Saturday, 22 September 2012

Four Months, One Week: West Coast Dreaming

just because I love this picture. California Dreamin'
all the leaves are brown
and the sky is grey
I've been for a walk
on a winter's day

I'd be safe and warm
if I was in L.A.
California Dreamin'
on such a winter's day
                                                    The Mommas and the Poppas

I know I have said before that each of us, as we pass through the seas of life, have a bow-wave that announces our arrival and a wake behind that shows we were there. The farther each of those waves gets from our vessel, the less their size and impact. Some of us are like ocean-going freighters with huge wakes and waves that break upon shores both near and distant, while others are barely dingies with practically no lasting impact whatsoever.  I like to believe my Calista was akin to the great Titanic;  the potential for waves of great impact was there but she was taken from us during her maiden voyage.  Just like the Titanic, the only way Calista can live on is for those who loved her to share her story with everyone that will listen.

When I started this journal, it was all about finding some way for Roni and I to cope with a loss that neither of us can fathom or even begin to deal with. Right now we are not "dealing" with it. We are just getting better at hiding our grief under a patina of fake smiles and vacuous small talk.

 I spent two days last week trying to find a CD Calista used to listen to when she was about 16: "The Black Parade" by "My Chemical Romance". Roni finally pointed me in the right direction but asked me why I wanted it.  I had no answer and, when I finally found the CD stashed in a non-descript box down in a dark corner of the basement I broke down completely.  Roni tried to console me, but all I had to say was "I searched for two days for this but what I wanted to find was her. I still can't find her anywhere". This journal, more than anything, has become an effort to "find Calista"; I want to write down everything I can about her before the memories start getting confused and complicated. Maybe if I share enough of Calista, somebody out there will catch a bit of her "wave" and in some small way she will live on.

Over our house in Regina at sunrise.
Some people think Saskatchewan has a subtle, understated beauty.
There is nothing subtle about "The Land of Living Skies"

I cannot actually remember when Calista started lusting after the West Coast lifestyle.  Back in '95, when we first arrived in Regina, Calista, at the ripe age of 3 and a bit, was sure that she was going back to the Yukon as soon as she could get there.  She was always proud of having been born in the Yukon (as if she had much choice in the matter) and I am not sure she ever really took to being a "flatlander". Calista never really saw the subtle beauty of the prairies, but I believe that appreciation comes with maturity, and she will, forever more, be just twenty years old. Forever young; immortal in some small way.  Her first introduction to the west coast came in May of '97 or '98 when she was in grade one.

In the fall of 1995 my parents finally sold the small acreage they owned in Vernon, BC and returned to my old neighbourhood in Vancouver. Dad's Parkinson's Disease was slowly taking over his body; it was becoming obvious that the acreage was too much for my ageing parents and that dad needed much more medical care than he could access living on the small acreage miles from town in the Okanagan.  All my siblings had remarked to me how much dad had slipped over the last couple of years and the general consensus was that if we wanted the grandchildren to know Kelvin Orr, we better all make the pilgrimage to Vancouver....soon. 
5788 Cypress.  Five generations of my
family lived in that house at one point
or the other. It was big and draughty, but
it was a real home.
In the spring of '97 (or '98, I cannot remember) I was becoming progressively more depressed at my inability to visit my parents. I was starting to panic that dad would pass without me seeing him again.  Roni and I checked the bank accounts and there was no way we could afford for the family to fly out, but we did have just enough "Air Miles" stored up for two of us to do a round-trip to Vancouver over the May 24th weekend.  It was decided that Calista and I would make the trip this time and that we would make it a priority to save for one family trip out to Vancouver yearly.  She was going to miss a little school, but that was Ok because I had a plan on how we could make up for the lost classroom time.  I always seemed to have a plan.

Growing up surrounded by seas of wheat, oats, and canola, the children of the prairies understand the rhythm of the seasons but are unlikely to ever have any concept of the planetary rhythms of the tides. In the five days we spent in Vancouver my poor sister spent a lot of time taxiing us to Jericho beach to take pictures of high tide, low tide and everything in between.  I am sure it got a little bit tedious for my executive sister and her two, rambunctious little twins.  I am not sure that Calista ever really caught the drift of tides, despite numerous daddy-diagrams and charts, but I had fun doing the school project.  I think I got two gold stars from her grade one teacher.
Note the camera on Low-Tide Calista.
She probably had a groove in her neck from
all the years with a camera necklace.

That trip to Vancouver did start a life-long daddy-daughter bonding habit: Starbucks Coffee.  Kerrisdale, the small residential neighbourhood I grew-up in had two Starbucks Coffee outlets about 200 yards apart; I am pretty sure the employees can engage in food-fights across the street practically without leaving the doorways of the coffee house.  Each evening, after a long day of haunting the beach and chasing her cousins in the sand, Calista would actually ask daddy out for coffee. We would wander up the street, window shopping as we went, chatting, and generally enjoying each others company. She would have a hot-chocolate, I would have a coffee, and both of us would be restless all night with the late jolt of caffeine. Starbucks became a tradition for Calista and I; I was late to work frequently throughout her high-school years as she sweet-talked me into a trip to the coffee house before she was due at school.   That trip to Vancouver also introduced her to another family tradition: Kerrisdale Cameras. My father dealt with Kerrisdale Cameras since the family-run business opened in 1961. Calista and I did a lot of window shopping at that old store that year and every year since.  Her last camera and most of her college kit came from Kerrisdale Cameras.

Lizard on a stick. Calista and I had no
idea what they actually are for, but she
wanted to dare one of her friends back in
Regina to eat it.  I had to nix that three years
in a row.
The dragon gates as we entered China-town.

Blood Alley by Calista at fifteen. An enlargement
of this photo still hangs above my bed.

She was about sixteen. Yes, Roni, she sure
as hell was taller than you, even then.

That trip to Vancouver was the first of many as Calista grew up.  Each trip introduced her to more elements of the west-coast lifestyle.  There were just so many things she loved about the Emerald City.

 Calista insisted on visiting China Town practically every trip to Vancouver. I obliged, but I had my ulterior motives.  Vancouver's China-town lies right on the edge of what I call "the heart of the dragon"; that downtown ghetto centred around Main and Hastings inhabitted by a marginalised population of poverty stricken drug addicts, prostitutes and homeless.  I wanted to "city-proof" my girl by introducing her to the rough edges. She just ignored the rough edges and loved shopping China town.  On the other hand, something must have rubbed off on her over the years; in later years, while visiting Vancouver with her teen-aged friends Calista had a level of comfort on those rough streets while her Regina side-kicks were frequently obviously fish on the dry land.

The Vancouver aquarium was a special place for Calista. We visited it every time we landed in Vancouver and she actually slept there twice. For anyone that does not know about the "Sleeping with the Whales"  program, I heartily recommend taking your ten year old and just enjoying the wonder in their eyes as they bond with beluga whales.  I took Calista to her first urban camp-out when she was about ten.  While all the other "campers" snored away the graveyard shift, my Calista did not sleep one moment of that long night. She was glued to the window in the underwater viewing gallery for over eight hours.  At about 3 am she shook her poor old dad awake to tell me the whales were singing to her.  I thought she was hearing things until I realised the sounds I assumed were coming from the pipes above my heads were actually emanating from the head of the huge whale floating across the window about a foot from Calista. Calista practically bubbled about the adventure for weeks after that night. Roni returned with her the following year and I am pretty sure neither of them slept once again. "Sleeping with the Whales" is a fantastic experience at any age.

Brent Hayden: he would have
rated a poster on her wall like
Michael Phelps if he had one.
Good start but the winner, Brent Hayden,
had not even stepped onto the blocks yet.

As Calista aged, the excuses to visit Vancouver changed.  Of course, there was always the grand-parents, aunt and uncle and, of course, the indomitable twin cousins, but there were certainly so many other reasons to go west.  Competitive swim camp, shared with her precocious cousins, filled the time for two years when she was fifteen and sixteen.

I grew up involved in competitive swimming. My last coach before university, the man that coached me to Nationals and one Olympic trials (don't bother looking, you won't ever find my name in any record books) was Tom Johnson.  Tom had gone on and become a nationally recognised coach to many Olympic athletes (if he could get a putz like me to Nationals, the man had to have some amazing skill).  Tom actually held summer swim camps every year; I thought that the camps would gently help her back into the training grind for the fall season and it would give her a chance to bond with her younger cousins.  The camps were superb; she got to spend hours with her Olympic heroes such as Brent Hayden, she got to train in the great outdoors at the UBC outdoor pool, and she got to learn that the twins were actually pretty good guys. Calista eventually left competitive swimming behind while I will not be surprised if I see her cousins challenging for positions on the next Canadian Olympic swim team.

The first year we attended "Swim Camp" Roni stayed behind in Regina, leaving me as the only chaperon for Calista and her best friend of the day, Danielle.  I got up early each day to help prepare breakfast for Calista, her friend and her two cousins, Kieth and Colin. I am pretty sure I permanently scarred my mother's opinion of her youngest son as I played "mister-mom" to the quartet.  Luckily, my mother never learnt what I did with my time during the eight hours of the daily swim camp. I shopped for girls shoes.

Calista had told me her retail needs for the west coast visit was a pair of rainbow coloured high-top Converse sneakers.  While she did not really expect her boring, conservative father to actually be successful, there was an implication that my child-hood memory of Vancouver would give me a step-up in the quest assigned me.  I never did find those high-tops, though I did manage to find every woman's shoe store in the west side of Vancouver and a many of the shoe stores in the downtown core.  Calista finally found her beloved rainbow high-tops (go back to the picture of her shoes in "Her Favourite Things"; they are there in all their glory) down on Robson street. She almost did not buy them because "I can get a better deal on the Internet", but I, after my great hunt, I insisted she buy the damn shoes. I, of course, paid for them.
She had fun with this photograph.
I took it on my Canon Rebel, but it
was all her idea.

Probably her best ride of the day.  There was lots of thrills and spills,
and more than a little sand in places that sand should not be.

Can you get anymore coastal?

 Calista was the quintessential beach-bunny and revelled in every moment she spent on the sand.  I loved watching her experience something I grew up taking for granted.  Throughout my teen-aged years my brother and I were just as likely to be down skimming the tidal pools of Spanish Banks as we were to be in class. I never really got any good at skim-boarding, but Ivor was pretty amazing on our home made round boards made of marine plywood and many layers of thick paint and shellac. I doubt I was the person to teach her how to "skim", but dammit I tried. The only place we were more likely to be found while doing the tourist tour of Vancouver was Kits Pool, the massive salt water pool that takes up the entire west wing of Kitsalano Beach.
150 salt-water yards of heaven for any swimmer. Superb facilities.

Calista and I loved just swimming freely in the 150 yard long lap pool; a mile can slip away 12 long laps and Roni just adored sunning on the deck while looking out upon the skyline of downtown Vancouver.  Kits pool will always be a favourite of mine; Calista would log off 3 miles without pause; there was a sense of freedom in the big pool; no pace-times, no flip-turns and no finishing line, just peaceful gliding in the cool water.  After a long swim she and I would sit and daydream about her future in Vancouver. There is a modern concrete condo-complex overlooking Kits pool that she had designs on. The complex is a four-story low-rise with floor to ceiling windows across the entire front of the building overlooking the pool and park. I doubt my combined wealth at the time could have found enough money for a down-payment on the penthouse of the complex, but she had big plans and she had no doubt that one day she would afford to buy that condo as her Vancouver home when she was a famous photographer.  I am glad she had that dream; I am not sure she ever gave it up over the years between fifteen and twenty.

I think her class was actually trying to dance in snowshoes on
top of Mount Washington. She had never worn snow-shoes before,
so trying to do a two-step is asking a lot of her.

Check out the boots: skull and lips. Also
note the nervous tight-rope act. Log bridges
are not common on the prairies.

Coffee house antics. Kareen looks a little
embarrassed. Calista never was embarrassed by
anyone but Dad.

The letter that Calista wrote herself in Grade 9 to be read by her 20 year old self ( see "Ghostwriter") stated right out that she always planned to move to her beloved Vancouver.  I am pretty sure that the Comox Valley had supplanted Vancouver as her goal, but who knows what the future was to bring. I must admit that I am not sure that anyone ever embraced the west coast the way my girl did. She was going to take the province by a storm and show us all how to do it right. She was going to do everything and do it well. There was just so many things that she should have been allowed to do. Her death is a bitter pill for anyone that knew her. We all know where she was headed and it was going to be glorious.

And one last picture for everyone to laugh at. She was had the West-Coast laid-back cool attitude very young. I always threatened to trot this out for every boy-friend she brought home but I never did. I doubt she would have flinched. It is a classic. Makawao, Maui Hawaii, thank-you for this memory. If anyone ever gets to Makawao, on the side of the big volcano in Maui, find the Mexican restaurant with the old tin roof. I can't remember if the food is any good, but the rain on the tin roof is downright romantic for a young couple with their first born child.

By the time she was finished eating there was re-fried beans
everywhere. Re-fried beans are not a good choice for a thirteen
month old child, but damn they are fun.

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