fractured hip. He spent a lot of time in Burnaby Hospital, and in 1989, he died after a very slow and painful struggle with pneumonia. Losing him was very traumatic to me, and also, I admit, a small relief.

Through the age of eleven, I don’t remember my Mum ever interacting with me much at all. She never asked me about my day or my feelings, she never kissed or hugged me, she rarely cooked or baked, and she took no interest in our daily care or welfare. She didn’t act like a grownup who was responsible for two children at all. If you’d asked her, she’d have said that of course she loved her kids, but in her true nature, she was passive, uninvolved, and self-involved, and left all the parenting to our Dad. So, it’s realistic to say that neither my sister nor I ever developed any real bond with our Mother growing up. Mum had experienced serious problems with manic-depression and alcoholism since her teens, and watching her suffer and succumb later in her mid-life, I knew what it looked like when someone completely gave up hope and left their health to be the burden for their husband and kids.

During the last 14 years when Mum lived in Riverview, she truly seemed to have forgotten my name, who I was, and who she’d ever been to me. Whether it was the meds she was on clouding her brain, or memory loss from her alcohol overdose brain damage, or perhaps some kind of alzheimers-like degeneration, her memories and previous personality all seemed to slowly have slipped away. During my visits to her in the mid-eighties and early nineties, she gave the impression of having been mentally or psychologically rebooted at some point. Relatives were saying that she’d undergone Electro-shock Therapy. I refused to believe it in my teens, but looking back now, it was likely true and could explain the changes in behaviour that became so noticeable that I eventually stopped thinking of her as “Mum” and reframed her as Angela, someone I’d try to reintroduce myself to. The old character and any spirit she’d once had was gone.

Dad was always the only parental one, the one who drove the family forward, who made all the decisions, and who gave us material and emotional care, as best he could. He had a terrible temper, could be a very scary drunk and physically abusive, but he also played the role of single parent, doing everything for us years before Mum was ever carted out on the stretcher to the ambulance. Watching him, I learned how to buy groceries, to pay bills, to prepare a few basic meals, and to be responsible for keeping a household running.

So, I guess that describes my strange relationships with my parents.

Memorializing Mum and Dad

Since 1995, I’ve gradually been memorializing my parents on my True Life website, to keep a kind of digital shrine going and keep them alive in my own way. I used it as a way to process my memories and feelings, and to take control of the family story and make it on my own terms.

But, I’ve almost never visited their markers at the cemetary. After Dad died, I said “well, at least he’s not suffering now – at least I know he’s safe”. I told myself that after years of worrying about them and caring for them in my own way, I was burned out, tired of regretting their pasts and the fallout from their bad decisions, at the expense of energies that I should be directing towards my own future. I loved them each, her in an idealized way and him in a real way, but I also resented them and yearned to be free and out from under their shadows.

When Dad died, he had no will, and I did nothing about it, except to apply for CPP benefits to get his cremation done, and *I think* cover the cost of his funeral ceremony. I think his bank account just sat in place for the next six years. Mum also died intestate, but since she became a ward of the province when she’d voluntarily committed herself to Riverview, the provincial Public Trustee handled her affairs and wrapped up her estate, and I got help from a lawyer in 1995 to wrap up Dad’s, contact my half brothers and sisters, and my full sister, Kim, and ask them if they’d waive claims on the proceeds of the estates. I remember taking and making these phone calls at work during the day, and they were absolutely nerve-wracking. I’ve always resented that my parents never did any estate planning or even tried to manage their health better. We live in a different world now, but back then, thank God I had good quality legal clerks and the public trustee’s office to guide me.

Over the past twenty five years, my enthusiasm for writing has stopped and started numerous times. I went for a year with Mum and Dad’s photos turned face-down so I wouldn’t have to see them every day, and later on, I turned them upright again but moved them to a lower shelf. I don’t want to resent them anymore, but they also don’t eclipse everything else in my life.

Life is short. I think that as I get older and I see more of my friends and colleagues lose their parents or start dealing with their degrading health, the passage of time becomes painfully evident and the desire to honour the dead feels more important.

One day, my website will stop running and nobody will ever be able read about Jim, Angela, Kim, or John Love anymore. I could write a book, but paper dissolves eventually too.

I guess that’s why monuments are carved in stone.

Maybe I should make sure their markers are placed next to each other. They’ve been separated for too long.

My email to Mountain View Cemetary:


Both my parents were cremated, and their names put on plaques on what I think was called the “Rose Wall”. It has been 25 years since I’ve been there, but is there any way to confirm that their plaques are still there?

Their names are James E. Love (died Nov 1989) and Angela H. Love (died March 1995).

I can’t see the location of a memorial wall on Google Maps, but I’d guess it’s just outside of your chapel/mausoleum or such.

Also, what are your hours of operation, please?

Thanks for your help,

E. John Love

A few days later, I got a phone call from the Vancouver Crematorium, to say that my Mum and Dad were still there on the Rose Wall, and the roses were starting to bloom.

Mum and Dad’s engravings, on the Rose Wall at the Vancouver Crematorium.

A Container for Life

We’ve lived in our condo since October of 1995, which, as I write this, brings us close to twenty-five years of home-making. My wife has lived in our East Vancouver neighbourhood since she was a toddler. This easterly edge of East Vancouver has been her home for most of her life, and I’ve called various East Van neighbourhoods my home since 1975.

Before our building existed, it had been an IGA grocery store, and at the end of our block where now sits the Continental Sausage and Deli, it was once the Maple Leaf Drugstore, where her Dad bought the family meds.

I found out that when the IGA was torn down, it made many rats homeless. While I’m not a big fan of rats per se, I feel for the many critters that hunker down to nest in gardens or under stairs, and who creep out of impossibly tiny holes at night to forage for food. In our neighbourhood, and even in our backyard, we’ve seen all kinds of ground-dwellers, like mice, rats, skunks, raccoons, and coyotes, not to mention the odd feral cat.

We bought our condo months before a shovel broke ground, and as construction gradually took shape, we’d drive by the site each week to have a peek at the progress of our future home. Once, we even had a chance to enter our suite while it was still an open wood frame, before the plumbing and electrical went in and the drywall was up. It was like having x-ray vision, seeing through multiple rooms at once – an exciting preview of our eventual home.

When the day finally came to take possession, we signed the dotted line and got our keys along with a round of applause from the realtors. I had become a home-owner at 29. We were only the second owners to take possession by that point, and the building’s 41 units were still being guarded by a private security guard (thieves love to try sneaking in with the trades, or finding a door that’s been propped open while a Builder has nipped out to their truck).

When a building is just finished construction, it still smells of fresh paint and new carpet – the condo equivalent of “new car smell”. It’s character seems to still be one of dreamy brochures and breathless real estate hyperbole. It won’t truly become a home until people have lived in it for a while, until the building’s joints have flexed and creaked, until the foundation has settled into the lot from the transit of feet and the placement of furniture, until the newly-laid grass has started to take root and grow on its own, and until a few dozen hearts, human or animal, have beaten beneath its eaves for a while, resting in bed listening to the rain pound the roof.

I was still holding onto this idea of our building’s relative sterility during our first weeks of occupation, when all us owners were invited to gather in our tiny communal meeting room. We were joined by the building manager from the property management company, who laid out a big platter of fruits, biscuits and cheese on a table near the windowed wall facing the building’s inner courtyard. The tiny room was filled to capacity, and to offset the heat and claustrophobia of having so many humans packed into a small space, the door that faced the courtyard was propped open as wide as it would go.

As I enjoyed the early evening breeze, the dusk outside looked dark as night. I was still getting used to the idea of being “an owner”, and took mental note of my neighbours who were cloistered around the room in little groups. Always the daydreamer, as the property manager talked about us forming a strata council, my brain was preoccupied by the piece of cheddar I was still chewing, and my eyes looked out the door into the courtyard. There, I spied a little mouse sitting upright on the edge of a retaining wall looking in at us. His little nose twitched as he smelled the heat from the room and the scent of our Eldorado-like cheese platter just a few feet away. I decided to not draw any attention to him, as his attendance would not have been appreciated by the others. I was happy to see him though, since it meant that displaced life was starting to re-establish itself on our site. I pictured a ton of bugs crawling in the soil under our bushes, and birds nesting up in our newly-planted trees, and I felt pretty good about the whole thing.

Our neighbours up on the fourth floor were the son and daughter-in-law of the building’s developer. Their ownership felt like a little signal of confidence in the project, and their youthful enthusiasm around the building was a breath of fresh air. When it happened that the building’s flower beds needed a new load of topsoil, this young couple encouraged the coucil that if the owners worked together, we could all distribute it ourselves and save on labour costs. I’d never been much for team spirit up to that point, but we did rally, and so one day a giant five foot tall block of dirt appeared on the street out front. We commenced to bust it up, grab buckets and wheelbarrows, and hike our new dirt around back into the courtyard where it would be dumped for other residents to smooth into place in the flowerbeds. It was nice to see the cooperation that came about: two Chinese sisters who lived together in one unit shared the lifting of a big ice cream pail of soil, one hand each on the single handle as they walked in unison. Around back, an old Chinese gent whom I ‘d never heard a word from was singing loudly and happily as he smoothed out soil using a rake. We all worked together that afternoon until all the dirt was in place. It was really a cheerful scene and a happy memory.

The courtyard garden also became a small place of peacefulness. I used to like exiting through the courtyard on my way to work, and one morning as I came out the door, I saw the old Chinese gent quietly doing his morning Tai Chi on the courtyard’s bricked ground, while a little orange tabby named Simba watching him in fascination from the edge of the walkway. My arrival broke their communing. A startled Simba ran off, but the old man just chuckled and said hi.

Life wasn’t always a bed of roses though. When we had our first building-wide fire alarm, a resident named Katherine, who lived near us on the first floor, had a small emotional breakdown. Admittedly, we all were a little slow to exit the building and go across the street like the law requires, and it was all too much for her. She was in tears and yelled at us to get moving. It was a false alarm, but still very upsetting, especially for her. I’ve wondered if she had been hurt in a house fire in the past. About half a year later, Katherine passed away. Not too long after that, the couple from the top floor, who’d encouraged us all to lay down the soil as a team, gave birth to their baby in a home birth, right in their suite. We’d seen the first death in our little community, and also our first birth. Since then, we’ve seen more than a few babies become toddlers, and then school kids.

In the twenty five years that we’ve lived here, our building has been a typical Vancouver leaky condo, with broken pipes, leaky roofs, and rotten, mouldy walls. We’ve had white mould, black mould, and mushrooms growing in the walls, and sections of wall rotted right through. Poor construction and no rain screening were the main factors. Finally, after twenty years of minimal repairs and envelope maintenance, the entire exterior was finally replaced and improved at a cost of over two million dollars. The cost and disruption of the project took a big toll on all of us in terms of money, stress, and uncertainty, but after over a year of work, today our building looks better than new, and has the best rain screening and windows on the market. The grass is green again, and everything is clean, new, and seems in perfect repair.

A few months ago, we lost another neighbour, a sweet old lady who’s heart finally wore out. She had lost her husband a few years back, and had to endure lonliness along with the cost and uncertainty of our building’s renovation all on her own. It can be hard to live alone without the person you loved most of all, and the lady’s daughter told us that it had been especially hard on her mother. The day after the lady’s passing, I walked by her suite, and as I came down the hall towards our own door, I heard the cries of the newborn baby from the young couple across the hall from us. They’ve been there for a few years now. Their newborn’s cries sounded like music to me that day. That kid’s going to grow up to be a singer, I thought.

“Better Days are Coming”

A number of my friends and colleagues are caring for parents whose strength and faculties are waning. Some folks will be going into care, and some are already there.

It’s an old story: while some grandparents suffer inside their disorienting dementia, their grown kids suffer in the idea that their parents no longer remember their names, and the grandkids suffer in the confusion of it all, wondering if this is what growing old is all about. We come into the world helpless and with no memory of what came before, and we go out in pretty much the same way.

Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day, and it’s also the twenty-fifth anniversary of my Mother’s passing. She had lost a good deal of her past and her memories from brain damage back in 1977, and then as she spent much of her next eighteen years in Riverview, sedated and cloistered away from the world, she slowly lost more. Hers was a premature retirement from all that might have been left of her life if many things had gone differently. Her institutionalized years were, from my young, heartachey perspective, wasted years in a life that had lost its potential. But even if she’d lost many of the more recent memories of her past, she could still enjoy the present: listening to music, or enjoying the taste of a chocolate bar. Those parts of her were still in there, even when lots of other things had changed by degrees.

Last night, my wife and I were sitting in The Fairview Pub while the Soul City Band played the hell out of some blues and rock classics. Over the past thirty years or so, The Fairview Pub has developed a good rep as a live music venue and a neighbourhood watering hole. It’s also got more grey hair per square foot than anywhere else this side of a legion hall, and last night at The Fairview, that grey hair was absolutely dancing its ass off and having the time of its life.

The view seems fair indeed, at least for so long as it lasts. This time next year, the old building that the Fairview Pub lives in will be demolished and redeveloped, and another piece of the city will go vertical to convert unused airspace into municipal tax revenue or something, I guess. The lease rates will rise, businesses and people will move, and things will keep changing.

As the Soul City Band played “Better Days are Coming”, I watched a hunched old gent in a sweater vest dancing with a 60 year-old woman. The old boy loved to dance and was at the Fairview all the time, showing us what kind of fun our future might hold. He arrived alone, and had a different dancing partner every time. I learned that he’s actually one hundred and two years old! There’s a good lesson to be had in watching a very, very old dude jiving and swinging in his glory, dancing his butt off for as long as he can.

Angela, and the Possibility of Nobility

Recently, I mentioned to a friend that my Mum had voluntarily committed herself to Riverview back in 1980, and so (AFAIK) this had been easier for my family than if she had resisted the decision. My friend said that my mother had probably done us a favour. That made me feel like a door had opened to an idea I’d never considered before: maybe Angela’s admission to Riverview was, in part or in whole, a conscious decision on her part.

My friend is a caring parent and daughter-in-law, and I suppose it was natural to project her own tirelessness and self-sacrificial nature onto the Angela whom I’d described to her during our chats. For my part, the idea of selflessness had never occurred to me. I was shocked at how locked-in my image of Angela had been by comparison. She’d almost always been a victim to me – never a hero. That bias falls mostly at the feet of my father, who, in his grief, frustration and helplessness at her bipolarism and alcoholism, always railed at how spoiled she’d been. That was him unloading his burdens on her, one way or another. After I passed the age of eleven, my Mum was already out of our home and institutionalized. She couldn’t defend herself or modify our Dad’s stories about her. In his view, he was the selfless hero of our family drama, and his was the only viewpoint I’d ever heard throughout my life. Mum never said a word.

This possibility of Angela having a part in her own commission to Riverview mental hospital helped me reframe her away a bit from my father’s narrative of her “only child” self-absorption, into more of a responsible 50 year-old woman who possibly took some account for her own psychological care. It got me wondering if she thought that her actions might make things easier for her family. I’ll never know if this is true in any degree, but the possibility of it did a lot to soften Angela’s image in my heart, and that felt really good.

Over the past 40 years since her admission, my mother became abstracted down to a set of goals that I could held onto, instead of being able to hold onto her: “rebuild a relationship with Angela”; “remind her who I am, and that her family hasn’t abandoned her”. After Mum passed in 1995, she transformed further into a story of mine that always had a sad ending. But even though you can’t change the facts of events, you can change the story you tell about your loved one, and gradually as I learned and incorporated more memories, I grew and expanded upon the story of Angela.

When I was about four, and Kim a toddler, Mum and Dad had a bad alcohol bender on a trip to California, visiting Mum’s cousin. Angela was convinced by her cousin to consider giving us up, and letting them adopt us. Mum began to agree, from guilt from her and Dad’s most recent booze bender, witnessed by the cousin. Mum was probably guilt-ridden and emotionally malleable, ready to consent, but my Dad would have none of it. He probably told them to go fuck themselves, and so we went home still Angela’s kids. Learning later that for a brief moment I was unwanted hurt me, but it could also be viewed through the lens of “giving the kids a better home”.

My old man loved and hated with equal intensity, and it’s fair to say that surviving his love/hate single parenting, Kim and I learned through the “doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” lens. Mum did eventually give up her freedom, her personal liberty, her family and friend connections, and lost giant chunks of her memories. But after all that, she really didn’t sacrifice her kids after all – just herself.

It may sound overly dramatic or like some wish to cast her into a heroic light, but that long, slow goodbye is so much more painful for its mystery and lack of closure. Some day, after a loved one is gone from your life and the pains have receded into the past, it’s healthy to dig around looking for those positive elements, and to try to replant and nurture them in hope of growing something new from old ground.

Angela’s ideals, her talent, beauty, and the joys she brought to her family and friends are all worth celebrating and searching for in the mirror 😉 and they can still be found budding on the branches of our family tree.

Staying angry is too much damned work…

I’ve been visited by images of my Dad recently. I would see his head of white hair, curved shoulders and back, leaning forward from his blue wheelchair. I would see his chin resting on his palm, his eyes aimed at the ceiling, lost in a small moment of reverie, reliving a happy memory or some past triumph.

The images like this are from Dad’s “toothless tiger” phase of life, his last few years after a heart attack, five strokes, and a fractured hip had put him close to death, but not out of the game. But most of his life, and all his best years, were behind him at this point.

His age fascinated me, because he represented a distant generation, where all the values and the photographic evidence was rendered in black and white. He had an answer for everything, and spoke in powerful and confident tones about his beliefs and actions. He was right, godammit. He had always been right.

During the toothless tiger phase of his life, he was 65 and I was 20. He had become more of a survivor of his own misfortune than anything by this time, and his power was gone, lost due to personal neglect of his health.

Dad started smoking when he was about thirteen as I recall. Back in Prince Rupert in 1934, you rolled your own smokes if you couldn’t afford filtered cigarettes (which he told me were known as “Saturday Night Specials”). I’m willing to bet that he started with alcohol not long afterwards. Smoking and drinking always seemed to go hand-in-hand, and were seen as socially acceptable and expected as young men grew into adulthood.

Once, James Evan Love had been a provider, a force, a protector, and a threat within our family, but now he was definitely diminshed and pacified, and as I finally lived away from him, running my own life on my own terms, our relationship changed to be more like two grown men.

Over the years from 1983 to 1985, Dad transformed from an authority figure whom I feared and respected, to a broken old man whom I pitied and feared to lose. We’d both faced his mortality and each come away shaken. Now, embedded in his true sunset years, he seemed gentler and more light-hearted, and I think it was because he was actually much happier. Living alone in his care home represented a form of new start for him, a physical change of pace and place, a new world that might allow him to forget his past and to pretend to be something much simpler: just Jim.

To stand by an alcoholic and an abuser is to be faced with contradictions and hypocracy, and to oscillate between love and hate, respect and revulsion, and loyalty and betrayal. It’s a delicate balance to flip the mirror between hero and villian, with both images being absolutely true, yet relying on time, place, and intention for their wavering validity. It’s complicated.

Letting go of Hopeless Situations (or not)

Some situations are worth saving and working at, and some situations are dead-ends, or inevitable loops, that won’t change, grow, or improve.

Some people relationships are limited by how little two people can realistically share or give. Some parents are cold and selfish and don’t bond with their kids. Some people just want free therapy or a passive sounding board. Some people just grow apart due to a loss of shared context. Some friendships may be just circumstantial habits.

For my part, my need to be a helper, to care or empathize, always seems to have a limited lifespan. Eventually, I seem to hit a saturation point where something about the person I’m helping just pisses me off; the novelty of the new friend wears thin, and the fun or excitement trails off.

As a young person, my need to be helpful developed along with my need for approval. If I did good, I was good. This was tied to my parents mostly, and even after Dad and Mum passed on (when I was 23 and 29, respectively) I kept a connection to them in my heart and held on to my need to reach them, or to be good in their memory. I kept loving them from afar, even after they’d left for good. Sometimes, I felt afraid to let go of them. I didn’t want to lose what little that might still be there.

Initially, being able to help someone feels like a bonding, sharing thing. But after a while (years, usually), the thrill can fade and the situation can begin to feel one-sided, repetitive, or even exhausting. That lack of novelty could signal my slow decline in interest in another person. It also makes me wonder if I’m too passive or not making effort to be a good friend. Does it make me a bad friend, or a maybe just a poor judge of the kind of person whom I choose to befriend?

Circumstantial friendships which sometimes feel unsatisfying or one-sided to me will probably trail away after the shared circumstance changes. That kid who lived in your neighbourhood, whose company you once enjoyed, she or he who was your friend, drifted away after one of you moved to a different neighbourhood, remember? Situations never last forever, and it’s somtimes circumstance that drives mutual need. If a relationship doesn’t feel fun or invigorating anymore, maybe it should not be fed by me just to try and keep it alive so I can tell myself that I still have that friend or relationship. That sounds just a little needy, insecure, or pathetic on my part. In some ways, I always feel like a solitary man. Of course, that could be an excuse and a familiar fallback position for me.

In some cases, some relationships have been terminated permanently by me because of perceived offense or chronic selfish behaviour of the (now ex-)friend. In other cases, any offense is temporary and forgiven, because the relationship seems truly irreplaceable, or after months have passed to help me cool off.

Friendships are difficult and human hearts are precious and fragile things. Each relationship provides chances to see things through new eyes, or to reflect on one’s own behaviour. Each relationship is a learning opportunity to become a better, healthier person.

Cordova-Dino Family Time

Sept. 29/19

The arrival of Grace’s cousin Vince Cordova and his fiance Maricris brought to us a fun week of activity, touring all around greater Vancouver with them, sharing the joy of their company, and reflecting on our families and shared relatives.

It also made me think about my marriage: Vince and Maricris are fiancees, planning their wedding next year. As we talked to them about their future plans and hopes, we told them the story of how Grace and I met, became a couple, and eventually married. Grace’s family and mine became gradually woven together, creating a strength that has lasted over thirty years, and which has made me feel proud, needed, and warmly connected.

To me, Vince feels like a younger brother, and Maricris feels like a little sister. They are warm, easy-going, and friendly, and have been the most lovely and generous house guests.

To them, we have been “Kuya John” and “Ate Grace”, which is kind of the Filipino equivalent of saying older brother and older sister in Tagalog.

I think that the words “Kuya John” are the nicest words I’ve heard all week.

A personal balancing act…

With my parents, I find it hard to know how to feel about them.

Emotions and drives, like love and loyalty, never seem clear and obvious where Mum and Dad are concerned. There’s no clear sense of sympathy or empathy with their memories. With Mum, I have seen her as a victim of depression, genetics, bad medicine, and maybe a lack of self-worth. With Dad, it was too much ego, shame, and a need to be the boss – the need to be in the right – the household authority.

Both of them felt the pain of losing people they’d loved, and neither of them relied on the other for support (at least not that I ever saw). They each used alcohol to self-medicate, for years.

All this tolls up to what looked like hard, unhappy lives, with little personal forgiveness, and lots of stored guilt and unresolved anger.

And so, almost thirty years after Dad’s painful passing, and over 25 years after Mum’s final release from her pain, I am having trouble remembering them that well. Their voices are like faint whispers, third-hand stories or rumours, and it takes effort to convince myself that it all really happened.

My storytelling of them is the only thing keeping their ghosts active. I think that the less I use it, the more I lose it.

That’s a bit scary, but relationships are not supposed to be eternal. They mostly expire and fade away, along with the leaving of their human hosts.

A banana a day…?

Since Grade six, I’ve gotten the occasional severe neck cramps. Debilitating might be a better word for them. I’d be walking along, and then get a lightning bolt shoot right up one side of my neck into the back of my skull. That neck muscle would contract, and burn like it was on fire. They were painful enough to stop me in my tracks, and at least once or twice, knock me to my knees. It was a very painful and scary experience – one that I dreaded.

I attributed them to a reaction to stress. I didn’t use those exact words in my head, but I do remember feeling like that was an accurate description.

The neck cramps seemed to subside as I got older, and got into my teen years, and by about 20, they might have mostly disappeared. As I grew up, I don’t think I ever told my parents or many friends about them (although one or two friends may have seen me have one).

They continued to happen a few times every year. At the age of 53, they still happen to me today. I forgot about my “stress” rationale, and in fact, as my life became happier, my neck cramps all but subsided.

But I recently read that poor diet and some aspects of malnutrition, like low potassium levels, can lead to neck and leg cramps.

I still believe that stress played a major factor, but could eating a Banana a day have kept the neck cramps at bay?

Processing the Posthumous…

Eventually, it seems that something always puts you back to where you need to be. Not long ago, a cousin (another Love) asked me if I had a photo of the Love family house, up in Prince Rupert. I replied that I had taken a couple of snaps of iot back in 1999, when visiting my Dad’s bother. But, no matter where I looked, I could not find it. I hate misplacing anything on the best of days, but this was different: actual photographic evidence of a big piece of my Dad’s childhood, a home I’d been inside to witness myself, in which I could imagine many of my Dad’s childhood stories taking place. If I’d lost that photo, what could I do? I couldn’t very well fly back up to Prince Rupert and just shoot another one.

Could I?

About the Love House

The story my Dad told me (as best I can recall) was that his Dad, Albert Bruce Love, had the lumber for his new house barged in, and each piece of lumber had the name “LOVE” stamped on it. Dad described how he and his younger brother Eric shared the attic as their bedroom, and would lay there listening to the rain hammer down on the roof. Dad extolled the virtues of deep eaves (not like these modern houses with their shallow eaves that let the rain blow in all the time) and Dad said that if you looked in the attic, you’d see the name “LOVE” stamped on the ceiling.

C. 1928: Eric, Bruce, James, and Charles in front. Aunt Marion (“Molly”) holding baby Patricia in the background.
C. 1928: Bruce, Eric, James, and baby Patricia.
C. 1934: James, Eric, Patricia, and Charles (Behind them, my Dad’s Dad, Grandpa Love)

If I couldn’t find my 1999 photo of the house, how could I recreate it?

I decided that I could do the next best thing: I could use Google Maps and Street View to take a new photo. This required two things: (1) that I could find the house’s address, and (2) that it was still standing in place. I worried about that the most. The two houses that my Dad’s parents lived in later, down here in Vancouver, were long ago bulldozed and replaced with apartment blocks. I could only hope that Prince Rupert’s urban expansion had stayed relatively quiet over the last 20 years.

It had.

With some emailed descriptions of the location of the house (“on 8th avenue, near such-and-such”, “not far from the school”, etc.), I was able to get to the right section of Eighth Avenue East using Google Street View, and go for a little walk. Before long, my virtual steps had taken to a corner that looked vaguely familiar, and… there it was, I was sure!

The old Love family home, on East Eighth Avenue, in Prince Rupert (circa 2012)

But How Can I be Sure?

Even feeling like I had found the house, I wanted some irrefutable evidence, and finally realized that I could search for the address in other records attached to my Grandfather.

Sure enough, a 1921 census listed this address as that of my Grandpa Love, my Grandmother, and their infant son Albert Bruce. (This tracks with my Uncle Bruce’s story that he was born in the house.) A 1940 voter registration list from Prince Rupert also confirmed the address, so there it was…