Sunday, June 6, 2010

Five Pairs of Shoes and a Bag of Bananas

My dad is almost 84 years old and bent from degenerative disc disease in his back, the legacy of years working as a bricklayer. He suffers from renal failure and must undergo dialysis three times a week in order to continue living. Added to that, the patches of skin cancer on his head and back and his prostrate cancer, I’m sometimes amazed that he is still with us.

My dad is a quiet, introspective man, which is where I get those qualities from. He is also an extremely stubborn man, a trait I hope I have not inherited.

My dad immigrated to Canada in the early 50’s in search of a better life for his small family. Sometimes, out of the blue, he will regale us with stories of the war and of his life.

Before my parents married, dad worked in France in a steel foundry for almost two years. The work was hard but the pay was very good and so dad stayed. Dad tells the story of how, up until that point, he had only ever owned one pair of shoes. The shoes had been bought new but were too tight on his feet from the very beginning. After the soles wore out, he had them resoled, a process that made them even tighter. He wondered whether shoes were just supposed to be this uncomfortable. After all, these were the only pair of shoes he had ever owned. So when he was in France, and earning more money than he had ever seen before, he decided to buy some new shoes. Maybe, he thought, one could actually have shoes that didn’t hurt your feet. So he bought some shoes and they felt divine, so he kept buying, until he had bought five pairs of shoes. Each pair was a different style and colour.

In Italy, there were many fruits that he had seen in store windows but could not afford to buy. In France dad ate his first banana and by all accounts was quite impressed with the taste. After he broke his wrist on the job, he decided to spend some of his disability time back home. He took the train back to Italy to visit his family and of course his fiancée. He must have looked like quite the sight at the train station with his five pairs of shoes and a large bag of bananas. Dad would bring my mother gifts of chocolate and fragrant French soap. She claims to still have a bar of the soap, some 60 years later.

I treasure these stories that dad tells us because they are part of our legacy, to be passed on to newer generations. Some stories, like the ones of the shoes and the bananas, are funny. Others of the war and the resistance movement are frightening and heart breaking.

Dad still loves bananas, but unfortunately now that he can afford as many as he likes, he’s not allowed to eat them because of their high potassium content. In case you were wondering, he still has more shoes that the rest of us and they fit just fine.

Happy Father’s Day Papa

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