My beloved dad was born on a farm in Michigan, served in the Navy during World War II at Pearl Harbor and had a deep love of Canada.
No Disney Princess vacations for his four daughters. From Jasper to Gaspe, off to Canada we'd go. Days were spent fishing, eating shore lunches, exploring glaciers, horseback riding, hiking and my personal favorite, watching the bears come out at dusk to eat garbage at the local town dump.
Pack our outdoor gear, fishing tackle, the "Booze Kit" (gin and whiskey for mom and dad's cocktail hour) and the "Drug Kit" (Kaopectate, St. Joseph Aspirin for Children- (I loved those, they tasted like Tang in a chewable tablet) and Bactine for whatever ailments loomed ahead) with a few Barbie dolls thrown in for good measure.
Thus began my love of the great outdoors, nature and the beauty and depth of our neighbors to the north. My bucket list demands I visit all ten provinces. I'm almost there.
Dad and I always talked about the exotic, royal-sounding province, Prince Edward Island. I guess to a ten-year old, any island sounds like magic when you live among corn fields. Plus it was easy to spell, nothing like Saskatchewan. We called it "PEI" like it was our secret code word in a spy drama. Toots, (my nickname for him) traveled all throughout Canada during his lifetime, but sadly never had the chance to get there.
Toots also had a love of flaky, slapstick humor and had us all hooked on watching "The Three Stooges" television show in the sixties. Moe, Larry and Curly would entertain us with their goofy antics, mischief and boisterous predicaments.
He bribed us to see their live show at the old Melody Top Music Theater off the Eisenhower Expressway in Hillside. The tickets were a back-to-school treat IF we finished our math and spelling summer workbooks in time. We didn't, of course, but he took us anyway. He wasn't about to miss The Stooges even if we failed fourth grade.
During the summers while attending high school and college, I worked with my dad at his manufacturing plant doing office work. We would drive over the quarry in Thornton counting trucks and listening to Elvis on his 8-track tape player. Our favorites, hands down, were "Teddy Bear," and "All Shook Up," and we'd clap and snap along with the King since our voices were awful.
Definitely special father daughter memories I still cherish.
So, this summer I had this wild idea to get back up to Canada to the Maritime provinces and experience Prince Edward Island in all of her glory while I still have the legs and means to travel.
A childhood dream to fulfill.
For me. But mostly for my dad.
I'm a grateful soul. My husband knew how much this would mean to me and agreed to this sentimental journey. Thank you for insisting we had to do this for my dad. That's why I married you, darling, you sweet, old, soft hearted man.
So we packed our bags.
Arriving by ferry from Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island welcomed us with open arms.
It's simply beautiful dad! Just like we imagined. You would love it. Reminds me of rural Wisconsin or Michigan. Farming country with rolling hills and stunning, red sandy beaches to the north. Lobster boats and traps everywhere. 25% of the entire potato crop for all of Canada grows on this tiny island. Local beers are crisp and malty. Island Blue Mussels and Malpeque Oysters, fresh and delectable, to slurp down recklessly all day long. Don't get me started on the seafood chowder.
Goat farms, tiny seasonal bakeries, ruddy cheeked residents that are hospitable and friendly. Pastoral. Did I mention the biscuits? The air smells salty and clear. Not a speck of trash anywhere, it's oh so clean. You would love that, Dad.
On our first morning in Charlottetown, during a solitary walk along the harbor in Victoria Park, I said to myself, "Dad, I made it! I'm here! I finally made it to PEI!"
Then the tears began to fall.
It's a strange thing, really, to finally realize a childhood dream that you shared with your dad, almost fifty years ago. Bittersweet to be honest. I made it here, but he never got that chance.
And then Serendipity stepped in.
Later that morning, during our drive across the island heading north, wouldn't you know Elvis, of all people, began singing "Memories" on the radio.
Once again, more tears.
Dad, you're actually here with me now. You rascal. I knew you'd make it somehow!
Goat's milk soap. Hand carved, colorful, lobster buoys. Toe-tapping music on Victoria Row. Lavender. "Anne of Green Gables." Canada's best ice cream. Lighthouses. Foxes. Cavendish.
On our last night we ate dinner at the Water-Prince Corner Shop restaurant in Charlottetown. Famous for seafood, it's a tiny place, only about ten tables and too cold to eat at the picnic tables outside. As we were seated, I plopped down to absorb this eclectic gem and then I spotted it on the wall directly behind my husband's head.
There, just to the left of the mermaid were The Three Stooges looking right at me.
It get's even more complicated.
After getting over that "moment" and feeling my dad's presence once again, I glanced up into the far right corner, above a collection of old license plates, to find Elvis smiling down with his trademark curled lip wearing a white jumpsuit.
I must confess, I believe in things like this. Some call it a "sign" that your loved ones send subtle messages to let you know they are doing just fine. Be aware and keep your eyes and ears open. Blink and they could be gone. These signs bring a sense of peace, that the people we love never truly leave us.
It could be a bird, favorite song, dream, book, poem, fragrant smell or even a cat or dog that appears out of nowhere.
Or pictures of The Three Stooges and Elvis on the wall in a tiny seaside restaurant on Prince Edward Island.
Tears were shed often on this vacation. Thankfully, they were tears of joy and remembrance.
I finally made it to PEI, Dad. And somehow I think you did, too.
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