Monday, December 1, 2014

The Day After My Summer Ends

Returning Home

Last week, I gave a general impression of working as a summer student at a nuclear facility in Chalk River, Ontario, in 1980; this week I recount my experience of my last days at Chalk River and my return home to Montreal.

My Dad & I: This photo is from the year before (April 1979) outside our house on the street on which we resided; I am finishing another year at McGill engineering. Behind us is my father's 1972 Gran Torino station wagon, which he would give me that summer.
Photo: Courtesy of Perry J. Greenbaum

I watched on TV Terry Fox, who had cancer, in his attempt to run across Canada in his Marathon of Hope; it was Monday September 1st, Labour Day, in 1980. I knew that my father had cancer, and like Terry Fox, would soon die from this disease. My summer here was in many ways an escape from facing this bleak, sad news.

The common room was empty; most of the summer students had returned home. I had decided to stay an extra week, not only because they asked me to, but because I wanted to.It was not only about earning extra money, but having some time to myself to sort out my thoughts and feelings about returning home.

My girlfriend then, Cheryl, had decided to visit me, taking a bus from Montreal. She provided a necessary distraction and companionship, and much-needed laughter. We spent a nice wonderful week together, and then my summer would end. I would return to university, and she would return to work as a secretary in the garment trade. It was time to make the four-and-half hour trip home. The two worlds were not the same, and I was about to leave one world for another that I knew well, the one that had formed me into the person I had become.

It was after Labour Day. Cheryl and I returned home to Montreal in my 1972 Ford Gran Torino paneled station wagon, a gift from my father. Like my father, it was battered and tired, and in some symbolic message, just as I reached my front door, the gas tank, which I had patched up a few months ago, gave way and started leaking gas onto the street. I got out of the car, and didn’t bother about the small pool of gas at my feet; I would worry about it later.

My mother was glad to see me, although my mother’s face was tired and drawn; she said that my father was lying in bed. After dropping off my bags in my room, I went in to see my father, who wanted to have a man-to-man talk with me. Such were the days when such things were still considered important; my father knew that his time was limited and he had a desire, I am sure, to impart some of his wisdom and experience to me. I sat beside him on the bed my parents had shared for 28 years.

We agreed on some things and disagreed on others. The areas that we then disagreed, I now find myself agreeing with. I impart similar advice to my children. Is this age? conditioning? or plain common sense? Probably some mathematical combination of all three.

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