Friday, May 24, 2013

O Canada

From Canada, with love. (Clockwise from top left) Canada Post; Labatt Brewing Co. was founded
in 1847 in London, Ontario; Canadians pledge their allegiance to hockey player
Tim Horton's addictive coffee and doughnuts; all hail Queen Elizabeth Way.   

A recent family reunion took us across the border to our northern neighbor, Canada. A six-hour drive from Cleveland (give or take a few hours if you're totin' the little ones), the road trip to Toronto takes you on a scenic journey along Lake Erie. We traveled through the small chunk of Pennsylvania that touches the lake, passed Buffalo, New York and made a stop in Niagara Falls. We picked up cousin Shana in Toronto and got a brief taste of this very cool metropolis (think New York with a Euro vibe).

We strolled down Queen Street West, a main thoroughfare of eclectic boutiques,
art galleries, fantastic restaurants and plenty of Toronto hipsters.

Our final destination was Collingwood, Ontario-- a two-hour drive through the Canadian countryside, north of Toronto. Founded in 1858 and named after Admiral Lord Cuthbert Collingwood (why do the Brits have such amazing names?), Collingwood sits on Nottawasaga Bay at the southern point of the Georgian Bay. Though it was the middle of May, it was a blustery 45 degrees when we arrived. We were hardly aware that summer was around the corner with our down coats, scarves, mittens and heavy boots.

The main reason for our gathering was to commemorate the life of my husband's uncle, Stephen Salaff, who spent the majority of his life in Canada. Remembered as an activist, nature lover, and beloved father and brother, Uncle Steve inspired us with his brilliance, his insatiable thirst for knowledge and his passion for social justice. 

We spent two days visiting beautiful scenic areas in and around the Canadian countryside to scatter Uncle Steve's ashes. The first spot was a small and secluded waterfall along the Niagara Escarpment.

The next day we visited the arboretum and gathered at Steve's memorial-- an American Sycamore sapling which had been planted and dedicated in the spring of 2012, shortly following Steve's death. 

"I like to feel Uncle Steve's ashes in my hands," Caden told Auntie Shana.
"Why is that?" she asked. "Because it makes me feel close to him." 

At the third spot we said our final goodbyes as we scattered Steve's ashes at the water's edge. It was a beautiful and profound experience for everyone. Closure for those closest to Steve; discovery for those who, like myself, had only corresponded with him by phone and email; and a sort-of introduction to family legacy for my children.

My 7-year-old was particularly impacted by the trip. At this impressionable age, he is opening up to the world and to concepts like birth and death. "Goodbye, Uncle Steve," Caden said as he scattered ashes at the falls. "I pray you would have a good life in heaven."

A family remembers. Rest in peace, Uncle Steve.
We love you and remember you, forever.
This trip will always have a special place in my heart. Because of the treasured memories we made. Because we got to say goodbye to Steve. And because I finally got to meet Annie, a beaming and beautiful soul who was Steve's closest friend and companion for many years. I had heard so many wonderful stories about this woman. Her vibrancy, her sense of humor, her love of life and easy-to-fall-in-love-with personality. She lived up to everything I had expected. "Dance party!" she announced the first night we gathered for dinner. I love this lady already, I thought. Annie shared fascinating stories about Steve. His encyclopedia-like knowledge about art and music. His natural ability to whip up delicious dishes in the kitchen. His love of trees, plants, flowers. 

Annie and her partner, Jim, were generous beyond measure. They made us feel at home the moment we arrived. Cooked homemade meals for us. Showed us around Collingwood. Took us on hikes. Poured their love on my children. I will never forget their giving hearts. 

O Canada, thank you for being sacred ground for our family's stories.

Izzy contemplates the events of the day on the shores of Georgian Bay.