Grant Whatmough: May 24, 1921 – Sept. 14, 1999
It has been seven years since my father died and as I look at his picture beside my desk I think of all he gave me — the innocence of childhood, the safety of it, and the desire to live life as fully as possible.
When I was a girl I would run through the fields with my arms outstretched like wings. The tall grass scratched at my bare legs, almost reaching my arms, but it offered a soft cushion with every fall and a great place to hide from my twin brother. I used to dream of flying. Of swooping over the fields like the barn swallows. I used to climb trees and watch the tall grass roll like waves in the wind.
One of my favourite songs is Home by Nathan Wiley. The first line goes “When I was a boy I had everything, I had silver and gold.” The song evokes images of his past, falling asleep in the back seat of the car, dreaming of ships he will sail. It reminds me of what home felt like to me as a child — a safe place to think, dream, learn, and set out from. That childhood innocence I once had is something I can only go back to in my dreams, a place where responsibility and worry don’t enter.
Tonight, as I type away at my desk I remember the evenings I had as a child. There were times when my parents had company and I would sneak out of my bed to listen to them talk. They spoke about philosophy, art, politics, love, and life. I remember wishing I would grow up faster so that I could understand more about what they discussed. Life seemed to be just out of reach.
Many of my childhood memories are beautiful and sometimes I wonder if my senses were more finely tuned then. I remember being in bed with my window open and trying to pick out a single voice in a chorus of 1000 frogs (spring peepers) that filled the night air. Their voices seemed to create a magical symphony.
I remember running along paths in the dark with nothing but a sparkler to light our way and reaching the crest of a hill to turn and see the sparks from a huge bonfire we had spent months preparing rise until they merged with the stars in the sky above.
I remember evenings when my parents sat out on the lawn to watch the sun set and I, in turn, watched them from my bedroom window. They held hands and sat out there well after the light faded and darkness filled the night with stars.
I still recall my first skate on a cold winter’s night, the smoothness of the ice and the stillness of the night broken only by a dog’s bark from miles away. The star-filled sky stretched over the fields, enveloping them in its silence. I glided over the ice, floating, flying above and amid the night, part of it and grounded completely in it. The beauty in that moment struck me like never before, but as soon as I took notice it was gone.
My twin brother and I swam in a neighbour’s pond. We explored the nearby swamp and choked on cigarettes made from dried leaves and weeds. We rode horses from the neighbouring church camp, sneaked into their gospel hall and sang The Lion Sleeps Tonight over their public address system. We flour-bombed their prayer wagon. We grew. I remember the fear and exhilaration that came from swaying in the upper branches of a tall tree on the crest of a hill, as an August thunderstorm rolled, clashing and bursting over the fields, toward us.
The innocence of my childhood left long ago. I know about loss and the feeling of emptiness in the pit of your stomach that has a way of growing into you, and becoming part of you. I know that happiness can come and go. This knowledge is something I’d never experienced as a child; its price was my innocence. I remember how much I craved being older, I wanted to be free to do anything and to learn as much as I could. And you know, I still crave learning despite the cost.
My childhood home was my Eden. I will never go back because I would never voluntarily give up the knowledge I have gained. But, if I live long enough, my knowledge and my memories might slowly begin to melt away and someday I may indeed regain the innocence I’ve lost. Life is, if you live long enough, one big circle.