I’m going to tell you a story. I won’t lie. This is not going to be a short one. This is the story of how my life took a huge change and put me where I needed to be. It happened 30 years ago in 1985 and just a a couple of weeks ago, I really had some serious flashbacks.
I was born in Edmonton, Alberta. My earliest memories are of playing in my front yard in a subdivision of Edmonton called Beverly. I have vivid memories of walking to and from school, playing in the park, playing with my cat, going to birthday parties, and even being kissed by the girl next door.
When I was 7, my parents moved us to another part of the city called Hermitage. I changed schools, friends, home, and everything but it was still in the same city I knew as home. I have even more vivid memories of that time in my life. Playing street hockey in the parking lot, eating ice cream with friends, playing tabletop hockey with my mom, Atari video games, the Edmonton Oilers, the best teacher I ever had, and so many more things that I just don’t have the space to write them all out.
These are all part of the first 11.5 years of my life. It’s a part of my life I don’t tend to think about very often mainly because in some ways, it feels like it was another life. I’m sure we all have parts of our lives that seem so far removed from where we are now that it’s like they were a dream or something. My life in Edmonton is very much like that. Seems very much like a dream that’s slowly fading over time.
In the summer of 1985, my parents had been split up for awhile and I had been living with mom. She decided to move us to Moncton, NB; her home town. I had just gone through a major trauma of my own dealing with my newly discovered Thyroid condition and all of the things that went along with that. But mom picked us up, and moved us across the country. I left my home town, my friends, my hockey team, and everything I had ever known in my life. It was all gone when we got on the plane and left. The only thing that I really had left in Edmonton other than my memories of the place, was my dad. He was still there.
I didn’t get back to Edmonton until 1994, 9 years later. By that time, my dad was unrecognizable, and Edmonton seemed like such a different place. I visited again in 1997, and then again in 2003, 2006, and 2008. My dad died in 2010.
I knew that I would be returning to Edmonton this September for work. I knew it was going to be weird, but I had no idea how weird and emotional it was going to actually be. This was the first time I would visit this place without my dad being there. Everytime I had come back there I always had my dad to go back to. It was somehow tied to my past and part of my life there, but with him gone, it seemed that connection was gone. Yes, I do have a few relatives there (uncles, aunts, even a half-sister) but my biggest connection to that place was my dad.
I landed in Edmonton, got my rental car, and the first thing I did was go visit the places I used to live and hang out in. I even went by my dad’s old place. It was kind of neat to see these places again but nothing really jumped out at me. That was until my last day there.
I decided to go to a park near where I used to live. I spent a little time in there but then decided I really wanted to go back to the neighbourhood I lived in and sort of re-trace my steps as a kid. I have no idea why I felt compelled to do this, but over the few days I was in Edmonton, it kept feeling more and more like this was likely to be my last time there and if I ever wanted to do anything, I needed to do it now.
The animation you see above starts at 389 Hooper Cres, Edmonton, Alberta. Most of my childhood memories come from this place. This was the home I lived in from grades 3-6. I parked the car in front of the houses, and went for a walk. I stood in the parking lot and stared around and just soaked it in. My mind was flooded with images of kids playing hockey, the ice cream bike going in and out of the area, and a thousand other images that would be meaningless to anyone else. I then stood about 5 feet or so from the door of the place I used to live. The black mailbox with 389 on it just stared at me. Again, more images of the past flooding to the forefront. From ghosts in my kitchen, to watching the hockey game in the dark, to memories of me hoping to see the pretty girl across the road from my kitchen window.
I then walked in between the two sets of homes, and down the path I used to take to school every day. I walked up the hill and into the middle of a big field just beside the old school I used to go to. The entire time I walked, I just had so many childhood memories coming back to me. I stood in the middle of this big field of green grass and remembered watching kids play ice hockey in a homemade rink in the middle of the field. I remembered my mom and I setting off model rockets and wondering where they were going to land. As I took a few more steps towards my old school, the tears started to come.
I stood there, with no one around to see how ridiculous I looked, and I balled uncontrollably. Not misty eyed like you get from a sappy movie or a feel good song. I’m talking uncontrollable, pure crying. I cried and cried for a few minutes and had no idea where it was all coming from. I shook my head and turned around and looked at the school. I walked over to the yellow doors and stared at the brick wall and remembered so many days of losing so many hockey cards to some stupid game where we threw them against the wall.
I walked around front, took a few pictures, smiled a bit as I peeked inside, then went back to rear of the building and just stared for a minute. In that moment, I realized that it had actually been 30 years since I left Edmonton. And in that moment, I also remembered the face of the last person I ever saw at the school; Mr. Schlotter.
To keep it short, this was a great guy. My all time favourite teacher and someone I will never, ever forget. I had a memory of him and I talking about some computer thing I wanted and then saying goodbye. Standing there behind the school, I got misty eyed this time, and with no around, I smiled at the school and said “Goodbye Mr. Schlotter”.
I walked back to my car, started it up, and drove away. I do not expect to return there.
I repeated this same kind of experience when I went to my other neighbourhood. I walked the old way to my other old school, wandered around, and had plenty of memory flashes but this time it wasn’t as emotional. I think whatever I was feeling came out in that field near Overlander’s School and I was truly ready to go.
I visited a couple of other places I knew as a kid, then headed to the airport and couldn’t wait to get out of there.
Unless something major changes in my life, or work sends me back there, I do not expect to ever return to Edmonton. I think that’s why standing in that field was so emotional.
I knew it was going to be weird not seeing my dad. But what I didn’t expect was to have so much emotion from my past bubble to the surface when seeing these places. Sitting here writing this, I’m trying in my mind to think of the best explanation as to why it was really so emotional for me. The only thing that comes to mind is the fact that there is a part of me that’s always going to be in the place because I was there for 11 years. That’s part of my history and part of what I was as a child. When you don’t think about something, it’s not that it’s forgotten. It’s just buried among all of the other things.
I’ve had so much happen to me in that 30 year time period that most of what I experienced in Edmonton never comes up any more. When I talk about the past now, it’s usually high school, college, my VAJ/Rounded Edges years, IRC days, Greco Days, IBM, Norampac, and countless other things I’ve experienced since moving away from that place.
Even though I had returned multiple times since I left, this one was very different because it really did have a sense of finality to it. In a strange way, it’s almost like saying goodbye to my dad again, but also saying goodbye to that entire part of my life. I’ll never forget that place, but it very much felt like I was really saying goodbye to everything that was there regardless of how long ago it was.
Then… I heard this song on the airplane coming back from London a few days ago. I downloaded it and have listened to it a bunch of times and it just seems to be sticking to me. I Lived by OneRepublic. It’s a really nice song and has a really great message about making life what it can be. I think it’s striking a chord with me right now as I’ve got a lot of things floating around in my head as a result of my recent travels.
Really thinking about standing in the field and how I felt, I think part of it was the fact that my dad is really gone. I think another part of it is the realization that my mom took me away from anything and everything I had known in my life and I don’t know if I ever really processed that. My first few years in NB were not easy. In fact, junior high at Queen E was pure hell. I’ve written about that before but the context is a bit different now. After leaving everything in Edmonton, Queen E was just an awful place for me to be for those three years. The only thing that made grade 8 & 9 bearable was my good friend J.C. and a beautiful, strawberry blonde girl I couldn’t stop talking about.
Sidetracked…. the point I was trying to get at was that maybe there was a part of me that was still mad at mom for taking me away from all of that. Don’t get me wrong. My life turned out exactly as it should. I am where I am supposed to be. But like all people, sometimes you just don’t let things go and then they stick in your head somewhere and you don’t even realize it. Before you know it, there’s a lot up there that you don’t even know about or understand until you’re put in a situation where it all comes out.
So now, if my kids ask about where I grew up, I can tell them all the stories they want, but I don’t really have a need to go back again.
Thanks Edmonton. It was nice knowing you.