Sunday, December 8, 2013

“Born British” by Val Cureton

Dad racing a '48 Norton
Born British. Upper Crust. Knowing Your Place. 

These are all phrases I came to know listening to Mom and Dad recant their past on many occasions. Usually brought up at the family dinner table, these phrases describe another place and another time, not too long ago, but long enough to become family legend.

Born British. Both my parents were born in Liverpool in 1932 to families boasting long standing histories of military and social triumphs.

Upper Crust. Mom's father owned a newspaper so her social standing was deeply routed in the well-to-do and Dad's father was a successful business owner.

Knowing Your Place. The parents of my parents had plans for their kids. Plans that included who one would marry, how one would make a living. Knowing Your Place was important to being Born British in the Upper Crust.

In 1953 my mother found herself engaged to a man many years her senior, the result of a carefully planned courtship initiated by her father and his. Not quite an “arranged marriage” but Knowing Your Place in society meant that unions were not always born of love and personal sacrifices had to be made in the Upper Crust.

Six months into her engagement she met Dad: a motorcyle-racing, screw-the-establishment kind of guy, who resented being Born British, rejected the Upper Crust and had already turned his back on Knowing Your Place. He was smart, opinionated, handsome and beanpole lean. Mom fell hard. 

Dad had a dream: to go to Canada. He asked her to go with him. Mom, still committed to another and Knowing Her Place, declined with great regret. Two weeks after they met, Dad boarded a freighter bound for Halifax. Finally arriving in Toronto, he wrote his first letter, begging her to join him in the land of opportunity, even though the land only offered him jobs digging ditches with his own spade.

Growing up listening to this story, I became acquainted with more terms, too.

Persistence. Dad wrote to Mom every week for over three months, asking the same question: when was she was going to join him? Four months after they parted she too boarded a ship, bound for a land she had never seen and a man she'd only just met.

Love. My parents married in a Downsview church on a hot September day in 1954. As they approach their sixtieth wedding anniversary, they never forget the love that binds them.

Rebel. My mother, an artist and proud great-grandmother, epitomizes the positives of a Rebel. And my Dad, self-made in the promised land, will always be the original Rebel of family lore. 

Val Cureton loves the Canadian north and the American south, the way her hair fluffs from the soft mineral water of a pristine lake or cakes up with ocean salt. She finds writing, working and raising a family invigorating, challenging and occasionally a pain in the rear. She paints to de-stress and surfs with her family to remember her place in the universe.  Her work has appeared in the literary magazine Canadian Stories, online magazine The Hilt and the widely acclaimed blog, Quick Brown Fox. Whether it's Middle Grade, essay or memoir, the world is her sandbox and she likes to play with it all.  

 “Born British” was originally published on CBC.ca as an entry in the Your Bloodlines contest – true family stories of 400 – 500 words with an accompanying photo.

See Brian Henry’s  schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Barrie, Brampton, Bolton, Burlington, Caledon, Cambridge, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Kingston, London, Midland, Mississauga, Newmarket, Orillia, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Stouffville, Sudbury, Thessalon, Toronto, Algoma, Halton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

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