My mother called saying that my dad is out of the hospital. “Nothing to worry about”, she says. Of course nobody told me that he was going into hospital, not wanting to worry a daughter living half a globe away.
As I grew up, my parents advised us to go travel and see the world. They married almost a decade after their friends. My father went to Scotland to train in a shipping company. My mother went to school in England and then to France. By the time they met, she lived in Rome, working as an air hostess between Europe, Africa and the far East – the most glamorous job for a woman of the time, other than being a movie star.
Even their nuptial arrangement were done long distance. This was just over a decade since the WW2, so my father was still doing occasional military service. He had to use my grandfather as the middleman, as it was impossible to catch my mother between flights from his mountain barrack. He asked if my grandfather happened to talk to my mother, could he please ask her if she had an answer for him. Being a gentleman, my grandfather did not inquire further. Some days later my mom called him from Rome, an astronomical expense in those days. She talked of all kinds of trivial matters before mentioning if he had heard anything from my dad. Yes, said my grandfather, he had called and all had been well. And he had also asked if she had an answer for him. “Well. Tell him it is all right, then”, said my mother. And that is how my parents agreed to marry over the phone.
Naturally, they wanted their 3 children to experience the same joys of travel, so we were allowed to pick a university anywhere in the world to study for one year, if we passed the entrance exams. My sister chose remote Nova Scotia, my brother picked sunny California, and when I heard that the French and English where fighting, I immediately chose Montreal. I could have ended up at universities in Toronto or Victoria. However, academic considerations came secondary to the action the city had to offer.
My parents gift became an expensive proposition, financially, because as a teenager living on my own for the first time in a foreign city, I did not know how to balance a budget. However, the greatest cost to my parents was probably emotional, as while my siblings came back, I decided to stay abroad. Today, I have spent more years away than in my birth country. I lived in a village in Greece, in Paris and in LA, but most of my years away were spent in Canada.
Living long distance has it’s advantages, particularly when you come from a place where everybody knows your name, remembers your great-grand-aunt, worked for your father or dated your sister. In little Norway you are your past and your roots. In Vancouver on the other hand, history has only scratched the surface of time and the city is barely a century and a half old. Everything is about the future. It is a society in the making, where people still come to make their fortune. Nobody knows your clan history or favours you because of your family name.
Yet there are two sides to every story. Living long distance also means missing all birthdays, anniversaries and school reunions. You can never go home for Sunday dinner or drop by an aging relative. I came too late to my sisters wedding ceremony, and fell asleep during the party due to jet lag. My nieces and nephews were all born and baptized without me there. The last time I saw my aunt before she died was on SKYPE. Living long distance also means that one has to grieve from afar.
As my parents are getting older, one surviving cancer, the other with a new heart valve, I feel an inner pull to my own shore and an echo from my roots. I wish we could be closer, so I could visit my father in the hospital, help them clean up the attic, and stroll with them, watching sailboats on the pier. There are some things one just cannot do long distance….