In the spring of 1961 I was returned to my father from HartleyBay. I remember neither the circumstances of leaving nor the circumstances of arriving, but I remember that for some reason the journey was placed in the charge of a social worker. She was the first representative of that species of person—social worker—that I remember meeting, although I suppose I must have met one or two of them when I was briefly placed in a foster home in 1957. In fact, I remember almost nothing of that journey in 1961 except was its purpose was: to reunite me with my father.
What I chiefly recall is the evening of our arrival in Prince Rupert. Before my father claimed me, I stayed one night in some hotel or other with the social worker. I vaguely recall an old-fashioned room with radiator heating. The social worker—to polish me up a little for the handover, or perhaps because I needed it—decided to give me a bath.
The social worker was a White woman, who were scarce if not entirely absent from my domestic existence, especially most recently in Hartley Bay, which was, after all, an isolated Indian reserve. Perhaps because close encounters with someone of her social group were so rare in my experience, the bath the social worker poured for me that evening also planted in my brain my first racial, cultural stereotype. When I put my feet in, the water was on the steamy edge of tolerable, but somehow I didn’t feel I had the option to protest or hesitate. Not having any basis of comparison, I assumed my experience was deliberate on her part and also the expression of a larger truth: White ladies liked their bathwater too hot.
Of course, I eventually married a White woman and we had a daughter, Haisla, together. I told her once about the impression I had formed so long before.
“Oh, that’s probably true,” she said. “White woman do like their bathwater too hot.”
I don’t suppose it was the worst racial stereotype anybody ever formulated.
And the journey was significant beyond a bath and an amusing anecdote. I didn’t know it then, of course, but my life had reached one type of ending: my stay in HartleyBay was to be the last time my father ever voluntarily gave me up. Other things were to separate us, but never again would it be my father’s choice.
Like that other journey I took with my grandmother in 1956 with its much grimmer aftermath, if I had known the significance of the journey then, perhaps I would have paid attention to more than the bath at the end of it. But life doesn’t provide you with chapter markers.
And anyway my childhood odyssey wasn’t over, not yet. I was 10, almost 11 years old. What had happened between 1956 and 1961 already had begun to affect who I was, not positively. My personality had begun to be woofed and warped by the constant motion, by the unpredictable changes, by the very number of homes and places I had stayed in.
As we shall see.
And there was better, and worse, and different yet to come, which would affect me further in many of the same ways. Effects that never really went away.
But one thing, my father’s hand in all of that, it at least was finally over.