Part V. FAMILY, 1961-1962
94. Prince Rupert, 1961: Sideburns and Sisters
And yet I can’t help but wonder whether the fire that burned down our shack in the Boneyard didn’t lead to what followed, and whether—ultimately—that was a good thing or not. What followed, in the course of things, was a misfortune, a kind of careless crime with consequences that echo in our family to this day. But what also followed was the only experience of family—family beyond my father and myself—that my childhood had to offer.
If my father and I hadn’t been in Prince Rupert when my sisters came into town, perhaps it may have all been different. Would it have been better for my sisters? I have no way of knowing. Hemingway called Paris of the 1920s a moveable feast. My sisters had been to residential school. Residential schools were a portable tragedy for anybody who had been to them, a disease of the soul. So maybe they were in danger even without perilous meetings with father and brother in rainy Prince Rupert.
When we met I had already settled into my usual life above the Grand, with David my main companion and Old Pop now living down the hall. I suppose David and I haunted the usual places, in the café and above, next door at Eddie’s newsstand where comics were still a strong attraction. Comics were also a kind of mail-order catalogue for kids, where David, always in the money, habitually shopped. I remember prehistoric shark teeth, a manual of baseball with pictures and sideburns like Elvis, which turned out to be hairy patches of paper which you pasted in front of your ears.
Presto! Paste-o! Elvis impersonators.
I’m not sure whether David ordered the sea monkeys (brine shrimp) whose pleasant families posed on the back of every second comic book.
For our shopping, we also went sometimes to the Variety Store, a species of five and dime (or what might be a dollar store in our inflationary times) which sold a number of items suitable for juvenile pocketbooks.
And on Saturday there was also the possibility of a visit to the Capitol theatre.
Then my sisters came calling. I don’t know how they knew where my father and I were living, although I suppose Prince Rupert is and always was a small town where finding is easier than hiding. I don’t remember their arriving with any adults. Just the two of them. And they sang their song in harmony, “Take us in, Daddy.”
I don’t remember except generally what they said to persuade us. They weren’t happy where they were in Aiyansh. They weren’t happy with the way they were being treated, and they named an uncle who they said was being mean to them. They wanted to come live with us.
What did my father think of it? What did he think of adopting a full-scale family, he who had only managed family part-time with his favourite son? I suppose he could have chosen to not believe my sisters, to suspect exaggeration (and I’m not suggesting that there was any.) Reluctance can often find an excuse. But somehow he didn’t. And almost as suddenly as I had lost my sisters, I regained them. My life and longer legs had finally caught up to the train that had taken them away seven full years before. My father decided to take them in.
Amazingly, wonderfully, perplexingly, I had sisters, and we were a family again.